In 1980, if you told anyone involved with football in Co. Longford, that Dromard would become one of the top teams in Longford from the mid 90’s to 2005, you would be told that you knew nothing about football.
In 1980, Dromard’s GAA history landmark achievements looked like this; 1 Senior Championship (1946), 1 Intermediate championship 1979 and 2 Junior championships 1970 and 1945. A New pitch and dressing rooms opened in 1976, with a lease of 25 years. With immigration rife in North Longford and every year the club loosing some of the finest young players to play the game, the scene was set for a long time in the wilderness of Gaelic Football.
During the early eighties Dromard competed in the Senior Championship, and were unlucky not to have reached a final or two. They put in some great performances and had some fine wins, but consistency and depth of squad was always a major problem. Again, as before, with the players from the 1979 team beginning to retire and the young players immigrating, something had to be done.
In 1982, Dromard embarked on their second visit to the USA, their first visit having been in 1977. The visit was all organised by their great friend, Leader Correspondent, P.J. O'Reilly RI.P. Our G.A.A. hats and badges helped us considerably at customs clearance at the airport.
When the first few of our group got through customs our easily identifiable group literally walked through and soon were to witness scenes of welcome that we never anticipated. There were hundreds of friends and relations there to greet us. These trips were a great lift both to our club at home in Ireland and to all our exiles in the USA. It was amazing all the people who turned up to exhibition matches and socials, just to meet some fellow Irish people, although some of them had no connection with Dromard or indeed with Longford. One American remarked to ex-county Longford footballer Frank Brady, the referee for one of the games, "Gee they were small but they sure could move". Another commented, "we play a similar type of football here, but we wear protective gear".
Around 1986, the older generation of club officials decided that it was time for new blood to lead the club through these difficult times. Joseph Murphy was elected chairman at the age of 22. Peter Mimnagh was Secretary. The bond of young blood in club administration and players, worked very well. While some players were lucky enough to be able to stay around the area, the majority of them went to work or collage, usually in Dublin, but the bond generated with the young club officers ensured a stronger than usual link. All the players, who stayed in Ireland, kept playing for the club and kept the flag flying. In Dublin, the players trained with Aughawillian from Leitrim, under the direction of Frank Darcy. Aughawillian at the time were the top guns in Leitrim, with players like Quinns, Flanagan, Priors, etc. There were many tussles and stories to be told of long evenings in the Phoenix Park, where the Dromard players took on their Leitrim friends.
In 1991, Club President, Fr. Gene Cox, PP passed away suddenly, watching his native Leitrim playing Meath in Navan on Easter Sunday. This was a huge loss to the parish and the club as Fr. Gene was heavily involved in the Club at the time. Club chairman, Joe Murphy recalls how on occasions he guided him through some difficult situations and also he recalls the great ideas he had for the club development which was being planned at that stage. Also the same year John McLoughlin was tragically killed in England. Before he emigrated John had been heavily involved in Dromard’s Minor Club, St Francis.
In 1992, the bones of a good Intermediate team was in place, Team manager Gerry Donohoe, along with selectors Jimmy Reilly and John Owens planned a campaign to win the second Intermediate championship in the clubs history. They played a physically strong Carrickedmond team in the final and won.
In 1995, like every other club in Ireland, another year, another plan. Dromard’s plan was hatched to land another Intermediate Championship. Gerry Donohoe was back as team manager. Some of the 1992 team had retired, but some new blood had come through and the team was good enough to win the championship. They had missed out on success for the previous few years, by conceding late scores in vital matches. The emphasis in training was placed both on the physical condition of the players and on hard work. The ability to get vital scores and to close out matches was focused on from early in the year. By the time the team reached the final, they had learnt how to win tight matches.
In 1996/97, Seamus McManus from Carrigallan was appointed manager. The main focus was promotion to Division 1. Dromard had a great run in the Division 2 league, but were piped each year at the final hurdle. The senior championship performance was suffering, being knocked out at the early stages.
Late 1997 was a turning point for the club and how they approached the running and coaching of all teams. Paul Hourican wrote a three-year football development plan. Advice was received from non other than Eugene McGee, the former Offaly Manager and Longford Leader editor. The plan focused on all aspects of preparing the club for an attack on the senior championship, with the aim to winning it within 3 years. The club AGM reviewed the document and implemented it straight away. The first item to be put in place was to appoint a manager. Armed with the plan a delegation met with Denis Connerton, from the Rathcline club. Rathcline had beaten Dromard the previous year and were a strong club. Denis asked some fundamental questions and showed his in depth knowledge of the players, the club and the amount of work that was needed. All agreed that he was the man to lead Dromard. The focus of 1998, was to get into Division 1 of the league, which was accomplished.
