About the Club/History

A Chat with Tony, September 2015- “Our History, Your story!”

by Padraig Murphy.

I (Padraig) remember playing u/12 football and hurling with St Patricks starting in the mid 90s  and getting the bus from the church car park to away games. There was a man who always came with us who we got to know as Tony. We later realised he was the man responsible for us all sounding like All Stars in the paper the following week with his exciting match reports. This lasting memory of Tony and his impact on GAA in Tullow makes the following chat a very interesting one as we walk through the decades of our GAA Club through the eyes of Tony!

Tony talking about the 1940s- “I remember lads from the town leaving their boots and hurl behind our front door in Barrack Street on their way home from the field, and grabbing it before training the next night on the way back to the field”

“I was very proud when the Juvenile Club decided to hold an Annual Tournament in my name; it is something that you think would never happen to you! I was surprised but very proud to have the u/14 tournament named after me”. The third annual Tony Maher U/14 Tournament takes place in September at Bro. Leo Park and is a source of great pride to Tony, and is without doubt a fitting tribute to a great man who has played a starring role in our club since his first involvement in the 1930s!

Tony Maher was born on the 23rd December 1928 at No2 Barrack Street attending the Brigidine Sisters and Patrician Brothers for his schooling. Tony starts off our chat with a smile by thanking his wife Nellie for “letting me out the house five nights a week and more for GAA! Anyone who played underage GAA in the 90’s will remember Tony attending all games and writing a pro report fitting for an all Ireland final on each match.

Tony is not as mobile as he used to be but while chatting to him about his memories of GAA one can sense his burning love for the game as he rattles off memories decade by decade.

Tony was involved in GAA in Tullow at all levels starting as a young teenager helping his older brother Chris, who was elected secretary in the early 40’s, by marking out the pitch on a Sunday morning after mass. He describes the memory of the binder twine and the messy job of marking out the pitch with pride. Tony also describes his memory of looking after the leather footballs and how it was hard to get the neck of the bladder in under the mouth and then lace up the ball. Tony himself lined out for St Patricks from u/14s upwards and always had a keen interest into football; he remembers playing it all the time at Norses field (as Brother Leo Park was then known). Through the years Tony completed almost every GAA role possible, all of the above roles as well as a supporter of course. “What else did I do, well I did gateman at Dr. Cullen Park, Bro. Leo Park, Bagnelstown McGrath Park. I refereed, umpired, linesman and I was a selector. I attended Co. Board meetings and Co. Conventions all over the country.

So let’s take a walk through the years with Tony as we start with his minor football days where he lined out as a forward and got a trial for the County minor team! Tony played with Trigger Canning who was a little older than him who he describes Canning as “being like Mick O’Connell, pure football. Mick ‘Spud’ Murphy, Eileen McNabb (nee Murphy) the schoolteacher’s father, was another I played with, my own brother Chris, Jim Savage and Jim Donohue were also my vintage.”

In 1944 Carlow won their one and only Leinster title, Tony was very proud as three St Patricks men were involved. His brother Chris along with Johnny Darcy and Jim Archibald won a medal with Carlow on that famous day.

In 1949 the hurling team was re-established in St Patricks and Tony remembers playing the local teams of Shillelagh, Castledermot and even practicing on Christmas Day. He played in all positions in hurling even as a goal keeper! “We had fairly good players and captured a couple of junior leagues, I always loved the hurling”. Tony recalls going to a Munster Final in a packed car belonging to Jack Mulhall and coming home to train for hurling straight after the match.

On the football side “Tullow was a junior club at the time, they had previously won finals in 1934 and 1942 and again in 1951 where I won my only championship medal in the Junior Final aged 23 on a day when Joe Archibald and the ‘Buller’ Canavan made their debut. This got us back to senior as there was no intermediate then. Football tournaments were all the go during this period and the teams won a good few”. Tony recalls playing for St Patricks throughout the 50’s but alas as he laughs as the talented new players coming through forming the great Tullow team of the late 50’s and early 60’s Tony’s playing time was reduced. Tony’s parents John and Catherine “moved from Barrack Street to no.8 Pairc Mhuire in 1954. I moved with them, it was a little further from the field; I had to get a bike! I stayed at no.8 until 1958 when we married and moved in here at no.20.

Tony attended most of the clubs AGM’s around this time “I was hoping that some year someone would propose me for the committee but it never happened until 1965 when I was elected as assistant secretary. The following year I was elected secretary and what an interesting year it was, I will come back to that later”.

“St Patrick’s won their second Senior Football Championship in 1959, their first was in 1916, their third in 1963 and their fourth in 1964. The team probably should have won more championships during this time with the exceptional talent that was available”.

