Another trophy in the Pairc Mhuire cabinet

November 30, 2004
St Marys' recent record of winning trophies has been impressive. In 2004, the Deesiders worked the uncanny oracle yet again by capturing the Division 1B league title (the McShane Cup). The Joe Ward Cup again proved elusive, however, with Clan na Gael coming out on top at the quarter-final stage of the SFC. Still, back in the top flight of the league, Ronan Carroll and co. are tipped to go far in 2005. If a year is a long time in football, then a decade is an eternity. It's hard to believe ten years have passed since St Marys won the Louth senior football championship. But they have. The Marys have been in two finals (four counting replays…) since eclipsing the Pats at Dromiskin in the '95 county decider. Stabannon beat them after a replay in '97. Last year, it was a repeat of the 1995 final - with a repeat of the result from two years later! St Patrick's beat Jim Clifford's Ardee side after a replay. The Deesiders invested so much effort into their championship run that they inadvertently took an eye off the ball in the league. As a consequence, they surrender their Division 1A status. This worked against them in a big way in 2004, as the lower class of football being played in 1B left the Marys unable to raise their game for their SFC quarter-final meeting with the Clans at Dunleer on July 25. But the Marys made light work of winning the Division 1B title, claiming the McShane Cup by winning their first eleven league games of the season. This was a formality, however, and the Marys would gladly have traded all eleven of those results for a championship quarter-final win over Clan na Gael. Thus, even though they won out their section of the league at a canter, St Marys were left with a very distinct taste of disappointment on their lips. They had failed to do themselves justice in the premier competition and the gap to 1995 extended to an unbelievable ten years. Despite the obvious frustration, young midfielder Ronan Carroll looks back on the events of 2004 with a degree of satisfaction. The Blues achieved their prime objective of escaping the confines of Division 1B and will be much better placed to mount a concerted push for major silverware in '05. Ronan is convinced that playing top-flight football is a prerequisite for winning the Joe Ward Cup. It's a difficult contention to argue with. Furthermore, only the teams in Division 1A can compete for the Cardinal O'Donnell Cup, the trophy St Marys captured in such fine style in 2002. Yes, 2005 could be a big year for the new-look Marys… "I think the majority of the team would agree that the main thing for 2004 was to get out of Division 1B," Ronan reflects. "That was what we set out to achieve first and foremost, and anything else after that would have been a bonus, because 1B is a lower level of football and when you're playing down at that level it's a serious disadvantage. "We rate ourselves as one of the top three or four teams in the county and, ideally, you want to be in the top division playing regularly against the best teams. When you're in Division 1B, it makes it more difficult to compete with the bigger teams in the championship and I think that showed when we played the Clans in the last eight. The chairman told us at the start of the year that we should make it our priority to get out of Division 1B and to see how we'd go in the championship. We won the division and it's definitely a step in the right direction." The Marys went into the 2003 season as Cardinal O'Donnell Cup holders. They reached the final of the senior championship but ended up getting relegated. It was a disappointing end to a promising year and the fall-out certainly affected their 2004 chances. "We put a lot of effort into the championship in 2003 and we possibly neglected the league as a result. A lot of lads lost interest after we lost the championship final and it was difficult to pick things up again. This year, the team had changed a lot from the side that reached the championship final. Between injuries, suspensions and lads being unavailable, we were missing six of our championship final team, and it's difficult to cope when you lose so many. But hopefully we'll have everybody back next year and we'll be even stronger than before." Frankly, St Marys got little or no benefit from playing in Division 1B. Ronan notes: "Some of the games in the division didn't help us at all. We were winning games comfortably enough without ever having to play particularly well. Even though we were top of the table, we had only played well in a couple of our games. Eventually, we started to struggle for form and we were depending more and more on a couple of players. It showed in the championship." The Marys still felt capable of raising their game for the premier competition. After all, they'd reached the final the previous year and had plenty of big match experience. "There was still a good buzz in the team," Ronan confirms. "The group stage wasn't too difficult and we coasted through. Once you get into the knock-out stages, you have to fancy your chances because anything can happen in a game of football. "We were only three games away from winning the championship and we also knew we'd be playing the Pats in the semi-final if we got there. That was the game we really wanted, to set the record straight after the 2003 county final. So we definitely had the motivation. Unfortunately, it just didn't happen for us on the day against the Clans. But we have a good young team - we got to the final in 2003 and we're hoping to get back to another final in 2005." St Marys qualified for the 2004 knock-outs by emerging from Group D as winners. They beat St Josephs (0-15 to 0-13) and Kilkerley (0-22 to 1-9) in their first two outings, but slipped up in their third group match against O'Connells (0-11 to 0-10), albeit with a quarter-final spot already clinched. At Dunleer on July 25, Clan na Gael prevailed by seven points, 2-16 to 1-12, to eliminate the Ardee