Thursday, May 22, 1997

Athy Gaelic Football Club

On Sunday the 2nd October 1887 a General Meeting of the newly formed Athy Gaelic Football Club was held and Rev. James Carroll C.C. was elected President with David Walsh, Thomas Dignan and Edward O’Reilly as Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary respectively. The Committee included D. Foley, W. Doriss, N. Hoban, J. George and M. Scully. The meeting noted that Athy Brass Band had donated their musical instruments to the club and that a house had been procured for band practice and the use of Club members.

A report in the Kildare Observer of the 22nd of October 1887 gives a flavour of the almost genteel activities of the Club in these pre-competition days. “A practice came off on the Club grounds on Sunday last at 3.00 o’clock. A large number of people were present and the proceedings were most enjoyable. Mr. J.E. Nolan and Mr. A. Stynes having called sides the ball was set in motion by Mr. E. J. O’Reilly, the Referee, and there was an excellent evenings amusement. Another practice will be held on Sunday next”.

The report of the “second practice match of football” confirmed that “most of the players appeared for the first time in costume”. A meeting of the members was called on the following Sunday to elect a Captain and Vice-Captain for the first and second teams. Mr. P. Lawler of Farmhill was elected Captain with Mr. Scully Vice-Captain of the first team. The members of the Club totalled 150 in 1887 and according to the local newspaper “additional members are enroling every day”.

The first competitive match involving the new Athy Club was played on the 13th November 1887 against Knock, Co. Laois in Mr. Anthony’s field in Rathstewart. The visitors were declared the winners when the Athy team objected to the Knock team wearing heavy nail boots. Patrick Lawler and his team later withdrew their objection and although helped by team mates who included Ms. Bonfield, McConville, Dooley, Anthwell, Scully, Lawler had to concede defeat on the score of 3 goals and some points to nil for the home team. The visitors were later treated in Kavanaghs Hotel in Leinster Street.

Athy played its first Senior Championship match in 1889 when a draw was secured against a Suncroft Team in Monasterevin. Athy won the replay but lost to Sallins in the second round. Athy reached its first semi-final in 1904 when defeated 4-12 to 0-0 by Roseberry. This set back caused Athy to drop out of the Championship for the next two years and to re-enter at Junior level. In 1907 Athy had its first ever success winning the Junior Championship against Caragh following a re-play.

Further success was to elude Athy for many years. On the 4th of May 1924 at Newbridge the Athy team played its first Senior Championship final. The victory in what was the 1923 Championship final went to Naas on the score 2-6 to 0-0. In 1925 Athy beat Caragh in the semi-final but subsequently lost on an objection. Athy lost in two successive finals in 1926 and 1927 and doubts began to emerge as to the Club’s ability on the big day. Success eventually came when Athy won its first Senior Championship beating Rathangan in the 1933 final. In the following year Athy won its second Championship Final beating Raheens after a re-play. Successful again in 1937 when beating Sarsfields, Athy lost the 1941 final to Carbery before exacting revenge on the same team in the 1942 final following a re-play. Athy was not again to win the Championship until 1987 after losses in 1946 and 1978. The 1987 Championship win was at the expense of Johnstown Bridge on the score 2-9 to 0-9.

In 1905 the Club rented a field from the South Kildare Agricultural Society. The successful development of the playing pitch and spectator area resulted in the Athy Club hosting the All Ireland Football Final for 1906 and the Hurling Final for 1908 in what is now called Geraldine Park. Leinster Football Finals were played in Athy, in 1907, 1908, 1942 and 1944 and the Leinster Hurling Final in 1907. Over the years many men have contributed to the success of Geraldine Park as a venue for Gaelic Games. Frank O’Brien Snr., Christy Walsh and Martin Hayden contributed much in the early years and in 1926 Seamus Malone, a teacher in the Local Christain Brothers School spearheaded further improvements at Geraldine Park. Banking for spectators was first provided in 1937 and completed in 1950 using material cleared for an extension to the local Asbestos factory. A further major development in 1950 was the provision of seating, the building of dressing rooms and the levelling and enclosing of the playing pitch. Playing a leading part in this was local District Court Clerk Fintan Brennan who was Chairman of the Leinster Council between 1945 and 1947. John W. Kehoe a Publican in Offaly Street was Chairman of the Geraldine Park Grounds Committee when a boundary wall was built in the early 1960’s to be followed some years later by the provision of modern dressing rooms. The building of the Clubhouse in 1988 was the final act in the development of Geraldine Park which had commenced in 1905.

Athy Gaelic Football Club has given many stars to Gaelic Football over the years. Those who have achieved County or inter-provincial selection include Tommy Mulhall, a player of matchless artistry, Barney Dunne a Cavan man still happily with with us who was the only Athy player to win four Senior Club Championship medals. Johnny McEvoy, a goalkeeper of considerable skill and bravery later played with the great Larry Stanley on the Garda team and won a Dublin Senior Championship medal in 1948 to add to the Kildare Championship medal won with Athy in 1937. Danny Flood first played in Kildare in 1954 and occupied the full back position for many years, winning a Leinster Senior Championship medal in 1956. Mick Carolan started with the County team in 1958 and was still a regular on the team fourteen years later. In more recent years Footballing Stars in Athy and indeed in County Kildare have been somewhat scarce. Gaelic Football in the short grass county has been living for a long time on memories of past glories. Hopefully Clubs like Athy will herald the arrival of a successful County Football Team which will regain for us a pride which has lain dormant for so long.

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