Our Sporting History Part One

Our Sporting History Part One

Right from the start sport played a major role in the life of St. Aidan’s. “Mens sana in corpore sano “ and all that. With Brother Walsh coming from Kilkenny and Brother Coffey hailing from Westmeath it was no wonder that hurling briefly became the top ranked sport in the school. Brother Clarke had played a game slightly resembling hurling in Roscommon. Perhaps that was why he turned his attention to athletics and cross country running. The first trophy won by the school was the Dublin Under 15 B Hurling Championship in 1967. The footballers first tasted success with victory in the Under 15 Dublin and Leinster Championships in 1969. This team was captained by one Tommy Drumm. A few years later he led the School’s Under 19 team to victory in the Dublin Senior Schools’ final. Several years later, in 1983, he captained the Dubs to All Ireland senior glory in a game of dour attrition . Never had we seen so foul and fair a day. Noah’s Ark weather. Three Dubs sent off. No yellow cards but a lot of black and blue. But the 12 Apostles hung on for victory. The Jacks were back. And the sun went down on Galway Bay.

Meanwhile, Brother Clarke turned his attention to athletics and made it his mission (a bit like Alex Ferguson) to knock St. Malachy’s, Belfast “off their f***ing perch“. Malachy’s had ruled the roost in schools’ cross country for many years. He finally achieved his ambition in 1974 with a team led by Michael Byrne who would go on to become one of the most successful coaches in the cut-throat world of American Collegiate athletics. The team also contained a lad called Peter Jones who a year later won the Texaco All Ireland Senior Art Competition. That team also contained boys like the Greene twins who, like Byrne and Philip Campbell, would obtain athletics scholarships to the USA. In an era when jobs were scarce in perpetually recession plagued Ireland and entry into Irish third level colleges was very difficult, these scholarships were a Godsend and Br. Clarke deserves great credit for the success of his young charges in this respect. His team won a second Senior All Ireland cross country title the following year on the stony grey soil of Monaghan.

Later that year a young man named Rory Kinsella arrived as a P.E. teacher in the school. A member of the Wexford hurling team himself, Rory proceeded to build on the success already established. He and Brother Coffey had Dublin and Leinster hurling title success with their Under 14 and Under 16 teams in 1976. A year later they won the same titles with their Under 17 team. The era 1978-81 brought huge success for the footballers, winning the All Ireland Under 15 title as well as Dublin and Leinster titles at Under 14, 15 and 16 levels. Among the stars of these teams were Paul Clarke and the Crowley brothers, Micheál and Conor who would go on to win Minor and / or Senior All Ireland football titles with Dublin. The Crowley’s father, Jim, had played on the Dublin Senior team that had won the All Ireland in 1958. Many of these lads played other sports as well: Paul Clarke was a North Leinster 800m champion. Eamonn Tierney, for example, played football for the school but would also go on to become an International athlete, winning the Glasgow marathon in 1987 in 2:16.

Indeed, there was significant detente between all sports in the school but then an unfortunate incident occurred just once that, sadly, gave the impression that if you didn’t play for the Gaelic team when selected you could be expelled. A young genius footballer, Liam Brady, was quite happily playing Gaelic for Whitehall Colmcille’s and St. Aidan’s while at the same time playing soccer for St. Kevin’s and Ireland under age teams. He had already come to the attention of the very top clubs in England and had been appointed captain of the Ireland youths’ team. One Saturday, he elected to play for his country rather than in an insignificant challenge match for his school. And, as the Bard said, therein lies a tale. Several other lads did the same thing and they all got suspended. Parents and sons came up to the school, expressed remorse (real or feigned) and got immediate absolution. But Brady was high profile and the tabloids got hold of the story. “Football prodigy expelled for playing soccer in GAA school” screamed the headlines. Never let the truth spoil a good story. Liam did his Inter. Cert. (having got individual tuition from several teachers in the school) and headed for the Marble Halls of Highbury. He was 16 and Arsenal gave him a professional contract. Never looked back - in anger or any other way. Thirty four years later, Liam graciously accepted an invitation to come back to the School as Guest of Honour at the annual Awards Night. A guard of honour, formed from the students, lined up wearing the colours (home and away) of all the clubs Liam had played for. When he walked into the Hall, the assembled crowd spontaneously rose to its feet and gave him a rousing reception and rapturous applause. Towards the end of the ceremony, Liam took the microphone and proceeded to pay tribute to the school, to the teachers who had taught him and to all the happy memories he still had of his time in St. Aidan’s. Ask any young student in the school who is its most famous past pupil and nine out of ten will say “Liam / Chippy Brady “.


