Described as a 'Great Challenge Match' or 'The 1944 Surprise' two local seven-a-side teams Rovers and Rangers played each other at Athenry on July 30th. with Frank Kilkelly as referee. The teams were led onto the field prior to the match by Brennan`s Accordion Band and the programme lineout was as follows with pen pictures of the players.
Jack Brennan (Capt.): This stalwart from South Galway needs no introduction to football fans. Excels in high fielding and long kicking.
Paddy Kilkelly: By his brilliant saves on Sunday last this custodian must be a serious contender for the position lately vacated by J. McGauran.
Brendan Higgins: Once this astute player gets the leather in his hands he can jockey his way through anything.
Joe Whyte: Has made goal getting a racket in the game can needle his way past most defences. (Tailor).
Joe Egan: This sound defender hails from a camp bristling with a galaxy of stars. Gives a good display in victory or defeat. (Works in Corbetts).
Dennis Madden: An ex-Dublin county forward. When Denny sounds the Clarion call, skin and hair flies. Opponent's goal will have many a narrow shave, (Barber).
John Joe Whyte: Needs no introduction to first class football. Can give spectators a plain or fancy exhibition. (Baker).
Willie Corbett: Formerly played with Newcastle Dreadnoughts. This six footer has an advantage over a former Kerry Captain, as Willie need not spring.
Peter Curran: This custodian in well known for his cagey playing. Forwards will often find themselves snookered with Peter between the sticks, (County snooker champion).
Stephen Jordan: This De-Wett who never took a wet is always in the peak of form. Advocates the use of parliamentary language on the pitch.
Jimmy Burke: This nippy forward is adept at swerving. Can drive through anything, (Lorry Driver).
Martin Glynn: This robust player hails from Cappatagle. Never caught out of position. A master at timing and control. (Publican).
John Doberty: This sound defender possesses a rare turn of speed. 'Fairs' nothing. Gives opposition a 'suck' in`. Calf jobber/Toll collector.
John Cunniffe: A versatile and talented player from G.S.R. Club. When Jap accelerates his solo runs down the line is a treat to watch. (Driver)
Athenry's Bobby Gardner a dual club player, he played minor, junior and senior hurling for Galway before becoming one of the county's best known referees, a county selector, club official and team manager of the club's first Senior win in 1987 .
Three players from the Parish, George Moran, Billy Conway and Bobby Gardner were members of the 1945 County minor hurling team defeated by Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final. After five minutes Bobby Gardner retired injured.
Cuchulainns (Newcastle) won the 1944 north Board Minor Final, defeating Coolarne at Athenry. Two of the team, Christy Murphy and Jimmy Dooley, were on the County minor team the following year with James Rohan also on the panel. They then entered a junior team and defeated Skehana in the first round and were drawn against Newcastle in the next round. In the interest of all concerned they disbanded and withdrew from the competition.
The next year Castle Ellen took the North minor title and were awarded the County Semi-final when Ballindereen failed to field at Loughrea. The County Final against Claregalway was a closely contested game with the result in doubt up to the end. Conditions were poor but did not effect the enthusiasm of both sides. In the closing stages the West Galway side eased ahead and won, 4-6 to 4-1. Castle Ellens best were Bobby Gardner, Mixie Finn, Tommy Morrissey and David Egan.
Cussane won the 1947 North Board Junior Hurling Final with a comfortable victory over Coolarne at Wall`s Field. They defeated Kilchreest 6-7 to 3-2 in the semi-final. They lost their place in the Final after the County Board upheld an objection and an appeal to the Connacht Council was declared lost.
Twenty-four teams took part in a 7-a-side tournament at Mullagh. Newcastle defeated Gurteen by 4-2 to 1-1 and Moycullen by 2-4 to 1-2 to reach the final against the previous year`s County senior hurling champions Liam Mellows. Against the odds the Newcastle side proved their undoubted ability with a splendid display to win the game.
Team: Jimmy Rohan, Larry Murphy, Willie Morris, Christy Murphy, Jimmy Dooley, George Moran and Brendan Murphy.
Christy Murphy (a brother of Larry) played at centerfield for Galway minors with Joe Salmon in the All-Ireland semi-final. The minors were successful but were defeated by Tipperary in the final at Croke Park.
After a great display in the first round of the North Board Junior Football championship, Athenry were defeated by Caltra by one point. However, the Board refixed the game because the referee appointed a rugby player Sean Dillon as umpire. According to the rules he was not entitled to act in that position and the Board had no option but to replay the game.
Athenry made no mistake in the refixture and had a convincing victory by thirteen points. They went on to defeat Abbeyknockmoy and Ahascragh in a replay to qualify for the North Board Final against Kilconly. The Club`s minor team also qualified for the North Final, with victories over Briarfield, Menlough and Newbridge.
