THE GOLDEN AGE OF GAELIC FOOTBALL IN OLDCASTLE
Mr Eddie O’Reilly of Summerbank, a lifelong supporter of every Irish Ireland project takes up the story. “The Golden Era of Gaelic football in Oldcastle was the late Thirties. In 1937 Oldcastle won The Meath Junior Football Championship, having defeated Ballinabrackey in the final by 3 goals 4 points to 1 goal 1 point. This team and all Oldcastle teams of that period were managed superbly by the late Paddy Kiely of Kiely’s Lane, Oldcastle. Many of these players later wore the green and gold jersey of Meath, but it could be truthfully said that the entire team of that period could have represented Meath, as every one of them had the potential of a county player.
“In 1938 this team won the Meath Feis Cup competition having defeated Skryne in he fmal by 5 goals 5 points to 5 points. Oldcastle defeated all the senior teams in the competition including Navan Gaels in the 2nd Round. As the next issue of the Meath Chronicle said — Just imagine it, Navan Gaels defeated by Oldcastle, a team that has just emerged from Junior Ranks. The Gaels was a senior team which supplied half the members of the County team at the time.
“In 1938, Oldcastle reached the Intermediate Championship final, only to be beaten in a replay by Donaghmore.
“It is of interest to note that in the junior championship of 1937, Oldcastle defeated Culmullen in the semi-final, but Culmullen lodged an objection on the grounds that the name of the late James M. Coyle was not in Irish on the list handed to the referee, that it should have read Seamus Mac Cumhaill. The late Dan Crowley N.T. represented Oldcastle at the meeting and said that there were two forms of the name in Irish and he had used the Munster version and produced a glossary to prove the point. The objection was lost. What’s in a name!
“The first name that comes to mind in that great period of Oldcastle football is Jim Kearney, who is the only Oldcastle player to have won a
railway Cup medal with Leinster (1939). Jim played in two All-Ireland Finals with Meath with a gap of 10 years between. He played in the 1939 All-Ireland Final at left half-back but Kerry won by 2 goals 5 points, to Meath’s 2 goals 3 points. His opponent that day was Jimmy ‘Gosh’ Gorman. Ten years later, in 1949, Jim played at centre field for Meath against Cavan, partnered by Paddy Connell to win Meath’s first All-Ireland. Jim’s opponent that day was the late Gunner Brady — a formidable opponent. The final score in that pulsating match was Meath 1 goal 10 points to Cavan’s 1 goal 6 points.
“Paddy Beggan of Oldcastle played at right fullback fro Meath in the 1939 All-Ireland Final, making a fine job of policing Roundy Landers. Paddy played several outstanding games for Meath at full-back — he always held that a full-back should follow the full-forward no matter where he went. He was selected in 1934 as fullback for the Meath Junior Team to play Wicklow in Aughrim in the Championship. Oldcastle were playing at Millbrook on the same day. Paddy opted to play for Oldcastle and for his loyalty to his club the Meath Co. Board suspended him for 6 months.
“Another big name in Oldcastle football in 1939 was Hughie Lynch, who also played for Meath in that year. Two things remain vivid in my memory of the Feis Cup Final of 1938 — firstly Hughie Lynch scored the first point for Oldcastle in Pairc Tailteann from well over 60 yards out; secondly, my brother Fr. Paddy and I cycled to Navan on two Royal Enfield bikes and got in free to the game, which gave an auspicious start to the occasion.
“Hughie was a regular on the Meath Senior Team in 1939 and with Jim Kearney contributed greately in bringing the Leinster Championship to Meath in that year. Both of them played Minor, Junior and Senior football for Meath. Hughie had an outstanding game against Cavan in the All- Ireland Semi-Final of 1939, having scored one of the Meath goals that day. Even though Hughie was replaced by another Oldcastle man, Kevin Devin, for the final, he came on after 10 minutes when the late Billy Bren was injured. In 1939 thirteen members of the Oldcastle Team, both players and substitutes, left Oldcastle for Cusack Park, where Meath opposed Leix in the first round of the Leinster Senior and Junior Championship, both of which games Meath won. Hughie Lynch, Paddy Beggan and Jim Kearney were on the Senior Panel and on the Junior Panel were Larry McGrath, Kevin Devin, Michael Cadden (R.I.P.), James M. Coyle (R.I.P.), James H. Caffrey (R.I.P.), Tommy Plunket (R.I.P.), Jim Smith, Jimmy Kelly, Donal Kearney and Benny Reilly.
“Meath reached the Leinster Junior Final in 1939 only to lose a replay with Dublin at New-bridge. Larry McGrath played at centre-half back on that team and was a tower of strength. Larry’s normal positionwas centrefield partnered by Jim Kearney — and what a partnership it was! The great Larry could play in any position. I remember him playing at full-back for Meath against Cavan in Mullagh in 1943. He was marked that day by the great Simon Deignan who found Larry a tough nut to crack, as Larry had complete control of the situation from start to fmish. Many people in Oldcastle and much farther away were amazed that Larry was not a regular on the County team.
