Matt Cassidy’s journey to some of Ireland’s community clubs continues with a trip to Atticall GAC in County Down.
Surrounded by the magnificent Mourne Mountains Atticall GAC nestles, representing the passionate Gaelic men and women of Atticall, County Down. Founded in 1962, this small community has achieved plenty through hard work and effort, keeping Gaelic games alive in the parish.
I meet the club chairman, Cyril Trainor and club secretary, Siobhan Donnan at the clubhouse which was rebuilt after the original was burnt down in an arson attack in 2001. It is generally accepted that the first organised team was a group of schoolboys, under the guidance of the then Principal of Holy Cross Primary School, Oliver McKibben. McKibben’s intention was to install discipline in the boys and it was this group of players who formed the basis of Atticall GAC’s first football team.
Down’s consecutive All Ireland wins in 1960 and 1961 stoked up enthusiasm for a Gaelic club to be formed in Atticall. The first Committee was set up in 1961 with the aim of founding a club. In August 1962, Atticall GAC came into existence with the first team running out onto the paddock on 24th April 1963.
I am told that there are 178 adult members and 185 juvenile members. Currently there are nine teams competing at football, ranging from the under 6s right up to Senior level. Camogie has seven teams, starting at under 6 through to the Minors. Approximately 30 coaches are involved at all levels.
The club played at numerous fields before moving to Sandy Brae; Maginn’s field, Island Road; Haughian’s bottoms – Grant’s beside St Patrick’s terrace; Big Danny Cunningham’s, Hill Road; Cunningham’s – Fad’s field, Aughrim; The Boley’s, Island Road (Rice’s); Pat Doran’s field, Moyad and Sandy Brae Road all played host to Atticall GAC over the years.
The reason for moving from field to field was due to crop rotation. The club was eventually encouraged to look for a permanent field by Moyad Road man, Bill Quinn, who helped train the first team. Bill was also involved with the Lisnacree team who won a championship in the early 50’s.
The land at Sandy Brae was purchased from Mary Josephine Rooney, whose mother, Lizzie Sloan (Vary) nee Fitzpatrick, originally owned it. The land is better known as Lizzie Vary’s pit. Harry Cunningham was the man who made the deal and who drove the shovel in the sandpit at the time.
Atticall has a proud tradition of producing talent for the county side at various levels in both football and camogie. Brendan Sloan played at right-corner-back for the all-conquering 1968 team which won both the National League and All Ireland. Pat Donnan was in goal for the All Ireland minor success in 1977 and in 1979 brothers,Pat & Peter Donnan, were part of the All Ireland U21 winning team. And in 1999 John Sloan, Louis Sloan and Gary Morgan helped Down to another All Ireland Minor title.
Bonnie McGreevy and Theresa Allen were part of the Down team that claimed All Ireland Junior camogie glory in 1991. Angeline Fearon & Ciara Cunningham were members of the 1998 All-Ireland Intermediate camogie winning team. And 2006 saw four Atticall representatives on the Down All Ireland Minor championship winning team; Carolann Sloan, Clare Quinn, Stephanie O’Hare and Joanne Fitzpatrick.
The club itself has achieved great success on the field. 1971 saw the club go on a run of 23 undefeated matches, winning the Intermediate League, the Cassidy Cup and the McCall Cup. The Men’s Senior team have won the Down Intermediate Championship on three separate occasions; 1997, 2000 and 2004 along with a Junior Championship in 1979.
Camogie has a rich and successful tradition in Atticall. 1978 and 1980 are considered halcyon years for the ladies. Junior Championship and Junior titles were followed up by Intermediate Championship and Intermediate League titles. All the more impressive when one is told that the Camogie club was only founded in 1975. The club’s greatest days were when they captured Senior Championships in 1988 and 1990 along with a Senior B Championship and league double in 1979. Atticall also claimed a Senior Division 2 league title in 2009. It was named ‘Camogie Club of the Year’ for 1979 and 2002.
Great emphasis is placed on underage structures at Atticall GAC. Many titles have been secured in both football and camogie at youth level. At present, the under 14, under 16 and minor football teams are champions of their respective leagues. The under 10s also won the local football blitz. The Camogie Minors are also leading their division. On the 23rd August, Atticall hosted an under 10s nine a side tournament with teams coming from as far as Dublin.
The Scór has provided the club with plenty of honours. Success has been achieved by the céilí dancing team, Cream of the Barley Ballad Group and John Keenan (on the tin whistle) winning C.C.D titles in 1979 and 1981. The marching band was All Ireland champions in 2012 and recently crowned Ulster champions a few weeks ago. To date there are 24 members of Atticall GAC who hold All Ireland medals.
In terms of success, the club sees 1979 as their greatest year. The footballers completed the League and Championship double winning the Down Junior Championship and the All County Division 3 League. The Camogs did the Down Intermediate League & Championship double. And a total of 11 All-Ireland medals and 9 All-Ireland runners-up medals were presented to club members who competed very successfully in the CCD and Scór na nÓg Competitions.
Working with the wider community and offering activities other than just sport is an aspect of which every GAA club is proud and Atticall GAC is no different. Cyril tells me that, in addition to the boot camps for adults, the Cúl camp for the kids during the summer which attracts around ninety children from the surrounding area and the provision of the Clubhouse for birthday parties, pre-wedding dos and funerals, there are the Golden and Youth Clubs.
Atticall Golden Club is a group of Senior Citizens who get together every Thursday for dinner in the Clubhouse. Running since 1995, the Golden Club organises events for the elderly in the locality allowing them to pursue interests such as painting and poetry. Trips to festivals and around the country are also arranged for the members.
The Youth Club was founded two years ago and runs from September to March. It allows for 11-14 year olds who are not particularly enthused by sports to be involved at the football club. DVD nights, exercise classes and bowling nights are amongst some of the activities that are made available. Drugs and Alcohol Awareness Programmes have also been run by the club.
Atticall GAC participates in a cross community scheme with the Presbyterian Church in Kilkeel which enables local youths separated by the religious divide to socialise and enjoy each other’s company.
Fundraising events are held by the club benefitting local organisations such as the Southern Area Hospice and the Pips Programme and charities which work overseas like the Father Hennity Appeal in Rwanda. In the calendar year of 2014, it is estimated that the club has raised over £10,000 for charity.
I ask Cyril what are the aspirations for the future. Off the field he says there is an intention to expand the playing fields at Holy Cross Park with a ball wall court in the pipeline. Currently a walking track is being constructed around one the football fields to give walkers a safe route away from the roads.
On the pitch the short term goal is to maintain their Division 2 football status. Following the emigration of a number of camogie players Atticall was unable to field a Senior side. However, there are hopes that the Senior camogie team can be reinstated with the conveyor belt of talent coming through the youth ranks.
Long term the club is ambitious and believes that promotion to Division 1 and an elusive Down Senior Football Championship can be obtained. With the efforts and determination, shown when they had to rebuild their clubhouse, I am sure that one day Atticall’s colours will adorn the Frank O’Hare Cup.
Before I left Cyril agreed to take on The Club Craic.
Biggest Rival? – Glasdrummond and Ballymartin.
Biggest Joker? -Too many jokers at the club to name.
Superman? – Everyone! It’s a team effort! A club for everyone! No individuals!
A Down Senior Championship or to produce the next intercounty star? – After a slight pause, a Championship he says. The club comes first!
Matt Cassidy, Pundit Arena