Tradition has it that football was played in Mullagh parish long before the advent of the GAA. A story is told:-
“A man was going home from his ‘céilí. He had to cross fields in Corfad. He saw a crowd of ‘little men’ kicking football. They kicked the ball to him and kept him playing all night until he fell down tired and fell asleep. He went home and went to bed and died six months later.”
So it would seem that not only was football played but they must have had floodlights in Corfad.
By 1886 football clubs were being formed in the county. Ballyconnell was the first club, Bailieboro was the second and the third club was Mullagh Breffnians, formed either in late 1886 or early 1887. At the time there was a new air of parochial and national pride abroad and young men were proud to belong to the GAA. Teams marched on to the field behind their band, and team and band usually travelled by brake. Cross Independents, formed in 1887 were an exception; they travelled to their games on horseback.
In the early years there were no such things as leagues or championships. The various clubs organised tournaments and in Cavan the first ever tournament was run by Mullagh. It was run over three Sundays in July 1887 and Maghera won the prize, which was a set of jerseys. Speaking of jerseys the official gear at the time was jockey caps, jerseys, knee breeches and stockings. The boots were ordinary boots with strips of leather across the sole. Nails, spikes or iron tips were forbidden. Few teams had complete outfits. The Killinkere outfits must have had a blinding effect on the opposition. They wore orange and red jerseys and red and green caps. In those early days the Cross colours were black and amber, while Mullagh from the start used green and white.
County boards were set up on December 27th 1887, and the first Cavan Board was set up with T.P. McKenna of Mullagh as chairman. At its first meeting in February 1888, a draw was made for the first Cavan county championship. A total of thirteen clubs had paid their affiliation fees and the county was divided into east and west, the winners in each section to play a final. Due no doubt to the good offices of Mr. McKenna, all the east Cavan games were fixed to be played on a field owned by J.A. Mortimer, J.P.Esq.,near Mullagh. Thomas Mulligan, NT, Virginia, secretary of the County Board, was appointed referee for all the games.
On Sunday, March 18, 1888, three first round matches were played in beautiful weather at Mullagh. Mullagh Breifne Liberators beat Bailieboro, Moybologue beat Killinkere and the Cross fielded against Maghera. Trouble flared, the pitch was invaded, and the game had to be abandoned until the following Sunday. When they met again at the same venue to play out the remaining three minutes of the abandoned game the referee wanted to begin with a free to Maghera from the spot where the previous game had finished. Cross objected and refused to take the field. The referee awarded the game to Maghera. Cross appealed to the County Board, but to no purpose. On the same day Mullagh beat Virginia and Maghera beat Moybologue, leaving the way clear for the East Cavan final. This was played at Mullagh on April 8th. The Anglo Celt described the attendance as “large, orderly and enthusiastic”. For the greater part of the game Mullagh were on top but had only one point to show due to bad forward play. Then Maghera made”mighty rust” on the Mullagh posts and scored 1-2 without reply. So Maghera were East Cavan champions and on April 30th in Cavan beat Ballyconnell First Ulsters 1-4 to 0-1, to become first champions of the county.
Success brings accompanying problems, and at the second annual convention of the Cavan GAA on October 27th, 1888, a large section of the chairman’s address was devoted to a warning against “toughness and violence” at games and “bickering, rowdyism and faction fighting”. A letter to The Anglo Celt on the same day said that in a game between Cross and Moynalty in a Maghera tournament “fisticuffs, shouting and bad language” became so bad that police had to intervene. The cause of these types of incidence was primarily the availability of alcohol in the abundance at matches.
A second problem was the proliferation of clubs. According to the rules of GAA there could be only one club in each parish. In January 1888, the County Board tried to implement this rule in the parishes of Mullagh, Bailieboro and Lurgan. A committee was to be set up in each parish consisting of three from each club, presided over by the parish priest or curate, in an effort to secure unity. All three parishes failed hopelessly to implement this arrangement. The committee form Mullagh in their report said that the only thing dividing Cross and Mullagh was the name. Mullagh refused to drop the name “Breffnians” and so deadlock followed. Faced with failure, particularly in his native Mullagh, McKenna who was still chairman of the County Board, abandoned the idea of unity and allowed things to remain as they were.