“Rev. Bro Leo Denis Slattery who was born in Ballymackey, County Tipperary was instrumental in the purchase of the original field in the early 30’s which was used by St Patrick’s to play the games.” It wasn’t until the late 50’s that the field was developed and in 1966 the official opening was set for the 24th of April. Tony’s roll as secretary in the club was to find teams to play at the opening and celebrate this special day as the field was officially christened Brother Leo Park “There were no mobile phones or emails back then, I had to write letters to clubs and wait weeks for their reply. We finally managed to get the Wexford footballers up to take on the Carlow team which was backboned by Sean Nolan at the time. We also got Faythe Harriers , the Wexford senior hurling champions to take on Thurles Sarsfield the Tipperary champions”.

The opening was a massive success thanks to the hard work of Tony Maher, Billy Canavan, Donal McMahon, Chris Maher, Michael Mulhall and Pat Byrne.

1966 will also be remembered as the final that was never played as St Patrick’s and Kildavin had a draw, 1-7 each, in the Senior Football Championship Final. “The replay was fixed for the following week but Tullow put in for another week as they had a few injured players. The County Board refused their request; a number of meetings took place to have the game played, but Tullow refused. The County Board then awarded the game to Kildavin so it ended as the final with no ending”, Tony recalls. This was a very busy year as secretary for Tony and the following year, 1967, he handed over to his brother Chris becoming his assistant until 1971.

Tony recalls how over ten years after the 1966 final they got the match “replayed” to help raise funds for the sports centre (now the Parish Centre) which was bought for meetings and dances. “The game was promoted all over the radio and there was great excitement before the fixture. Kildavin won the “replay”, which was a very sporting game, attended by a massive crowd on a very sunny day. Both teams went for food afterwards and it was a real success”.

There were great improvements made to get the field ready for the official opening in 1966 and Tony is very proud to see all the work ongoing at Bro. Leo in recent years to make it one the finest facilities in Carlow. Tony wonders “if as much work was put into preparing the teams would our lads be as far down at present, after all it is about playing football, we have to be able to turn it around and get teams to match the fine facilities. Tullow people were always there to support GAA but like everyone else they must have something to follow”.

Grange reformed their own team in the late 60’s with their lads leaving Tullow to go back to play for their own club.  This fact, coupled with the retirement of some of the team’s great players, meant Tullow declined slightly and was back Intermediate in the 70’s. Tony recalls the year he was a selector with Jimmy O’Neill and Padraig Cunnane. “It was a very tough job, one year was enough but we won the championship and got Tullow back to the Senior ranks. I understand the hard role of a selector and what you have to deal with!”

As we look through the 80’s Tony recalls how he missed the Minor A Championship victory versus Palatine in 1981 “There was a game on in the field that day and somebody had to stay to do the gate, everyone was gone to the minor match but I stayed at Bro. Leo to do the gate”.

Tony recalls how he collected the GAA Centenary county final match programmes in 1984. “I collected programmes for years and I now have a small library of programmes, county yearbooks, monthly magazines plus dozens of videos of football and hurling. In 1984, every collector in the country was out to purchase a Centenary County Final programme to have as a complete collection. I managed to get 31 out the 32 counties. Athlone GAA won the final that year in Westmeath and I have been told that they did not do a souvenir programme, I don’t know if it is true or not, I find it hard to believe.” In the same year Tony recalls the Tullow u/14 Feile winners trained by Brother Nicholas and also of the centenary celebrations at Dr. Cullen Park.

“In 1992 I attended the AGM of the Juvenile GAA Club for the first time and was elected as their PRO, a role which I continued for 9 years. I enjoyed the time with the young players, hearing them chatting among themselves about the games was really something special. There are far too many good memories over these years to pick out days, I really enjoyed them. The Patrician Brothers are a very big loss to the Juvenile Club, they are also a loss to the town in general. I can remember the Brothers going to the field on their bike with a football on the back carrier, that’s a long time ago, over 60 years. Brother Camillus was the last Brother to look after a team, the u/12s in 1996. I think the Juvenile Club is in good hands at the moment.”

The adult footballers were back at Junior level during the mid 90s, winning the Junior Football title in 1998 and then in 2001 St Patricks returned to the Senior ranks, much to the delight of Tony. The team went back to Intermediate in 2003 and but returned again to the senior ranks in 2005 and played at the top level of Carlow football until 2011. Tony’s involvement with the club over the last ten years has been minimal. He recalls one of his last match reports for St Patricks U16 hurlers when they played three thrilling matches in one week and the county semi final went to a replay which St Patrick’s won. Tony sent in this match report on the Wednesday evening and had to go hospital on the Thursday with the final being played on the Friday. Tony’s report for the victory in this semi final replay was one of his last for the club but stands out in his memory for the thrilling week it was for these hurlers.

