“Time nor Tide waits for no man,” and it’s hard to believe that forty years has passed since one eventful meeting that was held in Garryhill Hall on a Sunday in January 1968. The aim of the meeting was to have a hurling and football club uniting all parts of the parish and its environs. A big group of young and not so young men were kicking football on the green park in front of the Hall before the meeting started.

Rathnageeragh National School was still open at that time and a man from Bunclody had taken up a teaching position there in September 1967, his name was Art Kavanagh.  Andrew Jordan, Principal of Myshall National School, a man very much involved in Gaelic games was there as was Fr. Philip O’Shea who had been ordained a priest in 1963 and the parish of Myshall and Drumphea was his first curacy. (He served this parish from 1963 to 1972 - first under Rev. Joe Kehoe P.P. and then under Rev. John F Hayden, before moving to other parishes, and returning as Parish Priest of the parish in 1991 where he is to this day). Others present were Michael Tobin from Ballinree who had served as secretary of St. Finians G.F.C. from 1962.  Michael drove a grey mini minor car, nearly always loaded down to the ground with players though ‘Mosey’ Kelly always occupied the front seat.  Mosey was later to become chief waterman. Mick Donoghue of the marquee fame was another name that played an important part. The afore mentioned Very Rev. Fr. Joe Kehoe P.P. was also in attendance.  He died suddenly, later that year in May 1968, and Very Rev John F. Hayden, who died this year (2009) was appointed P.P.

The meeting got under way at about a quarter to three with a prayer from Fr. O’Shea CC.  Different people spoke, and as the meeting progressed, Andrew Jordan was elected chairman. James Doyle, Myshall was elected vice chairman, Michael Tobin secretary, and Mick Donoghue treasurer. Art Kavanagh had spoken on the need for organised training and fitness, and was unanimously elected trainer.

After careful consideration it was decided to have the club headquarters at Shean Bridge.  At that time it was permissible to have a three mile radius from headquarters as a catchment area for players.  A name for the club was the next thing on the agenda.  Many suggestions were put forward. The players from the parish had been affiliated in hurling and football teams from 1955 and were known as St. Finnians.  The late Paddy Smithers of Ballinacrea said “call it after Pope John XXIII (23rd)” and immediately Andy Jordan said the words ‘as Gaeilge’ Naomh Eoin and that was what we were known as from there on, and the rest is history. The meeting decided to affiliate a Junior Hurling, and a Junior Football team in the Carlow G.A.A. competitions. Many of the under eighteen players at that time had played, and were still playing, minor football and hurling with Kilcloney, a team that sadly had lost a lot of football finals to Éire Óg teams.

The next business was selectors and the meeting elected Andy Jordan, Mick Tobin and Art Kavanagh to look after the hurling and football teams. The meeting concluded about half past four but we didn’t get to go home then as, with great enthusiasm, Art  Kavanagh started a programme of physical fitness there and then.  He got us doing  exercises, stretching all the muscles that we never knew we even had, press ups, sit ups, carrying one another on our backs, etc. This went on for about fifty minutes. It must be remembered that there were no tracksuits back then and all present took off their short coats or jumpers, and did the exercises with white shirts and trousers in stocking feet on the clean pine floor of Garryhill Hall. We left that evening in a happy atmosphere, believing there was a new dawn, but we were going in to the unknown, with a burning desire only to play hurling and football.

And so on Sunday afternoons in late February a big group of players would meet and train, although it was the custom in those days to start official training only after devotions on Good Friday evening. Big numbers were at all the training sessions that were very enjoyable for all the players - the laps of the field, the sprints, the exercises and the drills with the ball, because we knew that afterwards we would have a game. It was the first time ever in the parish that organised and collective training took place, and all this physical training was completely new to us. What was unique was that all the lads would bring their hurleys, do the physical training first for about forty minutes, this would be followed by a game of hurling -  full length of the field, and after fifty minutes leave down the hurleys and play a game of football for another forty or fifty minutes.  By the time we would be finished it would, at the very least, be coming close to dusk and more often, practically black dark when we would start to tog off in the side of the ditch.

