Stabannon won the inaugural Joe Ward in 1949

November 30, 2001
The ageless Gerry Robinson looks back on Stabannon Parnells' first ever Louth SFC triumph, a feat achieved in 1949, the Joe Ward Cup's maiden year. Nineteen-forty-nine: Hitler's quest for world domination had been put to bed. Four peaceful years had passed since the Funny Fuhrer decided to end it all and the world was finding its feet again, safe from the tyranny of Nazi bigotry. Meanwhile, in Louth, a new power was emerging . . . a more welcome one, destined to last a lot longer than Mad Adolf. It was a year of firsts. Across the county boundary, the Royals were celebrating their first All-Ireland success. Stabannon Parnells took the cue and caused a massive surprise by defeating defending champions St Mary's of Ardee in the decider to capture the Louth senior football championship for the first time. This was the beginning of a proud legacy which still lives on today. '49 was the inaugural year of the Joe Ward Memorial Cup and Stabannon Parnells etched their names in the history books by becoming the very first team to lift the (now) famous trophy. Exactly fifty years later, they would also be the last team of the millennium to win it. In between, there were four other SFC victories for the mid-Louth men, in 1954, '91, '94 and '97. But the 1949 win was arguably the most significant. After all, it was the first, the one that set the tone for what was to follow... The backdrop to the 1949 county final was a bit unusual to say the least. Indeed, it was not unlike 2000, when Stabannon most recently reached the county showcase. For the '49 semi', they faced St Magdalene's from Drogheda on a rain-soaked sod in Dundalk. Despite a desperate fightback from the Magdalenes in the final ten minutes, they held on for a one-point victory, 2-5 to 1-7. The decider was arranged for Sunday September 18th but had to be postponed as the result of an objection from the Drogheda club over the legality of a Stabannon players, believed to be one of the Conlon brothers, namely Jim. (This is an amazing coincidence considering that Stabannon defeated Cooley Kickhams by the same margin in the '00 semi-final and that Cooley also lodged an objection, this one concerning John Prendergast.) The 1949 objection wreaked havoc with the Wee County's domestic football calendar. It meant the county final couldn't now be played before October 16th, as Louth were engaged in a game in aid of the West Cabra Church Building Fund at Croke Park on October 2nd and another fixture at Hacketstown, Carlow the following Sunday in aid of another worthy cause. The final was eventually played in Dundalk on Sunday October 23rd and Stabannon pulled off a massive shock when defeating defending champions, overwhelming favourites and neighbours St Mary's on a scoreline of 2-2 to 1-4. There were remarkable scenes of jubilation amongst the Stabannon partisans when the cup was awarded to the winning captain and both he and the silverware were subsequently borne aloft from the stand to the dressing-rooms, followed by hundreds of excited and happy supporters - ecstasy that would live long in the memories of those fortunate enough to have been there. The delirium was perfectly understandable. Not alone was this Stabannon's first ever SFC, but the nail-biting fashion in which it was achieved added to the sense of occasion. There had been a real buzz in the air in the build-up to the game. The five-week delay added to the interest and, more crucially, to the tension. Next door, Meath had won their first All-Ireland and there was every evidence to suggest that Louth football was also in a very healthy state - the Wee County had taken the Royals to a second replay in the Leinster final before losing to a last-gasp point. The appetite of the large attendance was whetted further by an excellent, engaging minor final which preceded the big one, Tallanstown and Cooley Kickhams fighting out an epic 0-5 to 1-2 draw in a game which produced some wonderful football. The scene was set. While the occasion was momentous, the game itself was not of a brilliant standard by any means. When the champions took an early lead, most of those in attendance could have been forgiven for believing that what was about to follow would be a mere formality. However, it was anything but. What a shock the Parnells had in store for their illustrious neighbours. When Ardee struck their second point, they ensured themselves of superiority on the scoreboard but all was clearly not well. Stabannon were getting about them and they didn't appear to be moving with their usual fluidity. The perfectly-oiled machine of heretofore was AWOL and, despite having plenty of possession, the Marys forwards found scores very hard to come by. In contrast, at the other end, chinks were appearing in the Ardee defence. It was a low-scoring game and most of Stabannon's heroes were in defence. Tom Conlon, Brian Reynolds and Jack Smith were successfully checking every move by the champions' forwards and the well-fancied Marys were visibly shaken. Having said that, things didn't necessarily look particularly rosy for the challengers when the half time whistle sounded and they trailed by a point . . . had they taken half their chances when playing with the benefit of the wind, they would have been comfortably ahead. But Stabannon introduced renewed vigour and skill to their play in the second half and took the lead for the first time ten minutes from the end. The Marys threw everything at them but they held on grimly to survive by the minimum margin. Even if Stabannon's second goal could be described as a little on the soft side, they were still worthy winners for their hour's endeavours. Furthermore, lest there be any doubt, it must also be pointed out that all in all, it was a clean and sporting encounter which did a lot to enhance the image and reputation of both sides. From the throw-in, Ardee attacked in waves but Stabannon's defenders repelled them skillfully. Sean Boyle opened the scoring for the Marys when sending a 30-yard free high between the posts. Stabannon levelled matters when Tom Conlon excellently drove a '50' directly over the bar but Roe soon fisted a point to give Ardee the lead once more. Parnells had a lucky escape when Behan drove to the net, only to have his effort ruled out for an infringement. When Brian Reynolds rescued his team for the umpteenth time, it became apparent that the Stabannon backs had the measure of their opposite numbers. Stabannon hit three successive wides before Behan's effort for Ardee went wide off the upright. Gradually, Stabannon got on top but they continued to miss the target and chalked up a number of frustrating wides. The match deteriorated into poor fare and the first half fizzed out without any further scores. Half time: St Mary's 0-2, Stabannon 0-1. Ardee opened the second half scoring with a Kelly free and Ross added another for the defending champions. But they would have only one more score in the remainder of the match as Stabannon took matters by the scruff. First of all, they grabbed a dramatic equaliser. Reynolds sent a long free to K Conlon on the right wing. Conlon then went on a solo run and parted to Reynolds who made further ground before returning the ball. Conlon centred to P Conlon who tapped to the net for an excellent goal. 0-4 to 1-1 and Game On. The best move of the match left Ardee rattled. An excellent K Conlon score put Stabannon in front for the first time. Ardee threw everything into attack but J Smith denied them manfully. M Reynolds went high to collect a free from T Conlon and - surrounded by Ardee defenders - shot a harmless looking effort goalwards. But Sharkey on the line let it slip through his fingers for a crucial Stabannon major. Bet he didn't think we'd still be going on about it 52 years later! Stabannon's supporters went wild as the famous win materialised before their eyes. There would be a few scares before the final whistle, though. Ardee surged forward and McCormack finished to the net following a frenetic piece of goalmouth action. There was only a point in it. It was backs to the wall in the dying moments but Stabannon held on and history was made. Stabannon, 1949 Louth Senior Football Champions: T Conlon, H McGrane, P Reynolds, B Reynolds, K Conlon, T Conlon, J Smith, J Callan, P Byrne, T Shearman, M Reynolds, H Byrne, K Conlon, P Conlon, P Roche.

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