The 1999 Senior Championship win, was the first time that Dromard received the Sean Connolly Cup. Dromard were the underdogs in every game, which suited them. They shocked their neighbours and great friends Fr. Manning Gales, the 1998 champions, who were going for three in a row. This win gave them the confidence to go on and win the championship. In they final, the met a strong and fancied Abbeylara team, who had been there or thereabouts for the previous few years. A last minute point, deep into injury time by Jamsie Martin, drew the game. In the replay, after a thrilling encounter played in a sporting manner, the spoils went to Dromard after their 53 years wait. Dromard dug deep and had got the rub of the green over the two games. This was the first county final to have been broadcast over the Internet, and of course it was done by a Dromard Man, Kevin Hourican of Information Providers. Abbeylara who had lost two finals in a row would bounce back in 2000 and to win their first ever Sean Connolly Cup. Everyone in Dromard was delighted to see them achieve their success, even though it came at the expense of our close friends Fr. Manning Gales. The Dromard celebrations started in earnest and continued for the best part of a month.
The club took part in the Lenister Club Championship for the first time in their history, against an experienced Rathnew team from Wicklow. Rathnew opened up with quick goals and ran into a nine-point lead. When Dromard settled, they pull back but couldn’t overhaul them.
In 2000 Dromard won their first Division 1 title with a long campaign, which ran from February to December. They showed great consistency in the league but they did not perform in the championship.
In 2001, Dromard won their first Leader Cup. It was a great achievement, especially beating a strong Granard team in the final. This was the last hooray for some older key players.
In 2002, the senior team did not feature, but a very young U21 team; backboned by an excellent Minor team won the U21 ‘B’ Championship, by overcoming Ballymore in the final. This was a key moment in this short history. A number of the U21 team were to backbone the senior team and change the style of play and focus on skill.
In 2004, a lot of young players were coming through from the U21 team and Minor team. The club needed to find a manager who could blend a team of very young players with some experienced players. Ambrose McGowan arrived. He set about his task with Sean Conefrey and Peter Crossan. They experimented with the team and tried to find the best positions for players and revitalised some of the older players. Dromard won its second Division 1 league, a Division 3B league and got to the semi-finals of the Championship. This Division 3B win was important, as it ensured all younger players were playing at a high level.
2004 Division 1, winning team.
2004 Division 3, winning team
The stage was set for a championship run in 2005. Ambrose brought in Anthony Maguire and Gerry Donohoe as selectors. This gave him an excellent team. He involved Brian Reilly in Dublin to do all the away-based training, a role he had been doing for a few years. The total concentration on skills and fitness (in that order) was the basis for everything that was done. The moulding of younger players into leaders on the field was well underway. Sometimes the league had to suffer, in order to focus the players on the big prize. The championship opened in June against a fancied Longford Slashers. Unfortunately for Slashers, it was one of those days where nothing went right for them. Dromard ran out easy winners. Next up was Cashel, on a wet and windy day in July. Dromard had the favourite tag for the first time in years. Cashel started off well and had Dromard rattled in the first half. At half time, the few words from Ambrose, which cannot be repeated, did the trick. Dromard totally dominated the second half and won by a narrow margin. The quarterfinal was against a well-drilled Sean Connolly’s team. The experience and skill finally broke Sean Connolly’s down. In the Semi-final, Dromard were pitted against the excellent Clonguish team, who were going for 3 in a row. This was an open game of football, with high levels of skill on both teams. Clonguish ran into a five-point lead after half time. The Dromard young guns threw off all their inhibitions and decided to go for it. At full time they had won the game by five points.
The final was always going to be an exciting affair, with Fr. Manning Gales having the experience of appearing in their seventh final in ten years, against this young Dromard Team. Over the past 7 years, both teams had been at the top of Longford Football, with the Gales of course shading it, having won four Senior Championships. The game started off at a fierce pace, all the friendly neighbour stuff was left aside, for an hour and a half. With ten minutes gone in the second half, Fr. Manning Gales had a five-point lead and were in control of the game. Suddenly Dromard decided that they were not going to be beaten. They threw everything they had at the Gales. They played with speed, skill and determination and completely controlled the next fifteen minutes of the game, scoring 1-7, without reply. They closed the game off and left most of the 6,000 strong crowd in Pearse Park wondering what had happened. Dromard had won their third Senior championship.
