Louth GAA

'Big Vincie' Kirk got his wish for Roche Emmets and it's picture perfect

Louth GAA

Caoimhín Reilly

Reporter:

Caoimhín Reilly

Email:

caoimhin.reilly@dundalkdemocrat.ie

'Big Vincie' Kirk got his wish for Roche Emmets and it's picture perfect

The late Vincie Kirk won senior championship, junior championship and Cardinal O'Donnell Cup medals with Roche Emmets before serving as club chairman. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)

There was a night roughly four years ago when one was alone in Roche Emmets’ field, trying to get an edge ahead of the championship. Brightness remained long after the juvenile crew had finished their training, leaving only myself and a back full of footballs.

The grass had its ‘championship cut’, the field was lined with precision and the sole sounds were of birds, a tractor mowing in the distance and a thud every few seconds. I took a photo of the 10 footballs with the bottom half of the pitch in the background. Clear skies. Utopia.

I was back in that position on several occasions recently, the Covid-19 outbreak perturbing most others from going to the place where they usually spend nights in sequence. Roche and its red clay has often been the subject of criticism from outsiders, when in fact it’s arguably the finest field in the county, with the best natural drainage. A sod that heals like no other.

One wonders if Vincie Kirk, almost 35 years since his passing, is happiest in the next life when looking down upon it on the evenings when it’s at its fullest, brimming with the next generation? After all, it, and what it’s become, was his brainchild.

Or, perhaps he reflects upon his career in the Emmets blue? All things considered, there was Vincie Kirk the very successful player and Vincie Kirk the shrewd administrator.

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Roche Emmets was founded in 1947, but it took three years for the border outfit to field a minor team, which they managed in 1950, playing their first match at the grade against Gaels. Vincie Kirk was on the team.

The side reads: Finian O’Connell; Pat Murray, Tom Murphy, Vincie Kirk; Brendan McArdle, Kevin Reilly, Paddy McShane; Larry Treanor, Harry (Billie) Myers; Tommy Flood, Niall Craven, Denis Lennon; Paddy McCann, James Murphy, Peter Quinn; Paddy Craven, Kevin Murray, Jim Craven, Jim Gartlan and Paddy Bolton.

He was one of four Kirk brothers playing for Roche at that stage and over the next number of years himself, Owenie and Kevin would establish themselves on the first-team, with Nicholas there or thereabouts.

A promising defender, Vincie was 20 when featuring on the Roche junior team that landed the B Division Junior League in 1952, defeating Dowdallshill 0-5 to three in the final played at Haggardstown.

Jack Treanor, who would become an influential figure in the club for many years to come, captained Emmets on that occasion from between the sticks and in front of him, had: Pat Murray, Tom Belton, Tom Murphy; Vincent Kirk, Kevin Reilly, Joe Lennon; Tommy Flynn, Eoin Casey; Aidan Savage, Paddy Craven, Niall Craven; Pat Treanor, Brendan McArdle, Peter Quinn; Pat Treanor, Nicholas Kirk, Henry Murray, Danny Murray, Frank Lennon.

Vincie was developing nicely and was on the panel that landed the club’s first major piece of silverware, the Second Division Championship of 1953. Willie Treacy skippering Roche to the triumph.

And, by 1955, he was beginning to establish himself, claiming the full-back’s berth which he would hold throughout the outfit’s glory days and tremendous rise. He was at No3 in the McArdle Cup final victory over Newtown Blues, a victory which was the beginning of an extraordinary period in the Faughart Parish side’s history.

His brother, Kevin, was in goals for the ’55 victory, in which Vincie was flanked by D Burns and K Reilly, the grandfather of your writer. From right-half to No15 were OJ Woods, M Brady, W Treacy; B McArdle, S Rogers; J Gartlan, M Gartlan, P Quinn; T Flood, N Craven, D Marmion.

A year on and Roche were now among the frontrunners for Christy Bellew Cup success. They defeated Cooley Kickhams 1-15 to 0-1 in the junior championship semi-final in Dowdallshill, with Kevin, Vincie and Owenie making up a fifth of Emmets’ starting XV.

In The Democrat’s preview of the decider against Darver Volunteers, Vincie was described as the “tallest member of the team and another railway worker. Graduated with the local minor side to become a reserve on the Second Division group. Strong, fearless player with a good pair of hands”.

He would mark legendary Louth player Jimmy McDonnell in a game which went Volunteers’ way on a 0-12 to 1-7 scoreline.
Roche ’56 final team: K Kirk; D Burns, V Kirk, J Lennon; OJ Woods, J McArdle, W Treacy; M Brady, B McArdle; T Flood, M Gartlan, J Gartlan; N Craven, O Kirk, D Marmion.

However, there was some reward for another year of progress as Roche got a portion of revenge on the Darver men in the semi-final of the McArdle Cup, prior to piping Geraldines at the ultimate stage, 1-7 to 1-4.