On fine summer evenings many would lie down on the grass and talk for hours, before we would head for home, many on bicycles, a few on the Honda 50 and a small few players had their own cars, or as we called them back then ‘BANGERS’. Official training nights were Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the lads were in the field nearly all other nights of the week also as we had nothing else to do, nowhere to go, and more importantly no money to go anywhere.

After a roller coaster Spring and Summer Naomh Eoin was crowned Junior Hurling Champions after defeating St. Fintans by 5-6 to 0-2 in Dr Cullen Park and Andy Ryan became the first man to bring a hurling trophy to the Parish. The minute the game was over in Carlow, people came home quickly and began preparing a huge bonfire.  Tyres from all quarters, sticks and boards and anything else that would burn, were collected and around half six, when there was a huge pile, the bonfire was lit beside the pump. For the next two days the fire burned and nothing since compares to that bonfire - the big thick black smoke rising straight up in to the air, that could be seen for miles around, the massive flames and the intense heat, every one standing too near and getting their faces burned  – unbelievable!  If the Environment Officer and the Health and Safety people that currently abound were around then we would all be bound in chains and sent to Van Diemens Land! Many a good tyre that was slightly worn, but still could do in an emergency, fell victim to the famous fire, and dare I say it maybe without permission.  Naomh Eoin also reached the Junior Football Championship final for the first time since 1938 but were beaten by Grange 1-6 to 0-6, in Dr. Cullen Park.  This was a huge disappointment to players and supporters alike.  However, they bounced back to beat the same opposition by eleven points in the Junior Football League Final and win a second trophy.  The third trophy won was the Junior Hurling League when we defeated Palatine.

After such a successful year there was a lot of talk about a Dinner dance, for the medal presentation, the first of its kind in the parish. Dinner dances were only in their infant stage at this time. The players and supporters were very enthusiastic and information and quotations were sought, and brought back to club meetings.   In fact there were only two hotels in Carlow town at that time ‘The Royal’ and ‘The Crofton’ (now the Seven Oaks). The meal cost one pound and it was decided to go to the Crofton because they could cater for more people. The band cost fifty pounds. Next thing was the price of the ticket and it went to a vote whether it would be twenty five shillings or twenty seven and sixpence, which would be approx three euro in today’s money. The latter won and all players and officers paid for their tickets.  On January 27th 1969 the first ever Naomh Eoin Dinner Dance took place in the Crofton hotel with three hundred and seventy five people attending. Many will remember the balcony in ’The Crofton’ which could cater for about sixty people. The place was bursting at the seams. There were three cups and three sets of medals presented on the night. That time extra medals weren’t ordered until afterwards and so to make sure there were enough to go around, the late James Doyle stood at the big square pillar and as players passed back to their seats he took back the medals and they were presented again. The players got their own medals afterwards. It finished at 3a.m. What a night!

So in a short few words I have attempted to vividly paint the picture of what happened in 1968. Many great people, men and women went to their eternal reward that year and didn’t see many of the great victories, even some that were at that meeting in Garryhill Hall passed away.   Of course everyday life and work went on as usual but it was made brighter with up-coming games, the talk beforehand and the huge crowd of great loyal supporters that travelled to all the venues.

That was 1968 and as you read this, I know each and everyone will have their own memories of great moments and many that were small children in that year went on to bring great honour to the club and parish in the years that followed and some continue to do so. I am certain that the passion and burning desire felt by the players and supporters alike for their team and parish to do well, in other words to “Earn the Bragging Rights” saw many a great pint of Guinness sank in total satisfaction and joy.

by Tommy Murphy

We would like to hear from anyone with old photos from around that era or paper cuttings and wouldn’t it be great if anyone could come up with a ticket or photograph from that first Dinner Dance!

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