Laois G.A.A., 2000-2009
by Pat Delaney
I recently browsed through the report book of the County secretary for the County convention of 1989. Glancing through it is amazing and some of his suggestions on improving the game in the County and then the motions put forward by the junior and intermediate clubs. I was always of the belief and still am these are the people that make the GAA what it is. Like the one that asks that junior hurling league games be played on a home and away basis and that referees bring his own umpires.
That the intermediate championship be played on a league basis. That the Parish rule be abolished for Minor and the old chestnut that the hurling board recruit referees and train them, the under twenty one championship be completed before Easter and now we are lucky if is finished before Christmas.
The clubs were represented by the same people as those who represented them for years before and indeed the same people were there last year and a good few will be in attendance this year. I am thinking of people like J. J. Conway Larry Wall, Aiden Kennedy, Liam Shaughnessey, Edmond Sheeran, Mick Lalor Camross, Ned Kelly Ballylinan. Sean Mullaney Castletown, Ned O'Dea Ballypickas, Mick Quinlan Kyle, Jack Lowry Slieve Bloom, Michael Mulhare Stradbally. Pat Carroll St. Manmans, Eugene Lalor Trumera. Andy Fleming Timahoe, Jim Whelan Ballyroan and Pat Behan flying the flag for Courtwood.
Then I look at the people who for so long fought the good fight for years and were in their prime twenty years ago but are no longer amongst us. I will list some of the people who contributed magnificently to convention for many years even if they did not always meet with approval at the top table or some times down the floor when the boys were getting thirsty.
Larry Hearns of Abbeyleix, Myles Connolly Ballyfin and Jim Scully Ballyfin. Brendan Conroy Clonad, Walter Hovendon, John Grace and John Hearns Colt. Bill Delaney Stradbally. Paddy the Big Wheel Lalor Shanahoe, Jim Sayers Timahoe, and last but by no means least from Ballacolla who could forget Lar Broderick and the great Frank Ryan when the final whistle blew at the end of this years County final I visualised the two being hugged by friend and foe, they would have died happy having seen the cup headed for the Gulley bridge.
These are just some of the memories but I was asked to write about happenings since the turn of the Century but we will get a taste of life at the end of the last Century first and make comparisons then with the first nine of the this Century, Ten years ago Castletown were crowned champions for the last year of the old and retained it for four years of this Century. Refer back to 1989 and they were competing at junior level. Portlaoise won the football appropriately because since 1964 they have been the dominant side and little has changed since the turn of the century. Laois reached the All-Ireland under twenty one football final in 1998 and failed to Kerry as they did in 1964 and then in 2006 and seven we were crowned Leinster champions and Cork denied us in the All-Ireland semi-final in a replay then in the final by a point the following year.
Go back to 1995 and who will forget the minor saga in Croke Park and Tullamore that saw Laois finally lose at the third attempt. Thirty thousand packed Tullamore for part two and three. A year later and thirty thousand welcomed the minor's home with Little Sam. The captain was Martin Delaney whose grandparents hailed from Johnsboro deep in the Slieve Bloom Mountain's and they never saw a football not to mention a footballer up there.
Twelve months later traffic was diverted again as the cavalcade arrived back with the young Sam in tow again, Kieran Kelly from the Pike near Ballylinan with a Kilkenny Mother and a Father who wore the Green and Yellow for many years was the captain. Could we go to the well again and do the unthinkable. We won Leinster and the All-Ireland semi-final but Tyrone got revenge for the previous year and we were first to say well done. Johnny Behan was the skipper from O'Dempseys. As we entered the new decade we were confident of reaping a rich harvest from these great days in Croke Park.
To say it did not happen would be unfair. In 2002 Mick O'Dwyer arrived filling the County with hope and confidence and when he delivered a Provincial title in 2003 we prepared to Canonise him, Armagh beat us in the All-Ireland series but later in September twenty thousand crammed into Dr. Cullen Park for the replay of the Minor All-Ireland final. Vintage football and long before the final whistle the trophy was headed for Graiguecullen, Ballickmoyler, Stradbally the Rock of Dunamaise and finally into Leyster square for another massive reception The latest recipient of the Tom Markham cup was a grandson of the great Mick Murray of Colt and Ballyroan he won an intermediate hurling medal in 1965. Craig Rogers from the Portlaoise club and of course Portlaoise supplied the winning captain for the senior success in 2003 Ian Fitzgerald son of a Cork minor footballer Seamus.
The County was agog with football talk and with another batch of recruits for the Micko machine. For years we watched the All-Stars handed out at plush receptions in early November and now we sat and counted as three Laois men were summoned to the rostrum, Fergal Byron from that small hamlet on our side of Monasterevin Courtwood, The Final Furlong got an extension of sorts that night, this club had always contributed their share to the County Cause and now an All-Ireland Minor medal a Leinster senior and an All-Star for their most loved son who wore the Red jersey to distinguish himself from the Lily whites across the border in Cowpasture. Tom Kelly and Joe Higgins made it a proud night for St.Josephs and the all went to Australia to represent their Country, could it get any better?
2004 and another Leinster final beckoned when Kildare were put the sword and with the "Dubs" dispatched by Paidi O'Shea it looked like taking candy from a kid as the two Kerry men patrolled the side lines in Croke Park. The result stunned the Blue and white after we got a late equaliser from Arles/Kilcruise man Chris Conway on Sunday, it was back to Croke Park on Saturday night to finish the job but a long journey home as the Bill Delaney cup found a new resting place for the second year in a row in the midlands.
As I write Dublin have won every title since and that includes defeating us in two final s of 2005 and 2007. Micko folded the tent and headed for the Garden County but not before we hounded him out and he did not forget it when he penned another book. Liam Kearns arrived but it never worked out and he then bore the brunt of expectation and after berating the local press decided no qualifications were required and took up the job himself safely back in the sanctity of the Golden Vale.
