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  • Sport

A very special homecoming for Joe McDonagh

Wednesday, 27th March, 2013 1:19pm

THE ICONIC IMAGE in our recollections of the sporting life and times of Joe McDonagh has nothing to do with his high-powered presidency of the G.A.A. (1997-2000) or the fact that in his playing days he captained Galway in the 1979 All-Ireland senior hurling final against Kilkenny, the winners. We remember Joe chiefly for singing his own version of “The West’s Awake” on the podium of the Hogan Stand after Galway hurlers’ historic All-Ireland final victory in 1980; it was sung, with passion and true feeling, at the end of Joe Connolly’s great speech on that never to be forgotten September Sunday.

He is a real singer, a nephew of the late Seán ‘Ac Dhonncha, the first traditional Irish singer to record with Gael Linn, a classmate in National School in Carna, Conamara with the legendary Seosamh Ó hÉanaí; a lifelong friend and music associate of the National Folklore Commission’s best known collector of songs, Séamus Ennis, and in his “day job” Principal of Ahascragh National School from 1959 until he retired. Seán, son of a fisherman, had two brothers and seven sisters; one of the brothers was Matt, father of Joe McDonagh.

It is generally believed that Joe was born in Ballinderreen, where his father went to teach for the longest part of his working life, but while it’s the place most associated with the family and while he was a renowned club hurler with Ballinderreen, he was born in the Bon Secours Hospital, Tuam (“The Grove”) and spent the first six months of his life living with his parents in his grandmother’s house in Kilgarriff, Lavally while the family sought a home nearer his father’s workplace at that time, Tiaquin NS, Colemanstown. It was in Lavally and Cortoon that Joe formed the bond that very happily tied him to his childhood holidays and wonderful memories of making the hay and going to the bog with his first cousins, the McHughs in Cappadavock, his grandmother Mary Ellen and his grand-aunt, Margaret Dunne.

In secondary school at Coláiste Einde in the late 1960s, one of Joe’s teachers, and his football coach, was Enda Colleran. Joe was first and foremost a hurler but he loved football and went on to play Sigerson Cup with UCG, U-21 for Galway in 1974 and club football, in the 1980s, with his native Cortoon.

With his county hurling career over, he could concentrate on football and he gave loyal service to Cortoon for four years, during which he won a County Intermediate League medal in the Centenary Year of the GAA, 1984, and helped the Cortoon Shamrocks club regain senior status. In 1988, he decided to give his final couple of years as a junior club footballer to Barna, where he was then living and he still lives there.

In the early 1980s, the motivation for Joe McDonagh to pull on a Cortoon jersey had come from a night out with another famous Galway GAA name, Tommy Joe Gilmore, a distant relation whose mother’s family, the Mannions, lived across the lane from Joe’s grandmother’s house. T. J. Gilmore, as a man and as a footballer, was much admired by Joe and it seemed natural that they should become clubmates as well as friends.

That connection is strengthened by the inclusion of those two distinguished names, and several hundred others, in the Cortoon Shamrocks Club History, “Half a Parish, a Complete Club,” published this week. It will be launched by Joe McDonagh at an “open house” function in the Árd Rí House Hotel, Tuam this Easter Saturday night.

For the organising committee of this book project, led by Pa Quinn, a man synonymous with the true spirit of sport and parish pride, it has been a major undertaking but also a labour of love.

For me, one of the heroes of this book is a man who has done his work behind the scenes, and he’s done it brilliantly. Paul Kelly, a member of a great Cortoon GAA family and now home after spending several years in America, is the main writer and he has very cleverly linked the history of a small rural GAA club with many of the great events and personalities of national and international history, so that the appeal of this book will not be confined to Cortoon or to North Galway.

The geography of the place is of particular interest, and so is its sporting heritage. They play their football in Brownsgrove; their parish is Tuam, but their club and their club’s name — their badge of identity — is Cortoon. To understand all that, you must buy the book!

Players who brought honour to Cortoon and Galway, men and women, will be joined on Saturday night by others who washed jerseys, prepared the pitches, stood at the gates or brought kids to away matches — also heroes, and they’re in this book.

Men like Tom Connolly (pronounced Connelly). It is a matter of fact, beyond dispute, that Cortoon itself is in the parish of Tuam. Therefore, in the so-called parish rules of the GAA, Cortoon footballers were free to declare for Tuam and they could have been compelled to do so. But it simply wasn’t the thing to do! And back in the 1960s, Cortoon got a reprieve thanks to a prominent Galway Football Board officer giving up his vote at a County Board meeting so that Tom Connolly of Cortoon could stand up at the meeting and successfully make a case for his club’s survival as an independent unit — for all time!

On November 16th 1888, Cortoon took part in a tournament in Dunmore “before an immense gathering, with all players marshalled in procession and walking four abreast, marched to the field by two Fife and Drum bands.” Other participating clubs included Clonberne Davitts and the Dunmore John MacHales.

The Cortoon Shamrocks have come a long way in 125 years.

Tuam Stars host a special visit of old friends

MORE than 50 years ago, it could have been argued plausibly that Tuam Stars and St Vincent’s, Dublin were the two leading club football teams in Ireland — the Stars, living up their name in spectacular style, compiling a remarkable seven-in-a-row in the Galway Senior Championship and St Vincent’s, from the capital city’s northside (mainly the Marino area), equally invincible in the Dublin Championship.

In terms of individual brilliance, the two clubs from the west and the east of the country also excelled: Tuam had Jack Mangan, Seán Purcell, Frank Stockwell, John Nallen, “Hauleen” McDonagh, John Lowry, John Kennedy, Cyril Kelly and Séamus Colleran; St Vincent’s had legendary players such as Ollie Freaney and Kevin Heffernan, backed up by such big names as Dan O’Mahoney, Jim Lavin, Nicky Maher, Jim Crowley, Marcus Wilson, Lar Foley, Mickey Whelan, Cathal O’Leary and Des “Snitchie” Ferguson.

Long before the All-Ireland Club Championships, the “big two” attracted huge attendances for their annual challenge games, sometimes home and away in the same year. They only ran from 1957 to the early ‘60s before the novelty wore off, but for a few years they were the talk of the country.

The late Jarlath P. Burke, writing in the Herald of August 3rd, 1957, described the St Vincent’s vs Tuam Stars challenge at Croke Park of the previous week as “a miniature All-Ireland, of huge drawing-power.” It was won by St Vincent’s, 0-13 to 2-5, with brothers Seán and Frank Purcell getting the Tuam goals.

The second leg of the fixture was at Tuam Stadium on Thursday, August 15th at 7.45 p.m. It was a great game, and Tuam ran out winners, 1-7 to 1-5, with John Nallen (the goalscorer) and John Connolly unbeatable at midfield; John Kennedy was the outstanding defender and up front Frank Stockwell gave, according to the Herald, “a sparkling exhibition; his solo runs had the Dublin defence in knots of apprehension.”

St Vincent’s might easily have won the game as they got two late penalties but while Cathal O’Leary goaled the second spot-kick in the final minute, Jack Mangan saved the first one “in masterly fashion” from Kevin Heffernan, four minutes from the end.

Memories of that friendly rivalry will be revived this weekend when St Vincent’s send their current senior squad West for a special tournament to mark the Tuam 400. Coming here too are a top Down club, Burren, and making up the semi-finals’ line-up will be the host club Tuam Stars and Caherlistrane.

It’ll all happen in Tuam on Saturday; check out the details on Page 27.

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