At the beginning of 1889 there were doubts about advisability of running another championship but eventually at its meeting on February 24th, 1889, the County Board decided to run one, and a draw was made. This time there were only six teams in East Cavan. The East Cavan final was fixed for April 28th, between Virginia Sarsfields and Cross Independence. As the clubs failed to agree on a venue, the game was played at Carrickspringan near Moynalty, in Meath. The pitch was all humps and full of small stones. The game started an hour late and was one of the best in the whole championship. Cross won by 1-0 to 0-3. At that time a goal was better than any number of points. Virginia objected to Cross having two players from outside the parish, Tom Cahill form Killinkere and a player from Carnaross Co Meath. Charles Gillick, the Killinkere secretary, wrote to the County Board attacking Cross for “sending emissaries into their parish to break up their club”. He said “so long as Cross confine themselves to their own parish we have nothing to say, but, if they are permitted to bring men from our team as ‘tramp Gaels’ for hire or otherwise we will be compelled to withdraw from the association” Tom Cahill made history by being the first player ever suspended by the Cavan County Board. He was suspended for a month.
Also as there was a row over the West Cavan championship final, the committee decided to abandon the championship. From this point the GAA in the county began to decline. Control broke down. Tournaments began to multiply and became occasions for drinking and faction fighting.
In 1880 Cross Independents team were: – Owen Morgan (Capt.), Phil Morgan, Pat Traynor, Larry Carolan (secretary), Pat Morgan, John Osborne, Phil Connell, Joe Cullen, John Brady, Matt Reilly, Berney Uulty Sullivan, John Reilly, Packy M. Smith, Philip Keating (goalie), Big Tom Carolan, Owen Logan, Peter Larry Farrelly, John McCabe, Barney Reilly, John Quinn, Matthew Wilson, Bernard Farrelly (treasurer, manager and bursar). There were 21 players on each team.
The following is a description of an old GAA football field. There were two sets of posts, the goal posts which were 21 feet apart with a crossbar eight feet high, and the point posts were 21 feet on either side of the goal posts.
According to the 1886 rules the standard size of a pitch should be 140 yards long and 84 yards wide. In practice, this rule could not be compiled with, and games were played on the best and most convenient field available, regardless of size. There were two field umpires, a referee and two goal umpires for each set of posts. The field umpires were to follow play and assist the referee by pointing out fouls to him. They proved a hindrance more than a help, as they encouraged their own team, abused the opposition, bickered with the referee and with each other. The game lasted one hour and the referee’s decision was final on all matters. The usual Cavan number was twenty one aside.
In the early years of the century, there was no record kept of teams in the parish but, in the appendices to Fr. Dan Gallogly’s Cavan Football Story between 1903 and 1915 a few local names are mentioned, Murmod Hillsiders,(1905), Ardlow Juniors (1911), Enagh Rovers and Lisnabuntary Gaels, both founded (1913). The proliferation of short lived clubs continued until the late 1920’s. Only one member of the Lisnaburtary Gaels was still alive in 1988, Tom Malone. Another member, P.D. Morgan died in 1983. P.D. played on into the ‘forties and won a Junior Championship with Cross in 1941. According to Donal Morgan (R.I.P.) the teams mentioned above, including the most part Lisnabuntary Gales were merely teams of young men anxious to play a game of football and none of them lasted. In The Anglo Celt of 30th September, 1922, a list of senior county winners and runners-up is given for previous years. The 1912 winners were Ballinagh, and Cross Independents were runner-up.
It is also interesting to note that there were footballers worthy of their place on the County team. James Drury, Mullagh, who played club football with Virginia, was a member of the Ulster Championship winning team of 1905. In 1915, P.L. Farrelly, Cross played in the All-Ireland semi-final against a superb Wexford side which was to collect the first of four All-Irelands in a row that year. In 1919 and 1920 Ray Carolan’s uncle, Pat, who played with both Virginia and Bailieboro, was a member of the Ulster Championship winning side. He also played for Cavan in 1923 and 1924. Michael Smith of Corryrorke and later Cloughbally played football with Cross Independents and Bailieboro Shamrocks during the first two decades of the century, and helped Cavan to win an Ulster provincial title according to his obituary in The Anglo Celt in May, 1944. Michael’s brother, Charlie, along with Jack Osborne of Corryrorke also served both clubs and county in this period.
