Our own County Kildare and our close neighbours and near friends Laois are destined to share the green sward of Croke Park on July 20th in pursuit of victory in this years Leinster Senior Football Final. The last time both counties contested the Leinster Final against each other was on Sunday, 14th July 1946 when the Laois men ran out winners on the score of 1-6 to 0-11.
I was reminded of this recently when I met former Laois player Jim Hughes. He played on the Laois senior team for 11 years and had the honour of captaining Laois in the mid 1960’s. Jim’s sister Frances is married to my brother Jack and we met on the occasion of a family celebration to celebrate Jack’s 70th birthday. Jim and Frances Hughes’ mother was the former Frances Ramsbottom, whose parents lived in Asker House, Timahoe. Their names were James and Frances Ramsbottom and just over a year ago I wrote in an Eye on the Past of a roadside memorial which I discovered on the outskirts of Athy on the Stradbally Road. It was dedicated to a “Fanny” Ramsbottom who was killed there on 7th June 1916. I wondered as to the identity of the lady who died all those years ago, yet whose roadside memorial bore evidence of recent attention. Flowers had been placed there not so long before. Well, to my astonishment the answer came during a conversation last week when Frances Taaffe, my sister-in-law, mentioned how her grandmother Frances Ramsbottom was killed outside Athy many years ago when she fell from her pony and trap. This tenuous family connection with Ramsbottoms links me to Laois players of the past including Jim Hughes, Paddy Ramsbottom and Bobby Miller, all of whom come from the same Ramsbottom family tree.
This is all by way of vindicating my excursion into the realms of Laois football in advance of the Leinster Final on July 20th. The previous meeting of Kildare and Laois all of 57 years ago was an occasion which brought much disappointment to Kildare and especially to the south of this county. Athy had two players on the county team for that match. Tommy Fox of Meeting Lane and Tom Ryan known as “Tosh” who was then serving in the Irish Army. “Tosh” Ryan was one of four brothers, all sons of Patsy Ryan, a World War 1 Veteran who had charge of the British Legion Hall in St. John’s Lane. His son, Patsy Ryan junior, played for Athy in the 1933 County Final when the South Kildare team won the club’s first Senior Championship title. His grandson,
Shane Ryan, was to emulate his own fathers success when helping Athy win the Senior County Championship in 1987. Another of Patsy Ryan’s sons, Willie Ryan known as “Cushy” , also played for the local team and he was on the losing Athy team in the 1946 Senior Championship final. Tom “Tosh” Ryan who tasted the disappointment of defeat as a member of the County team in the 1946 Leinster Final suffered another disappointment as a member of the Athy Senior team of the same year when it lost the County Final to Carbery. Incidentally “Tosh” Ryan and another Athy man, Paddy Mullery, played Inter-County football for Tipperary and I believe won Tipperary Championship medals with Clonmel. Another son of the World War 1 veteran was Johnny Ryan. I’m uncertain as to his involvement with Athy G.F.C. but his son Billy Ryan was a sub on the Kildare team which won the Leinster Final of 1956.
Like the Ryans, several members of the Fox family played football for their native town and County. Tommy Fox like his colleague Tommy Ryan played in the 1946 Leinster Final and the County Final of the same year. Both had also played in the 1942 County Final when the Athy Club won its fourth county senior title. This was the hey day of Athy football, the South Kildare club having played in five County Finals, losing only one in the previous nine years. Dennis Fox, another of the Fox brothers, played alongside his brother Tom in the Athy team which was defeated by Carbery in the 1946 County Final. Dennis later became a member of the Irish Christian Brothers. Jim Fox played for Athy when it won the first of its two senior finals in 1933 and 1934, Jim was also a player on the County team and was a sub in 1935 in the All Ireland Final losing team.
The contest between Kildare and Laois on July 20th next brings to mind the four occasions when the same counties previously played out the Leinster Final. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but Kildare’s record against Laois when it comes to the Provincial final is not good. Our only win was in 1929 but since that Laois has inflicted Leinster final defeats on the Kildare men in 1936, 1938 and 1946. As you might expect of a Club which won three Senior County Championships in the 1930’s Athy was well represented on the 1936 and 1938 teams. Kildare had earlier lost the 1935 All Ireland Final to Cavan in a match which it was favoured to win. However, the Kildare mentors dropped the regular goalie; Athy man “Cuddy” Chanders for that final and three goals were scored by the Cavan team to give the Breffni County victory by four points. Interestingly,
the man who took “Cuddys” place for the All Ireland final played three further games for Kildare before he was himself replaced by “Cuddy”. During his four games as County goalkeeper he had an average of three goals per game scored against him. “Cuddy” Chanders in his three Championship games leading up to the 1935 All Ireland Final had not allowed the ball to cross his line even once. You’d wonder what the Kildare selectors were thinking of!
Coming back to Kildare’s defeat by Laois in the Leinster Finals of 1936 and 1938 Athy’s most stylish ever footballer, Tommy Mulhall, played in both matches. Paul Matthews, a local barman, also featured in 1936 while Johnny McEvoy, George Comerford and Joe Murphy of the local Club played in the Leinster Final two years later. Laois again stymied Kildare when the two met in the 1946 Leinster Final. This was the last meeting of the neighbouring counties in the Leinster Final and on that occasion two points separated the teams. Tom Fox and Tom Ryan of the Athy Club played for Kildare on that day.
Kildare’s record against Laois in Leinster finals is not good. Three defeats and one victory, and that solitary win was all of 74 years ago. Laois has produced some wonderful players over the years and whenever Laois players of the past are mentioned, inevitably the Delaney brothers of Stradbally feature large. Mick Phelan of Barrowhouse who played in the 1946 Leinster Final is another great player who is remembered in this area, but perhaps the most highly regarded Laois footballer was Jack Kenna. He was a stylish half forward, noted for his ability to sidestep and take a drop kick. His free taking from left or right of the post was impressive, and inevitably his footballing abilities earned him selection on the Leinster Provincial team.
The present Laois team has many fine players but somehow or other the feeling abroad is that this is Kildare’s opportunity to make amends for the defeats of 1936, 1938 and 1946. On occasions like this it must be wonderful to have a leg, as it were, in both camps, and so, to be able to rejoice no matter which teams wins. My good friend Johnny, living as he does on the border of both counties, is so blessed but somehow or other I feel our little bet on the outcome will help to dampen his spirits when the final whistle blows. Enjoy the day.