Tony has been a professional, committed and talented Pro for both the adult and juvenile clubs. Over the years, Tony has compiled 300 plus pages on the history of Tullow GAA. “I started as PRO in 1978 until 1980 and returned for the years 86, 87, 90 and 93 and during my absence it was nearly impossible to get others to carry out the role. I always enjoyed taking the notes and built up the collection over the years. The collection includes over 300 pages beginning right at the start of Tullow GAA talking about the ‘Stars and Stripes’ and including details of both on field and off field club activities. As we chat about the collection Tony expresses his hopes for the collection, “Maybe one day it could be published as a book, it might not interest a lot of people outside the area, but for those with an interest in our club it would be very popular.” When asked for a possible title for the book, Tony was straight to the point after a moment of thought with ‘Tullow GAA Through the Years’.

Tony has received many awards over the years for his outstanding contribution to GAA. These include a club service award from the adult club in 1994, a service award from the Juvenile Club in 1998 and another club service award from the adult club in 2009.  The standout year for awards was 2000 when Tony received the Carlow Juvenile PRO of the year award. On 25th November of the same year, himself (‘Outstanding Service to GAA’) and Pat Brophy both received Carlow GAA awards. “Pat received the Hall of Fame Award; Pat was an outstanding player for St. Patricks in the 60’s and it was an honour to get my service award with him that night. Pat was selected at centre back on the Carlow Millennium Football Team along with goal keeper Joe Nolan, Jim Archibald at corner back and Buller Canavan full back.”

In 2005 Tony recalls how he wrote a letter to Jack Mahon, the Galway footballer, centre back of the late 50’s. Jack was a writer with the Tribune at the time and Tony enjoyed following his column. Jack was sick at the time and Tony wrote letters of encouragement to him. “Jack wrote me a lovely return letter in 2005 in which he described me as a true blue” as he laughs!!

In 2011 Tony did an interview under the GAA oral history project as a chosen representative for St. Patrick’s, this interview can be heard in the museum in Croke Park. A year after this interview Tony received a thank you card from one of the interviewees, but he has still never heard the interview! Tony made his way out to the front room, his ‘library’, where he has many memorabilia and brought out the card which has the heading on the front, ‘Our History Your Story’, over a picture of a man looking across a GAA pitch, with a packed stand behind him. This was an appropriate card and an appropriate title for Tony’s story with St Patrick’s.

When I asked him to pick his best team of the past 30 years he politely declined “I don’t think I am in any position to pick the best players, it’s not right for me. The club had great players through so many eras. We do have a tradition of great goalkeepers down the years and most of them played for their county. We had Jim ‘Lobby’ Roche in the 30s, and then came Joe ‘Snack’ Hurley, the great Joe Nolan was a household name, we had John Kelly, Pat ‘Fred’ Doran and James Clarke. I believe James ‘Shad’ Tobin is a good lad too. But as I said I wouldn’t chance picking the best 15!”

Tony is a very proud family man. He chats about how his brother Joe helped to bring football to Ferns when he went to work there as a young postman. Vincent, another brother, went to work in Hacketstown as a baker and played his football there. Tony’s son Michael lives in Carlow, working in the golf club. On Michael’s side, Tony has one granddaughter Danielle and two great grand children Aoife and Fiach. His daughter Catherine lives in Tullow with two sons Glen and Anthony. Glen has two kids Tony and Lily while Anthony gave him three great grandchildren Katie, Joe and Holly.

Tony is very proud of all his work collecting the notes and match reports up to 2007 and emphasises the importance of keeping history for future generations. When asked for some words of wisdom for current players and future stars of St Patrick’s “keep at it, have pride in the club and always do the best you can, try get back to where we should be Senior”

“I wish the club the best of luck for the future and urge players to pull together and work with the selectors to get back up the ladder to Carlow football. A big thank you again to the Juvenile Club by honouring me with calling their u/14 football tournament ‘The Tony Maher u/14 Football Tournament’ in 2013. I was flabbergasted when I heard it. I didn’t think something so special would ever happen, but I am very grateful to the club. It would be great to see good celebrations next April for the commemorations”. The 24th April 1966 was a Sunday, (as Bro. Leo was officially opened) the 24th April 2016 is also a Sunday, is this a sign!? Coupled with the 1916 celebrations planned for Tullow, this could be a special weekend for all GAA in the area!

Tony is a true gent and has more knowledge on local GAA than one would ever find on google! As I left Tony in the sitting room on the right at no.20, I had a quick look into his “library” of memorabilia in the front room and smiled. Nellie was busy in the kitchen getting some food ready, “I don’t know what we are having for tea today, but it’s usually good!” 

A brief History

Tullow GAA club has a long, proud and distinguished history and has been an integral part of the town for one hundred and twenty four years. The club, known in its early years as the Stars & Stripes, was founded in 1888. On the 3rd of June of that year, the first club meeting was called and its founding members appointed officers to lead the club forward. Garret Moore was elected the first president; M. Rooney was secretary, William Maher treasurer and Eugene Peppard captain.