From a Meath Chronicle item of 1926 comes reference to two matches played at Quilca Meadow in 1906 between Castletown Emmets, the Meath county champions, and Drumlane Sons of O’Connell, the champions of Cavan. The first game was won by the Cavan side, by 0-2 to 0-0.
“The Meathians were dissatisfied and disappointed . . . The Gaels of Cross put up a set of medals, and so the stage was laid. . .It was a day in late September, and the golden corn bedecked the countryside as thousands made their way to Quilca. For miles and miles around thousands travelled by foot and the old-fashioned side-car. Bicycles were few and motor cars were unknown. The crowd was estimated by one journal at between 5,000 and 6,000 while another journal put it at between 8,000 and 9,000 … The Meath champions’ retired winners of a memorable contest by 10 points to 3”
Cavan’s first appearance in a senior All-Ireland final was in 1928. Kildare beat them in the final due to a goal which, though illegally scored when the ball was thrown into the Cavan net, was allowed. Another factor in the final was that Cavan was short two players, who were clerical students and had returned to college. One of these was Fr Pat Fox, Corragloon, who had played in the Semi-Final in Breifne Park against Sligo.
Towards the end of 1920, with the county team becoming successful, an effort was made to place the teams in the county on a more secure footing. Cross Independents became the team which represented this area. In The Anglo Celt is a report of a game in Kingscourt on Sunday, April 17th, 1932, in which Cross Independents beat Kingscourt Stars on a score line of 3-5 to 1-4 in the senior league. According to the report, the Independences gave a very sound display throughout, and it would take a great team to beat them. Tom Hegarty opened the scoring for the Stars but Donal Morgan soon had the team’s level with a point. There was no further score until just before half-time when Cross “rushed a goal”. In the second half Tom Gillick scored a goal and a point for Cross, Tony Lynch a goal, John Carolan two points and Paddy McNamee a point. The listed was P.D.Morgan (Captain), D.Morgan, P. McNamee, J. Cullen, P.McGovern, P. McCabe, Gillick (2), H.B. Carolan, P Maguire, J. Conway and that well known character A.N. Other. Tony Lynch is given as scoring a goal and yet is missed out in the team list.
In the same issue of The Anglo Celt there is a preview of an Ulster Championship game between Cavan and Donegal seniors and Cavan v Monaghan juniors. Listed as substitute with the seniors is a member of the Cross team, Paddy McNamee and as a half back with the juniors, Pat Mullen (Mullagh). Another item on the same page says that “At Quilca on Sunday Maghera had an easy win over the locals (Ardlow) in camogie. Mr O’Regan, Virginia was referee. The visitors were entertained by the home team”. Also given is the result of a raffle run by Cross Independents, in which prizes were won by Michael Smyth and Benny Cahill.
A number of the 1932 Cross players were still on the team which brought the Junior Championship to the parish in 1941 by beating Kilnaleck 0-5 to 0-2 in the final. The report in The Anglo Celt of this game is headed “Snowy Breasted Football” and the report goes on to say “From a weather point of view the finals at Breifne Park on Sunday were most unfortunate. The junior game was played under average conditions, if one forgets the bitter wind, but the senior match was ‘the limit’, snow falling all the time”. The game itself was described as “a splendid game fought out in hard and fast style for every minute of the hour, but it was contested in fine spirit, for which players and followers deserve congratulations”. It would seem that the man of the match for Cross was Donal Morgan, who was ably supported by “the veteran ‘Beck’ Carolan”, as corner forward, wearing his hat. The scorers for Cross were James McNamee (0-2), John McNamee (0-2), and H.B. Carolan (0-1). The report concludes, “The winners now enter the senior grade to which they should be a decided asset”. The following was the panel of players for that final: – P.D. Mogan, Donal Mogan (Captain), James McNamee, Paddy McNamee, John McNamee, Ambrose Canning, Bernard Farrelly, Tom Connell, Kevin Connell, Phil Farrelly, Ned Farrelly, Georgie Smith, John Gaynor, Tommy Farrelly, H.B. Carolan, Tony Lynch, Phil Sheridan, Gerry Tackney, Peter McCabe, Philip Traynor and James McCabe. It is worth noting that on the Kilnaleck team that day were two young men who were later to make a big name for themselves in the GAA world, Mick Higgins and Peter Donohoe.
