Tuesday 20 August 2019

Gorey Minors stunned hurling world in 1981

I AM well aware of the mixed response the above photograph will provoke depending on one's allegiance.

Firstly, a direct message to our hurling columnist Tom Dempsey: Tom, it's okay if you want to turn the page, we won't be offended!

And as for Mickey Sheil? I'm guessing that he will have a grin as wide as the Main Street in Gorey when he sees the 15 young men who caused a huge upset to bring the first, and to date only, Minor hurling Premier championship title to Naomh Eanna in 1981.

Mickey and Seán Stafford masterminded an incredible victory over hot favourites Buffers Alley/Ballygarrett whose star-studded line-out included the aforementioned Tom at wing-forward along with Matty Foley (playing in goal), Har Lee, Paul Gahan, John Donohoe, Marney Burke and Fintan O'Leary, all of whom went on to enjoy distinguished Senior careers.

John Kavanagh gave the background to this shock success in a piece written for the Naomh Eanna history book which came out in 1995. 'To say that Gorey were chomping at the bit would be an understatement. This team believed in their ability.

'Was this self-belief well founded? Possibly not. This team had contested the opening round against Buffers Alley and had suffered the ignominy of being trounced by 3-9 to no score,' he recalled.

Yet, it was the heavy nature of this defeat that left the Gorey teens with absolutely no fears when county final day dawned in Bellefield on October 25 as centre-forward Pat 'Louis' Cullen remembered.

'We were hammered by them in Ferns but it was a real roller-coaster ride after that. And funnily enough, because we were beaten by so much we actually didn't fear them at all when we met again on the day that mattered.'

The fact that nobody expected them to win worked in Naomh Eanna's favour and they caused a sensation by taking the title on a 2-7 to 0-8 scoreline. It was one of those very rare occasions during the 1980s when nothing went right for the Alley as the second game on that double-header in Enniscorthy saw them pipped by Faythe Harriers (2-10 to 2-9) after a late '65 ended up in the net.

'Louis' took this nickname to distinguish himself from his first cousin, another Pat Cullen, who was also on the team. And it was laden with talent as a glance at the photograph indicates.

John Grannell, Pat Owley, David 'Bomber' Kennedy, R.J. Blake and John Kenny went on to represent Wexford at Under-21 level, with the former duo also featuring occasionally with the Seniors. And 'Louis' himself, along with R.J., well-known hotelier Brian Brennan and John, the younger of the Owley brothers, went on to represent the county Minors in 1982 when they lost a first round championship game to Dublin in Croke Park.

The goalscoring hero of the final, James 'Swack' Behan, was probably better known as a footballer but was in the right place at the right time as Gorey's tactics paid off. They closed down the Alley's big guns at every opportunity and repeatedly played ground balls into their opponents' danger zone.

However, not enough chances were taken and they only led by three points at half-time when it should have been more. Tom Dempsey narrowed the gap to the minimum on the re-start with a brace of points, but Behan settled his colleagues when he finished a John Grannell delivery to the net.

He repeated the dose four minutes later and effectively sealed a win nobody only the team themselves saw coming with five points to spare.

The one big regret 'Louis' Cullen has is that the club didn't build on this success and, like a lot of town teams, they were unable to deliver on their under-age potential unlike the Alley who bounced back to dominate Senior hurling for the rest of the decade.

The top Minors from the team graduated to a Senior side which included very talented hurlers like Seánie Kinsella, Billy Byrne and Sammy Walker, but their best chance of the breakthrough came and went when they lost a high-scoring semi-final to Faythe Harriers in centenary year (1984) by 6-9 to 4-12. They had chances to win that game and 'Louis' also remembers another clash with the Alley, this time at Senior level, when they matched them until early in the second-half when a glut of goals ruined their hopes.

The vast majority of the 1981 Minors still live in Gorey, although wing-back Willie Murphy sadly passed away at a young age after suffering a heart attack.

R.J. Blake - now in Blackwater after assisting Oulart-The Ballagh at Senior level - was, as 'Louis' agrees, the stand-out player in terms of what he achieved later, although as far as service to the club goes he singles out netminder John Kenny for special mention.

Full-back and captain Martin Walker is a Garda living in Carlow and based in Blessington, while John Grannell now resides in Enniscorthy.

The Naomh Eanna lads had beaten Oulart/Monageer in the county semi-final in St. Patrick's Park and 1981 proved a very busy year for the club on the whole as they also contested the Intermediate and Under-21 football finals but lost both to Rathgarogue-Cushinstown and HWH-Bunclody respectively.

The Minor line-out was: John Kenny; Brian Brennan, Martin Walker (capt.), John Owley; R.J. Blake, Pat Owley, Willie Murphy (R.I.P.); Stevie McLoughlin, John Grannell; James Behan, Pat 'Louis' Cullen, David Kennedy; Pat Cullen, Kevin Murphy, Mick Byrne. Subs. - Jim Walker, Ray Cullen, Willie Bernes, John Doyle, Jimmy Woods, James Kavanagh, Philip Kinch, David Barry.

They will go down in the annals as history-makers for Gorey town.

Do you have an old team photograph with an interesting tale to accompany it? Please e-mail with the details.

Wexford People

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