The early years
Longford GAA can trace its roots back to 1888. Although the first match recorded in Longford after the founding of the GAA took place in 1888, Longford had a retrospective link with the initial founding of the GAA in Hayes Hotel in Thurles where one of the founders, Thomas St George McCarthy was an RIC man, who would serve as a District Inspector with the RIC in Ballymahon.
There are also records of football matches taking place in the 18th century, one between Longford and Westmeath in Aghamore. There are also many parish records which record people playing football and many recollections of battles between neighbouring parishes where the battle would go on for hours with no one seemingly keeping score!
The first club to officially form was Granard Healys which was formed in late September 1888. The initial officers were President, James Cosgrave; captain, L Cosgrave; secretary, John Cosgrave; treasurer, W Dawson; committee, E Tobin, F Kelly, J Kelly, J Smith and JJ Hennessy.
The town of Longford was next with Longford Davitts forming in December 1888 and Ballymahon O’Briens forming in February 1889. A challenge game between the Longford and Ballymahon units took place on Ballymahon’s fair green on February 24th 1889, which seems to be the first recorded game between two teams within the county with the home side winning by three points to nil, refereed by Peter Toolan of Longford. A return game was played a month later in Longford with the home side reversing the result.
More clubs were founded over 1889 and the first tournament took place on Easter Sunday 1889 with football games and other athletic events taking place. On the 13th of October 1889 two matches took place in Longford involving Longford vs Killoe Erin’s Pride and Drumlish Emmets vs Clough Dillons. After these games the first Longford GAA council meeting was held with delegates from Ballinamuck, Drumlish, Clough, Columbkille, Dromard, Killoe, Longford and Clonguish. This meeting appointed the following… President: JP Farrell, Secretary: JH Dunne, Treasurer: Francis McGuinness.
1890 proved to be a controversial year with games called off and the secretary resigning, but all the time more and more clubs were being founded. The first championship took place. There were 21 players on each team and a goal was worth more than any number of points. The draw was split into north and south with the following being the draw
- Columbkille (0-3) vs Edgeworthstown Volunteers (0-1),
- Abbeylara Davitts vs Granard Healys(walk over)
- Drumlish Emmets (0-2) vs Clonguish Gallowglasses (0-1)
- Killoe Erin’s Pride (0-0) vs Dromard O’Briens (0-1)
- Ferefad Mandevilles (1-0) vs Legan Sunbursts (0-1)
- Killashee Mitchells vs Crosskeys Fitzgeralds – No result declared, replay a draw, second replay won by Killashee
- Rathcline John Martins (2-3) vs Moydow Harpers (0-0)
- Ardagh St Patricks (0-2) vs Newtowncashel Sons of St Kieran (0-0)
- Longford Davitts (0-2) vs Clough Dillons (0-3), Longford awarded the game after Dillons waked off
- Ballymacormack Grattans vs Carrickedmond O’Connells, Ballymacormack won
- Shrule Leos – a bye
- Ballymacormack Grattans (2-6) vs Shrule Leos (0-3)
- Ferefad Mandevilles (0-2) vs Granard Healys (0-2) – Granard won the replay
- Columbkille (0-5) vs Killoe (0-0)
- Ardagh St Patricks (0-5) vs Longford Davitts (0-3)
- Drumlish Emmets a bye
- Rathcline John Martins (0-3) vs Ardagh St Patricks (0-1)
- Ballymacormack Grattans (0-5) vs Drumlish Emmets (0-3)
- Columbkille (0-5) vs Granard Healys (0-1)
Semi Finals Columbkille (1-5) vs Ballymacormack Grattans (0-1) Rathcline a bye
County Final Columbkille (1-0) vs Rathcline (0-4)
The first county final took place in Abbeycarton Lane on June 8th 1890. Patrick Baxter from Ardagh was the referee. Rathcline scored four point in the first half with Columbkille struggling to play as well as they had in their semi final, but a fisted goal in the second half gave the lead to Columbkille which they held on to win, despite strong objections over the goal. In 1890 a goal was worth more than any number of points, hence Columbkille won on a scoreline of 1-0 to 0-4.