It appears that Cross did not last that long in the senior grade because the junior championship was again won by Cross in 1946 when they beat Drung in the final, 1-8 to 1-4 in a game which was described as a ‘real lively contest’. The opposition only scored one point in the second half, proof of the calibre of the Cross defence. The scorers this time were Donal Morgan (1-2), James McNamee (0-3), Paddy Sheridan (0-2), B. Farrelly (0-1), and the team was Patrick Farrelly, Donal Morgan, Finn Gillick, Sonny Connell, Pat Smyth, John Farrelly, Phil Farrelly, Peter McCabe, James McNamee, Bernard Farrelly, Tom Conway, Kevin Connell, John Gaynor, Ned Farrelly, Jim Smith, Phil Sheridan, Joe Farrelly and Philip Farrelly. This Cross team played in the senior championship in 1947 and made their presence felt to such an extent that they reached the final. They were unfortunate enough to meet a Mullahoran squad who were on the crest of a wave. The final was played in the month of November in failing light and was not one of the greatest. The final score was Mullahoran 1-6, Cross 1-4. The delay in the playing of the final was due to the fact that in the year the All-Ireland final was played in New York and three of the Mullahoran team were playing for Cavan in that historic victory, Phil Brady, John Wilson and Val Gannon.
1947 is indelibly etched in the memory of many in Mullagh as the year in which Cavan defeated Kerry in the All-Ireland Football final in the Polo Grounds, New York. Crowds gathered in every house where there was a wireless. The ‘wet’ batteries had been brought to Murchan’s to be charged, and the dry batteries had been used sparingly so that Michael O’Hehir’s commentary could be heard clearly. Mullagh was proud, indeed, to have Simon Deignan and Edwin Carolan as members of that victorious team. Unfortunately, Simon’s brother, Jim, a clerical student in Maynooth College, who had been a substitute on the Cavan team all through the 1947 championship, was refused permission to travel. The euphoria that greeted the return of Simon and Edwin to Mullagh is still remembered. The many bonfires and lighted turf-sods and pitchforks illuminated the village in a manner never experienced before in that pre-electrification era. Led by the Pipers’ Band the procession, with the heroes, Simon and Edwin standing in an open-topped car, moved slowly down the town to the hall. There the following address of welcome was read:-
ADDRESS OF WELCOME
To: Lieutenant Simon Deignan and Edwin Carolan
Presented by the Gaels of Mullagh Parish. October 7th, 1947.
Signed on behalf of the Committee:
John O’Brien (Chairman) James E. McCabe Kilian O’Connell (Joint Hon. Secs.)
However, in a short couple of years local teams, like many others in the country, were decimated by emigration. Also, a number of the older players had come to the end of their playing careers. The result was that in 1950 Mullagh affiliated a parish team. As there were only eight or nine senior teams in the county, it was decided to allow Mullagh to enter the senior championship only. So it was that Mullagh met the much vaunted Mullahoran men in the senior championship semi-final of 1950. Needless to say, Mullahoran with seven county players were odds-on favourites, but such was the determination and enthusiasm of the Mullagh team that it took three games to decide the semi-final.
The first game was played in June 18th, 1950, in Virginia. It is significant to mention that gate receipts amounted to £80 and, considering that 6d or 1/- was the admission charge at that time, you can be sure that a very large crowd watched the game. The first half was poor with the match only coming to life in the last quarter. Both sides were well pleased with a draw, Mullagh 1-5, Mullahoran 0-8.
