Mayobridge – County Down’s Oldest GAA Club

The first recorded football game played by St Patrick’s Mayobridge took place on Saturday 28th January 1888 when Lisnamulligan (near Hilltown) provided the opposition in a game played at Mayobridge.

While this is the first “recorded” game there is no reason to think that other unrecorded games took place earlier in the month or even in the latter part of 1887.

The minutes of the Central Council of the GAA record that on 30th April 1888, an application for affiliation was received from St Patrick’s Mayobridge County Down. The acceptance of that application makes the club the oldest registered GAA club in the county.

The club and it’s members played a leading role in the formative years of the Association in Down and in February of 1889 they organised the first GAA tournament in the county, the celebrated “Tournament for the Crosses” which was won by Warrenpoint.

Following the Parnell Split, the GAA in Down went into decline and for the next fifteen years only a few sporadic games were played in the district or even in the county.

Then, under the influence of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the embers of the GAA in Mayobridge were reignited in 1906 as Mayobridge Owen Roes, their colours being red with a green sash. Although this team were unsuccessful on the field of play, the spark had been lit and would reignite just a few years later as St Patrick’s GAC.

In the same year (1906), Frank O’Hare, a leading member of the GAA in Mayobridge and a prominent member of the local community donated a trophy to the Down County Board for the winners of the Senior Football Championship; the same O’Hare Cup we strive for today, and the first Senior County Football Final at a neutral venue was played at Mayobridge when Faugh a Bealagh of Newry defeated Leitrim Fontenoys in the final 0.7 to 0.4.

Later, Paddy Downey, a Mayobridge man played for Antrim and became the first Downman to win an Ulster Championship medal. On one memorable occasion, when Down played Antrim at Newry, Paddy and his brother John, a Down player, cycled home to Ballydulaney together. The after match discussion on the game became so heated that their father had to intervene in the argument.

Paddy returned to the ‘Bridge about 1910 and with others, set about the reformation of the GAA in the district as St Patrick’s GAA Club, and for the next 30 years Mayobridge were a force in Down football.

They won the Championship from 1916 to 1919 and during this period Mayobridge officials were leaders of the Association in the county. Paddy Downey was county secretary in 1912, P.J. Murphy was county secretary in 1917 and Ted Butterfield was county chairman in 1924 and later founder chairman of the South Down Board.

From the troubled 20’s to the start of the war, football continued in the ‘Bridge, with the team, still a force to be reckoned with, being unfortunate to be beaten in six county finals, the last in this period being on 8th August 1937 when the victors were Kilcoo.

Mayobridge players were always prominent on the Down County teams and when Down Juniors took the first Ulster football title to the county in 1931 and Mayobridge men, Hugh Joseph O’Hare, Tommy Gribben, Patrick Morgan, Paddy Small and Tommy Gallagher were members of the team.

In 1940 Mayobridge won the Down Feis Sevens and then sometime later, following indiscretions and the suspension of the club, Mayobridge spent a few football free years and players dispersed to other clubs in the district.

In the late 1940’s, the club came back into football and in 1953 won the All County league without defeat. They were beaten in the semi-final of the championship a year later and then hit by the scourge of emigration and unemployment there followed a long slow decline with some of the best players emigrating to the United States, Canada and England.

The club did manage to reach the Junior Championship final in 1959 where they were beaten by Banbridge and then we had to wait another long twenty one years before annexing this title in 1981.

We went out of business in 1963 and reformed in 1966, a year after the formation of St Patrick’s Youth Club.

In 1966, Tom O’Hare, later to be described as the “defender of the decade” along with Francie Coulter played for neighbouring Clonduff, whilst Francie Gallagher lined out for Burren and won his county championship medal with that club, becoming the first Mayobridge player to win a championship medal in 47 years.

Tom O’Hare later became the first Mayobridge man to win an All-Ireland Senior Football medal when he played on the Down team that defeated Kerry in 1968.

Tom O’Hare at the Bridge Primary School shortly after the 1968 All Ireland win

The 1966 Mayobridge team, mostly minors, were playing in the second Division of the South Down League, the junior section, when these “exiles” returned from Burren and Clonduff.

Amid some mild protest, the South Down Board re-graded Mayobridge in the Intermediate league for 1967 which they set about winning in style and were promoted to the All County League in 1968.

The stay in the senior ranks was short lived and by 1970 they were back in the South Down Intermediate League which the won again by defeating Glenn in a play-off in Rostrevor.

The panel of players in 1970 were:

Barney O’Hare, Gerry O’Hare, Tommy McGivern, Francie Gallagher, Sean O’Hare, Jerome White, Patsy Carr, Kevin O’Hare, Patsy Fegan, Eddie O’Hare, Tom O’Hare, James Gallagher, Pat O’Hare, Patsy O’Hare, Peter Magee, Francie Coulter, Kevin McClorey, Pat Garvey, Thomas Gallagher, Brian O’Hare, Joe McNally, Derek Garvey, Seamus McNally, Phillip O’Hare, Gregory White, Sean Murphy, Martin Goss, Jim Morgan and Finian Sands.

The rest of the 1970’s was a barren spell on the field of play. For a year or two the club fielded a very talented junior hurling side which showed lots of promise and indeed many Mayobridge players represented their county on the hurling field. Indeed on one occassion in the 1980’s, when both county teams were playing National League fixtures, Mickey Linden who later was to win All-Ireland medals in 1991 and 1994 was lining out for the footballers at one venue and his neighbour Michael Lively lined out for the county hurling team at another venue.