There was further controversy when Columbkille threatened to hand back their medals as Rathcline were receiving a set of medals inscribed with ‘Honest Johns champions for skill’. It was thought that the medals would have no inscription. The reason for the inscription is due to the fact that most spectators regarded Rathcline as being the superior skilled team only losing out to a disputed goal. A compromise was reached where the medals would state ‘Honest Johns for superior merit’. The teams on the day were as follows…
Columbkille – Phil Hourican, captain, Danny Hanlon, Hughie McGovern, Charlie Hourigan, Tom McKeon, Brian Sexton, Mickie Hanlon, Phil McKeon, Phil Brady, J Brady, John Clarke, Frankie Kiernan, James McKeon, Brian Mulligan, James Donohoe, Eddie Rogers, Mikie McNerney, John McDowell, Peter Kiernan, James Hourican, Phil Hourican
Rathcline – Patrick Casey, captain, John Farrell, James Skelly, Pat Connaughton, Thomas Fallon, Pat Farrell, James Costello, Thomas Killian, Pat Mulloly, James Fallon, Pat Fallon, Pat Curran, Pat McGuinness, Peter McGinley, John Smith, Thomas Hynes, Thomas Dempsey, John Fallon, Matt Dowd, Michael Reilly, Pat Fallon
The next few years saw the political unrest impact upon the GAA activities and the county board struggled to keep formed. An effort was made to play a championship in 1891 with a number of games played, but there seemed to be as many objections and the county board struggled to function and no hearings were held so the championship didn’t finish.
The Association across Ireland could not escape the divisions of the Parnellite split of 1891 which were particularly evident in Longford, and the GAA in the county as elsewhere went into decline for the remaining years of the century. Many clubs fell by the wayside and only sporadic games in 1892 and 1893. 1894 saw only four teams play in and around Longford town. In 1896 a county committee (not County Board) was formed but did not last very long and later that year a challenge match took place between Longford Shamrocks and Granard Slashers with the Shamrocks recording a convincing win. This had been recorded previously as a County Final but that is incorrect as the County Board was not in existence and no official competition took place in 1896.
1897 saw Longford represented for the first time in an inter-county competition, with Longford Shamrocks playing in the Croke Cup. The game was played in Oldcastle against Louth, represented by Drogheda Emmets. The Emmets had a comfortable victory 2-10 to 0-3 with the Roscommon Herald reporting than Longford played better when the ball was on the ground but Drogheda better with the ball in hand. The Herald also bemoaned the referee on the day. The Drogheda Independent had the opposite view with The Freemans Journal reporting the Drogheda team were heavier and stronger all round
1897 also saw some underage games take place with Granard, Longford, Clonguish, Killoe, Ardagh and Edgeworthstown all playing games. 1898 to 1901 saw a complete decline of GAA activity in Longford with soccer, cricket and rugby getting more popular in the county
A new century dawns
1902 saw some improvement with some games played including the first hurling club called Leo Caseys which was founded in Longford. The first recorded hurling match took place in December 1902. The game was between Longford and Roscommon. Indeed the hurling team was the first Longford team to play in Croke Park in either code, or Jones Road as it was then called. November 1903 saw a Longford team play in the Leinster football championship for the first time against Wexford in Jones Road. The Wexford side had a comprehensive win, 2-12 to 0-2.
1904 also saw the reforming of a county board which led to a revival thereafter of the Longford football championship as well as a hurling championship. Nine teams played in the 1904 football championship with Longford Leo Caseys winning the final against Killoe. The same clubs met in the hurling final in 1905 with Longford Leo Caseys recording a win in that match too.
