From small acorns . . .
(Taken from Souvenir Programme for Official Opening, May 2001)
In 1965, Muhammad Ali was Heavyweight Champion of the World, Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, Sean Lemass was Taoiseach, Martin Quinn was Meath’s full-back, Mick O’Connell was the star man for Kerry, Colm O’Rourke was in high infants down in Leitrim and Arkle won his second Gold Cup.
Just outside of Navan, meanwhile, a group of lads, led by Joe Clarke of Simonstown and Jimmy Lane of St Mary’s Park, were making a big decision to start a new football club. They had to get a few locals back from Kilberry and Gibbstown, there were a few ex-O’Mahony’s available and there were a few other young lads unattached and ‘mad’ for action.
There had always been a tradition of kicking ball down in Clarke’s fields in Simonstown – a suburban area on the northern side of Navan town – so the name of the new club as submitted to the County Board was Simonstown Gaels GFC. It’s fair to say that the reaction of most County Board officials at the time was ‘where the hell is Simonstown?’.
Jimmy Lane was actually a native of Trim who was at that stage residing in St Mary’s Park, beside the Round O. He had been a member of the Meath hurling panel which had won the 1948 All-Ireland Junior Hurling championship title.
Joe Clarke was a twenty-something year old just eager to play football with his own team. He also had a couple of brothers who shared his enthusiasm and a mother who was only too glad to allow goalposts be erected in a field at the back of the house.
The house and field, incidentally, were situated about a 1/2 mile from the Round O, out the Proudstown Rd, down a long winding cul-de-sac and, as another of the Clarke’s, Mickey, puts it so well: right beside the six furlong start at Proudstown Park Racecourse.
The affiliation was accepted and Simonstown Gaels became a reality – just one team, Junior B. The first challenge match was played in February ’65. The fledgling club had to borrow a set of jerseys from neighbouring Gibbstown for the match against the Commons from the opposite end of town.
The next challenge was against Bective, who had been formed a year or two previously, and for this match Mickey Clarke, ‘exiled’ in Dublin at the time, arrived home with the club’s very first set of jerseys which was purchased in Elvery’s for £19-19-0.
Mrs. Clarke not just satisfied with providing the pitch and the use of the shed as a dressing room made tea and scones – there might even have been jam on them! – for both teams.
That’s how things were in the 60s. £10 was considered a good weeks wages and £1 worth of petrol meant about 4 gallons (nobody knew anything about litres!).
Now 36 years later as we gather this evening to welcome dignatories of the GAA world and the mighty men of Kerry to officially open our new Floodlit pitch and surrounding facilities, let us remember the men whose dream in the 60s made it all possible.
Joe is still hale and hearty and owns a special stool in a particular corner of the lounge. Jimmy Lane has, sadly, passed on but his family are still deeply involved; Jim jnr. presently holds the vice-chair. Mickey Clarke, who brought home those first set of jerseys, is still active (and that’s an understatement!) while other founder members still involved are Jimmy Murtagh, Dessie Gorman (current chairman), Paddy Flood and Robbie McCullagh (Hon. President).
For that first year of 1965, the club’s income was £42 approx. while the expenditure reached £37. Two visits to the physiotherapist would have made short work of the £37 in today’s terms but, of course, physiotherapists didn’t figure on the Simonstown agenda in those days – nor did hamstring or groin strains!
On the field of play the new club started with a big win over Kilmainhamwood’s second string in the 1st round – Oliver Plunkett (not the saint) being top scorer on the day – and went on to win the Division but, unfortunately, suffered defeat to the Commons in the quarter-final.
The chairman of the club in that first year was Jack ‘Duck’ Callaghan who had won senior championship medals with two clubs, Parnells and O’Mahony’s. He won the first with Parnells as far back as 1946, yet, amazingly, was still playing with Simonstown in the late sixties.
Amongst the players were Benny Gartland, who was O’Mahony’s goalie when they won their first senior trophy, the Feis Cup in 1951, and Tony Sheridan, a member of the great O’Mahony’s five-in-a-row team, who had also played full-back for Meath in the 1956 Leinster championship.
The first major playing occasion for the fledgling club arrived in 1970 when they reached the Junior B final only to lose to neighbours O’Mahony’s whose stars were veterans Tony McCormack and Patsy Ratty laden down with senior medals. Indeed, a certain Navan wag suggested Simonstown should object as O’Mahony’s had ‘overage players’!
Just prior to this in 1968, the club decided to seek a more central home in order to cater better for the lads from Windtown and St Mary’s Park. Reggie Casey who lived beside the Round O (the new road now goes through where his house used to stand) came to the rescue. He gave the use of a field on the Proudstown Road beside Jimmy Murtagh’s house at a nominal rent of 1/= per year with entrance via a little gap.
Thus was born the basics of what you now see this evening. In the 30 years since, adjoining land has been bought from Mrs Mullen and Kilsaran Concrete but the original field, complete with the gap, is still the foundation stone.
In 1977, an Estate down Simonstown Lane was being divided up by the Land Commission. The club applied for land for a pitch and were successful at a cost of £2,400 payable in two instalments. However, there was agreement all round that Reggie’s field made much more geographical sense and the club began negotiations to see would he sell. Eventually the deal was agreed at £20,000 and the club, which had not yet used their own property for playing purposes, sought and were granted permission to sell it. In 1979, within two years of acquiring it, they sold it for £13,000 and so they had nearly three quarters of the price of Reggie’s field.
From that day on, Simonstown Gaels GFC has never looked back. Starting the underage section, building the clubhouse, juvenile successes, acquiring more land, opening a bar, making a car park, extending the clubhouse, winning Junior and Intermediate titles, players winning All-Ireland senior, U-21 and minor medals, buying and developing, two House Draws, successful applications for Lottery funding, erection of state-of-the-art floodlights, the Intercounty Floodlit tournament – the list goes on.
The missing link is the Senior championship but patience is a virtue and hopefully ‘tiocfaidh ar lá’.
This evening marks a big milestone in the history of a club which set out on a journey in 1965. The youth of the area have a lot to be thankful for. The foresight of Jimmy Lane and Joe Clarke should never be forgotten and, while there are elaborate arrangements for catering this evening in the kitchen, spare a thought for the goodwill of Mrs. Clarke with her tea and scones in the shed all those years ago.
The Executive committee elected at the inaugural Simonstown Gaels GFC AGM in 1965 was as follows: President – Mr P Flood senior Chairman – Mr J Callaghan Secretary – Mr L Fagan Asst secretary – Mr T Markey
Treasurer – Mr J Clarke Committee – Messrs J Lane, J Lynch, T Clarke, T Sheridan, R McCullagh Selection committee – Messrs J Lane, P Flood, B Gartland, H Brady Delegate to the Co Board – Mr J Clarke