The Seventies were a grim time in Ireland. After the Yom Kippur war, Saudi Arabia decided to use its oil as a weapon and cut off the supply to the West down to a trickle. This led to electricity black outs and petrol shortages. Students coming to Aidan’s could see a queue of cars stretching from Whitehall Church to McCairn’s Motors (now the site of the Omni) and another queue inching its way from the Whitehall Grand cinema ( now the Bingo Hall) all the way to Kitty Kiernan’s pub . All hoping to get a gallon or two of the suddenly precious liquid which, as well as being scarce, was also increasing exponentially in price. But sport in the School continued to thrive. A Laois county senior player, Andy Shortall, replaced Rory Kinsella who had returned to his beloved Wexford. The Under 14 football team won the All Ireland in 1987. The senior hurlers won the Dublin C’ship. with one Mark Kinsella starring for them.

When the second Irish civil war broke out in Saipan in 2002 (involving a Cork man and a man who wasn’t born in Ireland - sound familiar?) it was the same Mark Kinsella who stepped into the breach in the Irish midfield and anchored the team to a place in the last 16. In the 1980s Brother Walsh and Andy Shortall had the immense satisfaction of seeing two of their protégés return to the School with two All-Ireland trophies: Tommy Drumm with Sam and Paul Clarke with the Minor Cup. Paul would also go on to win a senior All Ireland with the Dubs. In 1995. David Synnott was another fine footballer who won Leinster Senior medals with the Dubs. Paddy Christie went on to captain the Dublin Senior team and continues to do extraordinary work with Ballymun Kickhams, work which has also had very positive effects on the social life of the area and has brought marvellous benefits to the young people of a revitalised Ballymun. In recent years, further success has been garnered by school teams under the coaching expertise of Michael McCafferty, Ollie Deneher, Dave Lowry and John Moore.

But other sports were thriving too. In the very early 70s a young, brave, flame haired girl came to the testosterone charged atmosphere of the school (only two female teachers on the staff then) and introduced the game of basketball. An Irish Senior International herself, Ms. Anne O’Driscoll (for it was she) soon moulded the Aidan’s lads into winning combinations despite having to overcome some prejudice among die hard traditionalists who considered basketball to be a bit effete. Indeed, it was dismissed as “tippy tappy” by the sort of men who, in the words of Paidí O’Shea, loved “great schelpin’ “out on a football pitch. The kind of men who, on seeing a young hurler’s head bleeding profusely, simply commented “Be God young fella, you’ve the makings of a great schab there “. (A true story involving a Wexford player as recounted by Rory Kinsella!) By a stroke of luck basketball was becoming increasingly popular in Ireland at the time. An influx of African-American players brought an aura of glamour to the sport. Pine tree tall. Ultra-cool dudes .Gum chewin’, Trash talkin’ , Delta drawl. RTE saw the potential and began showing Irish club matches. All of this contributed to the growing acceptance and popularity of the sport. The establishment of Tolka Rovers Basketball club in the early 80s also gave a great boost to the sport in the school. Ms.O’Driscoll , later assisted by Pat Hastings (poached from table tennis), started winning titles and this ensured that the game prospered in the school . It was also probably responsible for an epidemic of white socks among the students. On an occasion, while supervising 200 students doing their Summer exams. in the Hall, a bored teacher did an inspection survey and discovered that only one boy was NOT wearing white socks. Incidentally, Ms. O’Driscoll is the only person on record to have scalped or even decapitated a school minibus. But a veil of silence has been drawn over that incident.