A large crowd followed them back to their excellent clubhouse, where they celebrated for hours. Of course this was not the end of it.
A short reflection. For the past 25 years Dromard players and managers gave everything they had in order to improve their lot and win competitions. But expectations have changed in society and also in Gaelic Football. If you are not successful in every game, yes every game, then you are seen to be a failure. The trend today is for players to stop playing the game at an earlier age and club managers to get just one year at a club if they are not successful. The pressure to succeed is taking away the enjoyment of playing and managing a team. This is a difficult trend to buckle, but Dromard have tried over the past 20 years to ensure that everyone gets a chance to play, to manage, and above all to enjoy the greatest game on earth.
In 1985, Dromard decided to enter four league teams in competitions in Longford. They had a team in four out of the six leagues. This caused some confusion at the time for the fixtures committee in Longford. During the bad times, when the senior team were not winning any major titles, Dromard were winning a number of league titles (Division 1A, Division 2A etc.), this was a lifeline for the club as it allowed them to foster the young talent, but more importantly allowed the club to have something to celebrate. In the club history, to be written, it will detail these achievements.
Dromard Interediate Championship team 2005
Dromard Junior Championship team 2005
Like all Minor clubs St. Francis is a sub-committee within the senior club. In 1980 an U-14 league was won. In 1982, an U-16 Division 2 league title was also won. In 1982, an unusual amalgamation was formed called Dromard/Drumlish/Clonguish Region, they won the U16 championships in 1981 and 1982. In 1983 our Minor team won the Division 2 league, which was an excellent young team coming through. As happened all through the 80’s and early 90’s most of these players emigrated. Our U14, team of 1983/1984 won the league in both years. They also won the U14 Féile and represented Longford in the all Ireland Féile competition. This was the only time the club has won the U14 Féile. In 1986, the Minor team won the Minor league Division 2.
In 1995, the U16 team won the Division 2 league and that year our minor team reached both the championship and league finals. They were unlucky not to win at least one of them.
These teams were to become the backbone of the Dromard Championship winning team of 1999. The underage teams began to have some success from then on. In 1997, the U16 team won the Division 3 league, the U14 team won the Division 2 Shield and the U12 team won the Division 2 Shield. Then in 1998, our schools team won a Division 2 league. In 2000, Dromard and Sean Connolly’s amalgamated, under the name of Camlin Rovers, and went on the win the U16 Championship. In 2003, an excellent Minor team won the Division 2 league, were runners up in Division 1 and were unlucky not to win the championship. Our U14 team won the championship and got to the league final, but were beaten by Ballymahon. Dromard presented a trophy to Longford County Board for this competition to honour the memory of Francis Maguire. In 2004, a special U16 league was won. The club also organised an inter-county U14 tournament, sponsored by Frank Smith of Fencing Matters. A new emphasis on providing coaching for kids during the winter months was introduced, with GAA coaching in the Gym in Moyne Community School. In 2005, the Minor team won the division 2B league.
On Saturday Night, 20th of November 2004, Dromard GAA hosted a talk on Alcohol Abuse by John Leahy, the all Ireland Hurling medal winner. John talked frankly about his own experience both as a player and his fight with alcohol. The crowd of over 80 people listened for an hour while John recalled his life story, winning all Ireland U21 and Senior titles. His most important win was his first Senior title with his club in 1989. John's illustrious career was hampered by his use of alcohol, and eventually his abuse of it over a number of years. John explained how his family, friends, club mates and fellow county players were all affected. One day, when he was 26 years old, he suddenly realised what was happening him and he started a long battle against alcohol and resumed his inter-county career. He explained that he is now nine years without a drink. He now gives talks to schools and clubs all over Tipperary. After fielding lots of questions from the large crowd, he presented the Dromard U16 Special League winners with their medals. He also presented the 2003 Minor team with their medals for the special league. He thanked Dromard GAA for inviting him and for their vision in having this talk on Alcohol to these young players. He encouraged all players to always listen to their managers, selectors and club officials. He also said, that all members of the club need to make time to listen to and talk to young people.
As the 70’s came to a close and the not so exciting 80’s arrived, ladies football in Dromard was conceived. There is some disagreement as regards who, and when exactly it all began. The main person responsible for the bringing together of all interested parties at that time was John James McCabe. This man had drive, this man had vision and this man was loud.
As one’s mind ducks and dives back into those tough times when resources were limited no metal objects were acquired in those days to adorn the mantelpiece. Both management and team approached the game the only way Dromard people know, work hard, play to the best of your ability and in the end if it doesn’t work out at least we enjoyed trying.
