Football in the Early Days

Christine Johnston

One of the earliest reports on the sporting activities around Cloonacool is to be found in the Sligo Champion dated April 13th 1895. It concerns a football match played between the neighbouring town lands of Cloonacool and Tullavilla in Mr P McGuiness field. It reads as follows "At 1.30pm Mr Denis Ginty, referee, ushered in the ball, which was immediately seized by the Tullavillas, who made a desperate rush for the Cloonacool territory, when it was gallantly snatched by F Davitt and passed to L Wynne. He in turn made a dribble along the line and a bright offer to score. When D Cunleen kicked off, some scientific play followed after until G Gildea got hold of the ball which is passed to Peter O'Hara who made a splendid run for the Tullavilla goal and was assisted by D Henry who scored one point. At half time the score was: Cloonacool 1 point, Tullavilla 1 try. On changing ends, the Tullavillas, determined to best their opponents, got hold of the ball and forced it on close to the opponents goal, where T Sheel scored one point" Tullavilla won by 2 points, 1 try to Cloonacool's 1 point.

Matches then consisted of 17 player's a-side with one goal (try) equal to five points. Things tended to get out of hand at many at many of these early matches due to political divisions and at the county committee meeting in January 1892, it was decided that players should be 'encouraged' to bow to the referees decision. This didn't always happen in practice and indeed indiscipline was cited as the reason for the dying out of the GAA in the later years of the nineteenth century. Yet while few organised competition went ahead then, many rural clubs remained active with active with matches organised locally, and evidence of this can be gleaned from the glancing through the papers of the time where matches such as the one described appear quite frequently.

1898 saw the centenary celebrations fuel the rush of patriotism throughout the land, with almost every town land proud of its own '98 club'. At that time Cloonacool was known as Robert Emmett's and Tubbercurry as the Wolfe Tones. Both clubs were reportedly well represented at the laying of the foundation stone for the teeling monument of Coolooney in September, 1898. It is also interesting to note that the renowned Cloonacool band was present for the occasion under its captain P McGuiness and Band Master Ed Ginty.

The following years though were lean ones for the GAA as a public body, yet with most parishes, it would appear that invitation tournaments and challenge matches continued to provide the ordinary people with a focal point on which to base their social activities. The first evidence of football team in Cloonacool centres on a photograph taken at Molly's Corner in 1911. Holding the oval-shaped ball is Jack Brennan, a man who was to prove the driving force not just behind his club, but behind GAA activities within the county for much of the early half of the century. A noted athletic himself, he was mentioned in the results from the Tubber sports of September 1915 as having won a suit length and a pair of types and tubes for winning the one mile and two mile cycle race. The following year, he was responsible for the affiliating Cloonacool as a club in its own right with the county board. For with his excellent vision and perception of the future, he saw the need for working people to have a common interest. They needed something that would cater for them socially while at same time fostering a pride in themselves and their parish - what better solution than an introduction to competitive Gaelic Games.

And so the story began, of a sporting tradition that has on many occasions lay smothering in the ashes left by emigration - but never died! For each new generation brought with it young blood anxious to champion the cause and revive club activities if at all possible. Sadly their efforts were often short lived, constantly thwarted by the exodus of the young men to foreign shores in search of a living. More often than not, football was something that you might see forty or fifty 'young gossours' playing in the racecourse on a summers evening, after a day on the bog or in the hayfield. Very few chose to play it competitively; those that did usually went to play for neighbours Tubbercurry, where there existed a thriving football club, with Senior, Junior and Minor team fielded most years.

Anthony Price of Mullaun

One man from the area who used his pen to promote and encourage Gaelic games was Anthony Price of Mullaun. Well known for his way with words, Anthony was appointed as the first official GAA reporter to the staff of the Sligo champion in the autumn of 1932. This was seen as a very public effort by the paper to promote Gaelic games within the County

From then until he was let go by the new management in 1949, this roving reporter was to be spotted at matches all over the county. He also attended every county board meeting possible in order to be first with the news. And as always, he carried out his work with enthusiasm and pride, giving news starved public a blow by blow account of matches everywhere. His reports are now treasured as they alone provide us with an insight into what was happening at grass roots level of the GAA back then.

Cloonacool During the 30's

Reference to Cloonacool as a club in its own right is very brief in the years spanning 1920 to 1950. We do know that the club entered a team in Division 3 of the Junior Championship of 1933 as it appears in the fixtures list of matches against Tubbercurry, and Rhue, with a home and away game in both instances. The archives show that the club won a Minor title that same year when in a actual fact, it was a combination team consisting of lads from Tubbercurry(Tommy Noone, Tom Healy, J Brennan, Jim and Tom McCoy, Jack Reade), Mullinabreena (Bill Coleman, Jim Gannon, Mick Kivlehan, John O'Rourke) and the Cloonacool. Local lads that featured included Michael and Alex Tansey, Jim McCarrick and Luke Sweeney (Doomore) and Jim Gallagher (loughill).

