Ballindine, Co. Mayo

July 9, 2009

My Years (1963-1973) by Tom FitzGearld

In 1964 when Crossboyne GAA Club amalgamated with Garrymore, Irishtown players like Mark Connelly, Pa Kirrane, Kevin Mitchell and I, urged on by a sense of pride in our locality, decided to form a club in Irishtown under the guidance of Jimmy Curran, N.T., and Barney Donnellan, Garryduff. We formed a junior football club which was affiliated under the name of Irishtown and competed in the junior and O’Meara Cup championships for that year.

With emigration rampant during the sixties and the parish playing rules not properly enforced, our greatest difficulty was to field a team. Foreign lands had claimed stars like John J. Fitzgearld (one of the brightest prospects at the time), Kevin Mitchell, Johnny Mooney, Sean Connor to name but a few. Garrymore club was backboned by four or five of our players from the village of Ballindine. Against these odds we fielded a junior team made up of six to eight lads from Brickens, and the remainder from Irishtown.

Anybody who was involved during the years 1964-1973 can recall with pride the wonderful comradeship that existed amongst the lads involved. Even though it was our dream to win a South Mayo junior title, having to play against teams like Garrymore, Claremorris, Hollymount, Ballinrobe and Kilmaine was a great source of pride for us and often the lads did themselves proud on these occasions because junior football during these years was on par with senior today. During these years county senior players played junior football with their local clubs as senior club football was confined mainly to towns like Castlebar and Ballina. During these years players of the calibre of Padraic Prendergast, Matt McGrath, Eddie Prendergast and Pa Kirrane, to name but a few, would in today’s world of training techniques, selection and opportunities, be wearing the county jersey with distinction.

There were no sophisticated methods of training during these years. We met every evening in the playground in Irishtown. Training usually consisted of a crowd outfield, some in togs and jerseys, others in togs and shirts, others in their Sunday suits (on their way to meet some girl), and more in wellington boots after returning home from a day in the bog. In order to put some ‘bite’ into training some bright spark suggested we form teams, one called “Road down from the crossroads” and the other an amalgamation of “the road back and road over”. This arrangement produced the necessary ‘bite’ and nearly put and end to the club as we discovered that pride in our roads far exceeded pride in the club, so luckily enough somebody stepped in before boiling point was reached and we returned to the ‘ould’ method of training again. As part of our training programme, we played Ballyhaunis on a few occasions, often running them to a point which was no mean achievement against a team backboned by county stars like J.J. Cribben, John Cleary, Doc Healy and Johnny Biesty. During these years we were proud to have three representatives wearing the county jersey and minor level – Bernie and Matt McGrath, and their brother Frank at both minor and Under 21 level.

For the record, when the club was formed only two of our players (who shall remain nameless) took Guinness for strength and courage. The team’s performance did nothing, however, to prove the theory that players perform better with no alcohol in their systems! In 1967 we fielded a minor team but due to lack of numbers it had to be propped up by a number of overage players, qualifications being…very little hair on your legs and just a trace of stubble on the jaw. It was from this era that the term “Hairy minor” originated. During one of their first outings against Hollymount in Hollymount, their trainer, Jimmy Curran, felt that the referee was rather harsh and upsetting to his team so he took them off the field in protest.

In 1968 our years of perseverance began to yield results, our team reaching the play-off stages of the South Mayo championship, losing by two points to Garrymore (5 points to 3). On that particular day lady luck turned her back on us as Frank McTigue blasted a penalty off the crossbar at a vital stage of the game. In 1969 we again reached the play-off stages, his time to be beaten by Ballinrobe. On this occasion we had difficulty in fielding a team as we had lost two of our stars – Padraic Prendergast to Ballyhaunis and Frank McGrath to Crossmolina.

The year 1970 started as a very lean year, as defeat in 1969 had finally smashed our morale. When all seemed lost Austin O’Donnell, Michael Roche and myself decided to rally the team and have another try at winning the South title. Our efforts almost bore fruit as, for the first time, we reached the South Mayo final, having beaten Mayo Abbey in a thriller of a semi-final. For me, it was a very proud day as I was lucky enough to be captain at the time. Garrymore beat us by two point, a team which included stars like Danny Dolan, T.J. Farragher, Joe Mellett, and many others who later went on to become the finest senior championship club in Mayo during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, winning no fewer than six senior county titles.

