Drumree created history when they became the first Meath club to claim the Leinster Junior Tournament. Royal County charts their success.
Hard to believe! In recent years Drumree had been threatening to win the Meath Junior Championship. Always among the favourites since the start of the decade, they could only manage to make it to the decider on one occasion. In 1991 they were beaten by Carnaross. For the next seven years, they suffered disappointment after disappointment, losing semi-finals and quarter-finals with morale-shattering regularity. But patience is a virtue and it all came right in 1998. The men in the red and white hoops were crowned champions following a gutsy performance against St. Marys in the final.
Enough cause for celebration around Culmullen, Pelletstown, Knockmark, Warrenstown and Drumree itself, one would have thought! But that’s not the way of thinking around Drumree.
The recent introduction of a Leinster Junior Tournament was originally intended as a "guinea-pig" competition for experimental rules. The authorities wanted to have the rules tested in a competition that would be taken seriously by the participating teams ... the recently crowned Junior champions of their respective counties. There was never much doubt about the clubs taking it seriously ... it provides a totally different platform for Junior footballers and it also provides ideal preparation for the step up to the Intermediate grade in the following year. The profile of the competition received a substantial boost in 1997 when the final, between Kilcullen of Kildare and St. Vincents of Dublin, was played as curtain-raiser to the clash of Erins Isle and Clane in the senior decider at Pairc Tailteann.
The two principal experimental rules were; one solo and one hop ... and the "clean" pick-up.
The Leinster competition is divided on a geographical basis into four groups of three teams, thus guaranteeing each team a minimum of two games. Meath are placed with Louth and Dublin and it was against the Louth standard-bearers John Mitchells that Drumree made their inaugural appearance representing the Royal County.
The game was played in mid-November at the Mitchells’ grounds in Ballybailie and the Meathmen welcomed back Mick Collins who had been so unlucky to miss the county final because of suspension. He came in at full back in place of Paddy Doyle while the other changes were merely of a positional nature in attack. Evan Kelly, who was released from National League duty with the Meath team, (they easily beat Monaghan on the same day), was at full forward and he was the main persecutor of the Mitchells’ defence throughout, finishing with a fine personal tally of 1-7. The team had turned in a lack-lustre first half display against St. Marys and were in deep trouble at half-time in that game, but on this occasion, they got into the game from the throw-in and the issue was more or less resolved at the half-way stage.
Mitchells were the undisputed Louth junior kingpins having completed a championship and league double, but they were never a match for their determined opponents. Kelly scored the game’s first goal and Shane Mahon added another as the visitors established an early platform. Understandably, Drumree’s scoring rate slowed down in the second half but they still managed to stretch their lead to a whopping 16 points, 2-13 to 0-3, before the final whistle.
Dublin champions St. Peregrines, from the Hartstown- Clonsilla area, were next on the list and as they had also accounted for John Mitchells, the Meath-Dublin clash amounted to a provincial quarter-final. Adding some spice to the clash was the fact that Meath Junior coach Eamonn Barry was at the Peregrines’ helm. They had enjoyed the most successful year in their history, highlighted by the championship final win over Inishfail of Balgriffin, but Drumree brought their interest in the Leinster competitiion to an end at Dunshaughlin, thanks to an inspired performance from Jimmy Walsh, who hit 1-2.
Offaly champions Ballinamere provided the semi-final opposition at Tubber on the first Sunday in December and once again, the Meathmen got away to a flying start. Jimmy Walsh found the net in the opening minutes and then Evan Kelly provided a further boost with another goal. By half-time, the red and whites were well on the way to a Leinster final appearance with a 14 point lead, 2-9 to 0-1. Ballinamere scored an early second half goal and briefly looked like making a game of it but Drumree regained control and subsequently coasted into the final with a twelve point victory, 2-14 to 1-5. Aaron Fitzpatrick, Declan Troy and goalie John Boyle were in outstanding form in defence while Evan Kelly, Jimmy Walsh and Jim Hayes excelled in attack.
The lure of a Leinster title helped to generate intense momentum in the build-up to the final and players, mentors and supporters alike saw the clash with Ballyroan as a glorious opportunity of writing the name of the Drumree club into the record books. ... the first club from the Royal County to become Leinster Junior champions!
Some pundits had Drumree going into the game as warm favourites ... after all, the game was being played in Dunshaughlin and this was Ballyroan’s second team. True. Nevertheless, no fewer than eight of the team had played against Eire Og in the Leinster (Senior) final of 1992 when the Carlowmen were somewhat fortunate to win by a point. A few months later, Eire Og were dreadfully unlucky when losing the All-Ireland final to O’Donovan Rossa of Cork after a replay ... in other words, there was no doubting the pedigree of the Ballyroan team. They had beaten Portlaoise in the county final replay before accounting for Wicklow’s Valleymount, Clogherinkoe of Kildare and Erin’s Own of Kilkenny.
Sunday, December 13th, and the weather turned foul. Heavy rain and strong winds had both teams worried before the throw-in. Which team would adapt better to the awful conditions? The large crowd was resigned, understandably, to seeing a game spoiled by the elements ... but they were in for a pleasant surprise.
To the great credit of both teams, the game turned out to be a most exciting contest, containing a great deal of top-class football. There were mistakes; but considering the conditions, they were not all that plentiful and some of the score-taking was out of the top drawer. There were 25 in total and only eight wides. The experimental rules were a major counterpoint to the conditions and the direct pick-up helped to keep the game going at a pace that was comparable, at least, with Summer football.
