Last week Rheban lost two of its great stalwarts. Willie “Wag” O’Keeffe and Mick McEvoy were Rheban men and both had given years of dedicated service to their local Gaelic Football Club which was founded in 1929 by John Moore and his younger brother Tom. Both “Wag” and Mick were Rheban players of the past and each of them continued their association with the Rheban Club when their playing days were over.
Mick McEvoy was a member of the Rheban team which was routed by Robertstown in the 1939 Junior Championship Final on the score of 6-2 to 1-4. However success was however not far away and the following year Mick McEvoy and his team mates clinched the Junior title defeating Ardclough by 4 points. Within two years and with few changes in the team personnel Rheban went on to win the Intermediate championship title defeating Straffan on the score of 1-11 to 1-3. Mick McEvoy featured in the Rheban teams of those years, as did his brother Pat. Others whose names appeared on the team sheets for the 1940 and 1942 finals were Alfie Kane, Mick Hickey, Owney Pender, Tony Keogh, Billy Marum, Tom Hickey, Arthur Lynch, Hugh Owens, Pat Fitzpatrick, Paddy Myles, Jack Foley, Willie Moore, Jim Kane, Pat Connelly, John Cardiff, Bill Tierney, Joe Barry, Nick Owens and Jack Fitzpatrick.
Mick who lived at Bert Lane was in later years involved with the Rheban Club as an official. He served as President of the club for many years and in that capacity he welcomed Seamus Aldridge, Chairman of the Leinster Council, to the official opening of the Tom Moore Memorial Park on 19th June 1999. Tom Moore of course was one of the founders of the Rheban Club and the Club’s Secretary/Treasurer, a position Tom held with distinction for over fifty years. Mick McEvoy worked in Duthie Larges and for many years was a member of the Parish Choir as well as being involved with many organisations in the parish. Mick is survived by his wife Sheila, daughters Ann, Mary, Sheila and five sons, Paul, Michael, Tom, Pat and Joseph.
The same week as Mick McEvoy was laid to rest we also said our sad farewells to “Wag” O’Keeffe. Willie O’Keeffe, a native of Rheban, was known to all and sundry as “Wag”. A dedicated follower of the GAA code “Wag” played football for his beloved Rheban in the late 1950’s, continuing into the mid 1960’s. It was a barren period for the country club, but when “Wag” retired from playing he took up the position of trainer to the team. It was in that capacity that he brought success to the Rheban Gaelic Football Club. In 1969 in Geraldine Park, Athy, the Rheban team defeated Castledermot by 2-14 to 2-2 to win the Junior A Championship and so brought silverware to the rural club for the first time in 27 years. 1969 was a vintage year for “Wag” O’Keeffe and the young Rheban team which went on to win the Jack Higgin’s Cup by defeating Rathcoffey on a windswept pitch in Naas. The following year Rheban achieved what is still regarded in the Club’s Annals as its most historic victory. “Wag” O’Keeffe turned out the 1970 Intermediate football champions but the joy of being champions was all the sweeter when victory in the final was claimed at the expense of neighbouring club, Athy GFC.
The defeat still rankles in some Athy memories but perhaps this is due not so much to Rheban’s success as to the fact that Athy went down in the final for the second year in succession. Kilcock had run out winners in 1969 by a single point. One of the stylish players who played in my time in the 1960’s and who was still togging out in the 1970’s was P.J. Hyland. P.J. was “Wag’s” brother-in-law and he played in the centre field position for Athy in the 1970 Intermediate final. Athy lost by 1-14 to 1-7 and nothing will dissuade the Athy players from claiming that an eight week delay between the final and their semi-final match caused them to lose the game. I wonder!
All this time “Wag” O’Keeffe was working in Shaws having returned to Ireland very shortly after emigrating to England with Michael Flynn of Cloney in 1952. “Wag” on arrival in London found the environment not to his liking and he promptly returned to Athy, leaving Michael Flynn who is now retired and living in Manchester. In or about 1972 “Wag” started to work in the Jet filling station on the Kilkenny Road where he was later to be joined, following the closure of the Wallboard Factory, by his brother-in-law P.J. Hyland.
“Wag” who was married to Maura O’Keeffe of Leinster Street was one of Athy’s best known characters. He had a friendly word for everyone and was a friend to everyone he met. Over the years he did a considerable amount of charity work and was instrumental in setting up the Over 40’s Kildare team which played charity games up and down the country. “Wag” was one of the early members of the Athy Wheelchair Association and in addition to raising funds for the Association he was also closely involved with the local St. Vincent Hospital Patient Fund and with many other charities. One could never say “no” to “Wag” because he gave so generously of his own time for so many causes that it would be meanspirited not to have supported him in what he was doing. Strangely “Wag” died a few days before his 70th birthday, just as Mick McEvoy passed away days before his 83rd birthday.
The passing of Mick McEvoy and “Wag” O’Keeffe leaves a void in our lives but both will be remembered with gratitude and appreciation for their contribution over many decades to the communities of Athy and Rheban.
Two interesting developments have come to my notice in relation to the much publicised Inner Relief Road Project which Kildare County Council is still trying to push ahead with, despite local opposition. Firstly, the National Road Authority has indicated in a letter that the section of the N78 around Athy is regarded by them as a Phase 3 Project i.e. to be addressed in the period 2010 to 2014. Consequently funding for an Inner Relief Road is not available.
The second development is information which has now come to hand of the traffic study carried out in Athy in 1996 which showed that “through traffic” accounted for almost 40% of the town’s total traffic and not 20% as claimed by Kildare County Council.
This error, not surprisingly, leant weight to the argument that diverting such a small volume of traffic onto a By-Pass road would have little or no impact on traffic congestion in the centre of Athy. The disclosure that the correct “through traffic” figure is 40% and not 20% vindicates the call for a By-Pass of the town.