As part of their 20th anniversary year, Walsh Island Shamrocks take a nostalgic trip back in time and focus on the first ever soccer team to represent the village of Walsh Island.
While the club in its current guise traces its roots to 1992, the trail was blazed much earlier than that by the original ‘Island Shamrocks’.
In 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon, Woodstock, New York, attracts half a million open minded, rock and roll enthusiasts, AC Milan won the European cup and Shamrock Rovers claimed the FAI Cup.
It was also the year a small rural village in Offaly saw the formation of its very first soccer club, Island Shamrocks. Over the course of its existence from 1969 to 1976 they would go on to gain the respect and admiration of their peers and opponents from across the junior soccer scene in the midlands and beyond.
The founding fathers of this fledgling organisation were Sean Duffy, Patsy Bergin, William Carroll, Frank Williamson and Gustin Kavanagh. It’s important to note that during this period of Irish history the GAA imposed a nationwide ban on its members from participating in ‘foreign sports’. To form a soccer club in a village with such a rich and proud Gaelic football tradition was seen to be quiet the rebellious act indeed.
All committee meetings, where decisions were made affecting the club, were held at 13 Coolagarry, Walsh Island. Having met with initial problems securing a playing area, it was the Whittle family who generously donated a section of their land for the purpose of soccer.
With a pitch secured, each player gave a shilling for the purchase of footballs and equipment. Jerseys were borrowed from McDermott Barracks in the Curragh with the colours on those jerseys being- black and red.
Their first unofficial (challenge) match was against near neighbours Arlington FC and consisted a team of local and army players. The connection of the army players was through Patsy Bergin who was stationed at a barracks in the Curragh and this mix of talent would go on to form a potent and successful junior soccer team.
Training for the season ahead took place in the old school grounds and transport was provided to all away matches by well-known Portarlington man Con Coughlan who more than enjoyed the craic and revelry that ensued.
The club first entered a youth’s team in the midland section of the Leinster Junior League in ’69 and this team would go on to form the spine for their first trophy when they claimed the LJL Division 3 counties title in 1971/72.
The Midland section of the Leinster Junior Shield was also secured in this era and that same season (71/72) they reached the LJL Division 3 cup final where, after a titanic struggle, they were denied the trophy by Tipperary outfit Killavilla Utd.
Having succumbed to a first leg 3-1 away defeat, the shamrocks turned in a brilliant second leg performance to win 3-1 at home and leave the agg. score 4-4. The cup final went to a third match in Kildare town where Killavilla eventually emerged victorious on a score line of 2-0. At the end of that season, as league champions, the club received their trophy and winners plaques at a Leinster Junior League awards night in the Green Isle Hotel, Dublin. At their own awards function, a few weeks later, the Republic of Ireland soccer manager of the day Mick Meagan was on hand, as special guest, to present the cup on a never to be forgotten night in the Montague Hotel, Portlaoise.
The club continued on playing in the LJL until 1976, when work and family commitments of players and committee members eventually led to the cessation of soccer in Walsh Island until their re-emergence in 1992.
In honour of that historic team, when re-forming the club, it was decided to adopt the ‘Shamrocks’ title and the black and red colours that have become so synonymous with the success enjoyed by the present club over the last twenty years. To all those involved in ‘Island Shamrocks’ in those historic heady days, the current crop of Walsh Island Shamrocks salute you.
A full list of players from that era reads as follows - Mick Carroll, William Carroll, Lesley Ellis, Frank Williamson, Patsy Bergin, Tom Bradley, Murt Duhig, John and Gustin Kavanagh, Sean Duffy, Michael McCann, JJ Coy,Wilfie Cronin, Finbar O’Reilly, Jack Connolly, Frank Kelly, Colm Shields, John Anderson, John Cunneen, Willie Pierce, Noel Mahon, Murt O’Brien, Mick Slattery and Willie Bryan.