Let the Game of Thornes begin

Let the Game of Thornes begin

In the first of a five part series, Meath Chronicle sports editor Conall Collier looks at the 40-year journey that began around May 1980 in Kilmessan and produced what is now the well-regarded North East Football League.

Each part will look at a decade of the that journey with an interview in part five with Kilmessan man Gerry Gorman who was a driving force of the development since it started.

THE FIRST DECADE 1980 - 1990

Some 40 years ago, the North East Football League, as it is now known, was taking its first tentative steps in the form of the Mid-Meath League that kicked-off with eight teams in 1980.

The build up to that first round of action on 23rd November 1980 began around May 1980 with a crew on enthusiasts from Kilmessan who were eager to play the ‘beautiful game’ and they talked about entering teams in local seven-a-side tournaments during the summer months when the traditional soccer season was closed.

Thornes Lounge in Kilmessan was the venue for the informal meetings to discuss plans for the new venture.

Thornes would become the traditional home of the League for many years, a fact that was acknowledged at the 2019 FAI Festival of Football in the Royal County.

All that would be in the future and one man would maintain a link to that inaugural ‘discussion’ back in 1980 – Gerry Gorman.

The more established soccer teams in Meath at that time (1980) included Parkvilla, Stackallen Rovers, Kells Celtic, Trim Celtic, Ratoath Harps, Ashbourne, Dunboyne and Duleek. They all played in the progressive Dublin-based leagues.

However, buoyed by the enthusiasm from those seven-a-side tournaments, the trio of Vincent Brennan, Gerry Gorman and Dom Doyle attempted to affiliate a Kilmessan club to the Leinster Junior League, but that was unsuccessful as the deadline for entry had passed.

They then tried to join Louth League, but it was a similar story there and the advice offered was to apply again for the following season.

Another plan was hatched and an advertisement was placed in the Meath Chronicle seeking teams to participate in a Mid-Meath Soccer League.

Applications were received from nine teams, but one from Oldcastle was rejected as the ‘committee’ deemed that it was too far away?

Eight teams were accepted - Kilmessan; KIlmessan B; Skryne; Dunshaughlin; Turmec (Athboy area); Cosmos (Navan); Moynalvey and Robinstown and eventually a schedule of fixtures and a proposed kick-off date were agreed.

SEASON ONE 1980 / 1981 (Mid-Meath League)

Eight teams togged out for the relatively short inaugural season with the title decided on a one-round basis with the top two teams contesting the final - not unlike the GAA version of the National Football League.

For good measure, the soccer teams were populated with GAA regulars who opted to fill the void that then existed in Meath GAA club football.

The initial success of the Mid-Meath League for the first five seasons ultimately prompted a response from the GAA with the eventual introduction of the All-County GAA Leagues - it also had the impact of improving the time-keeping for scheduling of GAA games.

There were three fixtures on the opening day, due to unavailability of pitches, with the following results: Skryne 6, KIlmessan 2; Moynalvey 3, Cosmos 2; Dunshaughlin 6, Turmec 2; the game between Robinstown and Kilmessan B was played the following weekend.

An interesting statistic was the multi-tasking ability of Moynalvey manager Eugene Lynch, he was also the goalkeeper for Robinstown and the two teams duly took the top two places after the seven round series of games.

Moynalvey won the final by 3-2 with a stalwart from the Parkvilla club, Shane Faulkner filling the role of referee.

Moynalvey were unbeaten in the inaugural season and amazingly only lost three games in the next three seasons.

The League finalists were ineligible to play in the Challenge Cup and that produced a win for KIlmessan at the expense of Navan side Cosmos. (It was only many years later that the club added Navan to the name).

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 (champions) - Moynalvey; (runner-up) Robinstown.

Challenge Cup - Kilmessan (Cosmos).

Chairman - Vincent Brennan; secretary - Gerry Gorman; treasurer - Dom Doyle.

SEASON TWO:1981/'82 (Mid-Meath League)

Extra teams joined for the second season with two divisions featuring 17 teams.

Div 1 was played on a one-round basis with 10 teams while Div 2 was a two round basis for the six teams as a team from Bailieboro Co-op withdrew after the initial outing.

The league final was scrapped and Moynalvey duly topped the Div 1 table after nine games, but they lost the Challenge Cup final to Cosmos. The Div 2 title was won by a team from Ballivor playing under the name of Albion Rovers with Skane Ramblers (Kilmessan B from the previous season) in the runner-up position.