Football fever really hit the town with a large turnout of supporters for every game. The 'giant' Duffy with his chestnut horse and sidecar travelled to all matches loaded to the ground, with Jack Brennan a regular passenger. Many songs were sung on the way and at the various stops for refreshments. Two other great supporters of the teams were Johnny Cleary and Peter Curran.
Both finals were played on the same day at Corofin. The minor game was a thrilling contest. Athenry faced tough opposition from a strong Corofin side on their home ground but were equal to the task. They emerged winners by one point in a game of swaying fortunes, the result of which was in doubt right up to the final whistle.
After Sean Dempsey was pulled down in the square, the referee consulted his umpires but they could not agree on whether or not it was a penalty. So all three left the field and went behind a ditch to toss a coin to decide. Athenry were awarded the penalty and Willie Jordan hit the net with a rasping shot, before running back to his position to catch the kick out and send the ball back over the bar for a splendid point.
Several Athenry players gave impressive displays, team Captain, Jimmy Kearns was outstanding at centre back and caught everything that came his way. Joe Coen outplayed County minor Mick Lawlor at corner back while in the other corner Mick Connor, was teak tough. Greg Rabbitte's long kick out gave his side a decided advantage while young Sean Dempsey and the brilliant Willie Jordan were always dangerous in attack. It was a most exciting game and Athenry`s large following got plenty to cheer about in a thrilling final.
With the aid of the wind in the first half Athenry led Erins Hope (Galway) by three points in the County semi-final. They continued to dominate the exchanges in the second half with Jordan and Kearns again at their best and were winners by 1-5 to 0-4 and secured a place in the County Final against Ballinasloe.
In a pulsating game Athenry were again ahead at the interval and led by 2-2 to 1-0 and were looking good. But Ballinasloe fought back and cracked in three fast goals to take the lead with only minutes remaining, Athenry rallied and in a whirlwind finish scored a goal and a point to level the score 3-3 to 4-0.
Athenry`s best were Jimmy Kearns, Mick Kelly, Jimmy Stanley, Cathal Heavey and goalie Noel Cunniffe. Athenry proved the better side in the replay and won their first County minor football title. Again they played well as a team, with their backs being particularly impressive throughout. Minor Panel: Noel Cunniffe, Joe Coen, Greg Rabbitte, Mick Connor, Frank Kilkelly, Jimmy Kearns (Capt.), Cathal Heavey, Mick Kelly, Jim Stanley, Willie Jordan, Frank Hession, Sean Dempsey and Frank Milmo.
Athenry County Minor Football Champions 1948
Front Row: Frank Kilkelly, Frank Milmo, Sean Dempsey, Paddy Higgiins, Frank Hession, Brendan Courtney, Cathal Heavey, Mick Connors. Back Row: Jim Kearns, Jim Stanley, Noel Cunniffe, Paddy O'Regan, Pascal O'Neill, Mickey Kelly and Frank O'Neill.
Martin Feeney, Captain of Athenry Junior Football Team, Willie Kenny (Vice Captain) and Owen Hession (Club Treasurer) with Cups won during 1948 including the County Junior and Minor Football Championships.
The North Board Junior final was a very low scoring game, Athenry winning by three points to two. Steve Jordan was a splendid goalkeeper and got great cover from the full back line that included Des Dempsey and team Captain, Martin Feeney. Jack Nash played well at centre back, well supported by Bobby Gardner. Mick Purcell was an inspiration at centre forward with Mayo star Jimmy Curran also impressive.
Athenry had an easy victory over Cleggan 3-4 to 0-3 in the County semi-final and qualified for the final against Ballinasloe. Showing no weak links they had a convincing 3-6to 2-0 victory over the East Galway champions. Des Dempsey, Michael Hession and Willie Kenny were Athenry's best players. Junior Football Panel: Steve Jordan, Mickey Hession, Martin Feeney (Capt.), Padraic Connor, Mick King, Jack Nash, Bobby Gardner, Willie Kenny, Bob McDonnell, Mick Purcell, Eugene Clancy, Seamus Barrett, John 0 Dowd, Jimmy Curran, Dick Kissane, Gerry Riordan, 'Pop' McNamara, Pascal O`Neill, Frank Dempsey, Jimmy Kearns, Edward Delaney, Paddy Higgins, Brendan Courtney and Vincent O`Dowda. It is interesting to note that it was the first year Athenry wore maroon jerseys.
Athenry County Junior Football Champions 1948
With wins already over Coolarne and Cregmore, Newcastle defeated Cussane in the North Board Junior Hurling Final at Monivea.
