Drumree were unquestionably the most consistent junior club of the 90's. However, they are junior no more. Royal County chronicles a title that nobody could begrudge the men in red and white.
When the draw for the 1999 Intermediate Championship takes place, the name of the Drumree club will be in the hat. Just like old times. However, it’s not that long ago since there were doubts about the name "Drumree" going into the hat for any draw ... be it Junior, Junior ’B’ or Junior ’C’. In the mid-1970’s Drumree came close to going out of existence. The loyalty and dedication of a handful of determined stalwarts kept the club alive and their efforts were rewarded in October when captain Aaron Fitzpatrick raised the Matthew Ginnitty Cup over his head after an exciting Junior final against St. Marys. Neutrals in the attendance at Pairc Tailteann had to be happy for the Drumreemen. They had been beaten by Carnaross in the 1991 final and had been there or thereabouts in the intervening years. There had been several disappointments and much frustration but all was washed away with the 1998 success.
The club’s glory days began with it’s only previous Junior success, in 1959. That victory, in a three match saga against St. Patricks, inspired even greater feats ... the Intermediate title was won in 1961 and again in 1969. These were times when Drumree could match the best senior outfits in the county but the Keegan Cup itself always proved elusive. There were solid contributions to county teams at all levels and there were All-Ireland medals for Billy Rattigan in 1954, Jimmy Walsh in 1967 and Evan Kelly in 1996 ... a remarkable record for the smaller part of Dunshaughlin parish.
Having lost out in the closing stages of the Junior Championship in recent years, there were many who felt that Drumree’s best chances of winning the title had passed, but they reckoned without the steely determination and substantial passion that have been as much a hallmark of the club as the famous red and white hooped jersies.
They were drawn in a tricky group and had St. Vincents as first round opponents. It turned out well for Drumree who had eight points to spare at the final whistle, 2-11 to 0-9. Evan Kelly and Dermot Doyle were the goalscorers and it was as good a start as team mentors Pat Kelly, Stephen Wade and Joe Kelliher could have hoped for.
The month of April was something of a disaster in weather terms. The football pitches of the county took a severe battering from the incessant rain and several games had to be postponed. Drumree’s second round fixture against Dunboyne led to considerable controversy ... it was scheduled for Kilcloon but both teams felt that the pitch was unplayable. The referee deemed it playable and Drumree reluctantly took the field. Dunboyne refused on the basis that it was unsafe and the points were subsequently awarded to Drumree.
It wasn’t the ideal way in which to collect a second brace of points and the outcome was that Dunboyne, who were somewhat unlucky to go under to Dunsany in the opening round, were to all intents and purposes, out of contention.
The third round clash with neighbours Dunsany attracted a big mid-week crowd to Moynalvey where the spoils were shared at the end of an absorbing encounter. Drumree were arguably the luckier of the two teams as Dunsany squandered several glorious opportunities in the second half when they were totally dominant at centre-field. John Cullinane was missing because of injury. Drumree looked sharper in the early stages and Jim Hayes was in accurate form but gradually Dunsany edged their way into contention and a most entertaining local derby ensued. The final score was 0-11 apiece and neutrals expressed the belief that the teams would probably meet in the final. It was a little early for such predictions and there was still a lot of football to be played in the group.
Simonstown Gaels, who had been shocked by Dunsany in the second round, were Drumree’s opponents in the fourth round at Skryne in early July. Jim Rattigan’s goal was the difference between the teams at half-time but Drumree pulled away in the second half for a comprehensive ten point win, 1-12 to 0-5.
Kilmessan was the next port of call for a fifth round meeting with fellow-contenders Wolfe Tones. Drumree supporters could scarcely believe the ease with which their team dominated the first half, restricting their opponents to a single point while registering 1-6 themselves. Paul Gaughan was the goalscorer. The second half was an entirely different matter as Wolfe Tones staged a remarkable recovery and, in the end, there was just one point separating the teams, 1-11 to 2-7. It had been a close call ... too close for comfort. Still, the group was beginning to shape into a two-horse race between Drumree and Dunsany with the teams having each dropped just one point ... as a result of their drawn encounter at Moynalvey. Other results meant that both Nobber and Seneschalstown were out of contention and both Drumree and Dunsany received the walkovers which facilitated the speedy completion of the championship. On the toss of a coin, Drumree were declared as group winners, thus securing a passage into the semi-final ... Dunsany, as runners-up had to face a quarter-final.
Moylagh defeated Ratoath in the other quarter-final and it was they who stood between Drumree and a place in the final. Pairc Tailteann was the venue and Pat Kelly’s men signalled their intentions from the early stages by putting the opposing defence under sustained pressure. Jim Rattigan gave his team the perfect start after only three minutes when he gave the Moylagh goalie no chance after an incisive move that also involved Evan Kelly and Jim Hayes. By half-time, Drumree were well on their way to victory with an eight point lead, 1-6 to 0-1. Evan Kelly was in top form contributing five of the first half points whole Mick Collins got the other.
Although they managed to add only three points in the entire second half, Drumree easily contained Moylagh’s spirited rally and clinched their place in the final with a 1-9 to 1-4 victory. Evan Kelly added two further points while Mick Collins also pointed before receiving his marching orders in the closing stages. Collins’ dismissal took away from the celebrations and his absence was always going to be a severe handicap on the big day.
St. Marys had impressed when getting the better of Dunsany in the semi-final and the Donore-Lougher combination appeared to have timed their run to perfection.
