Build Up to Sunday’s SFC Final between St. Mary’s Aghagallon and Kickham’s Creggan

Today we start the build up to Sunday’s SFC Final between St. Mary’s Aghagallon and Kickham’s Creggan and we will continue our build up during the week with features on players, management and a brief look at the history of both clubs.

Today we take a look at the men from Aghagallon and I thank Gerard Lenehan from the St. Mary’s club for his help in putting this article together.

Club History of St Marys Aghagallon, 1982 – 2021.

Catching and kicking in Brankinstown 1907.

After the last group game against St Endas in this year’s Championship, the St Marys captain, Gareth Magee was quoted as saying, ‘Its time to make a bit of history around here’. Well history was written when the team defeated St Brigid’s in the quarter final and history repeated itself again when the team defeated Portglenone in the semi-final. Two places where no Aghagallon team had ever been before and that’s after over 100 years of history.

In 1907 a famous man called Paddy Barnes from the famous Shauns club in Belfast moved to Aghagallon with his family. Paddy Barnes was a famed sportsman and played both football and hurling for Antrim, indeed he played in two All Ireland Finals, unfortunately losing both, in 1911 and 1913.

 Paddy Barnes brought with him the vision and enthusiasm to start coaching Gaelic football within the rules that existed at the time. Up to this some of the local children would have kicked about in another code. Paddy Barnes ‘gathered together a few boys in Brankinstown to catch and kick a ball. He set up the first meeting under an ash tree in May 1909 and the first Committee in the wider area was duly elected. The first club in the area was formed and it was named the Dalcassians. The new Committee wasted no time and on the 19th September 1909 the first game was played in Aghagallon and the opposition was Lamh Dearg, Hannastown. The Hannastown club organised ‘excursions ‘ to Lough Neagh for its members and the game was to be included on one such excursion. As it turned out the Lamh Dhearg side won the game and such was the excitement and curiosity from all over the country it was reported that there were 4,000 spectators at this game paying, adm 2d.

So the game moved into a new era in these early days and a second team the Shamrocks was formed. Teams in the wider area formed and all came together for an official league in the guise of ‘The South West Antrim League’ which ran to 1916/17. The local teams that joined the league were Glenavy Owen Roes, Crumlin O’ Donnells, Lurgan Davitts and the Dwyers, a few teams joined the league after a few years.

 The Dalcasians experienced a revival in the late 1940’s on the back of a great school boy team in Brankinstown. The other club from the area was the John Mitchels club in Derrymore and they started up in 1920. The John Mitchels club joined in with the local leagues in the Lurgan area and were supplemented by the South West teams. These early clubs experienced decline in the 1960’s and John Mitchels in the late 1970’s.

 Changing times over this period led to many young men and women having to leave the rural idyl for housing and employment and a regular stream left the area for Lurgan, Lisburn and Belfast and indeed further afield.

The first Committee of St Marys.

John Mc Stravick Chair; Arthur Loughran Vice Chair; James Nelson Secretary; Angelo Hannon Treasurer; Brendan Campbell Assnt Treasurer; Ivan Lavery, Gabriel Lavery and Eugene Lavery formed the general Committee.

St Marys, a New Club, 1982.

St Marys played their first games at the local clubs, Aldergrove and Glenavy and set about fundraising to buy a ground for the fledgling club. The local community was fully behind the venture and by 1986 the Committee had acquired a nine acre site at the Colane. By 1987 and with major fundraising drives organised plans for a new clubhouse were drawn up and work completed in 1993, a proud day indeed.

By 1988 the first major piece of silverware was won by the senior team, the South West Junior Championship, which allowed the team to enter the County Junior Championship. Unfortunately they were to be denied this title in 1988 and 1989. However these setbacks did not deter the St Marys lads and they secured their Division Two status fairly quickly. In 1999 the team won their promotion into Division Two and again they developed into a stable Division Two team, now trying to win promotion to Division One.

Hard as they tried as the competition was stiff all over the county, the team found it difficult in the intermediate series. In the League St Marys were always competitive and eventually after much hard work and the old adage, a good mixture of youth and experience, the Holy Grail was reached in 2003.

 The team performed to a high level that season in the league, in fact the team won the league proper and then top four playoffs were announced and unfortunately St Marys were defeated in the game at Casement Park. And so it was to be that St Marys made the Championship Final back at Casement, when they pitted their wits against a strong Mc Dermotts team and after a strong end to the game by the opposition St Marys held out for a historic victory. Adrian Hannon was captain that special day and he drove the team the whole year. Final score St Marys 3-10 to 1-9, with two wonder goals from Damian Mc Stravick and one from Neill Mc Stravick.