At club level a new name has appeared on the plinth of the Jack Delaney cup Arles/Kilcruise in 2003 surprised every one and what a year it was for that Parish, not since Ballyroan put their name on it in 1992 has a new name been appended. Arles/Killeen and the Rock are other clubs that have come close and this has to be good for the game.
Sean Dempsey got the job after achieving much at under age level but the first year was anything but harmonious, we will wait longer before delivering a verdict. The minor bandwagon has gone off the rails but we did win again 2004 and 2006 but the novelty has worn off. Hurling cannot boast of any such achievements the greatest achievement was another Div. 2 league title beating Wicklow in Thurles in 2007. At club level Castletown were the new team at the start of the century and two new amalgamations arrived on the scene Tinnahinch were formed when Rosenallis and Clonaslee formed an alliance and they contested three senior finals without success, then in two thousand and five Rathdowney and Errill joined forces and have won two senior titles as well as a minor championship but the re-emergence of the Ballygeehan club will revive memories of the great days of Laois hurling in the early years of the last Century.
This year they reached a first final in forty six years and lifted their first title in ninety one years. They did not arrive over night, great work has been done at under age level going back over twenty years and now that has borne fruit. No change in football as Portlaoise retained the title for a third year in a row and their twenty sixth in all. Intermediate titles went to Clonaslee/St. Manmans and Borris-in-Ossory.
Kyle and the Heath won the junior championships and Abbeyleix and O'Dempseys won junior B. Portlaoise retained the C in football and Ballinakill won the hurling. Minor titles for Kilcotton/Borris in league and championship, Portarlington captured the minor football in style. Camross won the u-21 for a sixteenth time but football has yet to be completed. In hurling league Clough/Ballacolla won Div. one and three bringing their title haul to three. Rathdowney/Errill won two and in four it was Kyle completing a double and Colt won in Div. 5 Emo won Div. 2 in football and the Heath completed a nice double adding Div. 3 of the league.
Great work is being done at under age level and hopefully this great work will eventually bear fruit. Cumann Na MBun Schoil has improved hurling and football and the finals are now a wonderful spectacle. Teachers deserve great credit for the work they have done and long may they continue to do so. The girls too have brought great colour to the game. Camogie has got great recognition and the Harps have really put the County on the map. This year they won their fourth Laois and Leinster title in a row and as we go to press they are in line for another All-Ireland decider. Clubs have grown and it is healthy for the game that the sport is getting popular.
If camogie has come on then Ladies football is the fastest growing sport in the Country. It probably has reached its peak but continues to grow in popularity. Schools have devoted many hours to the preparation and at club level the numbers have increased. For years it was only the Heath but now Timahoe, Sarsfields and Crettyard have achieved great recognition for their contribution to the sport and several Laois girls have contributed to the success of St.Leos in Carlow, who have claimed a number of Provincial titles in recent years.
Off the field since the turn of the Century we have witnessed many changes. Heywood College hosted the first Convention of the Century that marked the end of men like Tom Hassett and Michael Carroll who contributed much to the success of the County in the latter part of the last Century. Dick Miller of Timahoe took the reins as Chairman and had the distinction of presiding over the most successful period in modern history. The brand new stand was completed and paid for, the County won a first Leinster senior title in fifty seven years.
Then added a third minor title in eight years, three players won All-Stars and represented their Country against the Australians. Two more under-twenty one titles were claimed and an All- Ireland final appearance. Portlaoise reached their second All-Ireland club final on St. Patrick's day 2005. Brian Allen became the first Trumera man to take the chair and former secretary Liam O'Neill went on to become Leinster Council Chairman. Niall Handy succeeded Liam O'Neill and later was appointed the first ever full time secretary an indication of the growing work load.
Times have changed indeed and the arrival of electronic mail has seen the disappearance of old style letter writing. Clubs have moved with the times many with their own websites, fixtures now appear on club laptops on Monday nights and fixtures are planned for months in advance. Clubs can now plan ahead and the difficulty of fixtures seems to be a thing of the past. Referees are better prepared and discipline has improved greatly.
The last two All-Ireland football final days has seen Laois men play a vital part of the proceedings. Maurice Deegan was the man in the middle for the senior final of 2008 having taken charge of U-21 and Minor in the same year a few years earlier. Eddie Kinsella from the Courtwood club was the man in the middle of this years Minor All-Ireland football final another indication of the high standard of preparation in the County.
County officers seem to have less input into affairs of the County and when we glance at the Clar for County convention the number of motions has dwindled. Very little business is conducted at convention and with the subsidiary Boards about to be culled I am convinced the day is near when all the business will be completed by a smaller band of people. Convention no longer has the appeal of years ago and like annual Congress could be coming to the end of its term.
Revenue will play a bigger part than ever before, the Association which has depended greatly on voluntary contributions will be severely hit when the recession bites in the coming years. Most clubs have excellent facilities, achieved in the good days but others will find it difficult to raise the necessary finance for such ventures.
Finally I refer back to an observation by the secretary in the 1989 report when he observed under the heading of Emigration. "It is my sad duty to refer to an era we thought was in the past but is again causing serious concern for individuals and clubs. The playing strength of many clubs is greatly deflated and second teams has been an impossibility for many bigger clubs. With the arrival of the so called Celtic Tiger clubs grew again and so too did their facilities and we believed that those days were again just distant memories". Sadly those days are here again and will effect every unit of the Association, the secretary then referred to the great work being done by the Laois men's association across the water and how they had helped many players who sought employment under her Majesty's Government, hopefully they will still be of assistance if needs be.
The association faces serious times at club and National level but they have shown the way before and hopefully will again.