During my years with the club I had the honour and pleasure with playing with stars like Sean Sweeney, Eddie Prendergast, John McLoughlin, Padraic and Jarleth Prendergast, Pa Kirrane, Tom Waldron, the McGrath brothers and Frank McTigue. In my years playing and being associated with the club from 1964 to 1972 and having competed in every league and championship fixture, only seven medals were won by our team members and they were won by Tom Connor, Pa Kirrane, Matt McGrath, Frank McGrath, Frank McTigue, Tom Waldron, Eddie Prendergast at a seven-a-side tournament in Mayo Abbey. I think this warrants a space in the Guinness Book of Records. Even though we have no plaques or medals to display, one thing those years achieved was comradeship and friendship both amongst the team members and with outside clubs – a friendship that is still in existence.

During those years money to run the club was raised by holding dances in Dunmore (Gannon’s Hall), Milltown (CYMS Hall), Ballindine (People’s Hall) and Claremorris (Savoy Ballroom). The Paramount Showband was one of our most regular bands and men like Pa Kirrane and Tom Connor had the dangerous task of counting the door takings. On one occasion the committee decided to put on a big show so the Gallowglass Ceili Band was booked for the People’s Hall in Ballindine. The band’s fee was £60 (big money in 1965) and a meal was provided by Mrs. Moran. The admission fee for the night was six shillings. The Hall was jammed tight, leaving a profit of £5.00. Our greatest source of revenue during these years was a play staged in the People’s Hall, Ballindine, every Christmas night by our local Drama Group. The group was tutored by Jimmy Curran, John Duignan, Willie Corley and Fr. Pat McGrath. This was always a great social occasion for the locality and, like football, it also created lasting friendships. No Oscars came our way but it was a pleasure to be part of a group which included Austin O’Donnell, Pat Kirrane, Willie Corley, Mary Commins, Sheila Diskin, Freddie Goggins and Peggy Reapy.

Let me recall some incidents from those years which are often discussed whenever we meet; like the evening after being humiliated on the football field by Mayo Abbey we took over a certain pub in Claremorris and a few lads who hadn’t fared too well on the field decided to have a go at the piano and microphone hoping that their talents were in the musical field if not on the football field. Men like Joe McNamara brought a deafening silence over the place as he painfully tore into a version of Danny Boy, proving to us all that his musical talents equalled his football ones!!

Another event I can’t let go without mention was one certain player who always insisted on a ‘fag’ at half time, and when the game was re-started he insisted on finishing off his smoke so he was often seen going for a ball with the butt stuck in the side of his mouth! Another incident I can recall concerned Pa Kirrane who, when at the twilight of his football career, switched from full back to full forward. I was given the task of filling his shoes (not so easy) if and when things were not going so well. In my first game Pa came running down the field and told me to “get too hell out of there”. The following Sunday when I lined out at full back again I had to keep an eye on two full forwards, my own man and the fellow wearing No. 14 on our team, as if he moved too far outfield I knew I was in for a long walk again! These were some of the events which made playing the game a pleasure for us all.

Looking back over the years I would like to put on record the names of local footballers who impressed me and who, I believe, would under today’s methods of selection and training be household names not alone in the county, but wherever football would be discussed in Ireland. Players like James Raftery, Logrea and Willie Corley, Burrish were a class above most. James Raftery was the complete athlete, the pride of any trainer in today’s scene. Padraic Prendergast was a player in the mould of Mick O’Connell of Kerry. Most people involved with him during his playing days will tell you of the utmost respect he had for each of his opponents. Another great player was John J. Fitzgearld whom many named as the best centre back playing club football in his time, a man who made light of any opposition he met during his playing days. Men like Eddie Prendergast, Fr. Matt McGrath, Sean Sweeney and John McLoughlin were fit to take their places amongst any group of county footballers, but unfortunately all these belonged to an era when county teams were selected from within certain towns and clubs – a time which has thankfully passed away.

I would also like to pay a special tribute to a man who gave unselfishly of time during the ‘60s. A man who often cycled to South Mayo meetings in Hollymount where he always fearlessly defended our club, a man who often stood on his own in the worst of weather conditions on the sideline watching us play, a man who also gave encouragement to us. The man I refer to is Barney Donnellan of Garryduff.

In conclusion, I would like to give the team that lined out for Irishtown in the ‘70s when we contested the South Mayo final against Garrymore. These were years when match programmes were unheard of, and, unlike today’s scene where every game gets press coverage, we have no records to look back on.

1. John Waldron
2. Tom Fitzgearld
3. Jarleth Prendergast
4. Bernie McGrath
5. Michael Mooney
6. Sean Sweeney
7. Jim Roche
8. John McLoughlin
9. Matt McGrath
10. Jarleth Griffin
11. Eddie Prendergast
12. Frank McGrath
13. Mark Connelly
14. Patsy McGrath
15. Sean Kirrane

Subs: Tom Connor, Mickey McTigue, Michael Roche, Finbarr Conroy.

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