Tierquin Park, Cavan was the venue for the replay, because Breifne Park was closed for alterations. It was a bone of contention for many a day that a match of this importance between two very good teams, should be played on the very small pitch at Tierquin. It resulted in the game being spoiled by robust play and numerous frees. Feelings were running high among the large crowd of supporters. They spilled over the sidelines on to the pitch on many occasions. This was a close rugged encounter with only a point separating the teams throughout. Indeed, it was only in the dying seconds of the game that Mullahoran equalised with a J.Brady point from a free. The score 1-5 all.
So the scene was set for the third match played on August 6th in Cootehill. Interest in the parish was intense, so much so, that two bus loads travelled to the match. However, there was to be no joy for the Mullagh supporters on that day. The winning score was kicked from a free in the final minute of the game with Mullagh missing a similar free just before that. Score Mullahoran 2-4, Mullagh 1-6. The Mullagh team as listed in The Anglo Celt was as follows:- Jimmy O’Brien (goal); Eugene McCabe, Pat Smith, Noel McHugh, Patsy Clarke, Micky Brogan, Tommy Sheridan, Paddy Carolan, Tommy Brady, Edwin Carolan, Phil O’Brien, Cecil Carolan (Capt.), Jimmy Brady, Phil Sheridan, Phil Reilly.
Mullagh and Mullahoran were to meet again in the senior league final. After numerous postponements due to appalling weather conditions, the game was finally played in January, 1951. Mullahoran were the holders, but at half-time the scores were level, and to the supporters who had braved the cold, it seemed like a re-run of the championship games. Mullagh, however, took a grip on the exchanges in the second half and although a quick break saw Mullahoran get through for a goal, the final quarter saw Mullagh scoring two fine goals to run out eventual winners. The score was Mullagh 4-5, Mullahoran 1-4.
1952 was an exciting year for the Cavan county team which included Edwin Carolan, Paddy Carolan, and Phil “the gunner” Brady who at that time was a Garda in Mullagh. Having reached the All-Ireland final it seemed that Meath were to be the champions. In the dying moments of the game Edwin Carolan scored a historic point; a draw was forced; in the replay Cavan emerged champions for 1952 by 0-9 – 0-5. The victorious team arrived in Mullagh via Kingscourt and Bailieborough on their triumphant journey home. In Mullagh hall an address of Mullagh remained to the fore in senior football in the early ‘fifties. They reached the senior championship final again in 1953 when they were defeated by Lavey who were inspired by county man, Johnny Cusack. It is a measure of the ravages of emigration in these years that 1955 saw Mullagh back once more in the junior championship. The introduction of some young players like Brian Cahill, Tommy Fitzsimons and Edmund Daly among others, to blend in with the more experienced campaigners like the late great Phil (Gunner) Brady and Paddy Carolan, gave reason for optimism in the parish that the championship could be won.
Templeport were opponents in the semi-final and before a large crowd Mullagh emerged victorious by 2-8 to 0-6. This qualified them for the final against Lavey. The final, which was played before a very large crowd was a disappointing affair, with Mullagh’s superior accuracy won the day, the final score being 3-7 to 0-4. The Mullagh team was John Carolan (goal), Mick Brady, Eugene McCabe, Paddy Smith, Brian Cahill, Jimmy Brady, Fergie Cahill, Brendan Smith, Phil Brady, Noel McKenna, Paddy Carolan, P.J. Brady, Tommy Fitzsimons, Jimmy Farrelly, Charlie Sheridan and Edmund Daly.
There were high hopes in the parish that Mullagh would go on to win the senior Championship in 1956. The Anglo Celt reported;-
“In the second round of the championship two grand teams, Mullagh and Kingscourt, met in Virginia and after a splendid hour’s play Mullagh came out top by 3-7 to 1-6.
The game was keenly contested but Mullagh, being a ‘heavier lot’ with Phil Brady, Pat Carolan and Paul Fitzsimons operating around the middle of the field, asserted a dominance that spelled victory”.
