Differing fortunes

December 31, 2000

While their hurlers were relegated, Athboy's footballers were making soild progress. Royal County contrasts the differing fortunes of both sides.

After Kilmessan and Trim, Athboy have the most Meath senior hurling titles with nine outright successes. However, the first year of the new century was a depressing one for the O'Growney's club as they suffered the indignity of relegation from the SHC.

Those of us who remember the outstanding Athboy hurling teams of the late '60s and early '70s have found the recent slump difficult to fathom. Five of the nine triumphs were gained in that period with the other four being recorded in the '20s.

The latter decade was an exciting period for Athboy hurling. As well as gaining county SHC honours in 1923, '26, '28 and '29, the club supplied a number of players to the Meath team which won the All-Ireland junior hurling title in 1927.

Larry Mitchell was captain of the Royal County's first All-Ireland winning side in either code and clubmates Bob Collins, Tommy Carrigy, John Rack Doherty, Tom Browne, Seamus Finn, Martin Doherty, James White and Fr. Dinny Meagher were also part of that breakthrough triumph.

Goalkeeper Bob Collins, father of former top referee Paddy, had the distinction of playing for Leinster in the Railway Cup in 1929 when Kilkenny's Lory Meagher, a member of the Hurling Team of the Millennium, was among his team mates.

The most successful period in Athboy's hurling history was between 1966 and '72 when the Jubilee Cup was annexed five times in seven years. The '66 success was the first for 37 years and the fine team of that era went on to chalk up a notable three in a row sequence of success before further outright victories followed in 1970 and '72.

Athboy's last SHC triumph was achieved in March, 1973 when they defeated Kilmessan by 2-7 to 0-7 in the delayed '72 final at Pairc Tailteann. Goals from Larry Masterson and substitute Sean Speight were the difference between the sides in that exciting encounter. John Doherty sent over four of the winners points and Mattie Mullen turned in a 'man of the match' type display.
The team which brought the Jubilee Cup to Athboy nearly 28 years ago was: Seamus Flood, Tom Collins, Martin Doherty, Pat Carrigy, George Plunkett, Pat Ennis, Pat McElhinney, Tommy Carrigy, Tommy Ennis, Mattie Mullen, Larry Masterson, Martin Mangan, John Doherty, Pat Andrews, Larry Geraghty. Subs: Sean Speight for Geraghty, Joe McGovern for Collins.

Tommy Carrigy was the captain of that team and among the dedicated mentors during that glorious period in Athboy hurling was long serving chairman Larry Mitchell, son of Meath's 1927 captain of the same name, Larry Geraghty, both since deceased, and Christy Kelly.

Athboy reached two SHC finals in the '80s. In 1986 they lost to Navan O'Mahonys, who were winning the title for the second year in a row and then the following year an emerging Trim outfit foiled them at the last hurdle. After that, it was mostly downhill for Athboy although a junior hurling title was annexed in 1995.

In the 2000 Meath SHC Athboy played six games, drawing the first of them and losing the next five with a defeat at the hands of neighbours Kildalkey at the end of the campaign meaning that the club's first team will play their hurling in a grade lower than senior for the first time since 1955 in the coming months.

Their poor run of form last summer was surprising, considering that they battled back from being six points behind in the second half to earn a 3-3 to 1-9 draw with Navan O'Mahonys in the opening round of the race for the Jubilee Cup.

Their second SHC outing was against Kiltale and resulted in a narrow 3-6 to 0-17 defeat. That came after Athboy had trailed by 0-4 to 0-11 at the break and goals from Mark Geraghty, Barry Doherty and David McKenna brought them into close contention.

Then defending champions Kilmessan inflicted a 3-9 to 2-4 defeat despite being without Nicky Horan and Paul Donnelly. Then came a crunch game against promoted Dunboyne, who proved too good on a 4-9 to 1-5 scoreline and that was followed by Trim dishing out a 4-15 to 1-6 drubbing.