“I shall always remember Tommy Plunkett (R.I.P.) trotting up from left full-back to send all the frees over the bar; and the lightning burst of speed of Donal Kearney (recently retired as District Justice) at left half-forward.
“In 1939 Meath played Kildare in Drogheda in the semi-finals of the Leinster Senior and Junior Championships. I remember cycling to Drogheda that day because Meath won both games. The Irish Independent of the following day said — “Many of the 20,000 people who attended yesterday’s games were as uncertain at the end of the Senior game as to who had won, as they were at the beginning as to who would win. The lilly-white supporters refused to believe our assurances that the men from the Royal County had qualified. The ball reached Gilsenan and he was about to kick it as the whistle sounded. But the full-forward Cummins punched the ball to the net and the referee, Tom McArdle from Louth, reversed his decision and awarded a goal but the green flag was not raised.” Kildare also lost an objection to Meath being awarded the game. Jim Kearney played at centre-field that day, partnered by the late Joey Loughran.
“The goalie and all the backs of the Oldcastle team of the Thirties have passed away. Lest we forget, I write their names with pride. Michael (Dab) Lynch (R.I.P.), (Goalie); Jim Caffrey (R;I.P.) (Right Full Back); Paddy Beggan (Full Back); Tommy Plunkett (R.I.P.) (Left Full Back); Michael Cadden (R.I.P.) (Right Half Back); James Coyle (R.I.P.) (Centre Half Back); Peter (Sonny) Flood (R.I.P.) (Left Half Back); Jim Kearney and Larry McGrath at centre-field; Hughie Lynch, Right half forward; Benny Kielly, centre half forward; Donal Kearney, left half forward; John McEvilly, right corner forward (a Mayoman); Jimmy Kelly, full forward; Jim Smith (Rahard) left full forward; Connie Farrelly, Peter Farrelly, Jim Tuite (Knockbrack)and Brian Spollen.
In a postscript to to the above I quote again from Jack Rahill — “In 1936 I was asked by Paddy Kiely and the Committee to train the team. They were a dedicated band of lads — non-drinkers, non-smokers. Some of them figured prominently for Meath in later years. It was a wondeful club team — they gave great exhibitions of football and there were many thrilling games — everyman on the team was a star in his own right.”
Reminiscing on the Golden Age of Football in Oldcastle Jim Kearney says — “I started playing both hurling and football with Millbrook when I was fifteen. Later we played near Loughcrew CHurch in Gibson’s Field with Rahahey. I remember one Sunday going away with the lads to play Minor Football without going home after mass. I remember that Sunday so well because of the belting my father gave me when I reached home in the evening.
“I started playing football with Oldcastle in 1937, which was a big break for me, since we won the Junior Final by defeating Ballinabrakey in the Final. This was the beginning of a great run for Oldcastle since they remained unbeaten for 24 months.
“Special praise is due to the trainer, Jack Rahill, who was ably assisted by Jackie Gilson.
I was lucky to win One All-Ireland Senior Medal, 4 Leinster Senior Medals, one Railway Cup Medal, 3 County League Medal, one Memorial Trophy and an O’Byme Cup Medal.” I envy Jim his memories.
The story of the Oldcastle team in the Forties is taken up by Austin Brady. “As the great team of the Thirties started to lose the battle with the years the team spent a period in the doldrums. The young players who replaced the older ones had not got the experience or the craft to compete at senior status, the proper thing would have been to revert to junior grade. A request to the Co Board to do this was refused as they were against reducing the number of Senior teams. A way around this obstacle was found by dissolving the Oldcastle Club and regrading it under the name of Millbrook. A junior football ahd a junior hurling team were affiliated — the hurling team to play “friendlies” only.
This hurling team played a few games in 1941 — 42 but never got going properly. Nevertheless, a number of the players joined the Killskyre team and went on to win the Junior Hurling Championship of Meath in 1946. These players were Jim Kearney, Mickey Feeney, Paddy Farrell, Jimmy O’Brien, Mick Galway and Austin Brady.
The football team put up a good show and got to the divisional final two years in succession. Each time they were beaten by Drumbarragh, which was in reality a Kells team, since there was no club in Kells during those years.
The arrival in 1944 of the great Kerry footballer Paul Russell, as garda sargeant brought hope of better days to come and that hope was justified. Although well past his best he could still play with such thrust and vigour that he was an inspiration to all the young players. This man was steeped in Gaelic Football and he transferred his enthusiasm and confidence to every member of the team.
