Robbie Rafferty (left) and Gussie Hearty (right), stalwarts of the Dundalk Summer League. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
Two stories published in this paper, one in last week’s edition, the other a few pages on from where you are reading this, bring back memories of two venues which provide me - and many thousands of others, I’m sure – with great memories.
Dundalk & District League has just left the traps for the hundredth year in succession. It was first run – for a few years in the early part of the last century, according to Jim Murphy’s history of Dundalk FC – prior to its 1919 renewal. That it has stood the test of time is a tribute to the many dedicated people who’ve been at its helm over the years.
Better known as the Summer League in the days gone by, it is now operating in the shadow of the North-Eastern League. That, however, hasn’t blunted the enthusiasm of the current legislators I’m familiar with, the likes of Robbie Rafferty and Gussie Hearty. According to last week’s Demo story, there’s been an “exciting revamp” of the league, social media to play a major role in providing up-to-date information and lots more. Good luck to all involved.
Matches are to be played at a number of venues. Not among them, however, is the one which was the focal point for me and many others in the days when the league was in its zenith.
St. Joseph’s Park, known simply as The Joe’s, is long closed, but unlike other grounds - chief among them, the one mentioned later on in this piece – it hasn’t been covered in concrete.
Take a trip up the Carrick Road and you’ll see it, a next door neighbour of Oriel. Its sward is as green, maybe even greener, than it was when teams such Central, Bendigo, Ballybarrack, Arsenal, Norton Villa, Carrick Rovers, Demesne Celtic and, of course, the ‘home’ team, carrying the name of its club founder, the legendary Joe McEntee, traded their wares. The wee stand is gone, as is the huge tree that stood for years within a throw-in of the road goals. But the memories it holds endure.
Benny Toal, Mickey Nulty and Tom Kirk, whose deaths within a short space of each other last week are recorded here, were all familiar with the Athletic Grounds. The latter was a champion cyclist who contested several All-Ireland championships at The Ramparts venue in 1960, and while it was football that brought the bigger crowds there, the big athletics meetings were never less than well attended.
Mickey Nulty won two of his Louth senior championships at the Athletic Grounds, St. Mary’s beating fierce rivals, Stabannon Parnells, in the 1955 and the following year’s finals. He’d have competed against Benny Toal, whose Clan na Gael side, along with all others in town, played their home games at the venue.
Whatever about life being breathed back into St. Joseph’s Park, the area covered by the Athletic Grounds will never again have a match or race decided on it. Standing there now is a monument to a threat and interference. What was built there could have been accommodated on the site with the playing pitch being kept intact.
But all going well, it may not be long before Louth GAA has a venue worthy of the name ‘county grounds’, standing no more than a mile – as the crow flies – from where the Athletic Grounds was situated. There’ll be celebrations when the first sod is turned on land on the Inner Relief Road, nothing compared, however, to what will herald the first game being played there.