The relegation play off took place at Boardsmill on the first weekend of September and Kildalkey added to Athboy's agony with a 0-9 to 0-6 victory despite finishing with 14 men after having a player sent off midway through the second half.
The 2000 Athboy senior hurling team had some links with the very successful 1966 to '72 era. Ace forward of those years John Doherty was coach last season with former Hurling Board chairman Finian Englishby and Tom Ryan selectors and has a son, Barry on the squad.

Others like county defender Matthew Mullen, brother Robbie, Mark and David Geraghty, Gary Mangan, Kevin McGovern and Darren Heaney have strong hurling backgrounds.

Despite being relegated, Finian Englishby feels that Athboy have plenty of talented and skilful hurlers, most of them on the young side. The former county officer offered the opinion that hurling has become less glamourous in Athboy with much more opportunities for players to devote time to football.

"There is more of a buzz about football in the club these days" said Englishby, who moved to the area in the last few years and was a selector for the first year last season.

Apart from the championship, there isn't a lot for club hurlers in Meath and there would be league football games on many week evenings during the summer nights. I suppose hurling is always going to play second fiddle in many parts of this county," he remarked.

Still Finian Englishby is hopeful that Athboy will be back in senior hurling ranks soon. Former goalkeeper and current club secretary Seamus Flood feels that being relegated could prove a blessing in disguise and help the team to develop a winning habit again.

While Athboy's hurling stock has slumped over the last few years, the club's football form has been going in the opposite direction with the semi-final stage being reached in the 2000 junior championship.

Former Meath forward Mattie McCabe has been in no small way responsible for the better results in the big ball game. Last season was the Seneschalstown man's second year as coach and along with selectors Brian O'Connor and Robbie Woods, he helped give supporters something to shout about.

"Mattie has been doing a very good job. The lads get on very well with him and the good run in the JFC was a big improvement on 1999 when things seemed to go from bad to worse after a narrow defeat by Dunsany in the opening round" said Seamus Flood.
Athboy's JFC bid began with a 0-13 to 0-12 victory over St. Brigid's who were back in junior ranks after five years in the intermediate grade. In that opener Gary Mangan, who kicked seven points of the winning total, put a late penalty over the bar to secure victory.

That was followed by another minimum margin success, 2-3 to 0-8 over Kilbride, with goals in the first half from Barry Higgins and Shane McInerney proving decisive. Then Dunshaughlin's second string were defeated by 3-8 to 0-6 with Barry Higgins, Michael Priest and substitute Trevor Wallace grabbing the goals.

Mattie McCabe's men made it four wins from as many outings when proving too strong for local rivals An Gaeltacht, a goal from Jamie Shaw and good points from Gary Woods and Gary Mangan boosting them to a 1-15 to 0-8 victory.

That was followed by a draw and defeat for Athboy. They battled back from a 0-4 to 0-7 interval deficit to share the spoils with Drumbaragh on a 0-11 apiece scoreline as Trevor Wallace hit a late leveller. When Curraha defeated Athboy by 0-14 to 0-4 in a concluding round in the division the latter had already qualified for the knock out stage.

They bounced back from that defeat to score a 2-6 to 1-6 quarter-final success over a well fancied Dunsany outfit. Athboy fought back from a 0-3 to 1-5 interval arrears as a goal from their best known footballer, Tom Hanley had them on equal terms and then substitute Eoin McGuinness netted the second goal.

The run came to an end when Dunboyne ousted Athboy by 1-10 to 0-10 at the penultimate round. Gary Woods sent over five points and the losers had international athlete Ciaran McDonagh ordered off near the end.

The long jumper had been involved in league action with his local Gaelic football club earlier in the year and after injury ruled him out of the Olympic Games, he suffered further disappointment in that JFC 'semi' clash.

It was curious to see an Athboy football team bidding for a place in a championship final around the same time as the club's senior hurlers were exiting a stage where their predecessors had performed heroics down the decades.

Incidentally the O'Growney's last won the JFC title in 1957 and an Intermediate triumph followed three years later. Perhaps similar football triumphs are around the corner for the current crop while another priority will obviously be a speedy return to the senior hurling ranks.

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