Some of the names from those early years who made quite an impact on the field of play also helped to ensure the survival of the game in Dromard for years to come. Names like Mimnagh, Smith, Duffy, Morris, Masterson, McCabe, Maguire, O’Toole, Hourican, Donoghue spring to mind. Some of the toughest games these girls played were outside the county in Carrigallen, who had a great team in the late 70’s and early 80’s, also in Fenagh Co. Leitrim.
We hope that the sense of adventure and enjoyment that all of us involved in the game of football experienced at that time helped to make life more tolerable for these young girls as they made their way into a somewhat imperfect world.
There is a sad and somewhat emotional dimension to writing this story. Two of the girls who contributed so much to the game in those early years have gone to their final resting place, Kathleen Masterson and Breege McCabe. Both battled bravely with cancer in later life. May they rest in peace.
A new era has arrived for ladies football in Dromard. A type of wake up call/reality check sits on the fence as those currently involved in Dromard ladies football ponder the future. There is a wonderful group of young ladies playing football in the parish of Dromard right now in 2005. In 2004/2005 some very high standard games were played in Parc na nGael and other football pitches throughout the county by this young team. There is real hope for the future if an underage structure is put in place now. Young girls must be encouraged by both parents and club to get involved.
In the Official Guide of the Gaelic Athletic Association Rule 4 states as a clear objective the following: “The Association shall actively support the Irish language, traditional Irish dancing, music, song and other aspects of Irish culture.”
Since it first began in 1969, Scór has always been an important event in the club’s calendar in Dromard. The club has taken part in all categories in both Scór Sinsear and Scór na nÓg and over the years has had many successes at county level, some success at provincial level and on one occasion reached the All Ireland finals. The elusive All Ireland Title has yet to come.
In 1997 on the eve of the official opening of Parc na nGael in Dromard the club was represented in the All Ireland Finals of Scór Sinsear in Three Mile House in Co. Monaghan by the novelty act group. The group, which consisted of Liam Grimes RIP, Evelyn Kiernan, Brendan Gray, Majella Sheridan and Michael Masterson, performed a sketch called “The Lotto Ticket”, which was written by Jimmy Reilly from Firmullagh.
Jimmy Reilly (Author), Evelyn Kiernan, Majella Sheridan, Michael Masterson, Brendan Gray and Liam Grimes (RIP)
Among some of the other sketches written by Jimmy over the years was one called “The REPS Scheme”. While this had limited success for Dromard, it won the All Ireland Title for neighbouring club Fenagh in Co. Leitrim in 2005.
To honour the memory of Liam Grimes who died in October 2002 the club donated a bog oak plaque to Longford County Scór committee to be presented as a perpetual trophy to the winners of the novelty act competition. Liam was a stalwart of the Scór Novelty act and for many years teamed up with Evelyn Kiernan in various sketches. As a pair they gained very favourable comment from many adjudicators. It was fitting that the Dromard novelty act group were first to receive the trophy having won the County final in 2003.
It was with great reluctance and more than an insane amount of optimism, that in the early 1990's the brethren of Dromard GAA finally decided to embark on a marathon to develop a new football pitch, at lands owned by them adjacent to Legga Church, Moyne. Many of the present club members had toiled on a voluntary basis and encouraged others to give freely of their time, to develop the pitch that they had then been operating on, at Kiltycon. Unfortunately, this pitch had been acquired on a 25-year lease and despite the hopes of many, it was not possible to acquire it on a permanent basis. A development committee set about the development of the grounds for Dromard GAA. A detailed survey of lands at Legga already owned by the club was carried out. Climbing across hedges, jumping across water filled drains and the cold wind, didn’t put off the completion of the survey by Seamus Quinn, Gerry Sheridan and Paul Hourican. This was a very big venture to undertake for such a small rural club, but commitment, hard work and numerous successful fundraising functions, all contributed to the fine facilities that we have today. The main pitch was the focal point of the development. The aim was to develop a top class all weather pitch. Many people and groups were involved in the development and Dromard GAA would like to express gratitude to all, too numerous to mention but without their hard work and skills what we have achieved here in Dromard would not be possible. They can be proud of their contributions. The Club House and grounds is a monument to the dedication of all concerned with the development. The fine facilities are appreciated by all the players and will be enjoyed and appreciated for generations to come.
A finance committee was formed to raise money in order to pay for the club development and they launched a £5,000 draw. Tickets for this draw were at the price of £20.00 and club members used all of their undisputed wit to sell these tickets, receiving no compensation of any kind for the long hours they put in for the benefit of this small rural club. Less than three months later over £40,000 was raised and the culmination of same was the big Draw in the Longford Arms Hotel. At this stage the whole development movement had gained momentum and the spirit of the club was high, boosted by the generosity of the people of the Parish and surrounding areas.