The basketball teams boasted of several students who were extremely talented in many other spheres. Rory McDyer (R.I.P.) branched into producing musicals and became the director of the renowned Whitehall Church Choir. The Gray family gave the school a number of talented players, none more so than Ciarán who specialised in drama and creative dance. One of the finest basketball players was Dermot Murray, tall , strong and intelligent. He represented Ireland at Youth level but was possibly more interested in Chess and became the Irish Under 16 Chess champion. The basketball players were also considered (even by their coaches) to be the greatest poseurs and shapers in the school and many rejoiced in exotic nicknames: Jaffa Fringe-Fake, Nuts Nulty, Rave Quinn, Stars and Stripes, Plug, Tomato Cheese and Mustard (TCM), Fish, Artful Dodger, Macho Vaughan, and many more. The coaching staff was boosted by the arrival of P.J. Hennery, who had the distinct advantage of being able to speak eye to eye with those young sky scrapers. In more recent times Ms. Cathy Peoples has carried on the basketball tradition with enormous success. Meanwhile, the athletes, especially the cross-country runners, continued to win All Ireland titles for fun.

Sadly, Brother Clarke passed away in January 1984 but Peter McDermott continued his tradition. A feature of the sport was the First- and Second-Year League. This was held every second Friday and created huge interest and rivalry between the different Forms. It frequently even attracted a young female audience. But we discovered that they weren’t all that interested in running but rather in handsome young lads such as Jason Barry who would go on to become a Hollywood star, featuring in “Titanic “and “Love Hate”. Mr. Seán O’Connell brought a big box of apples to each of these races and gave 2 or 3 apples to every boy who ran. An Intermediate All Ireland title was won in 1982, (captained by Kieron Tumbketon) followed by a third Senior All Ireland in ‘85, captained by Declan Nolan. Another Junior title was won in 1988, followed by two Intermediate titles in ‘89 and ‘90. The staff loved to support these teams, gleefully announcing that they were going away for “a dirty weekend “. Dirty indeed - up to their ankles in mud on morass like courses in freezing weather all over the country. These teams were so successful that they lost count of the number of North Leinster and Leinster titles they won. The contribution of the local athletics clubs, Greenfields and especially Clonliffe Harriers A.C., must be acknowledged in the development of these individuals and teams. Many of these young runners took the age old advice “ Go West Young Man , go West “ by taking up athletics scholarships in the USA . As a result, pronounced Northside Dublin accents can still be heard all across that vast land “from the mountains to the prairies to the ocean white with foam”. In more recent times, of course, Alan O’Neill has raised the bar even higher, his teams winning Senior All Ireland cross country titles in 2008,2009, 2015 and 2016. The victory in 2009 was especially memorable as it was won in Loughrea on the muddiest course in living memory. Running shoes came unstuck and still lie mouldering away in the soil of Galway. A part of Galway that will be forever Whitehall. The victory in 2015 will also linger long in the memory for two reasons. First, it was achieved by the narrowest of margins - a single point. Second, it was held in the vast, lush campus of Clongowes College. Our lads took one look at the castle and stately pile and exclaimed “It’s like something out of bleedin’ Harry Potter.” The setting might have exuded a sense of privilege and entitlement but the Aidan’s boys were not daunted and, with a brilliant, battling last lap by Joey Hession, they overcame their tough rivals from St. Flannan’s in Ennis. Brilliant individual athletes also hoovered up All Ireland titles: Brian Dunne, Conor Keegan (also a fine footballer and hurler), Shane Dowler, Andy Kennedy, Gareth Williams, Derek Waters and the peerless Niall Bruton all won National titles in the 80s and 90s while Luke Sweetman, Ian Guiden, Mark McDonald, Eoghan McDonnell and Cathal Doyle took All Ireland honours in more recent times. Bruton, of course, went on to be a world class athlete winning the World Student Games, several American NCAA titles, two Wannamaker Mile titles as well as four Irish National Senior titles. He also finished fourth in the World Indoor Championships and reached the semi-finals of the Olympic Games .

Bruton, however, was not the only Aidan’s alumnus to become an Olympian. A number of students, as members of various sports’ clubs, attained the highest honour in their respective disciplines. John (Kippers) McQuaid, represented Ireland in cycling in Seoul ‘88 while Owen Casey has the remarkable distinction of representing Ireland four times in the Olympics in the sport of tennis. The Riversdale Tennis Club produced several other fine players, including Owens’s brother Paul Casey, Eamonn Mee and Gerard Byrne, all of whom won Leinster Schools’ titles for St. Aidan’s. It has been a rather strange characteristic of sport in the school that we have had huge success in a number of sports which are not practised because we have no facilities for them. A case in point would be water polo. Apart from a few puddles on the Gaelic pitch (supervised by a flock of Brent geese) the school does not have anything remotely resembling a swimming pool. But a trivial detail like that would not stop the irrepressible Alan O’Neill. On learning that a number of students were members of water polo clubs, he entered them as a St.Aidan’s team in various competitions eventually going all the way to winning a Senior All Ireland title . Rumour has it that the defending champions, a school from Belfast, were reluctant to part with the trophy and the Aidan’s boys had to break for the border.

