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Review of 2004 (Down Yearbook)

Item originally written for the Down Yearbook in 2004.

Published by Anthony McNamee on 13th December 2004.

As South Down clubs go, Ballyholland Harps were something of a late starter. Indeed, in celebrating our fiftieth year during 2004, we left behind us only two senior clubs from the region that have not yet reached that milestone.

But it’s only fair to say that those fifty years have been put to good work.

Those five decades have seen the people of Ballyholland, Grinan, Ballynacraig, Derryleckagh and the Commons come together to forge a proud tradition in Gaelic football, camogie and in Scór.

This year has seen the club try to acknowledge and reward the efforts of its many longstanding members and patrons with a two-fold gesture; by marking the occasion with a series of special events, and by continuing and building on that proud history in Gaelic Games.

The result has been success on both counts.

The first of those special events took place in mid-March when a Gentleman’s Evening took place in the clubrooms. Masterminded by Eamon McElroy and Aidan O’Rourke, a hugely enjoyable night’s craic saw local whistler Frank McDonald undertaking the role of Master of Ceremonies – but without doubt it was the special guest of Galway man Brian Geraghty who made the evening so memorable, with his side-splitting repertoire of stories and anecdotes.

Moving on, July saw the club hosting its first ever golf classic at Warrenpoint Golf Course, when the huge effort of a dedicated team led by Joe Murphy and Cyril O’Reilly was rewarded with one of the finest days of the summer.

A large turnout of golfers good and bad basked in the glorious sunshine and then, when light began to fade, proceeded back to the club for a presentation night and barbecue.

The key event in the year though was the Jubilee Banquet, which took place on the Friday before Halloween in the Canal Court Hotel.

Iar-Úachtaráin CLG, Mr Paddy Buggy and Mr Paddy McFlynn led the guests, while Ballyholland Gaels from near and far, both past and present, descended on the hotel to reminisce about the past and to talk about the future of our club.

The special year was also marked by Ballyholland Primary School, which unveiled a fine exhibition on the history of the club.

Meanwhile the excellent facilities and playing surface at Fr Lynch Park – many thanks to Joe Kearney for all his hard work – were further recognised by the grounds hosting several important games, including underage county finals and underage inter-county football matches, senior play-off games and senior camogie inter-county matches.

Further off-the-field developments saw the conception and growth of the Ballyholland Development Association, an organisation whose aim is to provide leisure and communal facilities for the people of Ballyholland, and whose members consist of people from the various other groups in the area, including Ballyholland Harps GAC, who are willing to donate land to house the proposed development.

On the field, it was another year of great success for the camogie club. At county level, both Cathy Mulholland and Deborah Kelland were key players in the Down team’s charge to All-Ireland Junior final.

Unfortunately Cork got the better of them in that final, but both ladies can take great pride in their achievements and, in particular, Cathy’s fantastic goal on the hallowed turf of Croke Park will live long in the memory.

The Down minors also lifted the Ulster title, thanks in no small part to a sextet of Ballyholland girls forming the backbone of the team. Karen Tinnelly, Marlene Collins, Helen Mc Ateer, Michelle Havern, Louise Campbell and Jennifer Campbell all had the honour of being part the first Down side to lift this prestigious title since 1993, while Lilian Tinnelly and Kitty Fegan were the successful mentor and manager of the side, resepectively.

At club level, the senior camogs swept all before them in securing an Intermediate League and Championship double under the tutelage of Martin Carr.

An outstanding game of camogie in the Championship final against Drumaness was a particularly tense affair, but thankfully the Harps had the skill and experience of Bridgeen Coulter to call on and her vital last minute goal paved the way to success.

A fine team effort was the key to a trophy-laden season, but alongside Cathy Mulholland, Deborah Kelland and Bridgeen Coulter, it was the efforts of Michelle Murphy and Elaine Finnegan that caught the eye in particular.

Among the juvenile camogie ranks, it was one of those years when it was a case of close, but no cigar, as the minors were desperately unlucky not to gain success in both the league and the Championship.

Alas, it was a similar story for the club’s juvenile footballers. After shipping in a truckload of silverware last season, hopes were running high for another big year from the young ‘uns.

Although the same heights weren’t quite scaled this time around, the season was not without successes and success stories…and if truth be told it still represented one of the better seasons in the history of the club’s youth system.

The under-12s again were again to the fore and although they agonisingly lost their South Down League final to Rostrevor, the boys can take great heart from having played in a game that had the crowd simply purring at the skill levels and entertainment provided by both sides. A final score of 3.11 to 2.12 in an under-12 game should be indication enough of the quality of that deciding game.

A four-handed management team of John Keenan, Tommy Kane, Kevin Loughran and Mickey Kearney oversaw a campaign which also saw them narrowly losing the final of Mayobridge tournament. For some it wasn’t all heartbreak though as many of them of them were involved in the team that won out the Kieran Sands Tournament (for primary school kids), played in Ballyholland.

Players who look like ones to keep an eye one for the future include Rory Keenan, Kelan Haughey and the ‘3 Cs’ half-back line of Conor McCartan, Conrad Loughran and Chris Havern.

For the second successive season the under-16s fell just short of landing a trophy. Under the charge of Colm McAteer and Duane Kieran, they made it through to the South Down league final, but had no answer to a powerful Saval side in the decider.

Over the year, quite a few of these lads made the breakthrough at reserve team level and senior football surely isn’t too far away for players such as Joe Murphy, Lyndon Madden and Tony Havern.