1905 saw a nationwide restructuring of the organisation and there was plenty of activity in Longford, but things still weren’t running smoothly. Longford played Kilkenny in the Croke Cup in Jones Road, but were to suffer a heavy defeat. 1906 saw Longford play Westmeath in both Leinster championships with Westmeath winning both matches. 1906 also saw a camogie team form which was reorganised in 1907. The championship in hurling and football was won by Killoe in 1907.
The years following 1907 were a struggle on the field with little activity and no official championships played, but 1911 saw an upturn with teams competing against Westmeath and a running of the local championship which ran for the next few years despite no competition being held in the years 1912, 1914, 1916, 1917 and 1918. Newspaper reports in 1917 carried the following official notice… “Owing to the somewhat disturbed state of the country, all football fixtures are postponed until further notice”. This was likely due to the state of the country politically as well as the impact of the Spanish Flu and Conscription crisis. Killoe was the dominant team of the period winning the football championships of 1911, 1913 and 1915.
The 1919 championship previously credited to Clonguish was actually the 1919 League title, with that years championship title going to Clonbroney Camlin Rovers (later renamed Sean Connolly’s). Newspaper records of 1919 show a clear distinction between league and championship. The newspaper archives also includes reports on the progress of the 1919 championship, which concluded with victory for Clonbroney Camlin Rovers over Killoe Young Emmets in a replay by 1-3 to 0-3 on 3rd August 1919.
While the Championship status in those years is now clearer, the League (sometimes referred to as League-Championship) is somewhat more complex with competition stretching across years. Granard won the League titles in 1914, 1916 and 1917, however the 1917 campaign took two years to complete and the final between Granard & Killashee was held on 23rd February 1919 with Granard winning by 2-4 to 0-0. A letter in the paper complained about the length of time taken to complete the competition. The championship draw took place after that match in February 1919 and the final took place in July with Clonbroney winning the title. The draw for the 1919 league took place on 23rd of July 1919 with the first games kicking off August 10th 1919. Long delays between November and February 1920 delayed matters on account of objections and lack of light at afternoon matches which ran into evenings. Action resumed in February 1920 with the semi finals in March and the League final on April 11th 1920 in which Clonguish beat Mullinalaghta to claim the league title of 1919.
Ballinamuck 98’s claimed the 1920 championship title with victory over Longford Wanderers. There is no evidence of any championship activity in 1921.
The championships of 1922 and 1923 had been previously credited to Longford Wanderers, however archive evidence now confirms those as league titles and the archive evidence shows that there were no county championships played in either of those years.
The 1920s saw Longford win a first Leinster title. As Longford hadn’t won a championship game since before 1915 they were entered into the junior championship in 1922 along with Carlow, Offaly, Westmeath and Wicklow. In 1924 Longford defeated Louth 2-5 to 1-3 to record a first win for a number of years and they then defeated Dublin in the semi final, 1-6 to 1-3, although this game was terminated early when Dublin refused to allow a 14 yard free to be taken. Longford faced Meath in the final, Meath won the match, but played a player from their senior ranks, so Longford were awarded the title
Longford faced Cavan in the All-Ireland semi final and a 1-5 to 1-3 win set up a final against Kerry. The game was played on July 26th 1925. Kerry established an early lead, but Longford came back to lead. But a goal early in the second half and despite the best efforts of the Longford men, Kerry won 1-6 to 0-4. The Longford team was F Gaffney (captain), W Rogers, P Bates, F Canning, P McWade, C Heuston, J McWade, M Deane, E Gaffney, M Grehan, P Reilly, R Burke, M Cawley, M O’Toole, H Greene.
Longford didn’t reach the final in the next few years, but they did reach the final of the 1925 Leinster league where after many objections and an unfinished match, Dublin won the title.
