Thursday, September 27, 2012

Athy Gaelic Football Club

On 6th October members of Athy Gaelic Football Club will gather in their Clubhouse at Geraldine Park to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of Athy’s premier sports club.  Mass will be celebrated for past members and players, many of whom in their time brought glory to the south Kildare town.  Many more however found themselves, like this writer, playing in what we euphemistically call ‘the lean years’ and so saw out their playing careers unadorned by medals or success of any kind. 

Thousands of men and boys have worn the club’s jerseys over the years.  Unfortunately the absence of club records leaves us unable to identify the majority of those players.  Some of those whose names are noted in press reports of the past include ‘Mickey’ Mahon, the only club player to win an All Ireland senior medal.  ‘Mickey’ who was born in Meeting Lane in 1905 played right corner forward for Athy when the club contested its first senior county final in 1923.  He was a sub on the 1927 Kildare All Ireland winning team before emigrating to America where he captained the New York team.  A member of that team also was Newbridge native Joe Stynes who was married to ‘Mickey’s’ sister Brigid.  ‘Mickey’ later returned to Ireland and featured on the Athy Senior Championship winning team of 1934, two years after he captained the American team which played in the Tailteann Games of 1932.  Interestingly opposing him on the Irish team was George Comerford who would later play with Athy G.F.C.

Great players who played for Athy include the above named George Comerford, a county Clare Garda who was stationed in Athy for a number of years in the mid 1930s.  He captained the 1937 senior championship winning team and also played interprovincial football for Munster and county football with Kildare and Dublin.  Another Athy player who played interprovincial football many times for Leinster was local man Tommy Mulhall, brother of the late Pat.

On Easter Sunday 1990 Athy G.F.C. at its annual dinner honoured the surviving members of the nine senior championship final teams which played between 1923 and 1946.  Amongst the former players who received honorary club membership that night was Tom Forrestal of Castledermot, then the only surviving member of the 1923 final team.  Another player of the past honoured in 1990 was Barney Dunne, the only Athy club man to win four senior championship medals.  He was joined by Tadgh Brennan, Paddy Looney, Matt Murray, Pat Mulhall, Tom Wall, Johnny McEvoy, Ned Wynne, Finbar Purcell and Dinny Fox.  As I wrote in the menu card for that night ‘Athy G.F.C.’s proud history was created by these men and their colleagues who as players brought honour and glory and four County Senior Championships to Athy between 1933 and 1942.’

That success and the success achieved by the club over the past 22 years could not have been earned without the many men and, in more recent years, the women who have given voluntary and sterling service as Club administrators, team trainers, members of the Geraldine Park grounds committee or club house committee members.  Athy Club men such as J. Dignam, who in 1889 was Chairman of the Kildare County Board and Fintan Brennan, who throughout a long life associated with Gaelic football in Athy served as Chairman of the Leinster Council for a number of years in the mid 1940s.

One man who almost single handed revived the Club in the 1920s was Seamus Malone, Tyrrellspass born school teacher and republican who with his brother played a major role in the War of Independence.  Following the Civil War the newly founded  Free State was economically depressed and whatever little State employment was available tended to favour those who supported the pro treaty side.  Emigration, particularly to America, was one of the outlets available to young employed men and women.  Following the 1923 County Final which Athy lost heavily to Naas several members of the Athy team emigrated to America.

‘Mickey’ Mahon, Eddie ‘Sapper’ O’Neill and Myra Grant were star players for Athy and when they and others left for America, Athy G.F.C. went into decline.  It was only through the efforts of Seamus Malone that the club was revived in the late 1920s.  The club’s success in the 1933 and 1934 Kildare Senior Final gave Athy players a prominent presence in the Kildare County team which contested the All Ireland final of 1935 against Cavan.  Paul Matthews, Captain of Athy Seniors also captained the County Kildare team that year and was joined on the playing panel by Tommy Mulhall.  On the subs bench on All Ireland Final day were Athy players Jim Fox, Barney Dunne and the county’s regular goalie Cuddy Chanders who had been inexplicably dropped for the final. 

Club administrators whose names are recalled with pride include William Mahon, long term Chairman in the 1920s and 1930s and John W. Kehoe, Offaly Street Publican, whose fundraising skill and energy financed the club’s dressing room facilities and the erection of the Dublin Road boundary wall.  Denis Wynne, whose father, brothers and nephews contributed hugely over the years to Athy G.F.C. is remembered fondly both as a great footballer and administrator for his club.

Athy men’s participation in the 1914-18 war involved many who had once proudly worn the club’s football jersey.  Jack ‘Skurt’ Doyle who was captured at the Battle of Mons and imprisoned in Germany, played in goal for Athy as well as the Kildare Senior Football team.  Another World War I soldier was B. McWilliams who like many of his townsmen lies buried in Flanders.  McWilliams was on the Athy junior team which won the club’s first championship medal in 1909.  The 1909 game was in fact the 1907 championship final and the medals were not presented to the team members until 1927.  The medal presentation took place in the Urban Council Offices in the Town Hall and one of those who received his medal was ‘Major’ Toomey who came forward on crutches, having lost a leg in the war.  Two team members Jim May and Christy Farrell had died in the intervening years, while ‘Mick’ Gibbons was by then living in America.

The history of Athy G.F.C. has yet to be written but when it is written it will record a proud history created by men whose names for the most part are lost in time.

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