Cornafean provided the opposition for the semi-final in Breifne Park. The headline in The Anglo Celt the following week, “A Surprise Defeat for Mullagh”, highlighted Mullagh’s disappointment. This game promised much in the first quarter but, as rain began to fall, it deteriorated badly. There were numerous rows on and off the field, and the game was held up for five minutes after spectators invaded the pitch. Order was eventually restored and this dour encounter was completed with Cornafean winning by one point. Score: 0-4 it 0-3. The Mullagh team was Mick Brady, Paddy Smith, Gene Mc Cabe, Edmund Daly, Brian Cahill, Jim Brady, Fergie Cahill, Phil Brady, Paul Fitzsimons, Jimmy Farrelly, Noel Mc Kenna, Sean Smith, Paddy Carolan, Owen Daly and Tommy Fitzsimons.
The match proved to be a turning point for football in the parish with Mullagh and Cross going their separate ways. Mullagh had no team during this period, but eventually started a junior team in 1960. Early in 1958 three former players, Brian Cahill, Charles Sheridan and John Farrelly met in Phil Farrelly’s on The Staghan of Cross. They called a meeting to start a team again in Cross. This meeting was held under the glow of a tilly lamp in Joe Cullen’s house (owned by Tommy Smyth). It can be seen from an extract from the treasurer’s report at the time that the new club was on a sound financial footing from the start. Over forty club members subscribed 2/- each, with two publicans, E. Matthews and M. Donoghue donating 10/- each and a local shopkeeper, P.J. Sheridan donating 15/-. Brian Sullivan, who was the treasurer of the old Cross team, gave the new club and added boost, by arriving at the first meeting with money remaining for the old club. Club officers were as follows, Chairman, Michael Murray, vice-chairman, Tommy Smyth, secretary, Charlie Sheridan and treasurer, John Farrelly. It can also be seen from the treasurer’s report that the takings form two home games were as follows, Cross- Kingscourt £9. 15. 0d, Cross-Maghera £9. 13. 0. These takings represent a paying attendance of about 200 people at 1/- a time. But, because of the number of entrances to Quilca field and the fact that people started to arrive about an hour before the game was due to start, there were probably another 70 or 80 people there. They bought a new set of jerseys through Mattie Glennon in Mullagh Co-Op for £16. 11. 0. A new football cost £2. 18. 6d and a pair of football boots could be bought for £2. 6. 0.
Cross Take Junior League
The first taste of victory for Cross came in the 1959 junior league which was not played until the following year in August. A report in The Anglo Celt says: “The game could be considered one of the best exhibitions of football for many a day”. Although Redhills had the upperhand for most of the game, the Cross forwards availed of their chances. There was a great tussle between the Redhills full-back, J. Duggan, and Cross full-forward, Jim Farrelly. Indeed, it was close-in frees in this sector that enabled Cross to increase their winning total. The Anglo Celt report pays special tribute to Ray Carolan for his part in it:-
“For the winners the man of the match was county minor, Ray Carolan, who dominated the centre half-back position. Time and again, his lengthy clearances were a feature in themselves. His anticipation and quick thinking tactics were always a handful for the Redhills forwards”.
Ray Carolan went on to become one of Cavan’s finest footballers in the 1960’s. He carved a place for himself alongside Cavan’s greats. In 1962 he won an Ulster Colleges’ championship (McRory Cup) medal with St Patrick’s College, Cavan and Ulster junior championship medal with Cavan and an Ulster senior championship medal with Cavan, three provincial medals in one year. Altogether Raymond won two McRory cup medals, one Ulster junior championship medal, two Dr. McKenna cup medals, four Ulster senior championship medals, six Railway cup medals and was a replacement All-Star in 1971 and ’72. Although a county star, his loyalty to his club never diminished with inter-county success. He often travelled long distances from county games to help his native club in tournaments.
