Another good weekend for Wicklow teams in the leagues. Micko's Senior footballers had a free day but used it by playing one of their many practice matches in Aughrim.
That game was serving two purposes. First of all they were getting the feel of the Aughrim pitch ahead of their big game on Sunday and secondly the manager and his selectors were taking a look at their fringe players but in particular the latest addition to the panel Austin O'Malley from Mayo.
With the hurlers
The happiest man in Wicklow on Sunday night without any doubt was Casey O'Brien. His hurlers put in a gutsy display to haul themselves back into contention in their match against London and snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat. It was the reverse to what has happened so often to Wicklow teams, football and hurling.
How often have we seen a good performance spoiled by late scores from the opposition in the dying minutes? Make no mistake about it this was the best display by a Wicklow hurling team in a long time. While it doesn't guarantee us a league title or even promotion, it does put Casey and his men in the driving seat and give them a huge boost ahead of what promises to be their second biggest test of the year against Derry at Aughrim on Sunday.
Hugh Kenny's Minor footballers also got their season off to a winning start when they beat Kilkenny down in Muckalee on Friday night. Alright, the 'cats' may not be known for their powers on the football field, but they can prove difficult enough opponents particularly at this time of year when the hurling has not really got going in the county. Like a lot of managers, Hugh will face a far bigger task when he must travel to Westmeath to take on the midlanders this Friday night.
Michael Anthony O'Neill, the new manager of the Wicklow minor hurling team, also got his year off to a good start at the weekend. He took his team up to Darver in Louth on Saturday to take part in a three team blitz. They played Down in the first match just after getting off the bus, gave a good enough display but lost in the end by 2-10 to 2-6.
In their second match they proved far too strong for the home team Louth and ran out winners by 7-17 to 0-5. They also had a coaching session under on of Leinster's coaches Des Shaw. One of the stars of the show was John Manley who climbed out of bed early on Saturday morning after playing with the Minor footballers in Kilkenny on Friday night and turned in a great display at midfield. Others to shine included goalkeeper Dan O'Neill, Warren Kavanagh, Dermot Masterson, Darren Nugent, Stephen Coady and Mikey Lee. The other mentors with that team are Tim Balfe, Nigel Manley, Dermot Molloyh and Sheila Driver. The only fly in the ointment for Michael Anthony is the championship draw which sees them take on the losers of the match between Westmeath and Carlow.
Big day in Aughrim
Aughrim stages its first big day of the year on Sunday with a league doubleheader - Wicklow versus Derry in hurling
and versus Longford in football; a big double-header which will be great value for money at €10 admission. In addition all juveniles under-16 years are free and Hugh Kenny and his team are making a big effort in the schools and clubs in the county to promote the occasion and to ensure that as many of our juvenile players as possible will be there to cheer on their heroes. A win for the hurlers over Derry would all but guarantee them promotion and a place in the league final. For Mick O'Dwyer's footballers this is also a key match and a win over Longford would put them back at the top of the table and give them a great chance of promotion. So boys and girls get out the flags and the buntings and head for the county grounds on Sunday.
With the exiles
As usual when we visit London we meet up with a lot of old friends who are living in the big smoke as well as travelling supporters from Ireland.
There to give the Wicklow team and mentors a big ' Cead Mile Failte' was the President of the London Wicklow Association, Tom McAssey, a good Coolkenno man who has spent many years in London.
There too was our great friend Paddy Byrne who knows more Wicklow people than anybody else I ever met. We also met Liam and Lisa Fitzgerald and Ger Curry from Baltinglass; Eamon and James Furlong from Kiltegan; Mark Brady from Rathdangan; the Carty family from Ballymanus, Pat, Chrissy and Christina; Matt Hillard and his son Matthew from Carnew; Pat Mulvey from the Goose Bank in Kilcoole; Brendan and Johnny Timmons from Roundwood and a big travelling party from Kilmac, numbering 24 in all. I think they were double jobbing and taking in a stag party that had something to do with our GAA website expert Alan O'Brian.
They were led by great Monaghan man Peadar Smith, Daryl Tighe, Tom Conaty, Shane Ferguson, Shane Vickers, another Liam Fitzgerald and Kevin Molloy. There too as always was Seán and Maura O'Brien from Wicklow; James, Dermot and Jimmy Barrett from Stratford; Eddie Bermingham from Golden Fort; Tim Balfe from Carnew and two hurley makers from Wexford, Pat Cullen from Ballymitty and Noel Kehoe. So the Garden County had plenty of support at the venue and for once repaid their followers with a mighty display and a comeback to warm the hearts of everyone.
Where are they now?
Last week's picture was, it would appear, a bit ancient and we did not get the usual rush of callers. However we did get some correct answers but we will come back to that later.
First of all back to the picture of the Annacurra team of 1931 which is still in the news.
We made one mistake when we said that the goalkeeper on that team, Jim Mulhall, was a grand uncle of present day star Alan Byrne.
In fact Alan's mother Ann Byrne is a daughter of Jim Mulhall so he was Alan's grandfather. The first to spot that mistake was Seán O'Neill from Greystones who played for Annacurra himself. My apologies to Ann and the Byrne/Mulhall families.
That much sorted we can get back to
last week's picture which was of an Arklow team that beat Kilanerin of Wexford in the final of the Fr Michael Murphy tournament in 1926.
So small wonder that we did not have that many takers.
