Football – The Thirties
A Fresh Start
The collapse of the Knockloughrim Erin’s Own in 1928 had coincided with a general collapse in the game in South Derry, but by 1932 a Gaelic revival in the area was in evidence. The commonly referred to “hungry thirties” provided little encouragement towards the organisation or running of a team – most people were more concerned about earning a living than devoting time and attention to the business of a football club. On the other hand it could be said that such affairs provided a sense of comradeship and comfort amongst its members through difficult times. Regardless of the conditions, Mick Crilly decided in 1933 that the Erin’s Own Club should be revived, and with the assistance of an enthusiastic committee he duly succeeded in this task. The committee members were: Chairman – Rev. Fr McNally, C.C. Lavey; Vice Chairman – Anthony McGurk; Secretary – James McGurk; Treasurer – Mick Crilly, Dan McCrystal; Johnny Dorrity, Joe O’Neill, Frank Diamond, John Convery (Rory), Robert Crilly, Dan Cushley, Mick Crilly who regrettably has long since passed on, was a popular and much respected personality within the parish who possessed great qualities of leadership. His sincerity towards the club was never better highlighted when on one occasion he sold two calves to cover club expenses. Not that such a gesture was unheard of during those lean years – Mick McGlade normally paid for the team’s transport, while Paddy Henry, still very much to the fore, has been known on more than one occasion to lend the club substantial amounts of money in times of need. With such spirit in its ranks the future of Erin’s Own, Lavey was assured. It was decided that the re-organised club should be known as Lavey Erin’s Own, which was understandable when we consider that Knockloughrim was merely a small townland within the parish. There was also a change of playing field – John McGuckin’s field in Gulladuff – (often referred to as “The Sportsfield”) was the new venue for home fixtures. The very first game was indeed a home fixture with Desertmartin providing the Opposition. It was a memorable occasion with both teams parading to the field led by Paddy Bradley and Joe O’Neill on the bagpipes. The Lavey team, spotting those same .Kerry’ jerseys of four years ago included the following players. Paddy Magill; Mickey Magill; Paddy Brennan; Dan Kane; Jimmy Kane; Joe Heaney; Dan Cushley (Capt.); Hugh F. McGurk; Tommy Hickson; John Glackin; Jim Convery (Rory); Hugh A McGurk; Paddy McGahey; John Convery.
Once again Erin’s Own failed to make it a winning start, but they made amends in their next outing with an 11 points to 7 points victory against the Loup.
Fine Goalkeeping Tradition
During the thirties Erin’s Own boasted a fine Goalkeeping tradition – the club was constantly responsible for supplying the County goalie for many years. Some oft he men who gave faithful service between the sticks to club and county were Joe Burke, Paddy McGahey and J. Devlin, but one custodian, Paddy Magill, deserves a special word of mention. Robert Crilly can still recall some of Magill’s most inspired performances. Not least was a league game at Ballinascreen when Paddy was often exposed to the considerable might and power of the Screen attack. Point blank shots were driven at him from all angles but he refused to be beaten, and when in the closing stages the Screen were awarded a penalty Paddy again saved acrobatically to maintain a clean sheet. For some unknown reason the County selectors constantly overlooked Magill, but when the Ballinascreen members of the county team refused to play in protest, he was immediately installed. Paddy proceeded to turn in vintage performances for his county – Robert Crilly recalls a significant remark’ made by a Down player after they had been decisively beaten by Derry – “Switch the goalkeepers”, he said, “and we’ll play you again.”