Neighbouring areas were joined up like this when numbers were scarce in order to give interested players competitive football. A repeat of '33 occurred in 1949 when an amalgamation again entered the minor championship as Cloonacool. This time they were unfortunate to be beaten by Ballymote in their newly opened home ground of Corran Park. Among the natives that lined out that day were Richard McIntyre, Stephen Rowley, Paud O'Donnell and Colm Mullarkey. And this was despite having the services of the great Naas O'Dowd who together with Colm Mullarkey, featured prominently on that famous county minor team

Never known to shy away from a good cause, Cloonacool mustered up a team for a nine a-side tournament held in Tubbercurry in October 1934. The proceeds were in aid of the African Missions. Unfortunately though, God didn't reward those lads by way of a win for their efforts. They were defeated early on by Skreen, who went on to win out the competition.

1935 was to prove a historic year for Sligo. Its junior team who captured an All-Ireland title by virtue of a great win over Tipperary. The Champion reported that the occasion "would long be remembered by followers of the Gaelic code". Players from the Tubbercurry area that featured on that illustrious squad include Jimmy Quinn (Tubbercurry), Sean Tansey (Cloonacool), Johnny O'Donnell (Mullaun) and Jim Gallagher (Tullavilla). Jim had being with the county panel since the previous year when it had been captained by none other than Martin Sweeney, brother to John, the local taxi man at the time. Mention must also be made that the team included 2 future priests, Padraig McGovern (Gurteen) and Gerard Henry both of whom would come closely associated with life in Cloonacool in the sixties and seventies.

Other pieces of information relating to the thirties must include mention of the county convention of 1934. Local representatives present that day include Martin Sweeney, Johnny O'Donnell and Tom Kelly N.T. They witnessed the election of Jack Brennan to the chair of the board, with a majority of 39 votes. This was a position he held with honour for 16 years, the longest of any Sligo Chairman.

In 1938 both Tansey brothers played with the senior county team, but it was Sean who was to catch the limelight in the months to come. Throughout the summer of '39 he became a household name. His outstanding display of football skill in the mid field berth for Tubbercurry during the county senior final against Coolera earned him a call up for the Connacht squad, not just for that year but also next one as well. He was the only Sligo man to have that honour bestowed on him during that period.

Cloonacool During the 40's

On to the year 1941, the world war two was still raging in Europe when 'Emmet's' of Cloonacool entered a nine a-side winter league in Tubbercurry. Such leagues proved a great pastime and kept fellows fit over the winter. Among the locals involved were Tommy Rowley, Mike Johnston, Tommy O'Dwyer, James Feely, Kevin Shiel, John Feely, Bill Donoghue, Ned Killoran and Lenny McCarrick.

The following year, Tommy Rowley and Mike Casey were fortunate to win a minor championship title with Tubbercurry when they defeated Grange. Mick Dwyer begins to make a name for himself on the football field as well as at the pole vaulting while '44 sees young Rowley, Michael Mullarkey and Jimmy Casey begin tried out for the senior panel in Tubber. The following year Dwyer, Casey and Denis Gallagher played a part in both league and championship runs to the county final for Tubber, while Michael Mullarkey and Alec Tansey are both called up for county duty at senior level.

In December of 1946 Mick Dwyer capped off a glittering sports career when he won a much coveted senior championship medal with Tubbercurry. For the final he partnered Mickey Brett at midfield where both gave a gallant second half display to put pay to Coolera's hopes of winning the league and championship double.

Cloonacool During the 50's

The following year they won the south Sligo Junior Divisional final. April of'53 saw them chalk up a surprise victory over Mullinabreena in the junior championship, winning by 2-2 to 2-1. A report stated that best for Cloonacool that day were Jack Kilgannon, Johnny Gallagher, Paud O'Donnell, Gerry Powell, Kieran Mullarkey, John Haran and Michael Rowley. That same team went on to shock Tubber's junior side in June when they defeated them by 2-6 to 2-5 after a great game of football. John Martin Haran was singled out by the match reporter for his prowess at midfield that day.

1954 dawned and once again Cloonacool was able to field a team for the junior championship. Their first round match was at home which they lost by only 2 points to Tourlestrane who went on to win the championship that year.

A minor team was assembled for the championship of 1956 but the following year neither Tubbercurry nor Cloonacool entered a team for the competition. So any young eligible young lads joined forces with Mullinabreena and were fortunate enough to win a county minor title with the club later that year. Local name on that panel included Michael Gallagher (Newtown), Joe O'Grady and Tommy Walker (Corsallagh), Walter Brennan (Cloonacool) and Tommy and Mickey Kilcoyne (Tubbercurry).

