By John ‘Curly’ McIlwaine
Glenravel is in mourning following the untimely death of one of their great characters Tony ‘Russell’ McAuley, who sadly passed away on January 2nd.
Larger than life, Tony was a hero in the green and white of the Con Magees during the club’s golden era in the 1960s and remained a central part of the club throughout his lifetime.
He captained the Antrim Minor football team in 1961 and ’62 before going on to captain his home club Con Magees to success in the first ever Antrim Under 21 Football Championship title in 1964, beating St John’s in the final at Casement Park. With the club winning the minor title that same year it was clear they were on the rise and in 1966 they collected the Senior Football Championship title, Tony McAuley playing a leading role at full-back when they beat Sarsfields in the final, again at Casement.
Playing in an era when the going was tough and hard, Tony never took a backward step, and those who played with and against him will vouch for his courage in the heat of battle. Manager of the 1966 Championship winning team Dominic O’Loan told me that of all the players he had worked with over the years Tony made full use of the skills he had better than anyone he remembered.
He was a member of the club committee at times over the years and managed the senior football team as well, but most of all he was a keen supporter of the club teams.
Off the field Tony was one of the greatest characters you could meet. With little formal education he worked in a variety of jobs during his lifetime, including running his own haulage company and owning the Glensway Tavern.
If you needed a ticket for a match, be it in Cork, Dublin, or even Glasgow, Tony was the man to see, for he had contacts the length and breadth of the land. He brought the great 4-in-a-row Kerry team up to play in Glenravel in 1981 and had the Borrisileagh hurlers up from Tipperary to play challenge games at Fr Maginn Park on a couple of occasions in the 80s. Alec McQuillan once told me a story about at trip he organised to Parkhead to see Celtic take on Stuttgart in the Champions League back in 2003 when Martin O’Neill managed the hoops. Alec had never been to Celtic Park and was blown away with the atmosphere that night. After the game Tony had the travelling party back at the same hotel Stuttgart were staying in. He had a way of opening doors.
My brother Colin was on a trip to Thurles with him to a Munster Hurling final in the 80s. The party had voiced concerns during the journey down the day before the game, and on the morning of the match, about that fact nobody had a ticket for the final. Tony reassured them all and arrived at Semple Stadium, went to a side door and knocked, and all hands were show to their seats at pitch side.
‘Russell’ will be sadly missed by all who knew him. We will miss those stories of the great men he met and scrapes he got into. We will miss his sharp wit and even his recital of his party piece ‘A Little Pub in London’ which tells the tale of an Irish emigrant from the West of Ireland called ‘Moriarity’ and his promise to return to his widowed mother.
To his wife Bernie, son Damien, daughters Jacqueline and Marie, plus his last surviving sibling Joe, we offer our sincere condolence.
May the soil of his native Glenravel rest easy on him.
The bright light of heaven to you Tony boy!