A Look Back at Carlow GAA by Paul Donaghy (RIP), August 2009

“Consider the GAA Community the Original Band of Brothers”


Preamble: In August 2009, Carlow GAA celebrated the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the GAA with a magnificent exhibition in Netwatch Cullen Park in partnership with Carlow County Museum and the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society. The exhibition was launched by Christy Cooney, Uachtarán Cumann Luthcleas Gael. As part of the exhibition Paul Donaghy, well know Carlow sports journalist and supporter of the exhibition, then writing for the Carlow People and formerly of the Carlow Nationalist, was asked to write a short summary piece of Carlow GAA. In his immutable style Paul wrote the following excellent expressive summary.

The stand at Netwatch Cullen Park

Many of us will leave this life with a plethora of regrets, and one of mine might never being privileged to seeing Carlow on the presentation level in Croke Park in September, but rather deafened by deeds of ’44 – the county’s ultimate achievement, which echoes in the ears of all who strive for full senior silver. 

The packed terrace of Netwatch Cullen Park. Photograph: Tommy Murphy Collection

The meek will inherit, and all that … but never in sport, and Carlow is among those who strive against a background of small population and less than celebrated history which hardy fans young enthusiasm as in the Kerrys and the Kilkennys. Yet, in a less triumphant way Barrowside has achieved in line with the heavyweights – the trophies at secondary level, yet the effort as taxing. Then they hosted the national Féile with gusto some years back, developed a fine stadium, and almost silently boast a concentrated juvenile programme under the banner of Club Cheatharlach.

Photograph: Leo McGough

Although not as widely supported as in more successful counties, Gaelic games enjoy a county-wide respect, if only for the influence the association has on young generation development in an era of diminishing social conduct; its impact greater than all other sporting organisations together. It would be churlish to measure the tricolour simply in silver terms, if ignoring personal achievement in many areas of Gaelic activity, on and off the park; every parish with leading locals influential within county and/or club initiative.


The Carlow Senior Football Championship Cups (2009)

I may not have reported on full inter-county provincial or national finals involving Carlow, but the hard drive is crammed with other events as proportionately memorable.  Notable the 61/62 National Football League Semi-Final when they led the eventual dual national champions, Down, a merry dance for quite some time – the team arguably the best most of us have seen, littered with household names.

What of Éire Óg’s Leinster Club Football wins and progression to two All-Ireland Club Football finals; pulling more than 30,000 to a replay in the Gaelic grounds in Limerick – a game they were unfortunate to lose.

Celebrating the 6oth anniversary of the 1944 Leinster Senior Football title in the Woodford Dolmen Hotel, Carlow Town, were: (standing L to R) Tom Doyle (representing Mick Hughes, Australia), Ted Joyce and Paddy O’Sullivan. (Front L to R) Mattie Doyle with his ’44 medal and broadcaster Mícheál ‘O Muircheartaigh

Lesser ‘big days’ include Carlow’s B hurling and football successes against London and Westmeath respectively, the march of the Minor and under 21 hurlers to B All-Irelands, the minor footballers reaching the Leinster decider, and what of some of the best football of the ‘60’s played by Cosets (Carlow Sugar Factory) in the ultra-competitive factory league, and of course the county reaching the National Football League quarter-final against Armagh in ‘86 in Croke Park, and credited with producing superior football to that of the main attraction involving the then powerful Kildare. Then the senior hurlers wonderful performance over imperious Cork in the national league in Dr Cullen Park, with the legendary Christy Ring rooted to the turf in subjection to Pat Somers. Wouldn’t the great man delight in Carlow’s back-to-back Ring Cup victories as we await the county’s elevation to the Leinster and All-Ireland senior championships. Roll on 2010!

Photograph: Tommy Murphy Collection

History is not made by teams or events but rather those individuals who control and feature in them, and Carlow has many who have immeasurable contributions in boots and indeed behind tables. My tenure, which began in ’61, brought me face to face with some of the finest association players and members as could be found elsewhere, even if the teams did not make them national figures, or county influence elect them leading administrators at upper council levels.  My introduction was in the era of Ned Doogue, Edward (Cran) Hogan, Billy (Buller) Canavan, the Walker brothers, Pat Brophy and Brendan Hayden and the hurling deed of players like the Hogan brothers, Peter McGovern, Moling Morrissey, the Walshe’s, Jimmy McCarthy and Pat O’Connell. Later arrivals were Mark Mullins who captained Cork, the inimitable Paddy Quirke, and the most capped senior players in the land Johnny Nevin; all players who would have been an automatic choice in most other counties and set standards which unfortunately were not maintained, but if any can do, Carlow will return to the inner circle.

Johnny Nevin on the attack. Photograph: Tommy Murphy Collection

Then there were the men behind, not the wire, but in those unfashionable and nowadays unwanted roles, who invariably will share the brick bats for on/off field failure, and all other ill which might befall a county. 

Carlow, All Ireland B Champions 1992, v Kilkenny, All Ireland Senior Champions 1992, in Netwatch Cullen Park in 1993 in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship. Photograph: Tommy Murphy Collection

My opening collision was with the county secretary gentleman Willie O’Connor (who became very incensed when I photographed the nine goal to seven to no goals one point NFL scoreboard against Kildare in a tie and threatened to ban me from Dr Cullen Park), my ‘sparring partner’ Jim O’Brien, who had the generosity to include the banned sports in the Carlow Stars scheme the year the ban was lifted, Irish scholar Ned Long who opened the arch entrance to Dr Cullen Park, now second pitch, chairman Jim Kehoe and Luke Hickey, whose magnus opus was opposing Jim O’Brien’s objection to my playing with Palatine – ten years after my last game with the YI’s (Éire Óg) – but then Jim was not overly keen on my previous courtship of soccer and rugby at the time – he was an administrator ‘lost’ to the association, but I never indicted him with love of cricket. 

Carlow County Board stalwarts, (L to R), Eddie Byrne and Tommy Murphy. Photograph: Tommy Murphy Collection

An uninspiring county many may say, yet caution before denigrating the unheralded work of the many whose names will never make the ‘Roll of Honour’, and who’s to say that they acknowledged were any more deserving over the volunteer who served for merely a cuppa and a sarnie and often without. 

The Carlow Senior Football Team in the 1954 National Football League Final in Croke Park.
Photograph: Leo McGough

Sporting alliances may not breed domestic exchange, but they do form a respect for others within the GAA frame, and ultimately an understanding of position, and consideration of opinion, and ultimately a tolerance which bands a fantastic organisation together in unified harmony, even after a few scalps en route.

In a way, we could, and possibly should, consider the GAA community the original band of brothers.   

Video by Terry Reilly, Carlow Nationalist, of the opening of the exhibition on Saturday August 22nd, 2009. Published with the permission of the Carlow Nationalist and Leinster Times.

Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are © copyright of Carlow County Museum.