History of the Gaelic Athletic Association (G.A.A.) in Abbeyleix
Abbeyleix Intermediate Champions 2007
From the time of the establishment of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Thurles in 1884, the Parish of Abbeyleix has provided great Gaels – national minded men and women who proved to be invulnerable standard bearers of the ideals of the Association. Shortly after its foundation four clubs were formed within the Parish boundaries. Those clubs were Abbeyleix, Ballyroan, Raheenabrogue and Brandra and teams from those clubs were soon to become strong forces in the county. Competitions and County Championships came their way with a regularity that left no doubt that the footballers of the Abbeyleix area were the best in the County.
The first G.A.A. Convention held in the County was in Abbeyleix, in May, 1888.
The first chairman was the late John McMahon from Abbeyleix who was appointed provisionally. The first game played was in Coyle’s field, Ballymaddock (which was the original practice and playing field of the first Abbeyleix Club) between Durrow and Abbeyleix, a friendly match, which set the ball rolling, followed by another between Graigue (Spink) and Abbeyleix. Then followed the Championships. The 1888 championship was won by Ballinakill, who defeated Knock in the final, thus wining the first football Championship of Leix.
The year 1889 was a great one for the county. The County team reached the All-Ireland final, being defeated by Bohercrowe, Tipperary, at Blue Bell, Inchicore, Dublin,
Great enthusiasm marked the progress of the game in the Town and district among young and old. They walked to Ballymaddock (which is a mile from the town) every Sunday evening and there all joined at practice in friendly rivalry.
The championships opened in Abbeyleix when four matches were played, two hurling and two football, and all went well until the political split (known as the Pernellite split) in 1890, which gave the Association a big setback, and for a few years afterwards there was very little progress in the games. In 1895 there was no club affiliated to the County Board. Abbeyleix again got going in 1896 and played their first game in Muldowney’s field at Brandra, to where they travelled by foot. The Abbeyleix team of this period played a grand clean game and were a credit to the county. There wasa one incident worth recording and might be a lesson to some of the present day players. Dan Dunne, who was working in Maryborough (Portlaoise) left that town at 6.15 a.m., walked to Ballyroan and got Mass there at 8 a.m., then got breakfast from a friend and walked on to Abbeyleix where he joined the team and walked on to Brandra, another three miles, and played the match.
In 1898, Abbeyleix F.C. were again very much in the picture. Ballyroan, a team from the same parish, played Abbeyleix in the final at Ballybrophy, and the game ended in a draw (1-5 each). The match was re-fixed for Durrow and was abandoned after 40 minutes play, when the scores were again level 4 points each. At a County Board meeting held subsequently and attended by the Secretary of the Central Council, Abbeyleix were awarded the match. The following were the Abbeyleix Team:
Tom Kelly (Goal), W. Carthy, H. Carthy, P. Hyland, G. Hill, T. Donnelly, T. Lowry, P. Fennelly (Captain), M. Fennelly, J. Anderson, P. Tehan, L. Muldowney, J. Dunne. (Note at that period a team consisted of 17 players)
Abbeyleix again won the Senior County Football Championship in 1899. There was no Football Championship in 1900, but the reason is not on record. The 1901 championsip was won by Raheenabrogue, a team from just a mile outside the town and within the parish. Abbeyleix again monopolised the championship for the next three years, 1902,1903, and 1904, but were not given medals for the 1903 win, the County Committee having, it is said, no funds to purchase same. Abbeyleix were runners-up for the 1905 and 1906 championships against Stradbally and Raheenabrogue, winners for those two years. Abbeyleix had a senior hurling team during the same period for the first time and old football enthusiasts attributed their lapse in the Football Championship to the old agade “between two stools…” Football was at a low ebb during 1907, but a Junior side got going and affiliated as what is known to the present day as the St. Lazerians Hurling and Football Club, and it shows that the old fighting spirit was still alive in the town when they won the 1908 Intermediate Hurling and Football Championships, bringing off a great double. Of course, the teams had to go senior the following year and they were back in their old strideagain when they beat Rathdowney in the 1909 Football Championship, but the hurling code was still new to them and they were beaten in the game. Notwithstanding the fact that football was at a low ebb during 1907 in the club, four or five Abbeyleix players helped Laoighis to win the Leinster Junior Championship (football) in the final at Athlone that year.