club from the SFC. Mark McGeown was the difference between the teams with a personal haul of 2-3. Between them, Niall Sharkey and Alan Doherty accounted for all but one of the Marys' scores. All in all, it was a bad day at the office: "In fairness to the Clans, they played very well. I know Leslie Toal from my days at college in Dundalk and he knew our team well. He had his homework done and he exploited our defence well, with two men up front and the quick ball in. It worked really well for them. Tactically, they were very strong and they outfoxed us." Even though they failed to make a major impression in the 2004 SFC, Ronan is confident that St Marys remain capable of going all the way: "I honestly feel that there's a championship in this team. The average age of the team is in the early 20s and Alan Doherty is our oldest player at 30. After that, Niall Sharkey is next and he's only 25 or 26! We've a lot of young players coming through, including many of us from the team that won two minor leagues in a row and reached the minor championship final in 2000. There's a good flow of young talent coming through and 2005 is a new year. "We have reached the knock-out stages every year under Jim Clifford. He has done an excellent job, because we struggled under both Charlie Redmond and Paddy Carr before that." Next year's championship could be wide open. The Marys are one of at least six or seven teams who, on paper at least, seem capable of winning the Joe Ward Cup. Ronan continues: "I think somebody from Division 1A will win it. The peninsula teams will be strong again but any one of a number of teams could win it. Hopefully it'll be the Marys." Ronan Carroll turned 19 in 2004. He has been on the Marys first team since he was 16 and lined out at right half forward in the 2002 Cardinal O'Donnell Cup final defeat of Mattock Rangers. A former county minor and under 21, he figured on Val Andrews' Louth senior squad during the 2004 national league and also played Sigerson with DCU during the spring. Ronan suffered the misfortune of being sent off for the first time in his career during the 2004 Group D fixture against O'Connells. However, the red card was subsequently rescinded when it was confirmed that the sending-off had not been justified. The exemplary record remains intact, therefore. The midfielder is confident that there are plentiful good times on the horizon: "Things are looking better. We'll hopefully have Robbie Keenan, Brian McCoy and Eddie Gray back next year. These lads are all first team regulars. We had a good minor team in 2004 as well and some of those fellas will be pushing for a place on the first team. We acquitted ourselves fairly well in 2004, considering that we were under strength for the entire year. But if we can get the full squad fit then we should be in contention next year." Take that one to heart! Patsy Coleman - The other captain from '57 While Dermot O'Brien has gone down in history as the last Louth man to lift the Sam Maguire Cup in 1957, it could just as easily have been his Ardee St Marys clubmate Patsy Coleman. Patsy was Wee County captain at the start of that campaign (the Deesiders won the 1956 SFC) but lost the captaincy on the toss of a coin after missing the Leinster final through injury. Still, he contributed handsomely to Louth's spectacular success and is without doubt one of the Marys' and Louth's all-time greats. Patsy Coleman is a great character. He was a fantastic footballer too. He won a string of top honours with St Marys and Louth and was one of the finest players the Deeside club ever produced. In his home, he still has the ball that was used in the 1957 All-Ireland final - the greatest day in Louth GAA history. It is a fitting souvenir that reflects the scope and magnitude of a wonderful career. Patsy has countless other mementos too. And then there are the rich memories. The memories always remain… Patsy was very young when he started playing football and he took to the game quickly. He was a natural in every sense of the word and the list of honours garnered with club and county speaks for itself: a county minor championship, two Old Gaels Cups, three senior championships, four Cardinal O'Donnells, a Leinster minor championship, a Leinster senior championship and, lest we forget to mention it, a senior All-Ireland. He broke onto the Louth panel in 1953, representing the county at minor, junior and senior levels that year. He remained on the Louth senior team until 1964 and played on with the Marys until '65. Patsy married in 1962. Amazingly, he met his wife when the Louth team were parading Sam around the county. On a trip to Clogherhead, he pulled a young girl up onto the victory float as part of the celebrations. Five years later, he married that very same girl! The Louth team that Patsy played on is fondly remembered as the best ever. Indeed, it was a golden era for both club and county and Patsy played a big part in both. He was honoured to be a feature of the Louth set-up at such an exciting time, reflecting: "They were great times. We had a wonderful panel and everyone worked for each other. There wasn't anybody trying to steal the limelight or trying to outshine anyone else. We also had a great chairman in Jimmy Mullen - he was a players' chairman and he did a lot for Louth football at that time." In 1953, Louth beat Kildare in the Leinster minor final and went on to play Clare in a controversial All-Ireland semi-final (on the under card of the Louth/Kerry senior semi-final). Patsy explains: "It was a known fact that Clare fielded six over-age players, but Louth didn't object. But the Louth County Board made it clear that they'd object if Clare used the same players again in the final. They didn't and they were well beaten. I've no doubt we could have beaten that Clare side ourselves." In the senior semi-final, though Louth lost, Patsy was in awe of the magnificent display of solo running and sheer strength from Fr Kevin Connolly, who came on as a sub under an assumed name. "He