The club was very aware of its environment and one other activity they involved themselves in was a tree-planting scheme around the grounds of the club. 2,000 oak trees were planted and were sold publicly and through the Internet for people at home and abroad to commemorate their loved ones both living and dead. An Coilte and Crann were involved with the club in making this activity a huge success.
Also, the club purchased 24 heifers and a similar amount of club members - all male took a female each in hand and reared and nurtured this young lady. They were then sold at an auction on the 5th April 1996 and raised a substantial amount of money for the club. For the luckier mortals, a monster bingo day was organized and the huge effort made for an enjoyable day.
It was one of those dark and dismal January nights in 1995. Michael Masterson, Jimmy Reilly and Kevin Sheridan happened to meet in Hughie’s Pub in Arva and all three discussed a wide variety of subjects including raising money to complete the new pitch at Dromard.
Their surroundings at the time perhaps helped to inspire their ideas in true Irish fashion, the seed was sown that night for what was to become the biggest fundraiser ever to visit the district. Indeed before closing time the other two had managed to convince Kevin Sheridan to become a candidate in "The Lord Mayor Campaign".
A couple of weeks later the idea was sold to a finance committee meeting and following some persuasion Celine Sheridan, Corrinagh and Louis McEntire, Annagh agreed to join Kevin as candidates.
The task ahead never promised to be an easy one, but all three headed off in different directions to put their heads together with their own team of helpers to form a strategy for a campaign which was to last twelve weeks ending on the 19th May 1996.
Over this period the parish witnessed a campaign of great intensity, of many and varied ideas. The lotto was started during this time and indeed continues to ensure a considerable weekly income for the club.
The succulent smell of roast pig tempted the taste buds of the large attendance at a barbecue held later in the campaign. Trojan work went into the preparation of the food and nobody went home hungry, or thirsty for that matter. The campaign kicked off with a tea party in Keenan’s pub in Glenmore, attended by a large crowd who enjoyed an abundance of food and then danced the night away. The success of this night was repeated a few weeks later in the Park House and once again was attended by large numbers.
Ticket sellers suffered from aches, pains, cold and rejection, indeed all the penalties of the trade, but they carried on throughout the campaign and the proceeds added to the kitty at the end.
The excitement aroused by little wooden horses being pulled across public house floors throughout the county and indeed beyond was comparable only to the real thing. The punters became involved in the atmosphere created and opened their wallets to bid and bet. This particular fundraiser became very popular wherever they went and the idea has raised money for many a cause in many a place since.
The events which occurred during this time left the locals waiting in eager anticipation and sometimes trepidation - who was going to do what next?"
The Mock Wedding was one of the highlights of the campaign. The cascade of "guests" making their way from the hall in Gowna after the ceremony to the hotel for the reception was a sight to behold.
Each member of that bridal party put their nerves and reservations to one side on the night to put on a performance that is talked about to this day. The talent of the group to entertain surpassed all expectations, and the volume of work both on stage and behind the scenes can never be measured. One man is quoted as saying - "I didn't laugh as much in forty years".
An accumulation of auctions, quizzes, dances, etc all contributed to a phenomenal amount in excess of £56,000 announced on the final night when Louis McEntire was proclaimed "Lord Mayor of Dromard".
The three candidates, their families and helpers must be complimented on their enormous energy, (despite many late nights), and for the manner in which they conducted themselves in a spirit of good-humored rivalry throughout the entire campaign. Sufficient to say, that everyone took part in a spirit of fun and generosity, never for one moment losing sight of the purpose of the exercise. To name all the people who were actively involved would be impossible, as there were so many. It was the tremendous generosity in this parish and many surrounding parishes and of great community spirit, the likes of which will probably never be equaled, which ensured the success of these fundraising campaigns.
Today the expenses incurred in order to run a club have increased at least ten fold from 1980. All clubs have to fundraise. In Dromard we have so many people to thank for their generous contributions over the years.
As always it is dangerous to start mentioning names, but be sure Dromard GAA are very thankful to everyone who has helped them raise finances, and have contributed to our success in the past 25 years.Dromard GAA has progressed a lot in 25 years. It now has state of the art facilities, fine senior and underage structures, good senior football teams, excellent support, and best of all the enthusiasm to go forward. A lot of work has been done, but a lot more to do, in order to remain at the top in Longford football.