1929 saw Longford win their first minor title. The first round was a victory over Westmeath, 3-6 to 2-1. The second round was in Croke Park where Longford defeated Carlow 3-3 to 2-3. Backboned by a large number of St Mels players, Longford defeated Dublin in the final on a scoreline of 3-4 to 1-4. As Ulster and Connacht had no minor championship at this stage, Longford met Clare in the All-Ireland final, but only after on objection from Dublin. The final was reported as a hugely entertaining affair with Clare leading 1-3 to 1-1 at the break. The sides exchanged many goals, but Clare ran out four point winners on a scoreline of 5-3 to 3-5. The squad of players involved was T Reilly, A Vaughan, J Mulvey, J Lyons, J Quinn, J Sheridan, P Keenan, P Farrell, J Barden, W Clarke, T McHale, P McLoughlin, M Barden, W Farrell, J Smith, Clarke.
A new home and All-Ireland title
The 1930s was quite successful period for Longford and it also saw the Leader Cup played for the first team in 1937 (that years competition was actually completed in 1938). 1937 saw Longford win the division 2 league title defeating Donegal in Ardara on a scoreline of 1-7 to 1-3. A huge development took place in 1937 with the opening of Pairc an Phiarsaigh. The pitch was opened on April 25th 1937 with two games taking place, one between Longford and Roscommon and the second between All-Ireland champions Mayo and Munster champions Kerry
The Leinster Junior Championship started off with a 4-5 to 1-4 win over Dublin followed by a 0-9 to 0-1 win over Carlow. The semi final was played in Navan against Louth and Longford won 1-7 to 0-4 to set up a final against Offaly. The final was played in Longford on August 1st, the first time a provincial final was held in Longford. Similar to the minor final a few years earlier, goals were in plentiful supply. Longford led 2-6 to 1-1 at the break and ran out 3-7 to 4-1 winners.
The team was Gerry Marsden, Frank Marsden, Joe Lyons, Peter Duignan, Eugene Reilly, Bill Keenan, Tom Murphy, Joe McDermott, Barney Reilly, Harry Rogers, John Mitchel McCarthy, Paddy Keenan, Tony Sheridan, Joe Regan, Jack Rogers, Paddy Loughrey, Mick Quinn, Paddy Farrell, Jim Murphy, Denny Hughes, Frank McCormack.
Longford face Antrim in the All-Ireland semi final in Breffni Park on August 8th. Longford took control in the first half and led 1-7 to 0-3 at the break, the goal coming from Paddy Keenan. A further 1-7 in the second half saw Longford win 2-14 to 0-7. The home final was against Mayo on September 19th. The game was tight in the first half, but Longford finished strong to lead 0-6 to 0-3 at the break with Longford having played with a strong breeze in the first half. Tony Sheridan scored a second half goal to give Longford a five point lead, but they had to withstand a dramatic finish after a Mayo goal, but Longford held on for a 1-7 to 1-6 win.
The team was G Marsden (St Brigids), F Marsden (St Brigids), Jim Hannfiy (Drumlish), J Lyons (St Brigids), E O’Reilly (Dromard), W Keenan (Ardagh), T Murphy (Drumlish), P Farrell (St Brigids), B O’Reilly (Mullinalaghta), H Rogers (Mullinalaghta), J McCarthy (Granard), P Keenan (Ardagh), H Sheridan (Granard), J Regan (Granard), J Rogers (Mullinalaghta). Subs P Loughrey (Drumlish), M Quinn (Drumlish), J Murphy (Clonguish), J McDermott (St Brigids), D Hughes(Slashers).
The final proper was played in London on October 10th with Longford winning on a scoreline of 0-9 to 0-4 having led 0-6 to 0-1 at half time
Longford Minors in Leinster Final
The good run continued in 1938 with Longford minors recording another Leinster title. Wins over Westmeath (2-3 to 0-3) and Laois (0-7 to 1-3) saw Longford reach the final. The final was against Louth. The first half was a tight affair with each side scoring two goals, Longford leading 2-3 to 2-2 at the break. Both sides led at various stages in the second half, but a third Longford goal was the key score and Longford won by the minimum margin, 3-6 to 2-8.