In 1911 the Junior Hurling team won the County Junior Hurling Championship from twenty three teams entered for that competition. During the following years, success evaded all of their teams, but Abbeyleix had a representative on the Senior Hurling team, which was beaten by Clare in the 1914 All-Ireland Hurling final, and again on the successful Ballygeehan team, which beat Cork in 1915 final. He was Ned McEvoy, who, incidentally, helped the senior footballers to win the 1902 final and did not play his last match until 1929.
In 1916 Abbeyleix won the Senior Football Championship, while the 1914,1915 and 1917 football finals were won by another parish team, Ballyroan. Abbeyleix won the 1919 Senior Football and followed on to win the 1920 championship.
During the troubled period, from 1921 to 1924, there was very little activity in any game in the town, but the men in charge were not idle, for it was then they decided to have a playing pitch and park second to none provided for the town. From 1907 until about 1914 they had to rent a field “Wileys”, on the Ballyroan road at a rent of £20 a year. They next moved to Leigh’s field at Oldtown and had also to pay £20 per annum for this. This was their ground until the present Park was opened, and each Sunday after last Mass and on summer evenings large numbers attended for practices. The committee ran a football league for a couple of years confined to the club, the four teams that competed were Main Street, Rathmoyle, Boley and Derrykearn.
In 1924 a meeting was held for the purpose of acquiring “Jelly’s Sandpit”, as it was then known, as a sports ground. The meeting was largely attended and an enthusiastic crownd showed that the project was going to be a success. The meeting was presided over by the late Father Breen, the respected Parish Priest of the Parish from 1919 to 1949, who was most anxious to secure a recreation ground for the youth of the parish. The committee got working and in a short time there were about 18 men employed. The Pit was used for years as a dumping ground and was covered with refuse, but after a short time a great portion was levelled so that horses could cart on it. Then the energetic committee canvassed the surrounding district and got horses, carts and men and carried on what was called “the big push”. All business housed in the town closed for “the day” and all turned to the Park to do their bit. Although there was no official opening, the first match was played in the Park in 1927 and Abbeyleix had its first Sports Ground. It is now called the Father Breen Memorial Park.
Abbeyleix won the Junior County Hurling title in 1925, went senior the following year and were beaten by 1 point by Rathdowney but came back in 1927 and beat Rathdowney in the County Final. This match made history, as it was the first time the Senior Hurling Championship came north of the Gulley, and so ended Ossory’s long monopoly of the Senior Hurling title. The Abbeyleix Hurling team were not successful in 1928 and 1929. Senior Football was almost dead in the club in those later years, but a Junior team was fielded each year.
The 1927 Team.
Ned Lodge, John Cummins, Tim Delaney, Jack O’Brien, John Kelly, Andy King, Kevin Grennan, Tom Bergin, Eugene “Broc” Lawlor, Jimmy Fitzpatrick, Dan Lawlor, Ned Carthy, Jimmy Lodge, Ned McEvoy, Chris Dunphy.
Subs: Jim Bergin, Andy Cole, Mick McGrath.
Abbeyleix had a blank period from 1927 to 1930 but in 1931 they won the Feis Shield. Then followed the most glorious year in the history of the Gaelic affairs in the town. Eucharstic Congress Year, 1932, was celebrated by the Gaels of Abbeyleix when they carried the Blue and Amber colours to victory in the Senior and Minor Hurling and the Junior and Minor Football Championships together with once again annexing the Feis Shield in hurling.
Two years previously, near neighbours Clonad had won their first Senior Hurling Championship and in the year 1932 began the keen rivalry between those two clubs. In this year also Joe Hinchin captained a gallant Laois Football team, which lost narrowly to Kerry in the Minor All-Ireland in Roscrea.
In 1933 the Senior hurlers won the Feis Shield for the third year in sucession and so won it outright.
Abbeyleix – Laois Under 14A Champions and Feile na nGael Winners 1990
Back Row – Left to Right
Billy Phelan, Colm Burke, John o’Donnell, Paul Kelly, Eugene O’Neill, Liam Phelan, Donal Keane, Brian Bonham, Rickie Cole, John Fennelly, Larry Hearns.
P.J. Corby, Hugh Cass, Brendan Casey, Thomas Phelan, Cathal Fitzpatrick, Michael Carroll, John Mulhall, Martin Fennelly, Malcom McDonnell.