Golf was also popular among the lads and, again, school teams under the direction of Michael Dundon, had several successes. Of course, all the time there was another sport bubbling underneath the surface: the sport that Dared not Utter its Name. Referred to only as “Ground Football”, it bore an uncanny resemblance to what ordinary people simply called football and which Americans sacrilegiously call “soccer “. With two of Europe’s finest nurseries, St. Kevin’s Boys F.C. and Home Farm within a stone’s throw, it was no wonder that many Aidan’s lads played this “foreign game”. It was the Age of the Ban, Rule 27 and all that. But, like so many rules in Ireland, it was honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Generations of boys from the School played for Whitehall Rangers, Whitehall Celtic, Lorcan Celtic, Belvedere F.C., Tolka Rovers and Elm Mount / Beaumont F.C. Liam Brady’s stellar career is well documented, first with Arsenal, then Sampdoria, Inter/Milan, Ascoli Glasgow Celtic and West Ham. He made his International debut for Ireland at the age of 17 in the crushing defeat of the U.S.S.R 3-0 in Dalymount in 1974. Incidentally, Liam has very generously sponsored match day shirts and training gear for the School’s soccer team in recent years. Other Aidan’s boys found fame -if not fortune -with League of Ireland clubs. John Archbiold had a very successful career with Dundalk, winning FAI Cup and LoI titles. John also has the distinction of being the only man to score direct from a corner in an FAI Cup final. “Trapper” Treacy was a highly rated midfield general with first Bohemians and then St. Pat’s. He was also capped for the Irish Olympic football team. Mark Kinsella had a long and successful Premiership career with Charlton Athletic and, as mentioned already, starred in Ireland’s fine World Cup campaign in 2002. In 1985, Tommy Broughan (assisted by Kevin Slattery) founded the school’s first soccer team. A year later they tasted success for the first time with their Under 13 team winning the Leinster Plate. Three years later the Under 13 tam won the Leinster Cup. In 1990, the Senior team went all the way to the Leinster Schools’ final. Despite utterly dominating the game (played in the soon to be demolished Tolka Park) and outplaying their opponents they were held to a draw. And then, to rub salt in their wounds, they lost the replay 0-1. Tommy Broughan left the school shortly after when he was elected to Dáil Éireann . That must have been very satisfying for Mr. Broughan - but surely it couldn’t compare with walking down the touch line in Tolka Park with 500 Aidan’s lads chanting “Tommy, Tommy, give us a wave”? The Lynch brothers, Aidan and Damian, had sterling football (and academic) careers. Aidan captained the Irish team (managed by Brian Kerr) that reached the semi-finals of the Under 18 World Cup. Damien won an F.A Cup winner’s medal with Leeds United. Both brothers had very successful careers later on with various League of Ireland clubs including Bohemians and Drogheda. Incidentally, Aidan came back to the school as a Maths. and Economics teacher and later became the Principal in Greenhills Community School.