Drumree had first use of the wind but it was Ballyroan who settled first and the Laoismen took full advantage of some indiscipline in Aaron Fitzpatrick’s defence by pointing two frees in the first three minutes. It was a most encouraging start for the visitors and even when Paul Gaughan opened Drumree’s account, Ballyroan struck back with a point to lead by 0-3 to 0-1 after ten minutes ... and they were playing against the wind and rain!
It was then that Drumree’s marvellous will-to-win came to the surface. In the next five minutes, Jim Hayes, Jim Rattigan and Hayes again pointed as the Meathmen got their noses in front by the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter belonged to the "home" team. With John Cullinane in superb form at centre field, the forwards saw more and more of the ball and when Cullinane himself found the range to stretch his team’s lead to two points, the forwards were quick to take the hint.
Shane Mahon pointed ... then it was the turn of Jimmy Walsh ... Evan Kelly was next ... and then it was Bobby Geraghty getting his name on the scoresheet, making it 0-9 to 0-3. Drumree had scored eight points without reply and both midfielders as well as the six forwards had registered. Impressive stuff!
Ballyroan showed just how dangerous they could be when, in three isolated attacks, they scored three points to reduce the deficit to three points. Shane Mahon pointed on the stroke of half-time but despite Drumree’s dominance there were fears that their lead, 0-10 to 0-6, might not be sufficient against the wind and the rain in the second half.
The worst fears of Drumree supporters were realised within minutes of the re-start when Ballyroan grabbed a point and then a goal to level the match. The Meath champions were put under further pressure when attacking wing back PJ Peacock gave Ballyroan a one point lead. The Laoismen had turned a six-point deficit into a one point lead, 1-8 to 0-10, and the outlook was anything but bright for Pat Kelly’s team.
They were the recipients of some good fortune when Ballyroan midfielder Darragh Phelan was dismissed after a second "bookable" foul on John Cullinane and within minutes the game turned in Drumree’s favour. Jimmy Walsh delivered a fine ball behind the Ballyroan defence and Evan Kelly maintained his excellent goal-scoring record to recover the lead for his team. Ballyroan were shell-shocked and they might have collapsed but for a great double save by their goalie from the hungry Kelly. But there was no stopping the All-Ireland medalist and he was soon on hand to beat the goalie following a perceptive delivery from Jim Rattigan.
Kelly’s second goal more or less sealed victory for the Drumreemen. They were now five points clear, 2-10 to 1-8, with less than ten minutes remaining.
Ballyroan continued to battle and managed to get to within a goal of their opponents but Kelly replied and then substitute Patrick Doyle sent over a huge point to put the issue beyond doubt. The final score was 2-12 to 1-10. The final whistle saw the outbreak of intense joy as the Gaels of Knockmark, Pelletstown, Culmullen, Warrenstown and Drumree itself celebrated with great gusto. Meath’s Leinster Council delegate Michael O Brien presented the trophy to Aaron Fitzpatrick, whose return from a lengthy absence because of injury, was a major factor in Drumree’s marvellous 1998.
John Boyle proved himself a solid and reliable goalie throughout both the county and provincial campaigns while the full back line of Dermot Doyle, Mick Collins and Aaron Fitzpatrick also excelled. Collins was most unfortunate to miss the county final because of suspension and injury forced him to leave the field during the Ballyroan match. Still, he made a notable contribution to the fabulous year.
Gerard and Declan Troy along with Roy Sheridan formed a solid half back line and opposing half forwards got little change from this ultra-determined trio. At centre field, Bobby Geraghty was a major "find". His first love may have been rugby prior to 1998 but his contribution throughout was huge. John Cullinane was at his best against Ballyroan and had an excellent year overall despite missing a number of games because of a niggling injury.
Jim Rattigan led the attack with great intelligence and substantial skill. An excellent "opener-up" of opposing defences, the double success was fitting reward for his great efforts in the red and white jersey over a long number of years. Paul Gaughan and Shane Mahon were vital cogs in the machine, each willing to forage for possession and each having the ability to direct the ball between the posts when most needed. Jimmy Walsh scored a fabulous point against Ballyroan ... .he also helped to create many of the scoring opportunities for Evan Kelly. Every successful team has a reliable free-taker and Jim Hayes was Drumree’s. He had a brilliant year. Evan Kelly was the target man throughout and certainly assumed the responsibility that being a county player with a Junior club attracts. His goals were vital and while it is unfair to single out anybody in what was essentially a team effort, Kelly’s presence in the Drumree attack was something that no opposition could match.
David Troy and Patrick Doyle were top-class replacements when called into duty.
Pat Kelly (Manager), Stephen Wade (Coach) and Joe Kelliher were the management team that guided Drumree throughout a memorable year and the fact that tradition plays such a key role in the GAA’s success story was highlighted by the involvement of the Doyles, the Troys, the Rattigans, the Walshes and the Mahons. The names simply keep cropping up in the illustrious history of the club.
The team, and scorers, in the Leinster final was; John Boyle, Dermot Doyle, Mick Collins, Aaron Fitzpatrick (capt.), Gerard Troy, Declan Troy, Roy Sheridan, John Cullinane (0-1), Bobby Geraghty (0-1), Shane Mahon (0-2), Jim Rattigan (0-1), Paul Gaughan (0-1), Jimmy Walsh (0-1), Evan Kelly (2-2) and Jim Hayes (0-2). Substitutes; David Troy and Patrick Doyle (0-1).