For over 20 years I have been trying to trace a photograph of the 1923 Athy Senior Football team which was the first local team to contest the Kildare Senior Championship Final. The late Pat Mulhall drew my attention to the existence of the photograph, a copy of which was believed to have been in the possession of the late Paddy Hayden of Castledermot who had been a member of the team. The 1923 final was played in Newbridge on 4th May 1924 and ended in victory for Naas when Athy was trounced by 2-5 to no score. Eoghan Corry wrote in the Kildare G.A.A. centenary history book of ‘the performance of the Athy Jazz Band who paraded in fancy dress before the match was more memorable than that of the injury hit Athy football team’.
Recently a photograph appeared in the window of Paud and Nora O’Connor’s photographic shop in Offaly Street with the caption, ‘Athy Senior Team – July 1924’. Obviously given that date, the photograph, while it may include many of the 1923 final team, may not be the photograph, the existence of which was first drawn to my attention 20 or so years ago.
Athy Gaelic Football Club is believed to have been founded following an initial meeting on 1st September 1887 and a further general meeting on 2nd October 1887 when local curate Fr. James Carroll was elected first Club President. The first competitive game involving Athy was played in Mr. Anthony’s field at Rathstewart on 13th November against a team from Knock, Co. Laois. The first trophy won by Athy club was the 1907 Junior Championship Final and following its defeat in the 1913 Junior Final which was played in October 1914 the club went into decline. However, the cause of that decline was not the loss of the Junior Final when victory once again went to Naas but the declaration of war which saw so many young men from Athy enlist to fight overseas. The difficulties of that time can be understood on noting that an inter county game played in Athy Showgrounds between Kildare and Laois in May 1921 was the first such match in Athy following the start of the 1914-18 War.
The Christian Brothers revived Gaelic football in Athy with the founding of the Young Emmets football team which initially catered for underage footballers but which in time under the stewardship of Seamus Malone, a teacher in the C.B.S., became the town’s football club. Seamus Malone was an old I.R.A. man who wrote of his exploits in his book, ‘B’fhiú an Braon Fola’, which translates as ‘The drop of blood was worth it’. An English translation of the book under the title ‘Blood on the Flag’ was published by Tower Books in 1996.
Malone who died in 1949 aged 68 years was described in an article in the Leinster Leader in 1927 ‘as a person of indominatable will and tireless energy’ who despite the depletion of the Club’s ranks due to emigration never gave up in his promotion of Gaelic games in Athy. In his last year as Vice President of Athy Gaelic Football Club Seamus Malone had the satisfaction of seeing his much depleted club team reach the senior championship final only to be defeated by Kildare on the score of 2-4 to 1-5. That final was played on the 16th of October 1927 and two weeks later one of Athy’s star players, Michael Mahon, emigrated to America. Seamus Malone was to leave Athy the following year.
The 1923 team which lost the County Championship Final included Eddie O’Neill, Chris Lawler, Dan Nolan, Jim Clancy, Paddy Hayden, Tom Forrestral, Johnny Kelly, Pat Brogan, John Moore, Tom Germaine, George Dowling, Mick Grant, Mick Mahon, M. Byrne and Tom Moore.
I interviewed Tom Forrestral, the last surviving member of the 1923 County Final team in 1989 when he was 92 years of age. Tom lived in Castledermot and he remembered the team players, referring to Johnny Kelly as ‘little Johnny Kelly’ and to Tom Germaine as ‘Golly’. Others mentioned by Tom were ‘Sapper’ O’Neill, ‘Compry’ Nolan, Jim Clancy and John and Tom Moore, both of whom were from Rheban. John Moore played at centrefield with Jim Clancy and another man on the team with Tom was his friend Paddy Hayden, who was also from Castledermot. George Dowling, so far as Tom could remember, was from either Cavan or Clare and worked locally as a shop assistant. Mick Grant, whom I understand was known as ‘Myra’ Grant, would later emigrate to America, as did Eddie ‘Sapper’ O’Neill and Mick Mahon.
The photograph accompanying this article appeared in O’Connor’s shop window recently with many of those photographed identified and with the team named as the ‘Athy Senior Team – July 1924’. The Athy team which played in the County Final just two months before that is known and its composition was in many respects very different to the players identified in this photograph. It raises the question as to whether the dating of the photograph and the identification of many of the players in the photograph are correct. Can anyone throw any light on the subject and perhaps even help to find a copy of the team photograph for the defeated 1923 County finalists.
Paud and Nora O’Connor’s shop windows at the top of Offaly Street always draw a lot of attention with an interesting display of old photographs and is well worth a visit.