In 1934 rivalry between Abbeyleix and Clonad was at its keenest. In the County Final when the hero of that time “Little Jimmy Lodge” rounded “ Big Lar Brady”, the then Chairman of the Laois County Board and full back for Clonad to put the opposing goalkeeper together with the liathroid in the back of the net at O’Moore Park. In doing so he turned a 2 point deficit into a 1 point victory. A very proud moment indeed for all Abbeyleix supporters. In the same year the footballers qualified once again for the senior ranks by beating the Heath in the Intermediate final, but unfortuately, this was the last victory won by the Abbeyleix footballers.
The hurlers, however, went further ahead. In 1937 the minors defeated Mountrath to win the title, while the seniors took control again in 1939 when they defeated the then champions, Errill. They retained their position in 1940 by beating Kilcotton. At this time the Abbeyleix Senior hurlers were by far and away the best combinaiton in the county, but unfortunately because of a harsh decision made by the County Board – a decision that met with the utmost disapproval by the Committee of the St. Lazerian’s Club – the Club withdrew from the organisation in 1941. It re-organised in 1942, but it took some time to get going. However, in 1944, Abbeyleix hurlers again established themselves as champions when sweeping to an overwhelming victory over Kilcotton in the final. In 1945 they again swept all opposition aside and went on to beat Camross in the final. In the two latter years they again won the Feis Shield. Our Senior sides lost in three successive finals to Clonad in 1946, 1947 and 1948. However, the Minors gave an indication of things to come when they won the 1948 final against Borris.
The year 1949 was a bright one for Laois when they reached the All-Ireland Senior Hurling final for the first time since 1915, against Tipperary and in this they were assisted by Abbeyleix quartet, Paddy Lalor, Jackie Bergin, Paddy Kelly and Artie Ring. Although defeated in the final they were given a hero’s reception on their return, at which Artie who had been on the substitute bench throughout the game, gave one of the shortest and most graphic speeches ever heard in Abbeyleix, when he said “Well lads, ye can’t blame me, I wasn’t even given a chance”, and sat down. Those were great days for St. Lazerian’s and club morale was high. In 1951 the Junior and Minor hurlers won their respective county titles.
The club then had a few lean years. In 1963 they won the Minor Hurling Championship. After relegating to Intermediate in 1966 the hurlers immediately won the title and returned to senior ranks.
Abbeyleix again won Minor Hurling Titles in 1971, 1974 and 1975. They also won the Junior A Hurling Championships and League in 1976.
In 1974 Abbeyleix Junior Footballers beat Barrowhouse in the final. An objection was lodged and the title was awarded to Barrowhouse.
In 1978 they won Intermediate and in 1979 the under 21 Hurling Championship.
The club did win the Junior A Football Title in 2001.
In 2004 they beat Timahoe in the Junior C Final.
Abbeyleix won the Intermediate Hurling Title in 2007 beating Borris-in-Ossory in a thrilling final.
In 2009 the Junior B Hurlers won the Championship by beating Ballyfin in the final.
Again the club had a few quiet years until last year (2012) when they joined up with Ballypickas to win the 2012 under 21 hurling County Final against Borris/Kilcotton in O’Moore Park. Captain on the day was Daire McWey.
The 2012 Under 21 Team
Abbeyleix/Ballypickas: Enda Rowland; Kieran Bowe, Oisin Carroll, Mark Cahill; David Moloney, Daire McWey, Tomas Moore; Tom Doyle, Ryan Peacock; Ricky Nolan, MJ Lalor, Dan Shanahan; Eoghan Fennelly, Martin Scully, Daniel Coffey. Subs: Joe Bergin for Nolan (30 mins), Tommy Walton for McWey (44 mins)
Titles won by the Club:
Senior Football (8) 1898, 1899, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1909, 1916, 1919.
Intermediate Football (2) 1908, 1934.
Junior Football (2) 1932, 2001.
Minor Football (1) 1932.
Senior Hurling (8) 1927, 1932, 1934, 1939, 1940, 1944, 1945, 1949.
Senior Hurling Feis Shield (5) 1931, 1932. 1933, 1944, 1945.
Intermediate Hurling (4) 1908, 1966, 1978, 2007.
Junior Hurling (4) 1911, 1925, 1951, 1976
Junior B Hurling (1) 2009
Under 21 Hurling (1) 1979, 2012
Minor Hurling (9) 1932, 1937, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1963, 1971, 1974, 1975.
