Sporting success is an important stimulus for any local community and nowhere was that more apparent than following last Sunday’s football final between Athy and Carbury. The excitement in Athy prior to the final was palpable and the spread of red and white flags throughout the town gave visible expression to the pride we all felt in our local team.
Everyone was elated by the team’s success and one can scarcely imagine the uplifting effect victory had on the people of Athy. It was quite obvious that the sporting success had managed to lift the mood of an entire town banishing, even if only for a short spell, the thoughts of recession, NAMA and bankers madness.
This was a club success, but equally it was a community success, earned as it was by men, young and not so young, with roots extending back generations in the local community. Young James Eaton, whose early goal laid the foundation for the team’s win, is the grandson of James Eaton who in his young days, while working in Jacksons of Leinster Street, also played for the Club.
Another man involved in the winning team was Ger Clancy, whose father played for Athy. Ger was a selector on the winning senior team, a role which he also filled on the minor and Under 21 championship winning teams of recent years. Uniquely Ger is himself the holder of Kildare Championship winning medals at minor, Under 21 and senior level, the latter having been won in 1987 when he lined out at right full back on the Athy team.
The involvement of local families with Athy’s G.A.A. club and Sunday’s winning senior team is evident in so many ways. Another senior selector, Dinny Sullivan, played on the Athy team which lost the 1978 final to Raheens and he, like Ger, also served as selector on previous minor and Under 21 Championship winning teams. His brother Anthony is currently President of the Athy Gaelic Football Club. Club Secretary Colm Reynolds is the proud father of Man of the Match winner Cian.
Another past Club President, whom I had the honour of proposing for that position many years ago, was the late Tim O’Sullivan, a Kerry man whose adult life was spent in Athy. His grandson Hugh Mahon came on as a substitute in the second half of Sunday’s final.
As one looks down the generations it is not surprising to find a continuity of service and allegiance to the local G.A.A. Club. One household now holding five Kildare Senior Championship medals is the Dunnes of Ashville. Patrick Dunne has just won his first Senior Championship medal, but at home there are four similar medals won by his grand uncle Barney Dunne in the late 1930s and 1940s.
The late Tommy Brophy who was a neighbour of mine in Offaly Street in the 1950s was a hurling man through and through. His son Mark who was on the 1995 losing Athy final team panel is the manager of the 2011 senior winning team, having fulfilled the same role so successfully with Athy minors. Mark’s brother Ken played in Sunday’s final, as did Emmanuel Kennedy, both of whom are the last survivors of the 1995 losing final team. Ken and Emmanuel have been tremendous servants of the Club over many years.
Comparison between this year’s successful championship campaign and Athy’s success in 1942 when we also beat Carbury shows that both victories were achieved by very young teams. Sixty nine years ago the Athy team which deprived Carbury of a third in a row senior title was comprised of 7 players under 22 years of age and one player under 18. Those ‘youngsters’ as they were referred to in the 1942 press reports included Danny Shaughnessy, Tommy Fox and Lar Murray.
Another link with the past was the inclusion on this year’s team panel of Aongus Corry, a former County Clare minor and the holder of a Clare Senior Championship medal. His inclusion brought back memories of another Clare man, George Comerford, who played for Athy in the 1937 Senior Football Final when Athy won its third senior title in five years. George was a Garda based in Athy who not only played football for the Clare County Senior team, but also for Munster and Leinster. In addition he played inter county football for Kildare and Louth and was on the losing Dublin team in the All-Ireland Final of 1934. The late Pat Mulhall regarded George Comerford as the finest footballer ever to have played with Athy.
The story of Athy’s success in the Kildare County Final of 2011 is a story of a community whose spirits were lifted by the skill, panache and energy of 15 and more young men. We rejoice in their success and for a while our spirits were lifted and the whole town, not for the first time and hopefully not the last, enjoyed its position as the premier sporting centre in the County of Kildare.