Greats of the 30s, 40s and 50s

February 28, 2002
The GAA has always played a role in the social life of Lavey. By Joe McManus In his excellent book 'Cavan's Football Story' first published in 1979, the late V. Rev Fr Daniel Gallogly lists such football teams as Garryowen Sarsfields (1905), Upper Lavey Joe Biggars (1906), Lower Lavey Joe Biggars (1906), Mullamagavan Independents (1909), New Inn Defenders (1909) and Drumhirk Clann na nGaels (Lavey, 1913). In March, 1889 Edward Brady (Gortnakillew) was Lavey Joe Biggar's delegate to the County Board. Recently I received a request which at this stage would be almost impossible to comply with accurately, that was to record in writing Lavey 'Greats' of the thirties, forties and fifties. Before attempting to do so I must apologise to the many, many footballers that I knew and saw playing for Lavey and whose names I will omit. In some cases I may be pilloried for doing so but I hope the majority will forgive me. The following are names which come to mind: - Rev. Fr Charles (Charlie) Conaty O.M.I - Native of Drumgora, went to School of Knocknagilla, later to Multyfarnham and Belcamp where he was Ordained a priest at a very young age. I first saw him play for Lavey when I was a very young boy in the thirties. He was a brilliant footballer, unusually played in the half-forward line, solo run expert using either foot, used side-step and body swerve with agility. His brother, Paddy was usually in the full-back line along with another stalwart, the late Benny J. Smith of Straugh. Another Conaty brother, Michael, was also a brilliant forward in late thirties and forties. The late Willie Connolly (Cootehill), Cavan's All-Ireland winning right full-back of 1933 and 1935 once described Charlie Conaty as the greatest footballer he ever saw. Rules and Regulations of his time prevented his appearance on county teams. Fr. Conaty continued to play for Lavey each time he returned home from the Mission Fields and was still playing in the early fifties. In February, 1988 he died in his parish of San Antonio, Texas. It was said that in his college days Fr Conaty was also a brilliant hurler but he had not much opportunity to show his skills of that game in Lavey. He was an uncle of Seamus Conaty who starred for Cavan seniors in the late fifties and early sixties. Michael (Micky) Cusack, Corawillan, Lower Lavey Played at full-back for Stradone Minors and later was an outstanding full-back for that club's senior team in the thirties. In late thirties he played for his newly-formed native (Lower Lavey St Dympna's) Junior team at centre half back and full back. Appeared to have retired in 1940 but was recalled to united Lavey team in 1941. Played at full back until 1945. Was a strong, whole-hearted player with a great catch and lengthy kick. Any time his team fell into arrears in the second half he had a habit of moving outfield and contributing to attack, encouraging and motivating other players around him. Was disappointed when Lavey lost the county semi-final by a goal to Kill Shamrocks at Breffni Park on an atrocious day in 1943. Brother, Packie, played for Lower Lavey in the thirties as did another brother, Gene. Gene also played for the united Lavey team from 1941 and was on the Senior championship winning side of 1951. Three of Micky's sons played for Crosserlough's seven-in-a-row winning teams of the sixties. His brother, Johnnie and son Gene, played for Cavan Seniors and Ulster Railway Cup teams. Micky died on the 14th April, 1990 at the age of seventy-five years. Terence (Terry) Reilly, Moher Terry was an outstanding full-back on Upper Lavey teams in the mid-thirties. His high fielding and lengthy clearances were a feature of every game in which he played, his red hair flaring as he defended around the small parallelogram. He was selected at left full-back on the Senior county team for a National League game v Monaghan circa 1936 and had the task of marking the famous Christy Fisher. Later he was selected at mid-field and scored a goal and a point in a National League game v Dublin at Croke Park. Afterwards he emigrated to the USA. Following a sojourn there he returned home and played at mid-field for his club at a time when his brother, Jack, had established himself at full-back. Terry did not continue playing after the thirties. Happily, he is still with us and living in the