 The following year 2004, under the tutelage of Lenny Harbinson and aided by Peter Bunting the team had a great League campaign and this left them in a Division Two playoff place against a Moneyglass team led by county man Kevin Brady. In a close encounter St Marys lost out on promotion. As Intermediate Champions for 2003 this accolade put the team into the hat for the Senior Championship of 2004. Facing an experienced Cargin side this was to be a real ‘Baptism of Fire’ for the team but one from which they could learn. The game was played at Rasharkin and  Cargin won the game but St Marys showed in purple patches that they had a resolve and a commitment to build on.

Away from the action a busy Committee headed by the irrepressible Chair, Ivan Lavery were working hard in the background to put fundraising and finance together to develop the old Colane pitch. The old pitch was closed between 2002 and 2005 for the major works and the teams had to play in local pitches in Lurgan and old friends Glenavy and Aldergrove also. A new pitch was laid out with paths and perimeter fencing and floodlighting. This was a major achievement by the club and the new pitch was hailed as one of the best not least for its drainage system which allowed games to be played in the wettest of weather. The new pitch was officially opened in 2009 and officially named as ‘Phairc na nGael’.

First Division Football and a Treble.

First Division football, another Holy Grail came to visit St Marys in the 2010 season. Through the League campaign of 2010 the team performed admirably, they negotiated the local derbies well and in the last game they were to meet St James’s Aldergrove at that venue. This was a tremendous game and St Marys came out on the right side of the result 1-10 to 0-11, an indication how close the game was. To their credit the Aldergrove players applauded the St Marys team off the field in a great sporting gesture. The first game in the First Division was against Aghoghill at home, St Marys lost this game and went on to lose a number of games by the finest of margins. Ultimately promotion seemed to be a step to far for the St Marys lads at this stage.

A second Intermediate Championship was garnered in 2012 when again the introduction of some new young players steadied the team. A draw was a fair result against Sarsfields under the lights at Casement. All went back to Casement on Sat 6th Oct and another evening match. St Marys were victorious by the narrowest of margins and won by a point, 1-11 to 1-10. Another fantastic achievement . Peter Tallon and Dessie Marshall lifted the trophy that night from County Chair, Jim Murray.

St Mary’s won the 2012 Intermediate Championship when they beat Sarsfields in a replay at Casement Park

Aghagallons third Intermediate Championship came in 2016 when the team defeated Dunloy in the final at Creggan, an experienced David Mc Alernon captained the team that year, Eunan Walsh scoring a trademark goal which clinched the victory, St Marys won 1-13 to 1- 08. This was part of a great treble for the club as the team lifted the Division Two title and secured promotion to Division One, a place where they have managed to remain showing great progress and development along the way. Youth development is a significant part of the modern GAA and in Aghagallon we have produced some great underage teams past and present. In December 2016, St Marys added to their double of that year and making it a treble when they defeated Rossa in Cargin in the U 21 Championship, the first A grade Adult Championship in the clubs history. A tremendous achievement for a talented team. St Marys won 2-5 to 1-5 with Ruarai Loughran scoring two penalties. Seven players from this panel went on to lift the McCrory Cup and the Hogan Cup in 2018 with their school St Ronan’s Lurgan, a massive achievement. 

Eunan Walsh of St Mary’s Aghagallon jumps for joy after scoring the game clinching goal in the 2016 Antrim Intermediate Football Championship final win over Dunloy in Creggan. Pic by John McIlwaine

In this same year as the senior team contest their first ever Senior Championship the St Marys minor team have created their own history by winning the County Minor Championship U 17, in an exciting game at Dunsilly on October 10th. St Marys defeated St Paul’s in a cracking finish to the game on a scoreline, 2-8 to 1-10. Johnnie Hannon and Enda Mc Cartan with the majors for St Marys. Can the senior team complete the double?

Treble winning St Marys Aghagallon. U 21 Championship Winners 2016.

In Division One the team have performed well and have secured their position in the league regularly finishing in the top half. In the Senior Championship St Marys have made steady progress and their experience has developed to bring them to the quarter final stages this past three years. Of course this year 2021 they have made history by making it to the final. Just reward for all the Gaels of Aghagallon through the years. Good luck to players and management.  

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