What a bumper year 2010 has been for Athy Gaelic footballers. Last week’s victory of the U-21 team in the County Final brought the Squires Gannon Cup to the south Kildare town for the first time. St. Michael’s Parish team had been previous champions at the same grade in 1975 and 1983 when the teams included players from Athy, Castlemitchell and Rheban. The success of the U-21 players was all the more welcome, coming as it did after the ‘Triple Crown’ win of the Club’s minor team in this year’s Kildare Minor Championship.
An interesting fact is the number of players on the winning team who shared in the Club’s minor championship wins in 2008 and 2009. No less than 6 players hold that unique distinction, including Luke Thomas, Barry Purcell, Kevin Feeley, Liam McGovern, Tony Gibbons and Sean Ronan who was on the substitute’s bench.
I could not but help thinking back to the founding of the Young Emmets Football Club in the early 1920s at a time when emigration had brought the previously vibrant Athy Gaelic Football Club almost to a standstill. It was the locally based Christian Brothers, spearheaded by lay teacher Seamus Malone, who founded the Young Emmets Club based in the local school. It became in time the focus for Gaelic games in Athy and eventually emerged as the local club before changing its name to Geraldine Football Club.
Seamus Malone and his brother, both from Tyrrellspass in County Westmeath, were very prominent in the Irish War of Independence but Seamus’s greatest legacy to the people of Athy was the football club which he organised and acted as Club Secretary for several years while a teacher in the local C.B.S.
The age profile of the U-21 team makes all the players eligible for next year’s team, while many of them also played on the U-21 team during the 2008 and 2009 championships. En route to the final the team defeated the Allen parish team, Na Fianna and Naas before emerging as winners in an extraordinary game against Sarsfield in the semi-final. The Newbridge team had run up an 8 point lead at one stage in the first half, and were still ahead by 6 points when the half time whistle was blown. A revival by the Athy footballers in the second half saw their team draw level in the last minute of normal time before going on to win by 4 points in injury time.
The U-21 final against Clane saw a more clean cut victory for Athy, even though Clane opened the scoring and held the lead at half time. The impressive young Athy players came out after the break determined to emulate the minor team’s success. Their final victory on a score line of 1-11 to 1-8 rounded off a fine game of football played by Paul Clynch, Luke Thomas, Joe Kinahan, Conor Ronan, Shane O’Brien, David McGovern, Barry Purcell, Brian Kinahan, Kevin Feeley, Corey Moore, Liam McGovern, Daniel O’Keeffe, Cian Reynolds, Darroch Mulhall, Tony Gibbons, with playing substitutes Sean Ronan and James Eaton.
The headline in the Kildare Nationalist ‘Mulhall’s Masterclass puts Athy in a League of its Own’ told the story of the man of the match display by Athy player Darroch Mulhall. His score tally of 5 points, superbly taken at important times in the match, proved inspirational for a team and a club which in the not too distant future can hopefully go on to achieve long awaited success at senior level.
Athy’s U-21 management team comprised Dinny Sullivan and Ger Clancy as selectors, with Joe Kinahan as team manager. They were also the management team for the successful minor champions of 2009 and this gives them a unique place in the club’s history having guided two teams at different age levels to championship success.
Athy Gaelic Football Club has enjoyed remarkable success at underage level over the last 3 years and at senior level discernable improvement has been noted. Falling at semi-final stage in a senior championship to the eventual winners was the club’s measure for 2010. Here’s hoping that 2011 and beyond brings a senior county championship to Athy.
It was the late Tim Clarke, long time Secretary to the Kildare County Board, who was believed to have penned the following lines prior to a senior championship final in the early 1940s.
‘The Athy men, always stylish
Since the days of Tom Mulhall
Were a joy to all spectators
For the way they played the ball’.
The young men of 2010 are following in the tradition of the great Tommy Mulhall and the many other great players who lined out over the years for the Athy Club. They have done us proud.
Joe Connolly has written a history of Kildare’s Drama Festival entitled ‘Pure Drama from behind the Spotlight’. It includes references to the Athy Social Club Players who graced stages throughout the country in the 1940s and the 1950s. The book will be launched in the Silken Thomas Kildare on Thursday 2nd December at 8.00 p.m.