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Football – The Forties

Master Fay realised that the only way to compensate for the heavy drain of players was to breed fresh blood within the parish, so he set about achieving this goal by organising a parish league. The parish league consisted of five teams namely Gulladuff, Ballymapeake;, Drumard, Rocktown and Broagh. With the established players being evenly distributed among all five teams. Perhaps some of the football was not of the highest calibre during the early stages but there was certainly no shortage of thrills. Indeed the matches aroused a tremendous amount of interest and enthusiasm for the game throughout the parish. Each team acquired a field and erected goalposts and on the evening of a game hundreds of eager spectators flocked to support their favourites. Master Fay decided not to play himself but instead to referee all of the matches which, considering the intense local rivalry was a wise move. He still vividly recalls one hilarious incident during a Broagh v Gulladuff encounter in Hugh McCann’s field, when a blistering shot skimmed the bar and sparked off some considerable argument as to whether the ball had actually passed above or beneath the bar. Having silenced the contradictory protests Master Fay then questioned the umpire, Hugh McCann, as to whether he should award a goal or a point – to which Hugh, fully realising the consequences of his decision, replied in typical non committal fashion:- “Well Master, it was a goal, for 1 distinctly saw the ball go over the bar.”

The parish leagues continued for two or three years by which time they had accomplished the purpose of their invention. A new band of players capable of staking a place on the senior team, had been unearthed – names such as Paddy Devlin, Paddy Dougan, Danny Shaw, Barney Dougan, Patsy Duffy, the Hurleys and most notable of all Jack Convery who was later to rise to county and inter-provincial fame.

A Unique Double:

Master Fay had an acute tactical sense and clever football brain, as was later demonstrated in 1947 when he guided the Derry team to a National League success – their only ever national title. By 1943 that same football brain had moulded the Erin’s Own team into a strong forceful unit, once again capable of mastering any team in the county – which is exactly what they did that year including old rivals Newbridge in the South Derry final – albeit by a slender margin. The game was hard fought and very exciting despite the remarkable absence of scores – only three were recorded over the hour. Constant heavy rain had left the Magherafelt pitch dotted with pools of water, through which the players dashed and played with seemingly gay abandon. Lavey registered the only score of the first half with a goal from Joe Hurley, but the Bridge replied after the interval with two pointed frees by John Murphy. Both goals had some narrow escapes, but no further scores resulted before referee James Malone (Loup) blew the final whistle to end perhaps the lowest scoring final on record. Faughanvale were the surprise North Derry Champions, but in the county final at Magherafelt they had no answer to the strong Erin’s Own side who recorded a 3-7 to 0-3 victory.

Important games can often be won or lost depending upon whether the best team has been chosen for the day. This fact places a great deal of responsibility upon the shoulders of the team mentors – if you win all is well, but defeat often evokes the opposite reaction with much of the criticism being directed towards team selection. A rather humorous story surrounds the selection of that ’43 team for the South Derry final against Newbridge. The mentors, being far from unanimous as to whether the final place on the team should be filled by Joe Hurley, Johnny O’Neill or Jim Shaw eventually decided to write the three names on a slip of paper – put them into a hat and draw out the one who would commence the game. Mick Crilly, who personally felt that Joe Hurley was the man for the job, performed the required paperwork. Joe Hurley’s name was selected and he proved a worthy choice by scoring the all important goal after soloing the length of the field – reputedly one of the most memorable goals seen at the County Grounds. Amid the after match celebrations one of Mick Crilly’s co-selectors remarked on the good fortune which fate had permitted in choosing the correct slip of paper. “Mind you,” said Mick, “If either of the other two had been picked out, Joe Hurley’s name would have been on them as well.” Humorous indeed in hindsight, and proof of the earlier remark – all’s well that ends well. No doubt Mick was instantly forgiven for his indiscretion and who’s to argue that he didn’t deserve the happy outcome of sheer impudence. One thing seems certain – the game would be of terrific loss without such memories.

