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Review of 2003 (Down Yearbook)

Published by Anthony McNamee on 31st December 2003.

A little under fifty years ago Fr Lynch, the recently appointed curate for Ballyholland, felt so aggrieved about the absence of Gaelic Games in his adopted area that he did the only honourable thing and led the formation of a club that became known as Ballyholland Harps GAC.

There is no doubt that Fr Lynch would have been a very proud man to see how his club has continued to evolve and thrive over the five decades since its first early steps.

Few of the seasons in between those early beginnings and the present day would have brought as much pleasure though as the season just past, with the club enjoying success in adult and juvenile football as well as maintaining its proud record in camogie.

It is always an exciting time in a club’s history when an event such as a jubilee arrives on the horizon. Nobody quite knows why we all attach such sentimental value to ‘magic’ numbers like fifty and one hundred, but there is no doubting they hold a mystical aura.

A jubilee is a celebration and brings with it great pride and a wonderful opportunity to show just why all those people wanted to be associated with the club over the years.

In some ways it isn’t difficult to put on a show to mark the occasion. It is comparatively easy to tidy-up the club grounds, or perhaps redecorate the clubrooms or build an extension. Organising a series of events to mark the occasion is often time consuming, but very manageable over the short-term it requires.

Putting on a show where it really counts though, on the playing field, isn’t something that can be dreamed up one night at a committee meeting. It isn’t something that can be bought after a series of extensive fundraising ventures.

Instead, success on the field comes as the result of years of hard work, effort and planning by all those involved in a club; the coaches, players, committees, sponsors, supporters and patrons.

People from Ballyholland have been fulfilling these roles for half a century now and the final year of that period can be marked down as one of the most successful in the club’s history.

There were many highlights in this special year for the club. The most welcome though was almost certainly when the under-12 footballers landed the South Down League title, ending a long period of underachievement at juvenile level.

Success of this nature was almost inevitable though, given the hard work of the juvenile committee and mentors. It wasn’t long ago that the club was struggling to field teams at underage levels. The sheer endeavour and boundless enthusiasm of men like Mickey Kearney, Cyril O’Reilly, John Keenan, Sean Ross and Tommy Kane, among a host of others, has changed all that though.

If ever there was an encouraging sight for the future of a club, it was that of over one hundred and twenty young players being coached in Ballyholland, every Sunday morning during the season.

The under-12 team excelled over the course of the season and lifted several other honours, among them the prestigious Mayobridge and An Riiocht tourneys, as well as narrowly missing out in the Down Championship final against neighbours Mayobridge. These two sides are sure to enjoy some titanic battles as they go through the ranks and names like Robbie White, Sean Anderson and Conor Madden are bound to roll easily off the lips in years to come.

It has to be worth mentioning that the last Ballyholland side to achieve success like this at under-12 level, the class of 1986, went on to gain a host of trophies for the club and produced five county minors.

It wasn’t just about under-12s though, as the under-10s and under-8s were finalists and semi-finalists respectively in their competitions. The under-16 side delighted us all and probably surprised a few outsiders in reaching the final of the Down ‘B’ Championship, where they were unfortunate to fall to Mayobridge. This was a side that visibly grew in confidence as the season progressed, with players like Paddy McAnulty, Gareth Madden and Gavin McAteer showing promising signs that they are ready to step up to senior level.

Ballyholland’s camogie teams matched their football compatriots exploits through the course of the season and bestowed even more honours upon the club.

Deborah Kelland’s star continued to shine in the county senior team’s colours, but it was at junior level where the club really reaped the rewards. A hugely impressive Junior Championship campaign, spearheaded by Louise Carr, Adele Quinn and Sarah McManus ultimately ended in a fantastic triumph over Clonduff in the final, while the girls were still very much on track for the league double as we went to press.

But it looks like this could maybe just be the start of great things to come, as the minor camogs also landed a county title and it’s a mark of how talented this upcoming bunch are that their numbers dominated the Down Minor squad selection.

Returning to football, it was the efforts of the senior squad that brought the most prestigious honour to the club during the season, the Intermediate Football Championship.

A combination of county call-ups and summer-long excursions weakened the team considerably during a league campaign that came up agonisingly short of a promotion play-off spot. Top form though was reserved for a championship run which emphatically delivered the goods.

A nail-biting victory over Drumgath was sandwiched between very impressive victories over the Bosco and Atticall, which set up a final against Kilclief.

The final was a tight, dogged game with little in it for the most part. For all their efforts though Kilclief could not break down a stubborn Harps rearguard, superbly marshalled by Sean and Brendan O’Hare, and the final ten minutes produced a flurry of Ballyholland scores to finally put some breathing distance between the sides.

An inspirational performance from Robbie Quinn was paramount to success on the occasion, while yet again the scoring ability of Ronan Murtagh, who averaged 1-4 a game over the Championship run, proved crucial.

When Shane Mulholland proudly lifted the trophy over his head it signalled that Ballyholland had won this competition for an amazing third time in ten seasons. As a result, Mulholland and four others, Kevin Loughran, Colman Smith, Ciaran Hartigan and Johnny Shields formed an elite group of players who hold a record three IFC medals.

Indeed, Brendan Loughran and Art Ruddy, who returned to manage the team at the start of the season, kept up their remarkable and enviable record of never having lost a single IFC tie while at the helm!

Another major bonus for the club during the season was the rise to prominence of Ronan Murtagh as a county star and the return of Shane Mulholland to county colours. Murtagh installed himself as Paddy O’Rourke’s first-choice corner-forward during the Ulster Championship run with some eye-catching displays, while Mulholland made his long-awaited return in the Donegal game.

So onwards the Harps march into their fiftieth year, with plenty of silverware to accompany them on the way. As would be expected a year of celebrations is planned, with a variety of events taking place. Among these will be a golf classic, a gentleman’s evening, underage football tourneys and a black-tie gala dinner towards the year-end.

Perhaps it will see yet more novel fundraising ideas such as the excellent ‘Boglands and Blackthorns’ CD, produced by a host of club members in conjunction with the local primary school, and hopefully it will also bring even more success for camogie and football alike.

Gaelic clubs were very different organisations when Fr Lynch chaired the inaugural meting of Ballyholland Harps in 1954, but it’s easy to imagine he would be very happy with how things have turned out for his club fifty years on.

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