Thirty years on from Antrim’s last appearance in an All-Ireland final, Terrance ‘Sambo’ McNaughton was honoured as one of six inductees into the GAA Hall of Fame earlier this week.
Having qualified for just two finals in their history, Antrim’s presence in the All-Ireland decider following a 46-year absence sent the county and indeed, the country, into a frenzy.
However, according to McNaughton, that final appearance thirty years ago wasn’t the pinnacle of the team’s achievements but rather the fact they continued to dine at hurling’s top table for the better part of a decade.
“It feels a while ago now, lets put it like that. It’s not today or yesterday. Life moves on and you get on with it. It’s the one thing that’s always brought up, that getting to the ’89 final was a great achievement for that team.
“But I think our greatest achievement as a team was that we stayed in Division 1 for eight years when it was a proper Division 1.”
Upon reflection, McNaughton feels that the Saffrons were naive heading into the All-Ireland final having been totally swept up in the furore around their involvement.
“When we got to the All-Ireland final in 1989, we were naive. We didn’t know how to prepare for an All-Ireland.
“Looking back on it now, some of the things we did were very amateurish and we got carried away and forgot about the game.
“We were getting suits and people like yourself were interviewing us for the first time ever and things like that.”
The Ruairí Óg club man describes how the whole of Antrim went “buck-mad” following their victory over Offaly in the All-Ireland semi-final but in truth, that was the day they lost the final.
“Ah, the county went buck-mad. Crazy stuff, when you look back on it. In 1991, Kilkenny beat us out here (in Croke Park) by a point (in the All-Ireland semi-final). I think if we had of got to the All-Ireland final that year we would have been a different animal.
“We knew we were there to hurl. Whereas in ’89 we lost the All-Ireland final the day we won the semi-final. Because people were saying it’s great just to play in an All-Ireland final.
“Psychologically, we were just happy to get there and we didn’t do ourselves justice then in the final.”
Long gone are the heydays of Antrim hurling as the county now resides in hurling’s second-tier competition, the Joe McDonagh Cup.
Despite falling on hard times, Sambo McNaughton has continued to dedicate his life to the game in Antrim and the GAA Hall of Famer wouldn’t have changed a single minute of it.
“I wouldn’t change one minute of it. We’re not a successful county as far as hurling goes, but we love the game as much as anywhere in Ireland. We’re as passionate about it as anyone else.
“If you drive through the Glens of Antrim, if you drive to my village tonight, every kid walks about with a hurling stick. Even people that don’t play hurling carry hurls and get involved. We love the game as much as anywhere else in Ireland and I wouldn’t regret one minute of it.”
The former All-Star may not have got his hands on a Celtic Cross medal but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t taken something from the game.
McNaughton has built relationships and made memories that outweigh any medal he could have won playing hurling.
“I know it’s a cliche and easy for me to say, but sometimes there’s more to the game than a handful of medals. The friends I’ve made out of the GAA down through the years throughout every county I’ve played against, and some of them are my best friends. We go on holidays together or stay with one another.
“I’ve made great friends on All-Stars trips and that sort of thing. Kieran Kingston is a prime example. Our families go on holidays together, he’s up in Cushendall two or three times a year on holidays.
“They’re the things that are more important than maybe medals. It’s easy for me to say that because I don’t have any All-Ireland medals. I would have loved an All-Ireland medal, but I don’t lie in bed at night thinking I’m a failure.
“There is more to the game than winning medals. I love the game. I have loved every minute I’ve given to it. It’s in our DNA, especially in the Glens.
“We don’t need anyone from Cork, Tipp, and Kilkenny to teach us a love of the game. We have got that in spades.”