Roche team: K Kirk; B McArdle, V Kirk, J Lennon; OJ Woods, J McArdle, J Gartlan; M Brady, O Kirk; T Flood, M Gartlan, P Quinn; P Craven, N Craven, D Marmion.

The victories were reversed 12 months later as, despite losing the McArdle Cup showpiece to Geraldines, Roche overcame Glyde Rangers 0-6 to three in the junior final.

Prior to the clash, The Democrat wrote of Vincie: “Has made the full-back berth his own during the past few seasons. Very safe and reliable under pressure. Won McArdle Cup medals in ’55 and ’56.”

Roche ’57 final team: K Kirk; P Craven, V Kirk, J Lennon; OJ Woods, J McArdle, J Gartlan; J Goss, M Brady; N Craven, M Gartlan, D Marmion; T Flood, B McArdle, G Murray.

Into the senior grade for the first time, just 11 years since their formation, Roche’s debut in the 1958 Cardinal O’Donnell Cup saw Kirk again line-up at full-back. They began with a loss to Clan na Gael in Roche on an 0-8 to five scoreline, but the year went almost flawlessly thereafter.

First senior game, vs Clans: K Kirk; P Craven, V Kirk, J Lennon; OJ Woods, F Wynne, J Gartlan; M Brady, J Goss; N Craven, M Gartlan, D Marmion; T Flood, B McArdle, G Murray.

Roche saw off Young Irelands, holders Oliver Plunkett’s and Ardee St. Mary’s in the championship to qualify for the Joe Ward play-off at the first attempt, winning the title with a 1-7 to 1-5 victory vs Naomh Mhuire.

Vincie was described as “eminently sound in the full-back line” by The Democrat’s reporter.

Roche final team: P Gallagher; J Goss, V Kirk, J Lennon; OJ Woods, J McArdle, F Wynne; B McArdle, M Brady; N Craven, M Gartlan, D Marmion; T Flood, J Gartlan, G Murray.

The year was to get better, too, when Emmets became the first club to win the senior double in their maiden attempt, Kirk atoning for the 1956 junior decider in getting the better of McDonnell, whose Darver charges were beaten 2-7 to 0-4. Roche had overcome Clan na Gael at the last four hurdle.

COD final: P Gallagher; J Goss, V Kirk, J Lennon; OJ Woods, J McArdle, F Wynne; B McArdle, M Brady; J Gartlan, M Gartlan, D Marmion; T Flood, N Craven, G Murray.

Plunkett’s denied Roche a treble tilt in the second round of the Old Gaels Cup, although Emmets could boast three trophies for the year having taken hold of the Peter Judge Cup.

And the Mell men became something of a thorn the following year, denying Roche in both the early stages of the championship and in the O’Donnell Cup final, 0-6 to three, games which Vincie missed.

He was back in the fold 12 months later, however, as Roche won back the Cardinal’s silverware, beating Newtown Blues 3-4 to 1-9 in Knockbridge, a year in which they also downed the Drogheda side in competition for the Old Gaels Cup.

1960 COD final: T Dowdall; B Marmion, V Kirk, J Gartlan; OJ Woods, J McArdle, P Nash, J Goss, M Brady; J Marmion, M Gartlan, D McNally; T Flood, B McArdle, P Craven. D Marmion for Flood (SH).

Old Gaels Cup team: T Dowdall; B Marmion, V Kirk, J Gartlan; E Callaghan, J McArdle, P Nash; M Brady, J Goss; J Marmion, M Gartlan, D Marmion; T Flood, P Craven, M McCourt. B McArdle for McCourt (SH).

Vincie was a panel member in 1961 as, incredibly, the O’Donnell Cup was retained following a 1-10 to 1-5 victory over Blues in Dowdallshill. Unfortunately, Blues had the edge in a titanic championship semi-final, which began the Newfoundwell natives’ tremendous run of victories through the 1960s.

A season on and Emmets were back in the quarter-final of the senior championship, Vincie playing in the drawn match with Naomh Mhuire, but not in the replay, where Roche’s hopes were dashed. Their stronghold in the O’Donnell Cup was also relaxed, Blues taking their crown in convincing style, leaving Roche to head into 1963 with none of the major honours to defend.

However, with Vincie at centre-full, the Rathduff side qualified for the last eight of the ’63 championship. They drew, a result which came at a cost as injury ended Vincie’s season. Mary’s were beaten in the replay and Roche subsequently conquered Naomh Mhuire, but lost the senior final to a fabulous Blues team, 1-8 to 1-7.

The club’s history book seems to suggest Vincie and Seán Conlon were both significant losses to the Emmets cause, having sustained injuries from which they couldn’t recover in time.

Blues would defeat Roche in both the O’Donnell and Old Gaels Cup finals that year too.

’63 final: T Dowdall; J Gartlan, S Rogers, M McCourt; E Callaghan, J Goss, P Nash; M Gartlan, M Brady; N Gallagher, J Marmion, T Woods; N Craven, M Hynes, J Marmion. K Kirk for Gartlan.

