He stands in the doorway of his public house in Duke Street, his experienced eye noting the passing traffic. A cheery word greets everyone passing. A fresh complexion belies his eight decades and a few odd years. Probably best known nowadays for his continuing involvement in greyhound racing, Barney Dunne, publican and quintessential bachelor, holds a unique position in the annals of Gaelic football in Athy.
In a way it is strange that Barney should hold that unique and unlikely to be beaten distinction for a football Club in the short grass County. For Barney is a Cavan man who won four Senior Football Championship medals with Athy between 1933 and 1942. This is a record he shares with the late Paul Matthews.
Barney who worked all his life in the bar trade first came to Athy in 1931 to work for Louis O'Meara's mother in the family pub in Leinster Street. The pub which in later years Louis O'Meara sold to Jim Nelson is now known as the "Anglers Rest". In 1935 Barney moved down the street when he worked for Michael Kelly in the present Oasis pub. Spending three or four years there he was to retrace his steps back to O'Mearas where he spent a few more years before departing for Dublin in early 1941.
As a schoolboy in Cavan Barney played football for the local school but had not been involved in club football. Following his arrival in Athy his potential as a footballer was recognised and he was asked in 1932 to tog out with the local G.A.A. team. A tall, strong man Barney was soon a regular team member and in 1933 he played as left-half back in his first Senior County Championship final.
The opponents were Rathangan, an experienced team, which had contested the 1928 final. Athy on the other hand were young and inexperienced but youth was to triumph over experience on the score 2-6 to 1-4. In the following year Barney Dunne played in his second Senior Football Final for Athy, this time in the full forward position. Their opponents, Raheens, led by 0-6 to 0-0 at half time and it required a goal by Paul Matthews almost on the stroke of full-time to earn Athy a draw. The South Kildare team made no mistake in the replay and incidentally won on the same score line as the previous year. Barney scored a goal for Athy at a crucial stage in the first half to put his team on the road to victory. As Barney says himself the aftermatch celebrations were very low key. Arriving back in Athy in hackney cars the players stood around Emily Square talking about the match, went home and got up the next day for work. No fuss or celebration, just young men satisfied that they had done their best and came out on top.
In the 1937 Championship Athy were eliminated early on when Raheens were awarded a walk-over. A subsequent appeal was successful and the reinstated Athy team went on to beat Raheens. The 1937 final was eventually played at Naas on the 17th of July, 1938 when Barney played at centre half-forward. He contributed one goal and one point to the winning score of 3-6 to Sarsfields 1-5.
Athy unsuccessfully contested the County Final in 1941 but without Barney who had earlier left for Dublin where he played with Clan na nGael. Within a few months Barney returned to his adopted town and when Athy reached the 1942 County Final he togged out at left corner-forward. The first match ended in a draw but Athy won the replay 1-6 to 0-6 giving Barney Dunne, the Cavan man, his fourth County Kildare Senior Championship medal.
Barney who played for County Kildare between 1935 and 1937 hung up his boots soon after the 1942 final. He purchased a pub in Duke Street in 1945 from Ned Carroll where he continues to carry on business today. As he looks back on his life in Athy over the last 62 years Barney recalls some of the great players with whom he played. Paul Matthews, Tommy Mulhall, Mick Mannion and George Comerford were for him some of the best. Barney is the only survivor of the 1933 County Championship winning team.
Barney's unique position in the annals of Athy football is assured. His tally of four Championship medals is never again likely to be achieved especially when it is realised that it took Athy forty five years to win it's next Senior Championship.