Poignant return of medal 40 years after Athlone Town win
On April 5, 1981, Athlone Town became League of Ireland champions for the first time with a 2-0 victory over Limerick. On Monday last, 40 years to the day, one of the precious League of Ireland medals won by that historic team was returned to the family of one of the squad members.
And it was a remarkable series of coincidences that led to this emotional reunion.
The late Anthony ‘Jelly’ Keenan was reserve goalkeeper to Mick Smyth in that Athlone Town squad. He received a league medal at the end of the campaign, having played one game during the league season (against Sligo Rovers, a game in which Athlone suffered one of only two league defeats in that landmark season).
An Athlone native, ‘Jelly’ had a distinguished League of Ireland career lining out with Athlone Town, Longford Town, Cobh Ramblers and Monaghan Utd. He worked in Elan for a decade and was also a recognisable figure on his rounds as a postman in Athlone.
He passed away in 2010 at the age of just 49 after a lengthy battle with a brain tumour.
Over the years, Anthony had mislaid the medal and it was believed to be lost. In fact, Anthony’s brother, Peter, had commissioned a replica medal which was presented to Anthony on his 40th birthday.
However, a recent phone call by Athlone man Paul Kelly set in motion a series of events that culminated in a poignant handover ceremony of the medal on Easter Monday in Athlone.
Paul is husband of Mairead Fahy Kelly, daughter of Pat and Julie Fahy who leased the former Angler’s Rest pub on Athlone’s Fry Place – site of the current Snug pub, for many years. The Fahys had the medal after it was brought in boxes from the attic of The Angler’s Rest with their own possessions.
Mairead explained that during the Covid-19 enforced lockdown her mother came across the medal in an old box of material from the pub that had been stored for years.
In an attempt to find the owner, Paul contacted a friend, David Keenan, and asked him if could seek the help of his uncle Peter Keenan, a well-known local businessman and collector of sporting memorabilia, in tracking down the player whose medal had turned up.
The medal, Paul thought, had initials, possibly JG, under the club name Athlone Town. That David is the son of the late Anthony Keenan was incidental at this point as the call was designed to secure the assistance of David’s uncle Peter.
David takes up the story: “When I contacted Peter he asked me what pub they found it in. To be honest, I thought the pub was irrelevant to the story but Peter thought it might help to identify the player.”
David admits he hadn’t considered that his father was a member of the title-winning squad at this point in the story. In the meantime, having seen a photo of the medal, Peter was able to confirm that what had been thought to have been a player’s initials were in fact FC, for Football Club.
A return phone call from David to Paul, which revealed the name of the pub, brought the search for the owner in a remarkable new direction.
When David found out that the medal had been found in The Angler’s Rest, “the hair stood up on the back of my neck,” he told the Westmeath Independent, explaining that his late father, Anthony, had leased The Angler’s Rest between around 1985-1986 before the Fahys took it over.
“As far as Dad was concerned, he thought he had left the medal behind when we moved from Alverno Drive to The Angler’s Rest. But the minute Paul said The Angler’s Rest, I knew it was definitely my father’s medal,” David explained.
The League of Ireland medal won by the late Anthony ‘Jelly’ Keenan with Athlone Town in the 1980-81 season.
David said he is still amazed by the manner the medal ended up back in the family. “There were so many coincidences in the story,” he said.
And he says his late dad would have been thrilled. “I’m sure he would have been delighted to know that it’s back in the family.”
David added that the discovery of the medal meant so much to the family, in particular, to Peter.
Peter explained his brother had passed away in 2010 and the recovery of the medal meant a great deal, particularly in the week of the 40th anniversary of the league win.
“The fact the medal had been recovered brought great joy and satisfaction,” he said.
Andrew and David Keenan, sons of the late Anthony, received the medal on Easter Monday from Julie Fahy and her daughter, Mairead.
Mairead said her parents were delighted to reunite the medal with the family, particularly when it was so important to David, who had lost his father.
“My mother who found the medal said she wanted to give it back to the rightful owner,” she explained.