Antrim Tipp-ed over in hurling decider
All the memories will come flooding back when Jim Nelson sits back to watch tomorrow’s All Ireland hurling final between Kilkenny and Tipperary.
It’s 20 years since the west Belfast man defied the odds to lead Antrim to an All Ireland final showdown with red-hot favourites Tipp.
Casement Park was overflowing with well wishers as Nelson’s men made their way out of Belfast and headed for Dublin on Saturday lunchtime.
There then followed a brief stop off at the Carrickdale Hotel before the final leg of the journey to the Grand Hotel in Malahide.
Until then everything had gone according to plan, but things began to unravel within minutes of the start of the big match that fateful Sunday afternoon.
History dictates that underdogs must start well if they are to stay afloat. But Tipperary were up and running within minutes, leaving Antrim playing catch up.
Jim Nelson’s recurring memory of that day was just how quickly the match passed by.
“It’s always the case when you are behind and chasing the game.
“In the end we were well beaten, but we managed to score three goals and nine points and that would put you in with a shout of winning a lot of games.
“We needed to start well and dictate the pace and lead the charge, but Tipperary had both the tradition and pedigree and that made all the difference,” he said.
Nelson, who has contributed so much to the sport over the last 40 years, isn’t in the business of making excuses.
But Antrim’s cause wasn’t helped when a challenge game against Offaly weeks before the final fell through.
The contrast then with Antrim and Tipperary couldn’t have been greater.
The men from the deep south raised in excess of £100,000 for their training fund, Antrim had to settle for less than half that amount.
Jim Nelson admits to being a huge Kilkenny fan and he can’t see the Cats being beaten by a resurgent Tipp tomorrow.
“They conceded three goals in the semi-final, but I cannot see that happening again.
“King Henry Shefflin was the only forward to play to his full potential against Waterford in the semi-final, but again I expect a massive improvement in that area.
“In fairness Tipperary have an explosive full forward line with Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly, but I can’t see them getting the same supply of ball that they enjoyed against Limerick,” he said.
Not many men can claim to have played against the great Christy Ring, one of the true leg
ends of the sport, but Nelson did in the Cardinal Cushing Games in Chicago in the 60s.
“What Ring had was unbelievable strength, whereas with DJ Carey it was his explosive pace over the first two or three yards.
“In my book Henry Shefflin is entitled to be right up there with those players,” he said.
“Shefflin, for me, is more a team player. Even when things are going against him he will give nothing less than 100 per cent.”
It’s generally accepted that Kilkenny have yet to reach the dizzy heights of last season, but there’s a feeling they are saving the best for last just as they did so memorably in the demolition of Waterford.
Nelson has a healthy regard for Tipperary, but maintains that a King Henry-inspired Kilkenny can retain the Liam McCarthy Cup with five points to spare.