The following are some of the titles won by the Juvenile Club:
1959 Under 21 Hurling Championships
1960 Under 21 and under 14 Hurling.
1961 Under 15 Hurling (The medals were presented by Hugh
Byrne President of the GAA)
1963 Under 12 Hurling.
1972 Under 14 Hurling, Laois Feile, All Ireland Feile, which was captained by Eugene Hearns and played in Thurles.
1984 Laois Community Games Final.
1986 Under 14 Hurling Division B.
1987/1988 Under 12 Football Division B.
1990 Under 14 A and Laois Feile Winners, Under 16 B Hurling, Under 14 B Football League.
1996 Under 14 B Football League.
1999 Under 10 and Under 12 Hurling.
2000 Under 11 Hurling.
2002 Under 12 Hurling League, Under 14 Hurling B League.
2003 Under 12 Football Division 3 League.
Below are Titles won by the North Monastery School
1966 Schools Championship.
1982 Division 3 Football
1983 The North Monastery National School Closed.
Ned McEvoy: From Abbeyleix, had a long distinguished career in both football and hurling. He played on the Laois Senior Hurling team beaten by Clare in the All-Ireland Final in 1914. He also played the following year when they beat Cork in the Final.
He helped Abbeyleix Senior Footballers to victory in 1902 and continued to play until 1929 when he played his last match. He won several Senior Football and Hurling titles with his club. He wasa a member of the Abbeyleix team to bring the first Senior Hurling Crown to the town in 1927. He won a Senior Hurling Championship with Thomas Davis (Dublin) in 1913. His brothers Jim and Bill also played on the Abbeyleix teams during the era.
Joe Hinchin: An Abbeyleix Minor, in 1932 captained a gallant Laois Minor Football team, which was narrowly beaten by Kerry in the All-Ireland Final played in Roscrea.
Benny McDonald: Along with Mick Hopper played with Abbeyleix in 1932, when they almost made a clean sweep of all competitions, featured in all five wins. Benny went on to become a household name with Abbeyleix and Laois teams. He won six County Senior Championships with Abbeyleix and was a prominent County hurler. In 1937 he won a Leinster Senior Football medal with Laois. His son Mick was full-back on the Laois Minor hurling team to reach the All-Ireland final in 1964.
Mick Hopper: Was compared to an artist at work on the hurling pitch. He possessed great speed and skill. He captained Laois in the Leinster Final in 1935, and was just pipped by 1 point by Kilkenny.
Pat Hetherington: An excellent hurler for St. Lazerians in the 1930’s, played many a fine game in the Leinster colours.
Paddy Lalor: Former T.D. Minister and M.E.P. had a long and distinguished career in G.A.A. circles. He played for a number of years with Laois Senior Hurlers and Footballers. He captained the Leinster team in 1948 and played on the 1949 Laois Hurling team, He won all major honours with his club. He was County Secretary from 1953-1956. He was selected on the Laois Millennium Hurling team.
Jackie Bergin: A member of the 1949 Laois Hurling team. He was also selected on the Laois Melinium Hurling Team.
In 1964 Laois Minor Hurling team beat Kilkenny in the Leinster final, but lost to Cork in the All-Ireland. This was the first Minor All-Ireland ever to be televised live. Abbeyleix had five players on the team: Eddie Bergin (in goal), Mick McDonnell (full back), Liam Purcell (centre back), Billy Phelan (right half back), Gerry Kelly (sub).
Billy Phelan: Was captain of the team. After winning the Leinster Final, for some unknown reason the O’Neill Cup was not presented to Billy after the match. It was presented to him later that year at the County Convention. Billy played Minor Football with Laois the same year losing to Offaly by one point in the Leinster Final. He also played Under 21 and Senior Hurling for Laois. His brothers Joe and John played for the county at all grades. The three brothers gave many years of loyal service to Abbeyleix.
1964 was the inuguration year of the Under 21 Championships. Laois contested the two Leinster Finals. They were successful in the football but were beaten by Wexford in the hurling. Abbeyleix had five players on the hurling team. They were Paddy McEvoy, Tom Gorman, Joe Bergin, Mick Carroll and Noel Peacock.
Tom Gorman: Before emigrating to Australia, wore the Abbeyleix colours with distinction for many years. He was also a very successful Chairman of the club. Tom’s grandfather, also Tom, was the foreman in the 1920’s when Jelly’s Sandpit was been transformed into present day Fr. Breen Park.
Mick Carroll: Was another member of the 1964 under 21 team. He was the Laois County Board delegate to the Central Counci for five years. He also served as County Secretary from 1978-1999. He was Vice-Chairman and Secretary of the Hurling Board and was the first appointed P.R.O. to the County Board. He was was a prominent Abbeyleix hurler and footballer and also represented Laois in Senior Hurling.