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 - Moynalvey; (Castle Celtic).

Challenge Cup - Cosmos; (Moynalvey).

Chairman - Gerry Gorman; secretary - John Holden; treasurer - Dom Doyle.

SEASON THREE:1982/'83 (Mid-Meath League)

This was an important season for what would be the last under the banner of the Mid-Meath League.

There was official recognition from the Leinster Football Association (LFA) and Football Association of Ireland (FAI).

All that meant the end of Kilmessan FC organising the competitions, the introduction of a constitution and rule book and the election of the first official officers of the Mid-Meath League. There was another bonus in the affiliation of 27 teams graded in Div 1 and Div 2. Both grades were played on a one-round basis, but it was agreed at that inaugural AGM that subsequent seasons would be on the standard two-round (home and away).

Moynalvey made it three in-a-row in Div 1 with Shambo (formerly Robinstown) in runner-up position.

Athboy Blues took Div 2 ahead of Archers (Dunshaughlin).

Moynalvey won the Challenge Cup with a 6-2 win against Athboy Blues.

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 - Moynalvey; (Shambo).

Challenge Cup - Moynalvey; (Athboy Blues).

Chairman - Gerry Gorman; secretary - John Holden; treasurer - David Pryle.

SEASON FOUR:1983/'84 (Meath & District League)

At the annual general meeting in Claremont Stadium, Navan the name of the Mid-Meath League was changed and a crest was introduced as 39 teams affiliated.

Four divisions were necessary to cater for the teams with Moynalvey once more winning the Div 1 title at the expense of Navan side OMP Utd.

The Navan men needed a point to win the title from their last game of the season against Moynalvey, but the defending champions hit an 89th minute winner through Harry Donovan to complete an unprecedented four in-a-row.

Archers won Div 2 ahead of Kells Celtic while Navan side Brewery took Div 3 and also won the Challenge Cup. Moynalvey did not enter the Challenge Cup.

OMP Utd 2nds won the Div 4 title from nearby rivals Windtown Utd.

The MDL also fielded a representative team for the first time in the FAI Oscar Traynor Trophy with a spirited display in a 0-2 defeat in December 1983 against the Leinster Junior League.

The MDL panel was: John Gorman; Shea Englishby, John Cahill, Tommy Ennis, Robbie Melia, Kieran O'Brien, Aidan Gorman, Peter O'Brien, Christy Duignan, Aidan Crickley, Johnny Kiernan, R Fox, Davy Cahill, Brendan Melia, Mick Curley, John Summerville. Management - Eugene Lynch and Joe Garvey.

A yearbook to cover the first four seasons was produced under the guidance of Gerry Moore and that trend continued annually until 2003.

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 - Moynalvey; (OMP Utd).

Challenge Cup - Brewery; (Shambo).

Chairman - Gerry Gorman; secretary - John Holden; treasurer - David Pryle.

SEASON FIVE: 1984/'85 (Meath & District League)

A number of firsts included the introduction of the weekly forecast cards - this was a fundraiser for the MDL and the clubs. Coupons were distributed / collected each Saturday morning, clubs retained 50 per cent of sales and the MDL covered the prizes with a weekly increase of £100 in the jackpot fund.

The scheme was introduced to raise money to purchase a property that would become the permanent home for the MDL and it continued for 17 years until the 1999 / 2000 season.

The Kilmessan Shield and the Gerry Bradley Memorial Shield were introduced (won by OMP Utd and OMP Utd 2nds).

The inaugural manager of the year award went to Joe Garvey (OMP Utd) and player of the year to Mickey Regan (Moynalvey).

The first match programme for the Challenge Cup final was also published

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 - OMP Utd; (Corbawn Utd).

Challenge Cup - Moynalvey; (OMP Utd).

Chairman - Gerry Gorman; secretary - John Holden; treasurer - David Pryle.

SEASON SIX: 1985/'86 (Meath & District League)

Expansion from four to six divisions to cater for 64 teams. Ratoath Harps opened their new pitch hosting the then League of Ireland new boys Derry City in a pre-season friendly in July 1985.

A Fair Play League was introduced and remained in place until 1999 / 2000, the inaugural winners were Rossin Rovers.

Player of the year awards were introduced for each division, a trend that has continued since.

A first victory was achieved in the FAI Oscar Traynor Trophy at the expense of the Amateur League.

OMP shaded Moynalvey in Div 1 while Ratoath Harps did the same to Dunboyne in Div

2. Moynalvey won the Challenge Cup.

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 - OMP Utd; (Moynalvey).