It has always been a fact that when you are champions everyone is ‘gunning’ for you, and this was indeed the reaction which the Erin’s Own team experienced in the 1944 Championship. However, they defied their opposition and progressed to a South Derry semi-final meeting with Newbridge. In two of the best semi-finals seen at the County Grounds for a long time, Lavey defeated Newbridge once again by 1-4 to 1-3, while Magherafelt accounted for Greenlough in a classic match by 3-6 to 3-3. The ’44 final brought together some of the legendary names in the game – Anthony Joe McGurk, John L. Fay, and Jack Convery for Lavey while the Rossa’s could boast of Francie Niblock, Paddy McFlynn (former president of the G.A.A.) and the famous Sticky Maguire. at the interval Magherafelt led by 0-3 to 0-2, but mid-way through the second half a Colm McGurk goal gave the Erin’s Own a lead which they were in no mood to surrender. Fr. Brian Rogers (Ballinascreen) who was then playing for Lavey increased the lead with a magnificent point from a 60 yard free, and Lavey eventually emerged winners by 1-6 to 1-4.

In the County semi-final Lavey defeated Dungiven to qualify for their second successive championship decider. This time Mitchel’s from Derry City provided the opposition, while the venue of Celtic Park in Derry provided the Lavey officials with a headache regarding the transport of the team. The war restriction of a ten mile limit on car which existed at that time meant’ that an alternative source of transport would have to be found. Finally an arrangement was devised whereby they would travel by car to Ballymena and make the remainder of the journey to Derry by train. The cold wet conditions on that wintry Sunday did little to dampen the spirits of the large Lavey contingent, which made the hazardous journey and the team did them proud by retaining their title in fine style with a I -5 to O-O victory. The Lavey team that day was Eddie McGurk, Joe Hurley. Jack Convery, Dan Boyle, Brian Rogers. John Fay. Jim Shaw, Anthony Boyle, Jim Carmichael, Liam McGurk, Eamon Diamond, Anthony Joe McGurk, Pat Holloway, Colm McGurk. An interesting footnote was that the admission fee to that final was 1/ – and 6d for boys.

A Super Seven:

Seven a side had become a popular game during the forties particular at Sports meetings throughout the country. About the 1944-45 period Erin’s Own produced a seven who had developed the game to a fine art, and proved well nigh unbeatable to all comers. The seven were usually chosen from the following players: Eddie McGurk, Neil Hurley, Paddy Duggan, John Fay, Eamon Diamond, Jim Carmichael, Anthony Joe McGurk.

Thrills Galore:

Lavey won the South Derry title again in 1947 when they recorded yet another narrow victory over Sean O’Leary’s, Newbridge in a very exciting final – winning by 1-2 to 0-4. It was a thrill-packed game in which two fine sides themselves to a standstill. Liam McGurk gave the Erin’s Own a great start with a goal but the ‘Bridge retaliated with a point from W Garvin before forcing a penalty which was taken by John Murphy and well saved by Eddie McGurk. The score stood at 1-0 to 0-1 at the interval. On the resumption John Murphy and Liam McGurk exchanged points. Barney Murphy had a further point for the favourites to narrow the gap to the minimum. Despite strong pressure from the Bridge each team scored a further point and the Erin’s Own emerged as narrow winners. Their team on that occasion lined out as follows: Eddie McGurk, Henry McPeake, Neil Hurley, Johnny O’Neill, Jim Shaw, Jack Convery, Jim Carmichael, Colm McGurk, Liam McGurk, Paddy Devlin, Patsy Duffy, John L. Fay, Dan Boyle, Mick Hurley and Tommy Doherty.

There is many a slip

Lavey were now hot favourites to annex their fourth county title. However, despite receiving a bye into the County Final against Dungiven their good fortune deserted them at the final hurdle. Jack Convery was injured in a quarry accident just prior to the final while Colm McGurk was exam-tied in Dublin. This double blow seemed to have a disheartening effect upon the Erin’s Own team and Dungiven won the final by 3-4 to 2-3 to take the title out of South Derry for the first time in its history.