Eoghan Corry in his centenary history of the GAA in County Kildare stated that “Athy, a town of British Soldiers and public houses was an unlikely venue for a Gaelic revival. It happened in the 1920’s”. The revival Corry referred to was due in large measure to a teacher in the Christian Brothers School, Athy by the name of Seamus Malone. He served as club secretary for Athy GFC for a number of years before leaving for a teaching post in Waterford in or about 1928. The Athy Gaelic Football Club had enjoyed little success in its early years and following a defeat in the Junior Final of 1913 the Club’s fortunes began to wane. Recruitment for regiments fighting in World War I also played a significant part in the demise of Gaelic football in Athy during the War years. Indeed Corry claimed that “Athy provided more British Army recruits, two thousand in all, for the first World War than any other town in the 26 counties.” In that he was incorrect, although Athy’s contribution to the War was proportionately greater than other Irish towns when comparisons are made on a population basis.
Seamus Malone’s importance to Gaelic football in Athy was his part in establishing a minor club known as “The Young Emmets Gaelic Football Club” which catered for under-18 footballers, there being insufficient Senior players left in Athy at that stage. The Young Emmets rented a playing field from the South Kildare Agricultural Society and this was later to be purchased by the local club and developed as Geraldine Park. As the Young Emmet players grew in years the Club assumed senior status and was re-graded as such in 1921.
Over the years the Athy Club known at different times as Geraldine Football Club, The Young Emmets Gaelic Football Club and since December 1945 as Geraldine Hurling and Gaelic Football Club has been served by dedicated administrators. In the early years Seamus Malone and the J.A. Lawlor Town Clerk were to the forefront of the club’s affairs, while Bill Mahon of Sawyerswood served as Club Chairman from 1928 to 1945. Another whose name is synonymous with the GAA in Athy is Fintan Brennan, District Court Clerk and one-time Chairman of the Leinster Council. John W. Kehoe, Publican of Offaly Street, Joe Murphy, Railway company employee of Offaly Street and Andy Smith, Publican of Leinster Street were other long-serving members of the GAA Club in Athy. There are many others who made a major contribution to Gaelic football in the town, many of whom are now dead and in many cases forgotten by the present generation.
A couple of Sundays past the current members of Athy Gaelic Football Club came together to pay a tribute to two members of the Club who between them have 134 years of involvement with Gaelic football in Athy. Both of the men have many things in common. Neither are from the town of Athy or even from the County of Kildare. One is from Baileboro, Co. Cavan, the other from Tullamore near Listowel in Co. Kerry. Both Tim O’Sullivan and Barney Dunne have served the Athy Gaelic Football Club as players, Committee Members and as Club Secretaries in the past.
Tim O’Sullivan first came to Athy in the week before Christmas 1937 to work as a Chemist’s assistant with J.J. Collins in Duke Street. As expected of somebody from the Kingdom he joined Athy Gaelic Football Club and togged out on a few occasions but without much success. Tim played junior football for Athy for several years and was a sub on the senior team when it played the first round of the 1942 championship. Unfortunately when Athy won that championship in a replay against Carbery later in the year Tim was not on the panel. His forte was on the administrative side of club affairs and he served as a committee member for some years from 1945 and in 1953 was appointed Club Secretary. He held that position for the following four years which were lean years for the club both in terms of finance and success on the football field. This was nothing new for the Athy Gaelic Football Club as borne out by a reference in the Club minutes of January 1946 when the then Club Secretary reported that he had managed to buy a football cover and then went on to report to his fellow committee members “that there was every chance of getting a bladder”. Tim was appointed to the Geraldine Park Grounds Committee in or about 1951 and served as Chairman of that Committee from 1961-1963. He is currently the President of Athy Gaelic Football Club and is justifiably proud of the fact that he has attended every Annual General Meeting of Athy Gaelic Football Club since 1938.
Barney Dunne came to Athy from Baileboro in County Cavan in November 1931 to work as a barman in Mrs. Margaret O’Meara’s pub in Leinster Street. Bar Manager there at the time was the earlier-mentioned Andy Smith, another Co. Cavan man who was later to open up his own public house in Leinster Street. As a fit and big young man from the footballing county of Cavan Barney was a great acquisition for the local Club and he was soon togging out for Athy alongside the legendary Paul Matthews, the Ardee County Louth man who came to Athy in 1925.
Barney was a member of the first Athy team to win a senior championship in 1933 when Athy defeated Rathdangan by 2-6 to 1-4. That first success was achieved after Athy’s senior teams had been defeated in three previous county finals, 1923, 1926 and 1927. The 1933 victory was followed by a second championship win the following year to give Barney Dunne his second senior medal. A third championship medal was won by Barney and his team-mates when Athy defeated Sarsfield in the 1937 final played in Naas on 17th July, 1938.
Athy suffered defeat in the 1941 senior championship final against Carbery but by then Barney Dunne was working in Dublin from where he was to return in time to play in the 1942 championship which ended with the Athy Club winning its fourth senior final in nine years. Barney also won two Leinster Leader Cup medals in 1937 and 1942 and played inter-county football for Kildare, winning a Leinster medal in 1935. He was a sub on the all-Ireland losing team of that year when Cavan unexpectedly defeated the hot favourites Kildare.
Barney retired from football in 1945 and was later a committee member of the Club and for a short period its joint Hon. Secretary with the legendary footballer, the later Tommy Mulhall. Barney is one of our last links with Athy’s great footballing years of the 1930’s and holds the unique record of four Senior Championship medals, a record which is unlikely to be bettered.
Congratulations to Tim and Barney on receiving the recent Club Award and to both of them goes our appreciation for years of dedicated service to Gaelic games in Athy.