Mickey Linden in action against Cork in the 1994 All Ireland Semi Final

The energies of the Mayobridge people during the 1970’s was primarily devoted to building. The new purpose built Youth Club was completed and the football field was being developed. The Youth Club and later the club grounds were officially opened in 1978 and it wasn’t until the start of the 1980’s that the fortunes of the various teams began to improve.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s the Mayobridge senior team won all four Divisions of Down football. In 1980, Division four, in 1981, Division three and the junior championship, in 1984, Division two and nine years later they repeated their success of 1953 when they won Division one.

In the same period, Mayobridge juvenile teams have been successful in winning Down titles at under 12, under 14, under 16, and minor county championships.

During the nineties the team reached the semi-final stages of the Senior County Championship twice, and in 1998 they reached the final for the first time since 1937.

Beaten in the final by neighbouring Rostrevor, GAA followers in the county were astounded when the people of Mayobridge travelled to Rostrevor and joined in the celebrations.

This display of neighbourliness set an example for other clubs in the county and farther afield to emulate.

Off the field the club has been very active in providing facilities for their members and for the Mayobridge Community. They built a Social Centre in 1983 which was extended in their centenary year,1988. A second pitch was purchased in 1993 and in July 2001 the new changing rooms were opened. At present, Mayobridge club member Johnny McConville is the South Down Divisional Board secretary, as well as being a member of the County Board. Another member, Peter Keenan is chairman of the South Down Scór Committee as well as being a South Down Board member.

In 1995 Captained the Ulster team to Railway Cup sucess.

In 1998 Michael Walsh became the first Mayobridge player to represent his country when he lined out for Ireland against Australia in an Under 17 Compromise Rules International game at Croke Park on 22nd April.

In March 1999 his team mate Brendan Grant also traveled to Australia as a member of the Ireland team to play the return leg

The first All-Ireland Scór title to come the club was won on Saturday 20th February 1999 when Jane Rooney won the Recitation title at the Scór na nÓg Final in Limerick University Concert Hall.

In September 1999 the Down won the Minor All-Ireland. Mayobridge had 5 representatives on that panel, Brendan Grant (Full back), Benny Coulter (Mid Field), Michael Walsh (Centre Half Forward), Ronan Sexton (Corner Forward) and Ronan O’Hare.

In October 1999 the club went on to beat Burren in the Senior County Championship Final in Newcastle. All five of our All-Ireland winning minor stars played impressive roles in helping the club lift its first Senior County title in 80 years.

In September 2001 Mayobridge won their second Senior championship title inside three years when they defeated Castlewellan by 0-15 to 1-9. Playing in the Ulster Club Championship for the first time Mayobridge exceeded all expectations by reaching the final, defeating Tyrone Champions Carrickmore and Monaghan Champions Castleblaney on their way to the final. In the final they lost narrowly to eventual All-Ireland Club Champions Ballinderry on scoreline of 1-10 to 1-7. One week after this defeat Mayobridge won the Down Division One title when they defeated old rivals and near neighbours Clonduff in the play-off at Newcastle. The Mayobridge Reserve footballers made it a memorable year for Mayobridge when they won the Down Premier Reserve Championship title by defeating An Riocht in the final played at Newry.

Mayobridge were county champions again in 2002 and look set to retain their title again in 2003 when they reached the final against Bryansford. The Bridge were massive favourites with the bookies but even the bookies get it wrong sometimes as the punters in Grants bar found out to their great cost.

Since that 2003 county final defeat Mayobridge have been undefeated in Championship football in Down. They are now four in a row county champions having defeated Longstone in a replay to win the 2007 county title.

In Scór na nÓg Jane Rooney won her second All-Ireland tittle in 2002 winning the Down, Ulster and All Ireland Solo Singing competition. Jane’s All Ireland win was followed by our Instrumental Music group winning the 2003 Scór na nÓg All Ireland. Jane went on to win the 2005 Solo Singing compition are Scór na Sinsear. In 2007 Jane’s younger sister Claire won the Scór na nÓg Recitation All Ireland. Read more about these an other Scór achievements on our Scór Page

In October 2007 Benny Coulter helped Ulster win the Railway cup final against Munster in Croke Park.

In 2008 Mayobridge defeated Loughinisland in the senior county final to record a historic Five-In-A-Row of senior championships. Things just kept getting better in 2008 when the minors won the championship and the seconds won the ACPRC completing a fantastic treble. Later in the summer of 2008 Benny Coulter headed of down under with the Ireland team and helped Ireland win the series by five points. Benny had the distinction of being Irelands top scorer over the two tests.

On May 10th 2009 hundreds of Mayobridge Club Members came together to celebrate the GAA’s 125 Anniversary. Events started off with a club mass in which players and administrators assisted. After mass everyone assembled in the convent grounds to have photos taken with the nuns as this was the convents last year in operation in Mayobridge. After the photos were taken there was a parade behind the Mayobridge band back to the club grounds. At the club grounds our underage camog’s and footballers provided the entertainment in the form of blitz’s. In the social club there was an exhibition of club memorabilia including Benny Coutler, Tom O’Hare and Mickey Linden’s medal collections. On the big screen many county finals were shown over the day.