The first man to come in with the correct answer was again Pat Mitchell - is there no end to his pool of knowledge? Pat had a particular reason for knowing the background to that event but we are holding that story for another day.
John Kenny from Aughrim was another to name the team correctly and also tell us that it was the final of a gold medal tournament.
The players in the picture were: Front - Right to Left - M. O'Reilly, D McDonald, C. Aldworth, J McDonald, J. O'Reilly, E. Breen, J.P. Kehoe. Back row - W. Lee (President); J. O’Neill, G. Copeland, A Kavanagh, H. Kelly, Garda Byrne, P. Byrne, W. Byrne, T. Furlong (Secretary).
We would still like to hear from anyone in Arklow that had, or know of, connections with that team. There must surely be some of the medals around the seaside town still.
Jim Lawlor from Killalesh, Kiltegan was another to name the man in the picture and told us of a trip he had with the great Baltinglass man to a match in Dr Cullen Park.
Matt was one of the first GAA mentors to have his own motor car and used it freely in the service of the Association. However, when the Second World War broke out in 1939 the petrol supply in this country dried up. Even if you could get the precious fuel it became illegal to take a car onto the public road without a special permit and they were only available to doctors, priests and others serving the public and even then only for use within their own area.
In Kiltegan they still recall the time the local CC, Fr O'Connor was pulled up for driving his car to Baltinglass and even though he pleaded that he had to take it to Tommy Doyle's garage for servicing he was still fined and warned.
Anyway everyone was grounded for the duration but somehow the GAA managed to struggle on, mainly with horse drawn transport or the bicycle. If you remember that Matt Byrne attended the first Convention in 1886 then he would have been well into his seventies at the time.
He did not have a horse or a bicycle but when Wicklow were playing Carlow in Carlow and the 'Wicklow People' wanted the story it was get there or bust for Matt. His friend Tommy Whelan of the Redwells had a good fast trotting pony and a comfortable trap at the time.
Tommy picked up his neighbour Jim Lawlor, a young boy at the time, collected Matt in Baltinglass and headed for Carlow. Jim thinks that Carlow won the match, which they would have at the time - they won their only Leinster Championship in 1944.
That story underlines the dedication of Matt Byrne and the lengths he was prepared to go to in promoting the games. Jim Lawlor was not sure of the year but has clear memories of a great display by Penie Whelan for Carlow and thinks it was the year after he captained them to victory in Leinster. If so it could have been 1945 and on that Wicklow team would have been men like Kit Carroll, Paddy Lennon, Bob and Joe Byrne, Paudge Brennan the O'Neill's and Dinny Cullen from Ballinacor but of more significance two men who are still alive - Jim Rogers and Seán Metcalfe of Donard. Thanks for the memories Jim. Incidentally on the Minor team of 1945 we noticed such well known names as Gerry O'Reilly, Donard, Godfrey Timmins, Baltinglass, Brendan Brennen, Carnew, Dermot Kavanagh, Rathnew and Matt Keenan, Roundwood.
The clue to the picture this week is “football but not senior”. Juvenile Fixtures Plan Hugh Kenny unveiled a new-look fixtures programme for the year ahead at a full meeting of Bord na nOg chaired by Damien Byrne at Aughrim on Thursday night.
It was by far the most ambitious and impressive project that we have seen so far. On display was two wall charts, one giving dates, venues and everything else to do with all fixtures up to the end of December 2011.
The other wall chart outlined all other engagements at club and county level so no one can say any more that they didn't get sufficient notice of matches, meetings and other functions during the year. That was backed up with detailed documents on Go Games from Under-8 and Under10, again with dates and venues clearly set out.
The meeting was well attended and for once we did not hear one word of dis-
sention from any club or individual. Everybody accepted the documents as prepared and presented by Hugh and his team of coaches so it does appear that we can look forward to better times ahead for everybody.
While the rest of us mortals in the GAA are happy enough to be picking up the odd win in our own little leagues and championships, that sort of victory is not good enough for our handballers and in particular the high-flying boys and girls from the Coolboy club.
World Championships no less is their aim every year and last week it was the turn of their young lady star to hit the headlines.
Shauna Hilley (IT Tralee and Coolboy) was superb in her two-game win over American Sandy Ng in the Women's Open Singles at the USHA 59th Collegiate National Championships, hosted by the World Players of Handball in Tempe, Arizona.
Jackie gets his just reward
When the AIB Coaching and Development Awards for 2010 were being presented by Des Cahill in the Minerva Suite, RDS, Ballsbridge on Monday our own Jackie Napier was one of the people collecting an award. Our congratulations to one of the great servants of the GAA in Wicklow particularly in hurling.
Tom Loftus R.I.P.
The death occurred at the weekend of Tom Loftus of Bray, one of the great Gaels who served the Association at almost every level from top to bottom.
Roscommon born Tom spent most of his life in Dublin where he was chairman of the County Board for many years and held many other positions as well. He was chairman of Leinster Council and at one time a candidate for the Presidency of the Association.
It was after his retirement from active service that he made his greatest contribution to Wicklow football.
He threw in his lot with the juvenile people of Bray and North Wicklow and he served for almost twenty years on the North District Juvenile Board as chairman and secretary.
His funeral takes place today (Wednesday) from The Holy Redeemer Church Bray to Springfield Cemetery. Our sincere sympathy to his sons, daughter and extended family.
May he Rest in Peace.
Can you identify this team?