Antrim staged the first hurling match under the new Gaelic Athletic Association rules in Ulster in 1885. The games have always been well organised in Belfast city and hurling teams from the Glens have won considerable admiration in club competition.
Antrim's Aaron Graffin (right) representing Ulster in the 2008 Railway Cup hurling semi-final
Antrim are the only Ulster county to appear in an All-Ireland hurling final, the first of which was in 1943 losing to Cork and the second was in 1989 losing to Tipperary. In 1943 Antrim defeated both Galway (by 7-0 to 6-2) and Kilkenny (by 3-3 to 1-6) in the cramped surroundings of the old Corrigan Park, but disappointed in the All Ireland against Cork. Two years previously, Antrim had been graded Junior a year before, and had been beaten by Down in the Ulster final. They were only competing in the Senior Championship because the Junior grade was abolished. Antrim hurlers featured strongly in Ulster Railway cup final appearances in 1945, 1993 and 1995. In hurling, the progression that began with Loughgiel's success at club hurling level in 1983 (with players like 15-stone goalkeeper Niall Patterson) culminated in an All Ireland final appearance in 1989. Antrim's first All-Star, Ciaran Barr, helped Belfast club Rossa to reach the 1989 club hurling final and after a great show against Buffer's Alley, Barr starred in a 4-15 to 1-15 All Ireland semi-final win over Offaly. The final was one of the poorest on record, as stage fright overcame the Antrim team. It was no flash in the pan: Antrim failed by just two points against Kilkenny in the 1991 All Ireland semi-final. Dunloy were back in the All Ireland club final in 1995, when they lost in a replay, 1996 and 2003 when they were heavily beaten.
Former Antrim Senior football manager Liam Bradley (left) with Armagh manager Peter McDonnell (right) at the launch of the 2009 Dr. McKenna Cup
Antrim were the first Ulster county to appear in an All Ireland final, in 1911 and repeated the feat again in 1912, losing on both occasions. Antrim's surprise football semi-final success came out of the blue in 1911. The Ulster secretary got sick that year and never organised a provincial Championship. So Antrim arrived with no practice to play Kilkenny and won by 3-1 to 1-1. The following year they beat even more prestigious rivals, Kerry. Heavy rain on the day, and over-indulgence at a wedding the day before were blamed for the shock 3-5 to 0-2 defeat. Antrim's County Board decision to introduce a City League in 1908, one of the first in Gaelic history, was a more legitimate explanation. The 1946 Antrim football team was regarded as one of the most exciting of the era, taking advantage of the newly reintroduced handpass. Joe McCallin's two goals helped beat Cavan in the Ulster final but Kerry roughed them out of the All Ireland semi-final. The opening of Casement Park boosted the games in Belfast, but from the late 1960s the troubles hampered sporting life in the football heartlands of Belfast, particularly Ardoyne. Political violence meant that the county could not build on the under-21 team of 1969, one of the finest in Ulster history (Din Joe McGrogan, scorer of the goals that put Antrim in the final, was killed by a Loyalist bomb). The countys Vocational Schools team has made it to 2 All Ireland Finals in 1968 where they beat Galway and in 1971 where they were beaten by Mayo. A drawn Ulster semi-final with Derry in 2000 was one of the highlights of Antrim's recent football career alongside winning the Tommy Murphy Cup in 2008, beating Wicklow in the final and gaining revenge for losing the 2007 final to the same opponents. The current senior manager is Frank Fitzsimons. Antrim also made history in 2009 by getting to the Ulster Championship final, the first Antrim team to reach it in 31 years. They were runners-up to All-Ireland champions Tyrone.
Antrim have won the All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship six times and been runners-up ten times. Camogie arrived in 1908 with the foundation of Banba club, but the movement joined by clubs such as Crowley's, Mitchel's and Ardoyne was short-lived. A 1927 revival was more successful and in 1934 there were three adult leagues in Belfast, southwest and north Antrim.
Antrim's successes include a three-in-a-row in 1945-7, with the benefit of dispute that removed their main rivals Dublin and the arrival of a Dublin coach, Chalrie MacMahon, and the fact four of their semi-finals and two of the finals were played at Corrigan Park and Antrim was described as the “home of camogie.” Players from the Belfast league clubs such as Deirdre, St Malachy’s and St Theresa’s and Glens villages such as Dunloy and Loughgiel Shamrocks to win all but a handful of the Ulster camogie championships played. They defeated Dublin in a 1956 semi-final that prevented Dublin winning 19 All Ireland titles in a row. O’Donovan Rossa won the All Ireland senior club championship in 2008. Antrim are the 2010 All Ireland junior champions.