TIme moves on, but history often repeates itself. That will be the case this weekend when Portlaoise take on Ballymun Kickhams in the Leinster Club SFC final on Sunday, 30 years after they lest met at this stage.
For Portlaoise, it is a happy memory, as they became the first club in the province to win three Leinster titles, while it was also the success which helped to launch them to their, so far, only All-Ireland club title.
The build up to this weekend’s game mirrors much of what went on before the final in 1982, with a high-flying Ballymun Kickhams side having progressed to a provincial final with a young and exciting team.
Ballymun had built their success at that time on a promising minor team which had won a Dublin championship in 1977. There was a steady improvement in their adult team’s fortunes over the following years as those players came through the ranks. In 1978 they won the intermediate league, and followed that up with winning the intermediate championship in 1979.
After a year finding their feet in the senior championship, they then qualified for a final in 1981 before winning their first ever championship in 1982. It was a golden era for the club, who won senior league titles in 83, 84, 87 and 88, as well as second championship in 1985, but they had been starved of success by comparison in recent years.
That was until they brought another promising team through, winning back to back U-21 titles in 2007 and 2008, and those teams now provide the bulk of the exciting young squad at Paul Curran’s disposal.
Portlaoise, for their part, were in much the same position then as they are now. They were a seasoned team in the Leinster championship, having lost the final to Raheens the year before and also to Walsh Island in 79, while winning their second title back in 1976.
They beat Wexford champions Bunclody in the first round, 0-12 to 1-5, in a match played in Portarlington, before thrashing St Mary’s of Longford 2-18 to 1-2 in the quarter-final. That sent them into a semi-final against Sarsfields of Kildare, where 1-2 from Tom Prendergast and 0-3 apiece from Noel Prendergast and Gerry Browne set up another Leinster final appearance.
Despite Portlaoise’s experience at club level, Ballymun were still favourites in the eyes of some people, as they featured some of the star players on the Dublin team of that time. Barney Rock as the main man for them, lining out at full-forward and leading their attack. Beside him was John Kearns, recently back from America while Gerry Harnan, the Ballymun full-back, was also a seasoned intercounty footballer. All three would play their part in the All-Ireland success of Dublin a year later in 1983 in the infamous ‘Game of Shame’ against Galway, with Barney Rock earning an All-Star the same year.
Portlaoise were in the unusual position at the time of having a player-manager, with wing-back Colm Browne juggling the responsibilty of playing wing-half back and getting the team ready for the big day. As he looks back now, he admits it’s not something he would readily recommend to anyone. “It was difficult, you had to jobs to think of, but it was something I felt I had to do at the time to give us a slightly different approach. I thought I had something to offer, but it’s not something I would recommend to everyone.”
If playing and managing wasn’t a difficult enough task, there was the crazy GAA schedule to factor in as well. At the time, the National League’s took place throughout the winter, and alternated with the club championships. If there was a round of the club football championship one weekend, the National hurling league would take place that weekend too, and then the following weekend it would be club hurling and National League football. Fine in theory, unless you were a duel player, of which Portlaoise had many.
They had won the hurling championship in 1982 as well, and progressed to the provincial semi-final, while on the weekend’s of the club football games, John Bohane and Pat Critchley, both hurling with Laois, would be lining out twice.
The week before the Leinster final, Laois played Donegal in the NFL, and Colm Browne started the game, along with Portlaoise team mates Eamon Whelan, Gerry Browne and Tom Prendergast, while Portlaoise captain Liam Scully came in as a sub. A nervy affair for the manager no doubt, but the reckless nature of the fixture schedule was highlighted even more on the day of the Leinster final.
The game was played on November 30 in Dr Cullen Park, Carlow, with the ball thrown in at 1.15pm. John Bohane started at corner-back for Portlaoise, while Pat Critchley was introduced early on for Billy Bohane, who was struggling with a knee injury. Both played key roles in securing the Leinster title for the club, and just about had time to pose for the team photograph afterwards.
They hadn’t long though, because at 3pm at the same venue, they lined out for Laois in an NHL game against Carlow, Bohane at full-back and Critchley at wing-forward, just minutes after helping Portlaoise to victory.
It was madness, but that was the system at the time, and both even played a hurling league game for Laois against Antrim the week before the All-Ireland club final. Luckily, Laois got a couple of early goals and manager Georgie Leahy took them off at half time to let them rest up for the game.
There’s not a chance that system would be allowed take place today, but as Colm Browne pointed out, it wasn’t that big an issue at the time, as players were getting matches and it was helping them to keep their eye in.
The final itself was a cagey affair in the opening stages, as Portlaoise lead 0-3 to 0-2 at half time, before picking up the pace at the start of the second half and leaving Ballymun in their wake. They took a 1-7 to 0-2 lead at one point and held the Dublin champions scoreless from play over the course of the hour. Time has moved on for that Portlaoise team, but the current squad will be more than happy for history to repeat itself this Sunday.