Mullagh eventually affiliated a junior team in 1960. In the early ‘sixties the team was very weak, with Cross having a much stronger side. There was always great rivalry between the two teams particularly leading up to games. Packie Sheridan remembers a lot of slagging in his house a week before they played each other. He played with Mullagh and his brother, Phil (Sonny), played with Cross. A feature of the team was the amount of poaching of players between clubs in the area in an effort to field a team. Some of the players from the parish, for example, played for Cross, Mullagh and Maghera. An interesting anecdote is told about a league match between Mullagh and Shercock. Phil (Gunner) Brady collected K. McCormick from Maghera in the early hours of the morning. McCormick helped Mullagh to win this match, scoring two goals. The Mullagh panel of the ‘60s was Barney Dalton, Jimmy Reilly, P.J. Daly, Seamus Reilly, Harry Brady, P.F. Brady, Packie Sheridan, Pat McKenna, Eddie Caffrey, Paddy Caffrey, Michael Fitzsimons, Bernard Smith, Noel Reilly, Charlie Clarke, Mick McLoughlin, Joe Lynch and Tommy Reilly.
In 1960 Cross got through to the junior championship final only to lose to Cootehill. They also played Cootehill in the league final which wasn’t played until the following year. The following is a report of that game taken from The Anglo Celt:
“Cross proved themselves something of League specialists when they retained their Cavan Junior League title by scoring a surprise win over Cootehill on Sunday last. By coming out on top by 2-7 to 0-8, the winners reversed the county championship verdict against opponents who are now campaigning in the senior ranks. Cootehill started strongly but found the Cross defence too strong. The most notable performer in this sector was former county full-back, Phil Brady, who returned to the fray in his old position and had a big say in the win. Others to perform well were Vincey Gillic, Richard Doughty, and Sean Smith. Desmond Carolan gave a solid performance at centrefield, while Tommy Fitzsimons, Brendan Smith, Con Clarke, Patsy Hetherton and the Cahills did well in attack. This victory was all the more sweet as Cross was short a number of regulars including county star, Ray Carolan”.
Around this time financing was a problem. At a well attended meeting, it was decided to run a raffle with a heifer as first prize. Tommy Smith had the heifer, which was valued at £35. While the tickets were being sold, each club member was to bring ‘a puck’ (bag) of oats and leave it with Tommy for feeding. On the night of the draw, the heifer was brought to Mullagh and displayed. Tickets to the value of the heifer were sold on the night alone. The raffle was so successful it solved financial problems for many years to come. The winning ticket was bought by Phil Keating (Cross) who was in England at the time. The club gave Tommy £1.0.0. for feeding the heifer as the ‘puck’ of oats scheme was not successful.
Cross’s Greatest Success
The most successful year of all for Cross was 1962, when they won the Cavan junior football championship and also the junior league title which was not played until 1963. The championship final, played against Mountnugent in Breifne Parkon Sunday, November 17th, was a thrilling game.
In it Cross won by the narrowest of margins, Cross 0-9, Mountnugent 1-5. Cross were on top for the first half and at the interval were ahead by one point. After the break Cross lost the initiative and an own goal by the Cross defence left Mountnugent with what looked like an unassailable four point lead. Then the game came to life with some of the best football of the match. With Ray Carolan keeping up a steady supply to his half forwards, the Mountnugent defence were forced to foul. The reliable boot of centre half forward, Tommy Fitzsimons, made them pay the full price.
Cross then moved into the senior ranks in 1963 and, unfortunately, were beaten by Mullahoran in the first round of the championship. Mullahoran went on to win the championship that year. In December of 1963 Cross beat Ballyconnell in the 1962 junior league final. The following is a report of the game which appeared in The Anglo Celt on December 14th:
“Cross winners of the Cavan Junior Football Championship of 1962 completed the double somewhat belatedly when they added the Junior league title at Breffni Park last Sunday. Only a small crowd turned up for the final and they were rewarded by a bright, well mannered game which erupted into a brilliant struggle in the final minutes during which Cross not without the smile of fortune had to fight off an all-out effort by Ballyconnell which all but wiped the slate clean. The losers in fact missed a golden opportunity of levelling matters with the last kick of the game when their place kicker, M. Delaney, failed to get enough height into a fourteen yards free. In the opening half although the exchanges were fairly even Cross made better use of their scoring chances. Cross led by 1-3 to nil at the interval. From the start of the second half a rearranged Ballyconnell side set about its work with vigour and knocked over the first point almost from the throw-in. Scores were not easily come by against the sturdy Cross defence and, starting the final quarter, Ballyconnell had cut the lead to half. Three minutes from the end J. Quinn found his way through the defence for the levelling goal. Cross, however, never panicked and from the kickout launched a sturdy attack, which ended with Con Clarke sticking over the winning point from thirty yards. In the time that was left Ballyconnell played themselves to a standstill, but to no avail”.