Michael Coppinger, Willie Coppinger, Larry Murphy, Martin Molloy, Jim Monaghan, Willie Morris, Christy Murphy, Peadar Harte, Jimmy Dooley, Brendan Murphy, George Moran, Frank Rohan, Jim Monaghan, John Corbett, Andrew Murphy.
Because they did not get sufficient notice for the County semi-final, they were missing star centerfield player Jimmy Dooley and were defeated by Claregalway.
George Moran was a member of the County junior hurling team defeated by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. The Kilkenny team included Paddy Buggy who was later to become President of the Association.
Cussane won the North Board Minor Final and defeated Portumna in the County semi-final, but lost the game following an objection. The names on the list of players given to the referee did not correspond with the Club's register of players.
During the war years handball championships were disrupted and the local Club disbanded, but games continued to be played. The Club was reformed in 1952 at a meeting held in the Old Boys' School on 3rd August, and a committee elected as follows: Chairman: Mickey Hession; Secretary: Murty Qualter; Treasurer: Jim Barrett, Committee members: Christy O'Grady and Christy Barrett Jnr. The Club held their first AGM on 23rd September with Donald Barrett taking over as Secretary and Joe Howley, Michael Doherty and Joe Whyte added to the Committee.
The new Club officers included men who had given great service to Athenry handball - Jim Barrett who was foremost in getting a site for a new alley at Kenny Park. Michael Doherty, Joe Howley, Joe Whyte and Christy Barrett who were very involved during the 1920`s and '30's, Christy O'Grady and Mickey Hession who together won many Tostal Tournaments.
The early fifties were not very successful for local hurling and football teams. Boyhill affiliated minor and junior hurling teams in 1953; they reached the North Board Junior Final but lost 6-4 to 2-1 to Colarne at Tuam. Newcastle minor team won the North Final but were hammered by St.Gabriels 8-6 to 2-0 in the County semi-final at Loughrea. That year also Newcastle's Willie Morris won the All-Ireland Cross-Country title in Dublin.
In 1954 Cussane qualified for the North Junior Final but they lost 4-4 to 1-4 to Coolarne while Athenry`s junior footballers, lost the North League Final to Annaghdown 3-9 to 1-4. The following year`s records show that Boyhill and Newcastle failed to field for games while Cussane were involved in drawn out objections and counter objections with Abbeyknockmoy.
All-Ireland Handball Champions
Left to right: Michael Walsh, P.J. Collins and John J. Whyte.
Newcastle North Board Junior Hurling Champions 1948
Front Row: (left to right) George Moran, Jimmy Dooley, John Corbett. Second Row: (left to right)Christy Murphy, Michael Coppinger, Joseph Corbett, Ted Fleming, Willie Morris. Back Row: (left to right) Brendan Murphy, Willie Coppinger, Jimmy Rohan, Mattie Molloy, Willie Hynes, Frank Rohan and Larry Murphy.
Athenry's Steve Jordan playing for champions St. Jarlath's, Tuam in the 1947 All-Ireland Colleges Football Final.
St. Jarlaths All-Ireland Colleges Football Champions 1947
Front Row: (left to right): Billy Flynn, Anthony Morrison, Peter Solan, Vincent McHale, Mick Flanagan, Tommy Lyons, Sean Purcell. Back Row: (left to right) Pat Flanagan, Sean Shiel, Mick O'Malley, Tom Joyce, Steve Jordan and Fr. M. J. Mooney (trainer)
Galway Junior Hurling Team 1951
Front: Billy Conway, Tony Shaughnessy, Paddy Brody, Peter Briggs, Bobby Gardner, Johnny Spellman, Tim Sweeney. Back: Martin Murphy, Tom Connor, Vincent Treacy, Sean Farragher, Thadgh Lyne, Joe Duffy, Tommy Kelly and Patrick Callinan.
Galway senior players training at Renmore Grounds for the 1953 All-Ireland Hurling Final
Left to Right: M.J. (Inky) Flaherty, Johnny Molloy, Paddy Duggan, Billy O’Neill, Jim Trophy and Ned Quinn.
Galway Team on parade before the 1953 All-Ireland Hurling Final
Right to left: Michael Burke (cast.) Hugh Gordan, Sean Duggan, John Killeen, Joe Salmon, Billy Duffy, Ned Quinn, Miko McInerney, John Molloy, Jimmy Duggan, Billy O’Neill, Colm Corless, Jim Trophy, Josie Gallagher and Patrick Nolan.
The Galway Senior Hurling team, plus County Board officials, before they set sail for New York to play the away final of the National Hurling League In the Polo Grounds, New York on September 30th, 1951. Galway won the title In front of a crowd of 30,000 exiles with a 2-11 to 2-8 win over New York, having beaten Wexford 6-7 to 3-4 In the home final the previous April. It was only their second league title and their first since 1930-31.