Kevin Armstrong: Antrim's Northern Shining Star In Hurling and Football
Born 1922 - Died 1992
It takes an immense belief in the sporting deeds of an Antrim hurler and footballer, one you have never seen in action and still manage to place that legend into a Hall Of Fame alongside a historic collection of Irish sports legends.
The written words transmitted over several decades on the prowess of Kevin Armstrong of Antrim, have spelled out the respect he was accorded by sports writers of his generation, but most importantly many scribes stated, Kevin Armstrong would have been a welcome addition to the major power inter county teams of that time.
In historic interviews with Kevin’s peers who played with Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork during the 1940’s hurling decade, all writers stated, that in hurling and football in the Antrim jersey, he was the shining light of the northern team and now seventy four years after he played for Antrim against Cork in the All Ireland senior hurling final, it is our great honour to incorporate Antrim’s dual legend into our All Ireland Hall Of Fame Online Gallery.
Hugely regarded as one of the greatest hurlers of his era, who never won an All Ireland senior hurling medal, the achievement of any Hall Of Fame recognition and appreciation, is even more significant, as players who achieve Celtic Cross silverware, are automatically in the shop window.
When an exclusive and special commemoration team was sanctioned by Croke Park for the GAA’s 1984 Centenary Year, Kevin Armstrong commanded the left wing forward berth in a team composed of players who never walked up the Hogan Stand steps victorious on All Ireland senior hurling final days.
To celebrate and announce Kevin’s dual legendary status, in 1988 he was accorded the honour of an All Star All Time Award for his football status and when I went searching for historic deeds on Kevin Armstrong, my journey was a very short one through the archives.
The Antrim dual star had his club affiliation with the O’Connell’s G.A.A. Club of Belfast and in 1940 he won his maiden Antrim senior hurling championship medal and that honour was followed up with successive victories recorded in 1941 and ’42. In 1945 the O’Connell’s club again triumphed by winning the Antrim senior hurling championship providing Kevin with his fourth county senior hurling medal.
Football county honours were thin on the ground at O’Connells for Kevin, however a senior football county success was achieved in 1947 when Kevin was aged twenty five and by now he was an established inter county dual player.
At just a mere eighteen years old he strode out in an Antrim senior hurling jersey to make his debut in 1940 and later that same year he won his first ever Ulster senior hurling medal when Down were defeated.
Due to the ill health of hurling up north, Croke Park declined permission to the Ulster champions to progress to the All Ireland semi final of 1940 and then in an alarming development for Ulster hurling, the provincial hurling championship was placed in the waste bin after Down won the 1941 series.
The political unrest in Northern Ireland presented grave issues for all Ulster teams and then in a surprise announcement, the Ulster senior hurling champions were given license to participate in the All Ireland series of 1943.
On a historic day for Antrim and Ulster hurling, Galway, in a high scoring quarter final tie 7-0 to 6-2, fell victim to the saffron boys. Sensationally Antrim had achieved the right, against the odds, to contest the 1943 All Ireland senior hurling semi final and the match was again fixed for Belfast’s Corrigan Park. In the opposite corner was the mightily feared men in black and amber from the Noreside of Kilkenny.
In one of the greatest ever inter county hurling explosions, Antrim prevailed over Kilkenny on a 3-3 to 1-6 scoreline to record a sensational victory that is still, seven decades later, often discussed.
At this time leading the Antrim vanguard was twenty one years old Kevin Armstrong, now in his third year playing senior hurling for Antrim.
The history channels recorded Antrim as the first ever Ulster team to contest an All Ireland senior hurling final and for that historic hurling baptism, the men of Antrim would face an all conquering Cork team from the rebel county.
In a friendly exchange of pre match gifts, it was reported that so scarce was butter in the south and tea up north, the two captains made presentations of both commodities to each other.
The pleasantries for Cork concluded there and then and the scoreline of 5-16 to 0-4 reflected the total domination of Jack Lynch and his Cork colleagues.
Kevin Armstrong and his Antrim senior hurling colleagues triumphed once again in Ulster in 1944 but following further eliminations at the semi finals, Croke Park was once again watching over the future of Ulster hurling and in 1949 the provincial championship was forsaken.
Against such impossible odds, Kevin Armstrong was denied opportunities to exhibit his hurling skills against many household names in hurling and his inter county football career benefited. 1946 became a milestone year as Kevin and Antrim claimed the Ulster senior football title by claiming the scalps of a renowned Cavan in the provincial final with the Breffni men going for eight Ulster titles in a row.
In the All Ireland semi final, Kerry were waiting in the opposite corner and the Kingdom scraped a three point victory, courtesy of a 2-7 to 0-10 scoreline at Croke Park. Progress with the big ball in Antrim was again signaled as Kevin and his charges overcame Cavan once more in the 1951 Ulster final. Meath lowered the Antrim passion in the All Ireland semi final on a narrow scoreline of 2-6 to 1-7.
During the dual inter county career of Kevin Armstrong, the annual Railway Cups in hurling and football were prized assets and greatly supported by gaels from all over Ireland. Exhibiting their silken skills were the cream of the crop of Ireland’s best hurlers and footballers and as a dual Ulster player, the name of Kevin Armstrong became hugely respected from the Glens of Antrim right down to Dingle Bay in Kerry.
The famed O’Connell’s clubman achieved a glorious four Railway Cup football medals in the colours of Ulster but alas honours in the hurling code, were as expected, almost an impossible target.
Retirement from inter county football came in the mid 1950’s but Kevin’s hurling passion kept on blazing until he called time in 1961, aged thirty nine.
Gone was a man who loved Antrim so well and gave unlimited allegiance to his native county for twenty one long years and this remarkable feat, against a backdrop of honest reality in both codes, that any honours won, were real bonuses and generally not expected by Antrim gaels at the commencement of any hurling and football year.
We now preserve and promote around the globe the outstanding Golden Memories of one of Antrim’s greatest ever dual players and the recording of his sporting deeds in an Irish Heritage Hall Of Fame Website, further endorses the mighty sporting reputation of O’Connell’s and Antrim’s Kevin Armstrong.
All Ireland Senior Hurling (Runners Up) Medal: 1943
Ulster Senior Hurling Medals: x 8 1940/ ’42; ’43; ’44; ’45; ’46; ’47; ‘48
National Hurling League – Division 2 - 1956
Antrim Seniot Hurling Medals: x 4 1940/’41/’43/’45
Ulster Senior Football Medals: x 2 1946; 1951
Dr. McKenna Cup Medals: x 4 1941/’42/’45/’46
Dr. Lagan Cup Medals: x 3 1944/’46/’48
Antrim Senior Football Medal: 1947
Railway Cup Football Medals x 4 1942/’43/’47/’50
All Time All Star Award: 1988