The team was T Murphy (Clonguish), P Fagan (Sean Connollys), C Baxter (St Mels/Slashers), B McGoey (Clonguish), K Clinton (Clonguish), P McGrath (St Brigids), J Kane (St Mels/Sean Connnollys), J Reilly (Mullinalaghta), T Daly (St Mels), J McGuire(St Mels/Emmets), C McGoey (Clonguish), P Lehane (St Mels), K Banks (St Mels/Slashers), P Beirne (Clonguish), J McDermott (St Brigids).
The all-Ireland semi final was against Cavan on September 17th. The game was played in Pearse Park with an attendance of almost 5000. Cavan were too strong for Longford on the day and won on a scoreline of 4-6 to 2-4
Despite the rations during the war years, Longford continued to field, but titles weren’t to come as they had in the 1930s. The national league wasn’t played in all of the years, but Cavan, Longford and Westmeath played local challenge matches to keep teams active. Longford had some notable championship wins over Westmeath in 1941 and Offaly in 1944 to qualify for the Leinster semi final, but Dublin were just too strong and won 2-2 to 1-4 in Mullingar.
The 1950s was had a slow start for the county teams, but the minors reached the Leinster semi final, but came up second best. The league was struggling in these years in alot of counties, but interest was drummed up by a bonus of playing New York in the final, something which Longford would come to take part in in later years. 1952 saw Longford reach the Leinster senior semi final. A first round win over Kildare followed up with a two point win over Offaly set up a meeting with Meath
A large crowd watch Longford take on the reigning champions, but despite a valiant effort, Meath won on a scoreline of 1-9 to 0-9. That performance set high expectations for the following year, but Wicklow were to prove too strong in the opening round of the championship. But that year the juniors were set for victory. An opening round win over Offaly set up a match with Kildare. Kildare luckily drew on a scoreline of 1-7 a piece, but Longford made no mistake in the replay winning 2-7 to 2-3. Longford won the semi final 0-5 to 0-4 to set up a final against Kilkenny. 8000 people attended the final which saw Longford win on a scoreline of 3-5 to 1-5
The Longford team was J O’Leary, J Harold, W Morgan, U Martin, A Meagher, J McGrath, B O’Boyle, T Kiernan, P Farrell, F Brady, P Dolan, P Newman, A McNally, G Hennessy, N Dodd.
The semi final was played in Pearse Park, a double header with the All-Ireland minor semi final between Mayo and Armagh. Derry were Longford’s opposition. Derry played with a stong breeze in the first half, but Longford finished the half level, 1-5 to 2-2. The second half was a tight affair with Derry keeping Longford scoreless while adding a point themselves, but a Jim McGrath goal five minutes from time set up a 2-5 to 2-4 win for Longford. The final was played in Croke Park on September 13th, but Cork proved much too strong and won on a scoreline of 2-9 to 0-4.
Granard win Cavan Hurling Championship
1954 saw Longford build on the progress of the previous year reaching the semi finals at minor, junior and senior level. The senior side were defeated by Meath 2-9 to 1-5, a late 1-1 securing the win, but this was a Meath side which went on to win the All-Ireland title. One notable achievement was the Granard club were to win the 1954 Cavan senior hurling championship. The next few years saw some good performances such as a minor championship win over Dublin in 1957, but ultimately no finals or trophies were won.
1959 would see an uptake again and started with two junior championship wins over Offaly and Westmeath. The seniors also won their first round with a good win over Westmeath and this was followed up with a superb 1-11 to 1-7 win over Meath to qualify for the semi final against Laois. The juniors also qualified for the final, but only after a replay against Kilkenny, winning 1-10 to 1-7. The seniors took on Laois in Tullamore on June 28th, but the Laois side were too strong, winning 2-9 to 0-8. The juniors met Dublin in the final, but the men from the capital were too strong, winning 2-16 to 0-5.