I suspect that most sports fanatics are especially influenced by their adult heroes when aged 7 to 17. This columnist was slap bang in the middle of that age bracket when a wonderful Gaelic football team from The Downs emerged in the Lake County all of 50 years ago, back in 1968.
Accordingly, those players have remained as my heroes into life as a sexagenarian, and I was flattered more than anybody will ever know (well I suppose they will if they read this!) to have been asked to help out in the publication of a book to commemorate the club’s 125th anniversary this year.
The fruits of my endeavours and those of former player, long-time club secretary and stalwart, Aiden McGuire, will be launched in the resplendent clubhouse next Saturday night (November 24) with Tom Ryan, Ard Stiúrthóir CLG, lined up as the guest of honour.
Players (and apologies for the oxymoron in my case!) such as yours truly and Aiden grew up in an era when togging out behind a ditch was the norm. In hindsight, The Downs’ ‘Golden Era’ in the late 1960s/early 1970s (five county SFC titles won in a seven-year period) seems all the more remarkable when one realises that the state-of-the-art facilities taken for granted nowadays by youngsters were virtually non-existent in GAA clubs around Ireland.
In this regards, the marvellous – and admirably patient – development of facilities in The Downs is captured in words and photos throughout the 112-page A4 book, which contains more than 160 photographs (including over 100 in full colour), where due credit is given to visionaries such as the late club chairman, Paddy Nolan.
“Many of us thought he was bonkers,” the book states, when Paddy brought up the idea of his beloved club building a fully-equipped clubhouse and the like. However, a ground-breaking fundraising draw went ahead in 1982 with no less a prize on offer than a house (this then-hirsute and house-hunting young man bought a ticket from Gerry Moore).
The money raised from this imaginative idea started the financial ball rolling - despite brief fears that chairman (then and now) Brian Murtagh, and legendary club secretary, the late Christy Whelehan, might end up running the GAA section in Mountjoy for alleged breaches of the Gaming and Lotteries Act!
All nine Westmeath senior football championship wins between 1918 and 2005 are covered in great detail, while the wonderful strides made since the formation of the ladies’ section as recently as 2002 are also chronicled. The club is also understandably proud of its immense achievements in Scór and Scór na nÓg, including the garnering of five All-Ireland titles – a sixth was denied in very controversial and heart-breaking circumstances in 2010. Many of these glorious wins – and setbacks – are extensively covered.
All aspects of The Downs’ involvement in underage/schools/colleges football is covered, from Comórtas/Cumann na mBunscol (where the photograph of the 1958 winners highlights a number of very youthful club legends-in-waiting) right up to the Sigerson Cup (Aiden’s brother Senan McGuire was goalkeeper on a star-studded UCD team which won the premier third level colleges’ competition in 1985).
A range of other fascinating titbits should make for interesting reading, including old camogie and hurling photos, and a match report on the latter, capturing the club’s involvement in those areas. With rural Ireland more and more decimated by the closure of traditional ‘meeting places’ like country shops and post offices, another section hones in on the vital and ever-increasing role of the club in the local community, with a poignant tribute paid to six young people who were taken from the club at tender ages, all in a very short period of time.
For the statistically-minded, the dates, venues and results of all of The Downs’ matches in the race for the Flanagan Cup since turning senior in 1965 are listed, together with details of all six Leinster Club SFC campaigns, with particular emphasis on the great run of 1972/73 which culminated in defeat at the hands of a powerful St Vincent’s team from Dublin (Des Foley, Jimmy Keaveney et al) in the provincial final in Navan.
Indeed, it is widely felt that the now-prestigious club competitions came into existence just a year or two too late for The Downs when they were at the zenith of their considerable footballing powers.
Articles include pieces on the famous Dom Murtagh/Mick Carley midfield partnership – it is hard to imagine a better club pairing nationwide, before, since or in the future – and the talented Corroon cousins, Christy and Jimmy.
While the latter names are unlikely to resonate with younger members of The Downs, their legacy is crucial. Indeed, the réamhrá in the book from Westmeath County Board chairman, Billy Foley (who is unavoidably absent next Saturday and will be represented by vice-chairman Frank Mescall) refers to the aforementioned ‘Golden Era’ as the first such glorious period of on-field success, such is the Brownstown man’s confidence that all of the underage triumphs achieved by black and amber-clad teams this decade (chronicled in detail in the publication) will surely lead to a second ‘Golden Era’, sooner rather than later.
A medal presentation will take place to this year’s ACFL Division 3 winners as part of the function. The formalities will commence at 8pm. Finger food will be served, and all are welcome – albeit particularly those who bring along a crisp €20 note to buy the book!