In 1924 Paul Russell received the first of his six All-Ireland Senior Medals, playing at right halfback on the Kerry team. The late Paul still holds the record of being a member of the four-in-a-row Kerry team, which won the Senior Championship in 1929, 30, 31 and 32. Only nineteen players hold that record, ten from Kerry and nine from Wexford. Paul, like Liam Maguire,. was a noted referee and he was a valued member of the Meath selection committee when Meath won their first All Ireland. He toured America in 1951 with the Meath team, along with Connie Kelly, who was a member of that National League winning team.
I remember Paul Russell attending his first Co. G.A.A. Board meeting in Navan as an Oldcastle representative. A delegate at the meeting stood and said the Gaels of Meath were greatly honoured by having in their midst the holder of six All-Ireland Senior Medals. Paul replied, “Since I came to Co. Meath I have refereed many games. I have seen great talent, even in Junior ranks and I beg you to include the best players from junior clubs in north Meath on the Senior team.” His request was acceeded to and this paved the way to Meath’s first All-Ireland success.
Editors Note: “When one thinks of Paul Russell in Oldcastle, one inevitably remembers that other great Kerryman who was Principal of the Gilson School, Oldcastle, the late Frank Sheehy, who died in faraway Nigeria as head of a Teachers’ Training College. Frank’s academic distinctions were many but I remember him best for his warm friendship, sharp wit and genial companionship. I remember him also because I stepped into his shoes as Principal of the Gilson School but fear that I could not fill them adequately. Frank’s personality was larger than life and his memory lives on in those who were fortunate to be his friends. May the sod of an alien land rest lightly on his gallant breast.”
The backbone of this team came from the veterans and flanked on either side by young players they won through to the final against Walterstown. On the Meath Chronicle for November 25, 1944 the final is reviewed under the title, “A Scintillating Final.” It says — In one of the keenest, fastest and most exciting matches witnessed at county headquarters for a long period Walterstown won the final of the Meath Junior Championship defeating a game Oldcastle selection by 2-6 to 0-6. Hard tackling was the order of the day and knocks were given and taken by both teams in a fine sporting spirit. A hectic pace was set at the beginning and maintained to the end, etc. etc. –
The Oldcastle team is named as follows — J.M. Coyle, T. Dolan, H. Lynch, P. Russell, J. Kevin, B. MacEnroe, C. Lynch, G. Sheridan, J. Caffrey, T. Plunkett, E. Plunkett, L’ McGrath, A. Brady, J. Kearney, P. Smith.
After the last hurrah, rumours began to spread that Walterstown had played ‘Dark Horses’. These rumours were subsequently confirmed by Kevin Devin, former Oldcastle and Meath star, who was at the game. Kevin, who at that time was secretary of the Sean McDermott Club in Dublin, recognised a number of players from two Dublin clubs playing for Walterstown. Because of his evidence the Co. Board awarded the 1944 Meath Junior Football title to Oldcastle. I see on the offprint from the Meath Chronicle that on the same day that Oldcastle met Walterstown that the Meath County Seniors had a convincing win over Louth in the Cairne’s Cup and the price of the Chronicle was twopence!
Oldcastle moved to Senior Grade the following year (1945) and put on a commendable performance in every game. They gave a particularly good display in Athboy against Navan Parnells, the senior champions, beating them with a margin of 12 points.
The senior final that year between Oldcastle and Skryne was played in Kells on Sunday 11th Nov. The Chronicle of the following week relates — The Meath Senior Football final on Sunday proved disappointing, Skryne defeating Oldcastle by 3-17 to 2-4. The large crowd, however, was given much better value than the final score would imply. Oldcastle had a fair share of the play and fought back gamely, even when the game had gone against them. The Oldcastle team was J. Coyle, B. MacEnroe, L. McGrath, T. Dolan, M. Cadden, S. Briody, C. Lynch, C. Smith, J. Kearney, H. Lynch, D. Kearney, C. Gibney, A. Brady, P. Hamilton, J. Kevin.
After the defeat by Skryne in the 1945 Senior Football Final, Oldcastle played in Senior Grade for three seasons without much distinction. Therefore it was no surprise when the Club decided to play in the Junior Grade in 1948.
The team went great guns and won every game with ease to reach the quarter final against Ballinabracky in Ballivor. Not content to let a good team be, the Oldcastle mentors dropped some players and played newcomers to the parish who were technically illegal to play. Although Oldcastle won this game by a wide margin it was in reality a defeat, because Ballinabrackey lodged an objection on the grounds that Oldcastle played illegal players. The points were awarded to Ballinabrackey. There is little doubt that had the original team fielded that day, Oldcastle would have won and would have gone on to win another Junior Championship. It is ironic to think that they were beaten by their own mentors.
(From “The Story of Oldcastle GAA Club 1884-1984” – Editor: Tommy Sheridan)