Seamus Killough was the Antrim u-21 full back in 1969 and he remembers 1969 as a turning point in his life.
It was the period just before he began his career, and his marriage, and just before he moved to Ballycastle.
So going to the 1969 Antrim u-21 team reunion night in the Balmoral in Setember allowed him to be whisked back to those days. He felt that the event was very important particularly for those who were not there.
“It was phenomenal. It was great for everyone involved, like the grandchildren of Tommy Hall’s, and sisters of Din Joe McGrogan. People came out of their homes to come to it and it meant an awful lot.
“You don’t realise the importance of it till now.”
The importance of it was that it was Antrim’s last All-Ireland title. Since those glory days of 1969 the county has struggled to get back to the top table. In the following years there were glimpses of what might be, with teams in the 1970s going close. But back then the troubles were in their infancy, and sport would be sidelined in Antrim.
Killough was almost 20 back in 1969. He was studying at Queens and for him football was a release from his challenging studies.
He was not from an orthodox GAA background. He attended Garron Tower, but he wasn’t a member of a club until he went to school.
For him, playing Gaelic Football was really just a sporting outlet that satisfied his competitive instincts.
“I played Gaelic at Garron Tower that’s where I learnt it. I am not steeped in the GAA tradition.
“I joined Ahoghill because my mate played for them. Yet my wife was from Portglenone. People often ask me why I didn’t join Portglenone. But it was really whoever wanted me to play football.
“I feel jealous. Down here, in Ballycastle, Loughgiel, Cushendall, they all play hurling. I am jealous of the enthusiasm and the club spirit. I am not saying that I did not have that in Ahoghill, but I couldn’t appreciate it living in a club where you were born.”
This year has seen the 1969 season come into sharper focus.
Killough has been interviewed already this year, for features about that year, and it has forced him to re evaluate the season.
“It was phenomenal, particularly the composition of the team. Coming from every club about the place.
“Second division, fourth division. We asked on the night, who knew to go see these people?
“There must have been some mechanism for reporting back. There was such a broad spectrum of clubs. I am in awe of how they got that team together.”
Clubs like Ahoghill, Dunloy, St Malachy’s were represented. The biggest grouping was from the St John’s club, but Killough felt that the broad spectrum was a great aspect of him.
He was studying dentistry at Queen’s and he found that playing at that level, was an exciting challenge.
He won a Sigerson, and Two Ryan cups, and he captained the combined universities team the first year they were allowed into the Railway cup, and played for them the second year when they won it.
“Sport was the icing on the cake for me. The priority was to become a dentist. But it was part of a package, getting the job and playing a sport. They were compatible and they worked together. It was a phenomenal time of my life.”
Killough was careful to say that he went to university to get a job. He doesn’t like the phrase ‘to get an education’, as that suggests that those with an education are better than the rest.
He has no airs nor graces.
But he did say that his sporting career was benefited by winning.
“Success is a great thing. It’s a massive motivation. You never know it is going to happen till it is all over.
“The likes of the u-21 team was great. There was always great banter. There was that city, country folk banter.
“One of the major memories that I got from it was the effort and the commitment of those who didn’t play on the team. The organisers, the secretaries, the trainers. I couldn’t drive but they had men who would drive me from Ballymena to Belfast up to training. They are remembered by those who were involved. But they don’t get the limelight.”
Much of his memory of that time is of meeting his wife as it was around that time that they started to go out. So he has extra reason to be fond of that time.
He didn’t do a lot of socialising with the rest of the team. He would head home with Gerard Dillon, and work in the pub at the weekend. He enjoyed the game ever weekend. He remembers the steak before matches, which was great for a student like Killough.
“I can remember the Derry boys were so jealous, they said they got curled up sandwiches.”
What he doesn’t remember are the games that it took to get to the final.
“I was surprised by the amount of games that it took for us to get to the final. I can’t remember two of the matches.
“I had to ask if I was playing.
“The only reason I remember the Derry game was that my brother was getting married the next day and I was best man. Weddings in those days were for aunts and uncles.
“I remember my father coming up to Casement and there was a rush to get home and get back to Belfast the next day. I can’t remember a kick in the match.”
Undoubtedly it was a great team. And while there were star players like Andy McCallin, Killough felt that the team were stronger than the sum of their parts.
“It seemed like everyone played well at some point.”
He does remember the characters on the team.
“There’s a phenomenal picture outside the Guinness Brewery the day after the final. Now the events of the night are evident on the faces of some of them, but you can see all the characters that were involved on the team.”
Antrim would go on to reach two Ulster final in the following years.
But the Troubles would come to dominate for the following 30 years.
“If that had been done today, then you would expect more.
“Did the Troubles have an effect? Undoubtedly, they had to have an impact. Did I realise at the time? You are asking the wrong person.”
Killough isn’t entirely sure that he would have continued to play county football if the Troubles had never happened. Certainly he was keen to get away from Belfast because of how dangerous the city had become. His priority was settling down to become a dentist, and to start a family.
But he says it’s certain that with or without him, Antrim might have been stronger had the Troubles not happened.
“There was a core of a good team there, in today’s terms, going forward.”
The Antrim seniors were beaten by Derry in 1970.
It’s tempting to suggest that that Antrim 1969 team would have gone on to greatness, but for them, they were glad to get that one title.