In 1984 Laois contested the Centernary All-Ireland Hurling final. Abbeyleix had two players on that team, Eugene Fennelly and his brother Kevin. Eugene played at left half forward and Kevin played in goal. Eugene played in the Leinster Final with Laois in 1985 and Kevin was substitute goalie.
Gerry Ring: Represented Abbeyleix on the County team and Leinster when they won the under 21 Leinster Hurling Title and contested the All-Ireland in 1983. Gerry is a nephew of Arty Ring who was on the Panel in the 1949 Laois Hurling team. Gerry’s uncle Jim played on the 1934 Laois Minor Hurling team who got through to the All-Ireland and his uncle Paddy played Junior Football, Senior Football and Senior Hurling all in the one year for Laois. A unique achievement. Of note Jim and his father Andy played on the Abbeyleix team of 1932, that won the Senior Championship.
Jim Ring: A brother of Gerry’s was the Captain of the Winning Under 21 team, which won the County final in 1979. Jim also played Under 21 and Senior with Laois. Jim also won 4 All-Irelands with Avonmore in the Senior Factory league. Jim and Gerry’s father Andy was a very successful Chairman of the Abbeyleix Club and was Chairman when they celebrated the 1984 Centenary.
Thomas Lynch: Was on the Laois Minor Football panel from 1996-1997 when they won both All-Irelands
Bobby Taylor: Was President of the club for many years. He also served as Secretary and Treasurer of the club for many years. In 2008, after the County Convention, he received an award from Mr. Brian Allen, Chairmans of the County Board, for his loyalty and dedication to both Laois and Abbeyleix G.A.A.
Eddie O’Keefe: Was Chairman of the club from 199-2005 inclusive. As Chairman he was the driving force behind the up-grading and development of Fr. Breen Park. He is a former hurler and has the distinction of scoring 3 goals for Abbeyleix when they beat Mountmellick in the Intermediate Hurling Final in 1966.
Billy (Sabu) Whelan: Was a legend in Laois and Abbeyleix G.A.A. circles. He had extensive knowledge of all Abbeyleix and Laois affairs. He was the life and soul of all G.A.A. gatherings. He was a selector for the Laois Minor Hurling team in 1964, Vice Chairman of the Laois Hurling Board from 1981-1984 and was actively involved with many Laois teams over the years.
P.J. Peacock: Played Minor and Under 21 hurling with Laois. He captained the Laois Senior Hurling team under the management of Pauric Horan. He played for Leinster in 1999 and also that year was the recipient of an Irish Independent Sports Star Award. He was on the 2007 Abbeyleix Intermediate Team when they won the County Final and played along side his son Dayne.
In 2006 at an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Abbeyleix Club, a decision was made that the Abbeyleix footballers and Ballyroan footballers would amalgamate and the team would be called Ballyroan-Abbey.
When we talk about G.A.A. in Abbeyleix a special mention must go to Bro. James, who along with Larry Hearns worked tirelessly for many years with the Juveniles. Bro. James was Chairman of the Laois Juvenile Board from 1993-1996.
Abbeyleix Sawmill / Stonearch: Both played a major role in the survival of G.A.A. in Abbeyleix. Abbeyleix Sawmill participated in the Factory Hurling League in the 1950’s. Stonearch Factory team won several Laois titles and beat Grant Engineering from Birr, to win the Leinster title in 1996.
Cormac Lally: Who was well known in football circles, refereed many Senior Championship matches, including five concessive Senior Football finals from 1966-1970. He also refereed several Intermediate County matches.
Paddy Brennan: Refereed Leinster Championships and officiated at several Senior County Finals.
Eamonn Kelly: Refereed the Leinster Senior Final in 1959 and also took charge of the All-Ireland Minor final the same year. He also officiated at several Senior County Finals.
Pat Dunphy: Was a well-known hurling and football referee and respected all over the country. He officiated at five consecutive senior football All Irelands finals, from 1915 to 1919, during which Wexford completed the first football four in a row. Pat Dunphy was involved in the only Laois team ever to win a senior All Ireland the hurlers in 1915. He was presented with the match ball after the game. He was also very enthusiastic about handball and was a founder member of the Irish Amateur Handball Association. In 1922 he took charge of both the Senior Football and Senior Hurling All-Ireland. Pat Dunphy a great GAA man, died in his early fifties in 1933 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.