Challenge Cup - Moynalvey; (Kentstown Rovers).

Chairman - Gerry Moore; secretary - Gerry Gorman; treasurer - Eugene Lynch.

SEASON SEVEN: 1986/'87 (Meath & District League)

Navan side OMP Utd maintained their dominance as they won the Div 1 title again.

Moynalvey won the Challenge Cup, it was their last trophy as they completed a remarkable seven seasons with four Div 1 titles and four Challenge Cup wins - a feat not repeated since.

Moynalvey defeated Dunboyne in the Challenge Cup final - John Ryan played for Dunboyne in that game and would later feature for Bray Wanderers in the 1990 FAI Cup final where he scored a hat-trick.

Off the field, former Meath Chronicle reporter Cathal Dervan, who had taken a position with the Sunderland Echo, arranged trails for three MDL players with Newcastle Utd - the trio comprised Brendan Reilly (Dunboyne), Vinny Moore (Dunshaughlin) and Larry McCormack (Nobber). They were accompanied by MDL secretary Gerry Gorman.

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 - OMP Utd; (Dunboyne).

Challenge Cup - Moynalvey; (Dunboyne).

Chairman - Donal Gaynor; secretary - Gerry Gorman; treasurer - Eugene Lynch.

SEASON EIGHT: 1987/'88 (Meath & District League)

The MDL took on a more serious demeanour with the purchase of property outside Navan that has been developed into the 'home of the MDL' in the intervening 30 years.

The first tentative steps were taken when they property was purchased for £40,000 (€50,000). Despite a 50 per cent deposit, it was problematic to source a loan although that issue was eventually addressed.

That was only the start of the problems for the MDL committee.

The next obstacle was an unsuccessful attempt to get planning permission to develop a sports facility.

That issue continued for three years until An Bord Pleanala approved the development at the start of the 1990/'91 season.

On the field, a new grade, Div 1A was introduced much to the annoyance of the previous season's Div 2 champions Archers.

Oldcastle Utd, who had been denied entry in the inaugural season, took the Div 1 title ahead of Dunboyne.

The first Challenge Cup final was played at United Park, Drogheda with Stackallen Rovers getting the better of Kingscourt side Cabra Utd.

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 - Oldcastle Utd; (Dunboyne).

Challenge Cup - Stackallen Rovers; (Cabra Utd).

Chairman - Donal Gaynor; secretary - Gerry Gorman; treasurer - Eugene Lynch.

SEASON NINE: 1988/'89 (Meath & District League)

Some 91 teams, the same as the previous season, affiliated and were graded in eight divisions.

Oldcastle won the Div 1 title again while top Louth side Dromin Utd beat Skryne Rangers in the Challenge Cup final.

FAI National Coaching Officer Noel King arrived in Navan to conduct the first introductory coaching course that was attended by close to 100 club representatives.

Navan Rugby Club generously provided facilities for the sessions.

The quest for planning permission at the new 'home' of the MDL continued while the property lay vacant.

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 - Oldcastle Utd; (Ratoath Harps).

Challenge Cup - Dromin Utd; (Skryne Rangers).

Chairman - Donal Gaynor; secretary - Gerry Gorman; treasurer - Donal Giles.

SEASON 10: 1989/'90 (Meath & District League)

One of the notable incidents related to a ban that was imposed by Cavan GAA Co Board on Maghera GFC after that club permitted Virginia side Chestnut Rovers play a MDL game on their pitch against Ballivor in September 1989.

The MDL also continued to seek planning permission for the development of a sports facility outside Navan, but the application was rejected and an amended application had to be submitted. The subsequent rejection was then appealed to An Bord Pleanala.

On the field, Stackallen Rovers won the Div 1 title, Div 1A required a play-off for the third season in-a-row while Kentstown Rovers defeated Square Utd in a Challenge Cup final replay.

Current Meath GAA senior football manager Andy McEntee helped Clonee Utd to win the Div 3 title ahead of Dunboyne 2nds. Former Meath selector Tom Keague also featured for Clonee.

MAIN STATISTICS

Div 1 - Stackallen Rovers; (OMP Utd).

Challenge Cup - Kentstown Rovers; (Square Utd).

Chairman - Donal Gaynor; secretary - Gerry Gorman; treasurer - John Holden.

PART TWO TO FOLLOW : SEASONS 11 - 20 (1990/'91 - 1999/'00)

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