Even without the suspended Mick Collins, Drumree were installed as slight favourites. Beaten by eventual champions Bective, at the quarter-final stage in 1997 and by Meath Hill in a semi-final replay in 1996, the men from Pelletstown, Culmullen and Knockmark were deemed to have the necessary experience. The mentors opted to cope with the absence of Mick Collins by keeping the shape of the team ... Bobby Geraghty came in as a direct replacement and otherwise the team was the same as that which had ended Moylagh’s ambitions. The game was played as curtain-raiser to the senior final on a breezy October afternoon.
Drumree had first advantage of the elements and Evan Kelly gave them an early lead. Jim Rattigan pointed a long range free but things began to go wrong after Kelly fluffed a golden goal opportunity. Although the St. Marys goalie did well, it should have been a goal. St. Marys took full advantage of their let-off by finding the net at the opposite end ... the veteran Liam Smith doing the damage. Against the wind, his goal was worth much more than it’s scoreboard value. Mid-way through the opening half, St. Marys were leading by 1-2 to 0-3 and Drumree were playing poorly. They were unable to take advantage of the wind and their tally of wides left their supporters in pessimistic mood. Worse was to follow. The defence was caught out again and John Boyle was picking the ball out of the net for the second time. Amazingly the team playing with the wind was now trailing by five points and it was difficult to envisage anything other than a comprehensive St. Marys win.
Declan Troy and Paul Gaughan scored invaluable points as half-time beckoned but they were quickly nullified by the rampant St. Marys attackers. A slender lifeline was thrown Drumree’s way just before the interval when Evan Kelly took full advantage of a defensive error by burying the ball in the St. Marys net to leave the half-time score 2-4 to 1-5 in St Marys favour.
The players didn’t have to be told that they had performed poorly in the first half but they were told that the wind doesn’t win matches and if they tightened up in defence and let the ball in quickly to the forwards, they could still come out on top. Not many neutrals would have agreed ... St. Marys certainly appeared to have established a winning platform when playing against the wind.
And when the Donoremen stretched their lead immediately after the resumption, it was difficult to see Drumree staging a successful comeback. Incredibly, St. Marys failed to score again and Aaron Fitzpatrick and his colleagues gradually took control. Playing an intelligent game, they varied their approach while denying their opponents the space which they had enjoyed throughout the opening half.
Evan Kelly was clearly the target man and he earned two frees which Jim Hayes pointed. Ten minutes into the second half, Drumree were on level terms after Kelly fired over a superb equaliser. The All-Ireland medalist showed his class, and his determination, by adding another and Bobby Geraghty and Jim Rattigan followed suit to open up a three point gap. St. Marys continued to battle but a dreadful miss from a 13 metre free in the closing stages indicated that it wasn’t going to be their day. The Drumree defence had shackled their forwards in the second half and it finished 1-11 to 2-5 in favour of the red and whites.
It was a thoroughly deserved victory ... many’s the team would have been enveloped by despair when trailing by five points in the first half when playing with the wind. And when St. Marys scored the first point after the interval, it certainly looked like curtains for the Drumreemen.
The backs recovered superbly and having conceded 2-4 against the wind, their rate of recovery can be measured by the concession of a single point after the break. Paddy Doyle excelled in the second period while Declan Troy and Aaron Fitzpatrick provided great leadership at the back. Bobby Geraghty was the most inexperienced player on the field but he deputised well for Mick Collins and rewarded the mentors who had taken a significant gamble with his selection. Evan Kelly was the "man of the match" in the final ... the St. Marys defence was unable to curtail him and he finished with a fine tally of 1-3. John Cullinane, Jim Hayes, Paul Gaughan and Jim Rattigan also made enormous contributions.
John Boyle kept three successive clean sheets in the early rounds while Dermot Doyle, who scored a goal in the first game, later played a key role as a staunch defender. Gerard Troy and Roy Sheridan were determined and alert wing backs while the Cullinane-Collins combination at centre-field was arguably the most effective in the championship. James Walsh and Shane Mahon also made significant contributions as did Gary O Donohoe in the early rounds.
For Pat Kelly, Drumree’s victory was the source of immense satisfaction. He has invested a huge amount of time and effort in the promotion of the game at under-age level and it’s always nice to see such efforts rewarded. Trainer Stephen Wade brought the "outside" influence ... the former St. Vincents (Dublin) star also made a notable contribution as did fellow mentor Joe Kelliher.
In GAA clubs all across the country, tradition is a key element. It has been a substantial factor in the marvellous success story that is the Association. And it was a major factor in Drumree’s success. When the red and whites won the Junior Championship for the first time in 1959, the team included Sean Doyle, Tommy Troy, Jimmy Walsh, Tony Rattigan and Michael Walsh, all of whom had sons on this year’s panel. The 1959 victory led to a glorious era in the club’s history ... supporters have every reason to be optimistic that the good times are about to start rolling once more.
The team that lined out against St. Marys in the Final was; John Boyle, Dermot Doyle, Patrick Doyle, Aaron Fitzpatrick, Gerard Troy, Declan Troy (0-1), Roy Sheridan, John Cullinane, Bobby Geraghty (0-1), James Walsh, Jim Rattigan (0-2), Paul Gaughan (0-1), Jim Hayes (0-3), Evan Kelly (1-3), Shane Mahon. Sub: Damien Fitzpatrick.