But sport played other roles in the School too apart from the competitive inter school’s variety. At a dark, grim period in Irish history the athletes did their bit to foster good North - South relations. In the early 80s we invited a team from RBAI (Royal Belfast Academical Institute) to come South and participate in a relay challenge. Eight members on each team. Each athlete running a lap of the field before handing over to a teammate. The Principal, Brother Redican, allowed school to finish early that afternoon. The entire body of students plus the staff encamped all around the field and gave vent to their raucous lungs. It must have been a daunting sight for our visitors! Cheered on by staff and students, the Aidan’s team duly produced the desired result, coming home well clear of their visitors. But the latter were then treated with great hospitality. A slap-up feed was offered in the Hall, catering by the wonderful Majella Ladies’Club. Mr. Seán O’Connell, who never missed a race of any kind in the school, supplied boxes of fruit, sweets and chocolates. The Northern connection was also cemented by our wonderful friendship (and rivalry!) with St. Malachy’s, Belfast. In 1991, they very kindly paid for hotel accommodation in Belfast for our entire Intermediate Cross-Country team which was going for three in a row of All Ireland titles. Unfortunately, the next day the Aidan’s boys lost out by a single point to The North Mon. from Cork. But the kindness and generosity of St. Malachy’s lived on for a long time in the minds of the Aidan’s lads. The friendships forged on the invariably icy playing fields of Mallusk lasted for lifetimes. So, perhaps there was a certain fateful appropriateness about the fact that one of the principal architects of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, was one Bertie Ahern who had ran cross country for Brother Clarke’s early School teams back in the 70s.

Another feature of sport in the school was the annual School Sports. Organised chaos! It was initiated by Mr. Seán O’Riordan , the peerless Maths. and Physics teacher and developed further by Peter McDermott. A track was laid out by Br. Coffey. Impeccably straight whitewashed lines and two perfect semi- circular bends gave the field the appearance of an Olympic stadium. The usual athletic events ensued but much greater fun was to be had either participating or watching the novelty events. Egg and spoon, wheel barrow, slow bicycle, sack and three-legged races all gave rise to an afternoon of hilarious fun. A tug’o’war between staff and students usually disintegrated into bedlam with 6 (or was it 12?) teachers valiantly and vainly pulling against about fifty students (and a dog). A teachers’ Mile, a penalty taking competition (with an unfortunate teacher in goal), and a puc fada were all on the programme. A proper 4 X 400 Relay against other schools (Árd Scoil, Belvedere, St. David’s, Beneavin and Ballymun Comp.) led to intense competition and fevered excitement among the spectators. A mixed hurling / camogie match against the Maryfield girls also attracted huge interest with the “young wans” well able to hold their own. Indeed, those girls were not averse to “letting down the blade” and the lads had the bruises to prove this the next day. Sport was always important to the staff also and, for a spell in the 70s, lunchtimes were given over to frenetic badminton matches played with more energy than skill. Teachers came back to their classes (beagáinín déanach) lathered in sweat. And Thursday nights in Winter saw several teachers return to the Hall to play games of basketball which resembled a cross between GAA and Aussie rules. But some staff members were not so enthusiastic about sport. One teacher hated supervising PE so much that he devised a brilliant system of referring football matches without ever leaving the comfort of his car. It rivalled Morse Code for ingenuity. A honk on the horn indicated a free. Flashing the lights meant a 50. Wipers going like the clappers was a sideline ball. Hazard lights were a warning for dirty play. Three vigorous (and relieved) blasts on the horn told the players that time was up. Ingenious or wha’?

Another aspect of non-too serious sport in the School was the annual May match between Teachers and Sixth Years before the latter graduated. Every second year it was soccer or Gaelic football. A certain imperious teacher stood in the centre of the field (looking resplendent in his leather jacket and wellingtons) and never moved an inch. From this position he still always managed to engineer a win for the teachers, always giving them a penalty or three. One year some genius got the bright idea that a rugby match would be fun. If carnage is your idea of fun, then it was hilarious. Several teachers tore tendons, strained hamstrings, sustained contusions and one unfortunate man ended up in hospital. A rugby ball hasn’t even been seen in Aidan’s ever since.

Sport continues to thrive in the school. Indeed, one could say it has become a centre of sporting excellence. With a huge new gym and an Astro turf pitch, it is now the envy of most schools for its state-of-the-art facilities. Indeed, it has been used by a number of inter- county teams, including All Ireland hurling champions Limerick, for their final preparations before proceeding down to Croke Park. Sport has always been, and continues to be, an integral part of life in the School and has contributed enormously to the health and social life of both students and staff.

Our Sporting History Part OneOur Sporting History Part One
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05-Jun-2024
Tuesday's visit from some 6th class students from our local primary schools who visited us for a little tour. Here they are chatting to their Year Head, Ms Thompson with some teachers and SNAs.
15-May-2024
Heartiest congratulations to our boys that competed in the World Schools Cross Country Finals in front of Kenyan President, William Ruto, on May 12th.
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