Senior Football Championship final

Joe Carroll - Dundalk FC based on the Carrick Road, but Gaels backboned by it...

INSIDE TRACK

Joe Carroll

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Joe Carroll

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joebellurgan2014@gmail.com

Joe Carroll - Dundalk FC based on the Carrick Road, but Gaels backboned by it...

Gaels management Noel Sweeney, Malachy O'Rourke (manager), Niall Lambert and Pat McCann. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)

Think Carrick Road, think Oriel Park. They've been playing soccer there for almost a century. It's home to Dundalk FC and over the years some of the continent's finest teams and players have covered what was at one time a sod but is today a man-made surface.

Bill Shankly, Alex Ferguson and Billy McNeill were among the managers who paced the line, the latter hoping, on one famous occasion, his Celtic team would survive a late Dundalk onslaught to go through to the European Cup's last eight. The Bhoys did, but only just.

Jack Charlton put his Republic of Ireland team through their paces in preparation for a crunch tie, and when the session was over, the big man almost certainly tipped over for a chat with his good friend, Des Casey, living nearby.

Oriel cast a big shadow over McDermott's Terrace - and still does - providing many of its denizens, young and old, with Sunday afternoon entertainment when there was an 'r' in the month.

I was one of them, watching the League of Ireland team one week, the 'B' team the next; and when the summer came there was underage football to be played on the field with its then-famous slope, first with Frankie Whitmarsh's Arsenal and then the local team, Lisnawilly.  Ray Larkin's Spurs teams were run from No 12, and after every match the white jerseys would flutter on the Larkin line out the back..

But there was always a strong GAA influence in the area. Dundalk Gaels was the club, and when  The Ramparts side won the 1962 Minor Championship, the terrace had three representatives, Dick Kieran, Jim Byrne and your writer. Team trainer was Seanie Coleman, living at No 6.

Noel Connolly, Coleman's next-door neighbour, was at midfield when Gaels got back to the final eleven years later, but had to make do with a runner-up spot. Had he not been born a few days shy of January 1st, he'd have been included when Joe McNally's team came good the following year.

But long before any of us headed down to The Ramparts, Gaels had a presence. Right from the club's founding, in fact, almost ninety years ago. Among those who helped give the town another Dundalk-based unit, following in the footsteps of  Young Irelands, Clan na Gael and Dowdallshill, was Paddy Coleman, Seanie's uncle. Another founder-member, Willie Lawless, who lived in the heart of another Gaels conclave, Mulholland Avenue, was Paddy's brother-in-law.

Then our lot at No 21 got involved at playing as well administrative level, four of us wearing the jersey, and three acting as either secretary or chairman.

There's a flag hanging outside No 6 as the countdown to Gaels' appearance in Sunday's county final continues, but take yourself further up the Carrick Road and there you'll see a real fusion of blue and white. Where once there were green fields over which we kicked football and exercised greyhounds now there are estates, and these are home to many who'll be in the Gaels corner in Drogheda.

All of the McDermott's Terrace brigade mentioned above, bar one, have moved away – Dick, to Dublin, Jim, to another part of town, Noel, around the corner to the Back-Of-The-Wall, and me, to St Patrick's territory. But  there's still justification for lamposts and poles being embellished.  

Team manager, Malachy O'Rourke, is pitched further out the Carrick Road, not far from one of his assistants, Niall Lambert, who, maintaining a strong family link with the club has been a player – he was at full-forward in the 1992 final – chairman and manager.

Nearby are the McArdles, a family with a rich Gaels tradition covering three generations. Eanna and Conall, who'll be listed on Sunday's programme, are grandsons of Vincie McArdle, who, after figuring on the Cooley Kickhams championship-winning team of 1939, transferred to Gaels and added two medals to his collection, in '42 and three years later.

The boys' dad, Benny, was also a senior championship winner, not during his playing days with Gaels, but with Erin's Hope, who he lined out with in Dublin in his days at St Patrick's Training College. He also managed the Gaels team.

As will demonstrate Caoimhín Reilly on the website later this week, should two other Carrick Road residents, Oisin and Sean Murray, finish on the winning side they'll become the first set of twins to win Louth senior championship medals since Alan and Mickey Rooney helped Ardee St Mary's to the title in 1995. They're sons of former All-Star and National League medal-winner with Monaghan, Ciaran Murray, and not far down the road from them is Errol Boyle, who'll also be togged outat the Gaelic Grounds.

Dundalk has demarcation lines all over the place. Castletown is Clan na Gael country, and at this time last year the other green-and-gold flags were hoisted high in Sean O'Mahony's Quay area, close to where Na Piarsaigh lay claim.

Seatown  is Young Ireland's spiritual home; but where once this oldest of club's home games were played at the Athletic Grounds and later St Mary's College, now they're decided at Marshes Upper, best known to generations of townspeople as The Merches. Dowdallshill is a vast area, but until Ath Leathan, close to the race track, was recently developed, the St Brigid's Park club had a limited choice.

And Gaels?  There are a number of roads, streets and estates around the town centre which have supplied countless youngsters to Ramparts teams over the years. And, as you know by now, so too has a road and a terrace, the latter, built on a field where, away back when the GAA was still in short trousers, Young Irelands played some of their home games.