It was left in the hands of these few members to create a club which would work effectively and prosper and perhaps win a trophy or two along the way. It was also agreed that the teams would train in a field, kindly offered by Garret Moore. The scene was then set for the very first football team to walk under the flag of Tullow GAA, and it was not long before they had established themselves as a great club to be feared by even the best. It was also interesting to note that there existed a system at the time where each townsland in and around Tullow had their own teams, such as Aghade, Leaney, Loughmartin and Crosslow who were all quite successful in their short lives.


The clubs roll of honour is highly impressive from the first senior football championship win in 1904, the golden era was undoubtedly from the 1950’s to 1964, during which time they won the senior football championship in 1959, the senior and junior football league in 1962, the senior football championship and senior league in 1963 and SFC in 1964.


It has been remarked on numerous occasions that if an All-Ireland club football championship had existed at the time, the Tullow club would have won it on numerous occasions. Since then the club has been in the relative doldrums, with 2011 seeing the senior team relegated to intermediate status. However, in the true tradition of the founding members, the current team of officers, committee and players have reset their sights, focusing on a far brighter future, with the belief that they can emerge once again to be the best team in the county.


Bro Leo Slattery was born in Ballymackey Nenagh Co Tipperary. He joined the Patrician brothers in 1894, he taught Fethard, Galway , Mallow and taught for twelve years in Tullow . Bro Leo trained the young Tullow teams. It was Bro Leo who purchased the present playing field in 1931 so as the Club would have a permanent home. The playing field was then known as Tullow Gaelic Park , it was not until 1966 that Extra ground was purchased and the park was then officially opened and called after Bro Leo.

The club has kept the flag flying consistently since the foundation of the G.A.A. in 1884. There were many noteworthy milestones in the early days. Tullow reached the 1905 county senior final, but had to withdraw. They were runners-up for the 1916 title, and were back again in the final in 1917. At that time, their pitch was situated on the farm of Mr. Peter Doyle, Loughmartin, and was rated the best sod in the country. So much so, that, Tinryland agreed to play Tullow on the ground in the 1917 decider. It was a double joy day for Tullow, who won 1-5 to 0-5 for their first title.


Their colours at the time were green and white. Seven years later Tullow were back again in the county senior final, but were well beaten by Graigcullen, and did not hit the headlines again in a big way until 1934. Then, they beat Bagenalstown in the county junior final at the old O'Hanrahan's grounds by two points, here, it is only fair to record that the club had an outstanding secretary at the time - Jim Coady, who had a big say in shaping that success.


There were many changes before the next final win of 1942. The green and white colours gave way to the now familiar blue and gold, and the club adopted and registered the name Naomh Padraig. This was in honour of the Christian Brothers of St. Patrick, who had been doing so much in furthering the national games in schools. There was also a change of grounds from Loughmartin to Ballymurphy road, now known as Bro. Leo Park. In the 1942 decider, Tullow had a comfortable win over Leighlinbridge. At that time too, they were producing some brilliant stars, including Jim Archibold, and outstanding corner back, and member of the Carlow side that beat Dublin in 1944 for the county's only Leinster senior football championship. Another junior football crown was added to the roll of honour in 1951. Seven years later the club was back once more in an important final. That one was the 1958 Senior league decider against Leighlinbridge and that game was surrounded by drama.


Tullow won the final but there followed a series of objections and counter objections, the result of which was that the club lost the title in the council chamber. Undaunted by the set back, the club's annual general meeting of 1959 sent out the message loud and clear that the team would be heard of again very soon. Not many, however could then have appreciated that a team was about to be moulded together to capture the imagination of the county over the following ten years. Or, that the club was about to produce players who were to backbone some of the county's greatest teams over the same period. In short, that the club was then on the threshold of "The Great Days of Tullow Football", and those exciting days will provide a gripping story for another day.


Several years ago the G.A.A. celebrated its 125th anniversary. It was a wonderful milestone for the association, a great opportunity for celebration, commemoration and acknowledgement. The G.A.A. has so much history, tradition and culture attached that it would be very difficult to acknowledge the sheer vastness of its role in creating the modern Ireland.


President McAleese in her message to the Association on the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Association wrote "The Gaelic Athletic Association lies squarely at the cornerstone of our national identity; binding together communities, bringing clubs and counties together (in friendly rivalry), bringing the joys of healthy competition and the thrill of the contest to all who play and watch the games".


Comhghairdeas libh ar an ocaid stairiuil seo agus go n-eiri go geal libh sna blianta ata

romhainn. St. Patrick's G.A.A. club has over the years made a huge impact in this

area and on this community.


Membership of a club gives a person an affinity with their home place a sense of

belonging. It is something that never leaves a person even if they have to leave the

community. Pride in the G.A.A truly begins at parish level; and it extends from there.