The nippers at under-8 level did the club proud as well when they won our own inaugural Anna Kearney Tournament. It is always an encouraging sign to see footballing talent being harnessed at such an early age and the club owes a debt of gratitude to men like Cyril O’Reilly, Davy Watterson, Donal McAteer and Gerard Brady who are putting in the time and effort to mould future Ballyholland stars.

The real icing on the cake for the Jubilee season though was delivered by the club’s senior footballers under the management of Brendan Loughran and Art Ruddy, who after a sometimes difficult season, rallied with great force in the closing stages to first make the play-offs and then take them by storm.

In doing so, the club claimed the ACFL Division II title for the first time.

The season though got off to a dreadful start when news reached the club that centre half-back Brendan O’Hare had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

As hammer-blows go, this was an almighty thud, but the manner in which he fought the illness off is a true testament to his character. There was a certain feeling of poetic justice in watching him regain enough fitness to take his place in the team again during the play-offs, just ten months later.

A season beset with injury problems and a lack of form started slowly and then stuttered badly. But around the halfway point, form started to pick up and the Harps somehow gathered up enough points to sneak the last promotion play-off spot.

Ironically, considering the margin between the sides at the end of the game, the first-half performance against Liatroim in the Senior Championship seemed to fill the players with a confidence that had been missing in the earlier part of the season.

A wonderful late-season performance away to their main contenders for that vital fourth spot in the league, Loughinisland, should have given some clues as to how the Harps might fare when they reached the play-offs – but it’s only fair to say that the manner in which they brushed off Atticall and Annaclone when they got there still raised more than a few eyebrows.

The opening play-off game saw Ballyholland deliver a memorable performance against Atticall, their successors as the county’s Intermediate Champions, when a powerful defensive display laid the foundations for victory and a terrific individual return of 2.04 from Mark O’Hare supplied the finishing touches.

With scoring difference being used as the eliminator in the event of teams finishing level on points, the ten point margin between these sides eventually proved to be every bit as crucial as the victory itself.

The game that effectively saw the Harps promoted to Division I for only the second time in the club’s history took place the following weekend against Senior Championship finalists and old rivals, Annaclone.

After fifteen minutes the Harps were six points down and looked a beaten side, but inspirational performances by Ronan Murtagh and Mattie Shields dragged their side back into the game, and a late goal from Robbie Quinn sealed a terrific five point win.

These two victories left Ballyholland firmly in pole position as the play-offs entered the final weekend, when realistically only a crushing defeat against near-neighbours Shamrocks could have kept the Harps down…and for a while during the first half it looked like that was going to be the outcome as the Shamrocks were simply on fire.

But it was a rejuvenated Harps team that came out for the restart and in ten amazing minutes they somehow turned a five point deficit into a five point lead, largely thanks to a couple of fine goals from John Barry and Ronan Murtagh. With county stars past and present, Shane Mulholland and Ronan Murtagh, turning on the style, it looked like Ballyholland were going to leave their neighbours behind in the second division.

Alas, the Shamrocks fought back even more strongly. Having regained a foothold in midfield, they rifled over enough scores to secure a nail-biting one point win and with it their ticket back to the first division…but not enough to secure the title.

To quote Rudyard Kipling, on that final whistle of their season Ballyholland’s senior footballers met with the twin imposters of triumph and disaster. Despite achieving probably the greatest feat in the football club’s history in winning the Division II title, celebrations were at first muted by the loss of such a tense, dramatic game against their oldest rivals.

As the evening wore on though, the realisation of what had been achieved began to sink in and so ensued a party worthy of the occasion.

As we prepare to draw the curtain on our first fifty years, this truly was a fitting climax for the Gaels of Ballyholland

As always though, there is still room for improvement. Now is not the time to rest on laurels, but to build on what has been achieved.

Despite a few flirtations with the elite, the club has yet to fully crack into the upper echelons of senior club sides in either camogie or football within the county. But the efforts of the senior squads in both codes during the season just gone will see the club begin its new chapter at that very level in both camogie and football.

Next year will see the cream of the crop – the likes of Mayobridge, Burren and Bryansford in football, Liatroim, Clonduff and Ballycran in camogie – arriving to ply their trades at Father Lynch Park.

Given the strength of the new opposition, in a playing sense the next season or two might be a time for consolidation rather than growth, as it may take that time for the excellent crop of youngsters in our juvenile systems to step up and bolster the senior squads, and who knows, maybe take the club to the highest level.

Off the field, the club has to continue to grow and provide the facilities, structures and support to help make this dream a reality. This has always been a key factor behind the successes of the club, from the early days under the chairmanship of Fr Lynch, to the present days under the stewardship of Sean McAteer

Weekends like that of the 29th of October 2004 do not come around too often, when the Friday night’s celebrations for the Jubilee Banquet would have kept anyone connected with the club happy by itself, but which was amazingly superseded by the honour of the club’s footballers achieving first division status just two days later.

But it was providing a platform for occasions like those that must have been in the minds of the likes Fr John Lynch, Sean McAteer (Mass Rock), Pat Keenan, John McAteer, Michael McGovern, Owen Murphy and their fellow committee men when in January 1954 they oversaw the beginnings of the Harps club in Ballyholland.

Unfortunately none of this original committee were still around to see what their club achieved has achieved fifty years on.

But, just like those involved at present, I’m sure they all would have very much approved.

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