Lavey had to wait until 1936 to collect their first trophy – the Dean McGlinchey Cup which was played that year on a single league basis. The Erin’s Own team won the league outright, defeating all eight teams en route – Newbridge and Ballinderry. two of the top teams having previously been suspended. REV. M. BRADLEY P.P. presented the cup at a victory ceili in Lavey to the team captain Dan Costello. However, despite this success the County Championship, the most coveted prize in the local game had eluded Lavey in favour of more experienced contenders such as Ballinderry, Newbridge and Ballinascreen. Hugh A. McGurk swears to this day that Lavey were given a raw deal in the 1936 Championship, when, after scoring a narrow 8 points to 7 points victory over the Loup, the referee reversed the scores and awarded the match to the home team, who proceeded to win the championship for the only time in their history. Indeed so vehement were the protests of Hugh A., Mick Crilly and others towards the referee that day, that a number of officials and players, including some members of the club committee received a lengthy suspension. This untimely setback resulted in enforced replacements within the committee and Robert Crilly, Mick’s brother, who was a dedicated worker behind the scenes, ascended to club chairman while Liam McGurk became one of the youngest club secretaries on record.
With each passing year the Erin’s Own team was growing in confidence and stature and by 1937 they were proving more than a match for any team in the county. After a successful championship run they found themselves in their first County Final – confronted with the tradition and experience of Newbridge. Played in Dr. Higgins field in Magherafelt before a huge crowd, Lavey emerged victorious by 8 points to 7 points after a titanic struggle. The Erin’s Own had made that eagerly awaited breakthrough – they had won the championship. Or had they? A glance at the record books reveal that Newbridge were the 1937 champions, and the inscription on the Championship trophy bears this out. The fact of the matter is that after a protest Newbridge were awarded the honours under the foreign games rule – allegedly a member of the Lavey team was spotted watching a soccer match. So the ecstasy of achieving a first championship success was turned into utter disappointment and disbelief.
Disappointed they may have been in 1937, but very determined to make amends the following year. This time the competition was operated on a different basis with north and south Derry playing their own separate championship and the winners proceeding to join the Derry City representatives in the quest for eventual honours. Lavey became South Derry champions having once again accounted for rivals Newbridge in the final. Their opponents in what was the County semi-final were north Derry champions – Limavady. The latter team, powered by the legendary Harry Owens, who had captained Derry many times as well as being chosen for Ulster, were the North Derry champions. Whilst Limavady had served notice by accounting for a strong Glenullin side in the Northern final, they proved no match for a more experienced Erin’s Own outfit who proceeded to a County Final meeting with Pearses at Dungiven. Once again a prominent and famous name cropped up among the opposition ranks – that of Sean Dolan. Despite their valiant efforts the city team were no match for the strong Lavey combination and finished on the wrong end of a 1 3 points to 3 points scoreline. For the Erin’s Owns it was ample consolation for the disappointment of the previous year. They had eventually achieved that coveted championship success and no one could deny it to them. The players on that historic making team were: Joey Burke, Johnny McKenna, Fr. Tony McGurk, John Glackin, John Convery (Rory), Harry McNamee, John Francis O’Neill, John L. Fay, Jimmy McGurk, Eamon Diamond, Matt Convery, Hugh F McGurk, Joe O’Neill, Dr. H. McGurk, Hugh A. McGurk.
1939 witnessed a decline in the fortunes of the Erin’s Own team for various reasons – the chief one being that subsequent to the formation of neighbouring clubs such as Bellaghy Greenlough and Lisnamuck about this Period, the players from these areas returned to play for their own newly formed teams. This involved such key players as Joey Burke, Harry McNamee. Matt Convery, Johnny (Peter) McKenna, John Glackin, John Francis O’Neill and Hugh McGoldrick.
Whilst being a setback to the Lavey team, it was generally appreciated that this was a positive development towards the growth of the game in the area. Dr. McGurk, another stalwart in the championship winning team went off to teach in St. Columb’s college and was no longer available. The loss of so many players had a devastating effect upon the team and one, which would surely take years to overcome. That Lavey should complete a championship double within five years represents a remarkable recovery and a fitting tribute to the foresight and planning of one of the most prominent figures in the history of the club – John L. Fay, who was to play a leading role in the fortunes of both Lavey and Derry football in the years ahead.