Blackrock area. James (Jimmy) McKiernan (Greallagh, Lr. Lavey) Played with the Upper Lavey team at centre half-back in the latter half of the thirties. He continued to play with Upper Lavey for one year after the formation of Lower Lavey Club circa 1937. He then played for Lower Lavey until both clubs joined forced in 1941, after which he became a regular mid-fielder. Although tall, of very strong build, he was light of foot and never stopped running during the course of a game, covering almost every blade of grass on the pitch. He complimented his mid-field partner, the late Mattie Ferguson who invariably kept his position and fed the forward lines with long, accurate deliveries. After the cessation of the 1941-44 (Lavey Harps) team he played for neighbouring Denn for one year. Sadly, Jimmy lost his life in an accident on the farm. Many shrewd observers thought that he should have been selected on county teams. Patrick (Packie) Fay, Drumnaveagh Invariably played at centre half-forward for Upper Lavey in the latter half of the thirties. He had a good catch, a mean bodily swerve, a good shot at goal using either foot and was also good at the solo run. However, his main asset was his clever distribution of the ball, bringing other players into the game. He had a number of outings with the Junior County team. He missed some Upper Lavey games in 1940 but in 1941 was recalled to the united parish team as captain. He played at full-forward until the end of 1942 playing season having had many spectacular scoring feats. In 1943 and 1944 he reverted to left full-back. In the mid-forties he went to reside in Belturbet and won a Junior County Championship medal playing at full-back for his local club. Happily, Packie is still with us and attended a recent GAA social in The Lavey Inn. John Murtagh (Drumfomina) John was an outstanding centre-field player for Upper Lavey during the thirties, was a good fielder of the ball and delivered same to good effect. He was expert at chip-lift and fast pick-ups and could punch a ball with his fist almost as far as others could kick it. He played one game for the united Lavey club at midfield alongside Luke Tully, Corriga, at the commencement of 1941 and retired from the players fields thereafter. Happily, John is still with us. He had a number of mid-field partners during his career. In the years which I remember Mattie Ferguson was the principal one. Vincent (Vincey) Smith (Knocknagilla) Vincey commenced playing for Upper Lavey in the late thirties at left half-back. He was of sturdy build, full of determination and dash, mostly kicking with his left foot, always safely grabbing the ball to his chest. He was centre half-back on the 1939 Lavey Minor Team and came to attention of the County Minor Selectors - played on the County Minor team at left half-back in the championship of that year. Unfortunately, that team lost by one point to Monaghan in a thrilling game at Breffni Park - one in which Vincey was outstanding. He missed some Upper Lavey games in 1940 but returned to play for the united Parish Club in 1941 and 1942. His playing days with Lavey came to an end when he emigrated to the USA. Happily, he has now returned and continues to reside with his wife, Nora (nee Kearns) at Knocknagilla. Ignatius (Iggy) Jones, Dungannon, Co Tyrone and Corrahoe, Lavey. This player needs no introduction to any follower of Gaelic games. His exploits have already been recorded in several publications dealing with colleges, inter-county and inter-provincial games. Of Cavan parentage, during holiday periods Iggy came to reside with his relatives, the Soden Family of Corrahoe, Lower Lavey. He played for Lavey in 1943 and 1944. In a crucial Junior Championship game at Stradone v Stradone in 1943 he was accidentally injured (nose), left the field and was brought to surgery of late Dr William O'Reilly who carried out necessary repairs. Three or four of the Doctor's sons were playing for Stradone. After Iggy's return he continued to play well and Stradone switched the late PJ Duke from his left half-forward position to centre half-back in order to counteract him. The spectators enjoyed the duels between these two who were to meet several times later on in Cavan v Tyrone games and to play together for Ulster. When a Senior citizen replied to a comment that "It was a beautiful day for the match" he said "It