Peadar McParland was just a little surprised, he said, to see that Cooley Kickhams hadn’t a better record in the Leinster Club Championship.
We met at Dundalk Stadium last Friday night, and the big Greenore man, who won five county titles with Kickhams and played in as many provincial campaigns, was referring to the piece which appeared on this page last week.
Peadar’s not a stats man, but he was of the opinion that as well as reaching the final twice, Kickhams won at least one match in each of their campaigns during the 1970s, a decade in which they were the dominant force at local level. The records show, however, that there was a year, 1978, in which the first hurdle wasn’t cleared.
Kickhams have won more games than any other Louth team in the provincial series, eight, from the 15 played; but while seven of these came in the ‘70s, the two campaigns of the late 1980s and early ‘90s yielded just one victory, a two-point Fr McEvoy Park defeat of Kilkenny champions, Muckalee, followed by a rout by Dublin’s Thomas Davis, who would go on to win the 1990 title. The previous year they were beaten by St Joseph’s, Laois, first time out.
The green-and-golds had just won the county title for the first time in 32 years when they made their provincial bow. Their game with Longford Slashers was actually played – at McEvoy Park - in the same year, 1971, as the new competition’s first final, in which Newtown Blues were beaten by Gracefield, and resulted in a home win. Next game was away to Athlone, and it ended in a heavy defeat for the Louth representatives.
Each of the Kickhams next two outings had them qualifying for the final. Successive home wins in ‘74 over Navan O’Mahony’s, Athlone and Longford’s Clonguish were followed by a meeting with crack Dublin team, UCD, who included 15 county players, Benny Gaughran, Kerry’s John O’Keeffe and Jackie Walsh, Kevin Kilmurray, from Offaly, Mayo’s forward JP Keane, and the Cavan pair, Ollie Lddy and Garret O’Reilly, among them. The Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda was the venue, and though not at their best, the Louth champions were beaten by just two points, 1-6 to 0-7. Peadar McParland remembers Terry Brennan whacking one of the crossbar at a crucial stage.
Three years later, Kickhams were at Croke Park to play Portlaoise, having scored wins over Offaly’s Ferbane and Raheens, the Kildare champions. Tom Prendergast was at the height of his powers at the time, and was most influential in the Laois champions winning by 1-12 to 0-8.
The 1977 campaign saw Cooley go out to Meath’s Summerhill at the semi-final stage, after beating the wonderfully-named Bunclody Half-Way House, representing Wexford, in the opening round. The following year’s first round defeat was at the hands of Carlow’s Eire Og.
Croke Park was the venue for three of Cooley’s games, while Newtown Blues were at headquarters twice. Drawn against Barney Rock’s Ballymun Kickhams, Geraldines only outing in the competition, in 1982, was also there.
A Louth regular over a number of years, Peadar McParland had his best championship season in the red jersey in 1975, scoring seven points from play in the opening round defeat of Wicklow, before dominating midfield in the Croke Park quarter-final win over Meath, who had only recently been crowned National League champions.
The semi-final with Dublin, All-Ireland winners the previous year, came a fortnight after the Meath match, but, incredibly, the Louth County Board allowed a series of club championship fixtures go ahead a week beforehand, and while playing against Newtown Blues, McParland picked up an injury. Extensive treatment allowed him to take his place alongside O’Rahilly’s Joey McLoughlin, but he was clearly unable to do himself justice in the midfield joust with Brian Mullins and Bernard Brogan. Kilkerley’s Pete Lennon was another absentee from the team that had beaten Meath.
The match with Dublin is best remembered for the magnificent goal Eugene Sheelan scored early on and Louth’s second-half comeback. Twelve points adrift at one stage, the Jimmy Mulroy-managed side cut the deficit to the minimum, only to concede a late Jimmy Keaveney goal. Played at Navan, the game attracted a record crowd of 32,000.