LOUGHGIEL Shamrocks celebrated their historic All-Ireland club championship success with a gala ball and presentation night in Ballymena at the weekend.
An attendance approaching 600 thronged the Tullyglass Hotel to help the team celebrate their second national title and earn the praise and respect from many senior figures in the GAA including the President, Mr. Liam O’Neill.
In his address to the audience, Mr. O’Neill said the team had generated a great deal of goodwill around the country with their win as well as creating huge interest in the sport with the club’s style of play.
“You won supporters and the respect of all as well as recognition of greatness throughout all the country,” Mr. O’Neill said.
At the outset, Mr. O’Neill offered warm congraultation to the club and said it was very obvious to him the joy shown by supporters in their players “here tonight.”
“This club is strong and united and has a good sense of community,” Mr. O’Neill added.
His comments were echoed by Mr. Jim Murray, the Antrim County chairman, who said it was another special night in the history of Loughgiel Shamrocks.
Mr. Murray described the club as worthy ambassadors for the Loughgiel parish and for the community.
“This team have show time and time again how much they mean to the Loughgiel community and I am delighted to note the way they won the title. The discipline and training was a credit to all,” he said.
Mr. Murray predicted that Loughgiel would be a real force to be reckoned with in the years to come principally because of their youth development programme.
The Ulster GAA President, Mr. Aoghan O’Farrell, drew a round of applause when he commented that it was a privilege to be with the best hurling club in Ireland.
He said it was particularly difficult for a club from this part of the country to win an All-Ireland and praised the way Loughgiel had gone about their games with dedication and enthusiasm.
Mr. O’Farrell said it was obvious to him that the chairman of the club had a vision for the future particularly with the nurturing of young talent.
In the opening speech, Mr. John Campbell, chairman of the club, said it was a fantastic year - the best he could remember.
It was, he went on, a year that a lot of hard work had gone in and he not only praised the club but the “unbelievable effort” from the supporters who backed the team all the way.
“With success comes costs and we are fortunate to have tremendous sponsors,” Mr. Campbell said.
He praised Mr. Packie Laverty of Laverty Properties for their generosity as well as all the others who had provided much needed backing. Mr. Laverty was later presented with a plaque in recognition of his support.
Mr. Campbell said the dedication, commitment and hard work put in by the club during the past two years was incredible and he also had praise for the wives, girlfriends and families of the players who had also given tremendous support.
“Our manager has to be the most successful in Antrim maybe further afield and out backroom staff are first class,” he said.
Mr. Campbell opened up some debate about which was the better team - the current champions or the 1983 team, with opinion divided.
Mr. Campbell said that while the success had been remarkable, the club continued to strive and develop. He said everyone had to play their part and this allied to his vision of a strong and vibrant juvenile structure would bring a positive future.
The support Loughgiel generated for this annual dinner was evidenced by the amount of donations for prizes and for an auction.
Supporters dug deep to pay substantial sums including £1300 for a signed shirt, £750 for a signed hurling stick used by team captain, Johnny Campbell, and £320 for the match ball from the final which was enclosed in a glass case.
A framed collage photo of the final, sponsored by one of the best known photographers in the hurling fraternity, John McIlwaine, fetched £550 and an exclusive mirror of the 1983 and 2012 winning teams made £700. Another official team photograph of the club taken at Lissanoure Castle and again sponsored by Mr. McIlwaine, was snapped up for £400.
Also present at the dinner were the North Antrim chairman, James McLean, the Antrim County vice-chairman, Joe Edwards and Stephen Kernan, the captain of the All-Ireland Club football champions, Crossmaglen Rangers. His father, Joe, was also present.
Compere for the evening was BBC sports correspondent, Mark Sidebottom, himself a former hurler with Glenarrifee, who let the audience in to a few non-broadcastable snippets during his coverage of the club’s return to Loughgiel, following their success.
More than 50 donors provided gifts, sponsorship of prizes and services, and the table sponsors also numbered more than 50.
The audience also contained the MP for South Belfast, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell, as well as representatives from Sinn Fein and SDLP.