was, but I would come back and stand in snow to see Jones and Duke at it again." Lavey won that game and the later divisional final in Breffni Park and when Kill were Lavey's opponents in the semi-final Iggy had another interesting duel with Gerry Smith, former Cavan and Ulster player. Such was junior football in Cavan those days. There was no intermediate grade. Iggy was a likeable and jovial character. I last met him in 1957 when Tyrone came to play Mayo in a challenge game at Castlebar. On the eve of the Tyrone/Dublin All-Ireland final in 1995 I went into a Dublin hotel and was told by a mutual friend - "You just missed meeting a friend - Iggy Jones - by about fifteen minutes. He had become Headmaster of St Patricks Academy, Dungannon. Sadly, Iggy died on the 4th September, 1992 at the age of sixty-five years. John Cusack (Johnnie), Corawillan, Lr. Lavey I first saw Johnnie Cusack playing for Lavey in a Junior game v Denn at Crosskeys in 1944. He was very young then. I was told that he had played on the Co. Minor team in that year. In the years which followed he progressed to the Junior County team and came on to the Senior Panel in 1949. When I first saw him play he was at left-hand-forward. Johnnie became skilled in every facet of the game, was instrumental in Cavan's defeat of Meath in the 1950 'Home' National League final when he was at left full-forward. In 1950 he was on the Lavey team at centre-field when the Junior Co. Championship was won and in the following year captained the Lavey team which won the Senior Co. Championship. He won an All-Ireland medal with Cavan v Meath in the replay of the 1952 final when he played at left full-forward. He continued to play for Cavan and Ulster until 1955. During his career in addition to an All-Ireland medal he won four Ulster Senior Championship. medals and one Dr. McKenna Cup medal. The last time I saw Johnnie play was against Mayo in a National League Game at Castlebar, circa 1954, when he was at left half-forward for Cavan. He trained the Lavey team which won the Co Junior championship of 1975. Happily, Johnnie is still hale and hearty. It is my humble opinion that the players who will best be remembered in Lavey are those who won the County Junior Championship for the first time in 1950 and those who won the County Senior championship for the first time in 1951. At that time yours truly had departed the scene but I know that the panels, giving the first fifteens, were as follows: - 1950 Junior Co. Champions - Tom Smith (Sheils), Gene Cusack, Andy Smith, Tom Kearney, Pat Kearney, Donie Smith, Eugene Cullivan, Hugh Brady, Johnnie Cusack, Peter McMahon, Charlie Reilly, Andy McManus, Jim Tom Conaty, Joe Reilly, Patrick Smith (Farmer) who was also outstanding in the forties, Eddie Flood, Philip Cahill, Tom Tierney, Patrick Nelson, Seamus Keane. Senior Co. Champions (1951) - Patrick Smith, Gene Cusack, Andy Smith, Eugene Cullivan, Pat Keaney, Doney Smith, Tom Keaney, Johnnie Cusack, Peter McMahon, Hugh Brady, Andy McManus, Philip Cahill, Jim Tom Conaty, Joe Reilly, Charlie Reilly, Thomas Smith, Terry Smith (Dan), Eddie Flood, JJ Smith, Kevin Fay, Gerry O'Reilly (Again hoping there are no omissions) Doney Smith played a number of National League games for Cavan, and also played for the County in first round of championship, 1952, but was dropped because he was "too busy on the land" to turn out for training. Jim Tom Conaty played for Cavan minors in late forties. Peter McMahon was on Cavan Junior Team defeated by Monaghan in Ulster final circa 1956. In more recent years Seamus Donohoe (Moher) carried on the tradition of those who went before him and kept the Lavey flag to the forefront. In the 1993 edition of Lavey's 'Ringfort Annual' I made a suggestion to the effect that some time some person or persons might follow the example of my adopted parish, Enniscrone/Kilglass, Co Sligo, do some research and compile a history of the GAA in the parish of Lavey. That suggestion has not been acted upon, as yet. D.V. it may come to fruition in the future. Táim fíor-buíoch do na daoine atá luaite sa phíosa seo ar son na cuimhni. Tá súil agam go ndearna mé ceart don scéal chomh fada 's a bhainneann sé leo agus go mbuanóidh sé a gcuimhne. Gúim solas na bhflaitheas ar anamasa na dnaoine atá imighe uainn ar shlí na firinne.

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