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Vincie served as a senior and junior team selector at various stages over the following decades before taking the reins as chairman from Paddy Gallagher in 1980. And it’s in this role where arguably he left his most indelible mark.

Emmets were playing out of Jack Treanor’s field, but sought a new home, as secretary Seán Conlon stated in his 1979 AGM report: “The club have made an honest effort to find a field within the parish and I have no doubt that when a suitable field turns up the club will purchase same.”

And you could say they found it under Kirk’s stewardship, The Democrat reporting on August 2, 1980, that Roche were on the cusp of “the realisation of a long held ambition” with an 18-acre site having been purchased at Tateetra.

However, for differing reasons, one being the low-lying land which was prone to flooding, the project didn’t go ahead and after trying several different areas, in March of 1981, Roche agreed to purchase 12 acres in Rathduff off Gerry Muckian for a fee of £50,000 - the site being practically across the road from ‘Jack’s field’.

This was a significant breakthrough, a year after Emmets had won the senior championship for the second and most-recent time, defeating Young Irelands in Dowdallshill.

As the expenditure rose as a consequence of the development work, Vincie led Roche’s fundraising effort in a variety of ways, as can be seen by the sheer quantity of different initiatives run at the time, including sponsored walks, a bazaar and barn dances, among various other ventures, each of which took in handsome totals.

And, in 1983, the dream was realised. Roche were struggling on the pitch, having lost their opening seven league matches, by the time St. Fechin’s landed to Treanor’s field for its final game.

Emmets bid a fitting farewell to the pitch, winning the match 1-11 to 2-6, and by the time of their next home engagement, when Cardinal O’Donnell holders Clan na Gael visited Páirc de Róiste for its maiden fixture, Roche’s fortunes had improved with an away win over Blues boosting their prospects.

Roche celebrated their new ground with a 1-10 to 2-7 draw against the odds.

Vincie remained as chairman through 1984 and into ’85, the year in which Roche reached their last senior final. But, on a wider note, it was a very sad time for the club.

Just five days after they had beaten Kilkerley Emmets in the second round of the championship, Vincie died, at the age of just 51.

He passed away suddenly on Friday, July 19, when working on his farm at Carnbeg, with Roche’s appreciation of their chairman, who had gone to his eternal reward, reading:

“Vincent Kirk left life behind in the green fields he loved on Friday last, July 19 - three days before his 52nd birthday.

“Big Vincie they called him and how right they were. His body was large and everything else about him corresponded to this size. His big hands of the high catch and his booming voice were matched by his tremendous commitment and loyalty to his family in Carnbeg and also to the club he grew up with - Roche Emmets. Ask anyone, they all knew the voice.

“Right now memories of this gentle giant crowd the mind. A horn is blowing outside above the throb of a diesel engine. It’s Vincie, some Roche Emmets business is to be attended to. Hurry up, coat on and out the door saying I won’t be long but the wiser dog is already licking his lips in anticipation of my unfinished meal. A shovel hand throws open the car door and we drive away on wings of crack and boyish good humour.

“As the mind drifts back I see a younger Vincie in Blue and White ‘spanging’ across the fields of Louth and catching a high ball over all comers, a tradition he has handed on to Roche teams of the present day.

“Yes, Vincie, wearing the number 3 jersey, was a key figure in the all-conquering Roche team which took the county by storm in the fifties when they had a meteoric rise from second division to senior champions in the space of five years. This at a time when Louth football was at the top of the tree.

“When Vincie hung up the boots he was happy to work with the juveniles of St. Joseph’s as well as serving with Roche Emmets on committees and as team selector.

“In the meantime he built a thriving business in coach building on the Newry Road, and had also invested in land. Good management was soon to lead to the purchase of the present family home in Carnbeg, a testimony to good management and a desire to provide the best for Eileen and their family.

“In 1980 the ‘Major’ became the ‘General’ when Vincie was installed as chairman of Roche Emmets, a position he was to hold until his death. The club wanted to buy a field and Vincie mounted a two pronged attack. First he got fundraising going because he said: “Chaps, you’re very foolish if you think we can buy land without money”. He left no stone unturned,  gate unopened or ditch uncrossed until he got the field and the money. Now he moved into second gear and coaxed everyone along with himself in the development work.

“When the horn blew outside you knew you better jump to it. Through his natural organisation everyone pulled together and the work became a labour of love. I believe this heady atmosphere contributed greatly to the club winning the Joe Ward Cup in 1980.

“The horn sounded last Friday above the throb of the diesel engine in Carnbeg. Nobody heard it this time except Big Vincie because this time the call was for him alone.

“Vincie was gone from us, but he has left us more than just memories. The new field which was his dream will be his monument as long as the soil is red in Rathduff.”

And so it is. The soil and jersey remain red and blue. ‘Big Vincie’ got his wish and it’s picture perfect.