EYE ON THE PAST NO. 1459
THE local G.A.A.club year of 50 years ago opened with controversy arising from the claim made by Urban Councillor Jim McEvoy that Athy G.A.A. Club had refused the local athletic club permission for its 70 members to train in Geraldine Park. Participants in the subsequent debate included former T.D. Paddy Dooley, Mick Rowan, Frank English, Enda Kinsella, Jack McKenna and Tom Carbery, all of whom are sadly no longer with us. The councillors were apparently surprised at their fellow councillor’s claim but nevertheless swiftly changed the debate to discuss a long-running claim that the Kildare G.A.A. County Board were failing to provide Athy’s Geraldine Park with intercounty matches. Before the year ended the G.A.A. Board would be involved in another controversy involving a second club from the south of the county.
This was reflected in a headline in the sports page of the Nationalist and Leinster Times of 7 November 1970 which read ‘ Team gets life ban’. The report which followed recorded that ‘the County Kildare Board of the G.A.A. on Tuesday night suspended fifteen members of the Castlemitchell Club for life under the misconduct rule.’ Indeed, the County Board Chairman, Ger Grehan, went so far as to suggest that the club itself should be expelled from the association.
The suspensions were the sequel to what was described as unseemly scenes during a junior football match played in Newbridge between Castlemitchell and Nurney. The match referee, P. Coyle, in his report described the Castlemitchell team as ‘a disgrace to the association and the county’ claiming he could not control the game because of what he described as ‘the disgraceful way in which the Castlemitchell team played.’ The referee had sent three Castlemitchell players to the line, as well as one Nurney player. His report was accepted by the County Board members, one of whom was Mossy Reilly, secretary of the Castlemitchell Club, who agreed with the referee’s report. Mossy indicated that his team not only lost the three players sent to the line, but also another unnamed player who walked off the pitch ‘in protest against the way the game was played.’ Tim Clarke, the legendary G.A.A. County Board Secretary said the game provided some of the most disgraceful scenes ever seen on a G.A.A. field. ‘Some of those sent off came back on wearing different jerseys and three clergymen walked out in disgust.’ The newspaper report went on to name each of the 15 Castlemitchell team members who were suspended from the G.A.A. for life.
Less than four weeks later the County Board considered a letter from the Castlemitchell Club Secretary Mossy Reilly seeking the reinstatement of nine players, claiming that only six members of the team of 15 were ‘the culprits in the row during the game.’ The County Board Chairman did not accept that only six players were involved but indicated he was willing to reinstate the player who walked off the pitch. Jim Clark agreed with the Chairman, but notwithstanding this the meeting agreed to hear submissions from five Castlemitchell players, all of whom claimed they were not involved in any of the incidents. The denial of one of the five was not accepted when Ger Grehan, the Board Chairman claimed: ‘I saw him doing things that should not be done on a field.’ Four of the players were reinstated and when other Castlemitchell players later appeared they were refused an audience by the board members which prompted Mossy Reilly to leave the meeting, commenting as he exited ‘we might as well be in Russia’.
That same newspaper edition carried a report of the minor hurling final played on the Curragh the previous Sunday between Naas and Broadford. It ended in a draw with the press reporting the best Athy players as Christy Delahunt, Tom Murray, Finbarr Stynes, Eddie Lawler, Bill Delaney, Con Ronan and Brendan Shortt. The replay which took place five days before Christmas Day in Naas saw the Athy team succeed in winning the 1970 minor hurling championship. It was the first minor hurling final won by an Athy team which had lost the previous year’s final to Broadford by a single point.
The 1970 G.A.A. year ended with Larry Stanley, widely regarded as the greatest footballer ever to wear the Kildare jersey being selected for the Texaco Hall of Fame award. Seventy-four-year-old Larry, a native of Blacktrench, Naas, was then living in Dublin. He had captained the Kildare All Ireland winning team of 1919 and was on the Dublin All Ireland winning team four years later. Larry Stanley who was regarded as one of the best athletes in Ireland was the A.A.U. and Irish high jump champion in 1924 and 1925 and represented Ireland at the Olympic games of 1924.
1970 was a good year for the young Athy players who donned the Athy club jerseys to win the county minor hurling title, while their neighbours in nearby Rheban won the Intermediate football title, defeating Athy in the final. It was the second year in succession that Athy lost the intermediate football final. That same year the Athy Club won the U-14 football championship to follow up similar success in the previous year’s final.
1970 was a mixed year for the Athy Gaels, a good year for the Rheban Gaels, but an extremely bad year for the Castlemitchell Gaels. The Castlemitchell club later returned to the G.A.A. fold reinvigorated and good-spirited to take its place as one of the strongest rural community-based footballing clubs in the county. As for Geraldine Park, it has not hosted an inter-county football match for several decades.