caused Kerry all sorts of problems when he came on," he enthuses. "Louth should have beaten Kerry that day. Paddy McArdle was outstanding at left half back, on Paudie Sheehy in the first half and then on Tadghie Lyne in the second half." Patsy broke onto the senior panel shortly afterwards and claimed a starting place in the winter of '53, during the national league. "I was right half forward on the Louth team that took on Dublin in a drawn Leinster junior final at Navan in 1955. Peter McDermott was referee and when I met up with Peter many years later he asked me did I remember anything unusual about that game. I did - the match was actually stopped for a minute so we could say The Angelus!" Two years later, all the prayers paid off as Louth hit the All-Ireland jackpot. Patsy was team captain but he broke his arm in the Leinster semi-final defeat of Kildare and missed the provincial final defeat of Dublin as a result. Though his arm was heavily plastered, the non-playing captain, donning a suit of clothes, still went up onto the old Hogan Stand to collect the cup on behalf of his colleagues. With an All-Ireland semi-final looming, Patsy was determined to get back into the team - despite the fact that his injury was of the particularly nasty variety. "Dr Sheehan was the surgeon in the Lourdes at the time and I told him that I wanted to get back playing again. I wasn't prepared to discuss the matter and insisted on taking the cast off. Let's just say myself and the surgeon weren't on the best of terms when I was leaving! "I started to train with the lads immediately and was named as a sub for the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone. I was brought on at right half back after ten minutes and went on to play the All-Ireland final as well. I was lucky because it was a bad break and I took a bit of a chance with it. I got Billy Powell, who was attached to the soccer club in Dundalk, to work on it and there was a bit of a dispute when the bill came in to the County Board. But within a year everyone was going to Billy for treatment." Patsy was part of a sizeable Ardee contingent on the All-Ireland winning Louth team. Dermot O'Brien (centre forward), Kevin Beahan (midfield) and Jim Roe (corner forward) all started, while Barney McCoy and Aidan McGuinness were on the bench. "From up the road", Hunterstown's Ollie Reilly was also on the team. What was it like winning an All-Ireland? "It was the greatest thing that ever happened. It was great for the likes of Tom Conlon, Stephen White and Jimmy McDonnell, who had given their all for Louth for so many years but without any reward. It was just a great time for football - in Louth and in Ardee. "The Marys had a superb team. We lost to Stabannon in the senior county final in 1954 but beat the Clans in the minor final the following Sunday. [Patsy picked up the Man of the Match award for the minor final.] We were on a real high and we went on to beat Stabannon in the final in front of a record crowd in Drogheda in 1955. The following year, we beat them in the final again in Dundalk." In fact, that St Marys team went completely unbeaten in all competitions for those entire two seasons, 1955 and '56, winning two trebles of senior championship, Cardinal O'Donnell Cup and Old Gaels Cup. They actually won four Cardinal O'Donnell Cups (senior leagues) on the trot between 1953 and '56 inclusive and Patsy went on to collect his third SFC medal in 1960. It really was a remarkable era. "Those were the club's golden years," says Patsy Coleman. "Dermot O'Brien's father Paddy O'Brien trained that Marys team and he turned up in all weather without fail every evening from I came on the scene in 1953. He was an inspirational trainer and was heavily involved with the club right up until the time of his death." Patsy was inducted into the club's Hall of Fame in 1997. He has very few regrets from his career. The Railway Cup maybe? "I would love to have played for Leinster but in fairness there were a lot of really good footballers around at the time. I'll give you an example: Paddy Smith was full back for Cavan and Ulster, but when he came to Ardee he couldn't get into the St Marys defence … he had to play in the forwards! We had men like Jack Bell and Johnny Malone in the full back line, and we had the entire Louth half back line just before I came into the team - Paddy McArdle, Paddy Markey and Sean Boyle." What about the legend of the captaincy and the tossed coin? What exactly happened there? "We had to decide who was going to be captain after I came back from injury. We were neighbours and Dermot was happy enough to let me be reinstated and I didn't mind him getting it either. Just before the All-Ireland semi-final, they had to decide between us so they tossed a coin. It was decided after Dermot won the toss that he would act as captain but I would get the ball from the All-Ireland final if we won. I still have it. I never got anything done with it. It's a white thick-skin ball with a yellow lace." At least Patsy was spared the nerve-wrecking ordeal of making an acceptance speech after the final. "It was just as well," he quips. "When I went up on the partly-demolished Hogan Stand after the Leinster final, I had to say a few words in Irish and there was a lad behind me whispering it in my ear! Dermot was a better-educated man and a much better speaker. We kept the cup for six months each, so everything worked out well." Of course, the story of a footballer is never complete without the part about the 'one that got away'. For Patsy Coleman and Louth that took place in 1960. He explains: "We played Offaly in the Leinster final on a very wet day at Croke Park and we should have beaten them. But they beat us by a point. Louth were definitely good enough to go on and win another All-Ireland that year. It's hard to believe that we haven't even been in a Leinster final since." That's what tends to happen when you run out of Patsy Colemans.


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