The Divisional final of the Junior Championship was won by Tubber in 1958. Captain that day was Paud O'Donnell (Ragoora) while alongside him featured Mickey O'Hara. John Francis Kelly, Michael Gallagher and Sean Haran. While the team made it to the final of the competition they were unfortunate to be beaten in the final by Drumcliff.

Another point of interest from the fifties concerns Joe O'Grady of Corsallagh. Joe was a member of St. Nathys (Ballaghadreen) team that won the All-Ireland Colleges Senior Championship medal in April of 1957. That day he played alongside his Tubbercurry club mates Tommy Kilcoyne, and Eugene Stenson in Croke Park where they defeated St Coleman's of Newry by 1-7 to 0-4. These were the same three players also featured on the St Nathy's junior team that year that beat St Jarlath's of Tuam 2-7 to 0-8 in the final to bring home a second Connacht title that season.

Mention must also be made of the County Sligo Vocational Schools team of 1953 that almost brought an All-Ireland title to Sligo but was denied ultimate glory by Westmeath in the final, surrendered on a score line of 3-3 to 1-5. Michael Rowley featured on that panel and was the only sub brought on in the final.

1957 also saw another gifted sportsman Colm Mullarkey crown an enviable career by leading Tubbercurry to both the league and Championship titles at senior level. The onset of the sixties heralded the beginning of a bad patch for GAA activities, not just in the county but countrywide. The County team was doing well which held up club activities, so to give the lads some much needed match practice, Eddie Masterson organised a Parish League in Tubbercurry. The four teams involved were Na Fianna, Westerners, Shamrocks and Clann Na Gael. The whole thing proved a huge success providing competitive football for players and great entertainment for the public. Paud O'Donnell was the captain of 'Na Fianna' but in the end it was the westerners who won under the leadership of Mickey Kilcoyne.

Cloonacool During the 60's

A similar tournament was organised in early summer of 1962 with teams again participating. This time the teams included Cloonacool, Collegians, St Pats and St Michael's. Paud was once again captain, while his team mates included Michael Walker, Joe O'Grady, Michael Rowley, John F Kelly Tommy Kelly, garda Gabriel O'Malley, Denis Henry, Martin Brennan, Mike McVann, Peter Neary and Paddy O'Hara. All teams contributed to make it an exciting series of double league games with Cloonacool emerging victorious at the end of the day.

Their next breakthrough came in 1964 when they captured a junior divisional title. Their joy was short lived, however when they were quickly brought down to earth by St Pats who gave them a good hiding in the county semi final that October. Things may have turned out different for Cloonacool that day if they had their full squad on duty for fortune was against them. The game was to be held in Markievicz Park but on route to their destination, Tommy Durcan's car broke down. So he and William Henry two of the key players on the team had to start thumbing. This old fellow pulled up and when they asked was he going to the 'match' he said that he was. So in they all piled and off, only to be deposited at a soccer match in the Showground's. As that match had started he refused to bring them back to one of the most important games of their lives. Those who ended up getting to the pitch on time included P Henry, J Quinn, D Murtagh, S Martin, Paud Hunt, Tommy Killoran, T McAllister, Eammon McGinley, John F Kelly, M Frizzell, Sean Hunt, John Gavaghan, Paud O'Donnell and Denis Henry.

Cloonacool During the 70's

Finally we reached the seventies and the invent of modern football. As more and more lads went on to second level, we see more names cropping up on the Vocational School teams. Those deeply involved in hurling in the mid seventies included Noel Mullarkey, James Flanagan, Michael Lang and Noel Henry, the later 2 played in the 1976 County Vocational School team that was beaten by a single point in their All-Ireland final versus Down.

That same year, Myles and Peter McIntyre (Leitrim North), Tony and Martin McCarrick (Carnaleck) and Gerry McCarrick (Ballyglass) all figured prominently on the Tubbercurry Senior panel that beat St Mary's to take the County Championship. Tubber also captured the Minor title that year and among the panel members were Tony McCarrick younger brother of Martin, and James Flanagan, son of Laoise Tansey of camogie fame and nephew to the great Sean Tansey.

Finally we arrived at the late seventies and the day that many though would never come, the day that Cloonacool GAA club was given a new identity and the chance to restore pride of place in the community. Many scoffed at the idea and said that they were really silly, the place too small to field a team. How the intervening years have proved them wrong and rather than dying the club has gone from strength to strength as it provides a vital in the lives of people living in a rural community such as ours. Long may it continue this youthful enthusiasm and dedication to the cause that has injected new life into an aging community and preserved it for another generation at least?