These two victories of 1962 were all the more memorable for the fact that they were both achieved in epic finals.
For the next few years, Cross continued in senior ranks, but success was beyond them. In 1965 and again in 1967, they reached the championship semi-finals, but towards the end of the ‘sixties many of the team retired and after a poor performance in 1968, the club decided to revert to the junior grade.
Four Glorious Years
The highlight of the sixties in the parish was undoubtedly the success of its under sixteen and minor teams. The team was formed because of a lack of competitive football for those who had passed the under fourteen stage. Paddy Smyth and Charlie Clarke approached Johnny Smyth to help them start an under sixteen team. It is difficult to believe in the light of present day “youth policies” that organised underage football only began in the county in the 1950’s and did not reach Mullagh parish until the ‘sixties.
The first game was played against Bailieboro on July 11, 1966, on a Monday evening, and this game was something of a flop. It was played in terrible weather conditions and the river overflowed on to the playing area. In fact during the game and eel was caught on the pitch! The score was Bailieboro 6-6, Mullagh 0-2. The two points were scored by Peadar McCabe from long range frees.
After this the team was strengthened by players from Killinkere , Maghera, Virginia and Lurgan, none of whom fielded their own under sixteen teams. Victories followed against Kingscourt and Cootehill which resulted in a semi-final spot against Cavan’s Oliver Plunkets. A last minute point by Mullagh earned them a replay, in which they completely over-ran their opponents with what The Anglo Celt described as a ‘hard hitting’ brand of football and brilliant teamwork. This teamwork was to be a feature of the Mullagh side over the next four years due to the coaching of former county player, Pat Carolan. The final resulted in the Mullagh side winning the first title at the expense of Killeshandra. They played a brand of football “that would be expected from sides in the senior grade”. The year 1967 was a lean year by comparison, for those who had triumphed in 1966. Nevertheless in their first year in minor grade they reached the League final when they were beaten by old rivals Cavan Gaels. The under 16 side was beaten at the semi-final stage of the championship by Belturbet.
The expectations of 1968 were great and were duly justified when the minor side gained revenge over their previous year’s conquerors, Cavan Gales, to win the minor league title. A victory over Bailieboro in the semi-final of the minor championship left Mullagh one step nearer to competing a memorable league/championship double but they were thwarted in the final by their old foes, Cavan Gaels.
In 1969, however, Mullagh gained compensation when they won the minor championship at the expense of Cootehill in the final thus ended four glorious years for both players and supporters. There were many hero’s on the team Paddy Tobin, Tommy Brady, Anthony Brady, Paddy Smith, Kevin Smith, Mickey Mulvany, Martin McGrath from Maghera, Gerard Hopkins, Paul Hopkins, Paddy Reilly, Francie Tynan, P.J.Smith, Peter Soden, Pat McNamee, Pat O’Connell, James Kellett from Virginia, Charlie Roe, Gerry Gillic, Hugh Smith, Emmett Lynch, Tom Duff, Pat Duff, Aidan Stafford, from Killinkere, Peadar McCabe, Martin Lynch, Noel Reilly, Charlie Clarke, Paddy Smyth, Noel Clarke, Martin Gibney, Michael Farrelly, Frank Smyth and Mickey Dunne, Mullagh. Perhaps the real hero’s, however, were those who gave of their time unselfishly to organise a team in what was a very large and difficult area, Johnny Smith, Paddy Carolan, Dan Daly, P.J.McGovern, Hughie Dowd, Aidan Cullen, Noelie Lynch and Bob Tynan.