Thursday, August 1, 1996

Athy's Hurling Champions 1959/1960

Eoghan Corry's Centennial History of the G.A.A. in County Kildare has all the statistics that one could ever require in relation to football and hurling in the short grass County. Behind the figures however are the stories which cannot always be unlocked. Dealing with the Senior Hurling Championship for 1959 which was played on the 23rd August 1960 in Geraldine Park, Athy, Corry gives a scoreline McDonagh 5-8, Athy 3-3. A footnote gives the startling information "Athy won title on objection". This was the last Senior Hurling title won by the Athy Club although it played in the finals of 1961 and 1964. The "victory" in the 1959 Championship gave the town its second Senior Hurling title following an earlier victory achieved in 1936 on the field of play when Athy beat Broadford on the score of 3-3 to 3-1. The objection which gave the County Championship to Athy stemmed from the McDonagh Barracks team including a Tipperary player named Costello who had played Club Hurling Championship in Tipperary that same year. The merits of Athy's case was readily accepted by the County Board and the game and the Kildare Senior Championship was awarded to the South Kildare Club.

Athy Hurling Club had been re-organised in 1958 largely due to the efforts of John Dooley Snr. of St. Patrick's Avenue who was a Foreman in Jacksons Grocery Dept. in Leinster Street. Other Club Officials were Mick Hogan, a P. & T. linesman of Leinster Street and Tommy Doolan who was employed as a farm steward by Minches. Thomas O'Connor Snr., a Limerick man then living in Kilkea and whose two sons played on the Senior Hurling team in the 1959 final was also an important member of the club management team. Minor and Junior teams were initially organised and many young fellows with no previous experience of the sliothar and caman enthusiastically embraced what is generally believed to be the fastest team game in the world. However speed was noticeably absent from our youthful efforts to propel the sliothar around the playing field and in the end not all of us graduated to the Senior ranks. The initial enthusiasm waned somewhat for this writer at least when blood was drawn in a practice match in Chanterlands in the days before that housing estate was built. The clash of the ash gave way to the sound of the caman smashing into my forehead resulting in a hasty retreat to Dr. Cowhey's room for stitches with a resulting scar which remains to this day. That ended my embryonic hurling career as thereafter I confined myself to football where the only danger was that likely to be experienced when Athy and Castlemitchell clashed in competition.

Athy had won a Junior Hurling Championship in 1950 at a time when hurling was an integral part of the activities of the local Gaelic Football Club. Hurling subsequently went into decline and it was due to the sterling efforts of John Dooley Snr. that a separate Hurling Club was established in 1958. I that year Athy went on to win its second Junior Hurling Championship. As Junior Champions the Club won promotion to the Senior ranks and competed in the Senior Hurling Championship Final of 1959 which was played the following year. The members of the Athy team included many men who although not natives of the town had thrown in their lot with the South Kildare Club. The local area not being a stronghold of Gaelic hurling, it was no surprise to find that the Athy team had representatives from almost every hurling County in the country.

The locals on the team included John Dooley Jnr. and Jimmy Malone both of St. Patrick's Avenue who were subs that day. Paddy "Skinner" Foley of Kilberry, Mick Dempsey of Loughlass and Mick Wall of Castledermot, brother of the present County Board Chairman could justifiably lay claim to be described as local players. Jimmy Hickey, an employee of C.I.E. was from Freshford in Co. Kilkenny as was locally based Garda Mick Cullinane. Another Kilkenny man on the team was the Castlecomer born goalkeeper Paddy Lambe then working in Conroys Bar in Duke Street which he was later to own. Mick "Cactus" Brennan, also a native of Castlecomer was a linesman employed by the E.S.B. The nickname was apparently due to his crewcut hair style which was then very much in fashion. Dinny Curtin, originally from Rathkeale, Co. Limerick, a butcher by occupation, lived in St. Patrick's Avenue. Another Co. Limerick man was Mick Ahern from Abbeyfeale who was then employed in the Wallboard Factory. Other Limerick natives on the team were brothers Tommy and Liam O'Connor then living at Kilkea whose father Tom Snr. was a Club official. Claude Gough, Manager of Bachelors Pea Factory was a player who learned his hurling skills in the Kilkenny/Wexford border area.

Co. Galway was ably represented on that Athy Senior Hurling team by the Harte brothers. Their family had moved from Galway to Kilberry and the four brothers Mark, Paddy, Willie and Tom Harte brought with them an expertise in wielding the caman which helped in no small way to bring success to the Athy Club. Other Galway players included Paddy Morris, a native of Oranmore who worked in Shaws Hardware and Mick Melia, an E.S.B. employee.

Others to join the Club during the early 1960's included Tom O'Donnell, an official of the National Bank and a native of Co. Tipperary as was Willie Dooley , a vet employed with Michael Byrne. Co. Cork representation on the team was augmented with the arrival of Gus O'Shea a Bank Official and Tom Heskins then and still an employee of Minch Nortons. P.J. McConville of Pairc Bhride was one of the few local players who took the field in the 1964 Championship final which Athy lost.

The Club re-organised by John Dooley in 1958 is still going strong and still play in the maroon colours which Mark Harte purchased in his native Galway in 1959 for the Athy team.

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