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CORNAFEAN,

A CLUB STEEPED IN HISTORY
 

 

CORNAFEAN, twenty times Cavan senior football champions, proud holders of a number of records. They held a number of records for a time, including five consecutive senior championship tides, now surpassed, by Crosserlough.One wonders how a small townland like Cornafean could produce such players as Willie Young, Mick Dinnenny, Parckie Masterson, Packie Phair, Big “Tom” O’ Reilly and the legendary John Joe O'Reilly, all of whom distinguished themselves both for club and county.
The 1910s were great years for the club, winning the county championship in 1908, 1910 and 1912-15 and 1918 and 1920. The club contested every final between 1927-43, winning in 1928, '29, ‘32, ‘33, '34, '36, '37, '38, '39, '40 and '43. The club won their twentieth title in 1956.
During the early years when the Association was struggling to make an impact, the seeds of the G.A.A. in the county were sown in Cornafean. All that was needed was some great force or movement to bring disparate rural entities together into one strong, united and purposeful combination.
One man more than any other provided the leadership when needed, and he was Pol MacSeain, when he founded the Gaelic League Branch in the area, bringing his great organisational ability to bear on its activities. A great sense of comradeship and loyalty arose among the members and in those years was born a great Gaelic spirit, which has permeated Cornafean ever since.
It was out of this enthusiasm that the present club was born in 1908. Since then the history of the club has been unrivalled and has produced footballers who have done Cavan proud, along with officers of highest ability and integrity, who have served the County Board so well.
 Family Tradition
One of the remarkable features of the club, down through the years, has always been the number of brothers who played together on various teams. In the early tens and twenties there was such towering figures as Joe and Paddy Gilronan, Benny and John O'Reilly, Tom and Dick McClean, S. and R. McCormack, John (Rev.), Bob and Tom Young, John Joe and Paddy Reilly, Frank and Paddy Maguire, Michael P. and Packie Joe Reilly, John and Michael (Rev.) McKeown, Ned and Packy Reilly (Drumcrow), Phil and Eddie Reilly, Luke and John Kilkenny, Benny, Phil and Paddy Reilly and Pat and Tommy Flood.
Later on came Paddy and Jack Martin, Pat and Benny Phair, Francie and John McKieman, Mick and Packie Dinneny, Jimmy and Mickey Comeskey, John, Phil, Pierce and Kevin O'Reilly, Tom (Big Tom), John Joe, Brian (Rev.) and Michael O'Reilly, Benny and Francis Reilly, Tom, Phil and Eddie Reilly; Tom and Peadar McSeain; J. P. and Andy (Rev.) Deignan; P. J. and Sean Masterson; Mal, Tom and Phil Sheridan; Seamus and Sean Smhh and Tom, Peadar and Dermot McSeain.
 
Won All Ireland Medals
In the 1933 and 1935 All-Ireland winning teams the club was represented by Willie Young, Mick Dinneny, Pat Phair and Big Tom O'Reilly. The successful 1947 team was captained by John Joe O'Reilly who also led the vigorous 1948 team when another club player, Des Benson was also in the lineout
Seamus Morris, Liam Maguire ant Rev. Dessie Maguire played on the successful 1952 team.
Two club men also played with the Cavan 1927 All-Ireland winning junior team. They were Frank Fitzpatrick and R. J. O'Reilly, Des Benson, Rev. P Galligan, Seamus Maguire and Peadar Doyle were members of the 1938 All-Ireland winning minor team.
The late Packie Devlin, who won All-Ireland senior medals in 1933 and 1935, later joined Cornafean and helped them to a number of senior titles.
 
 1956 Senior Champions
The last senior title to go to Cornafean was back in 1956, and the team was as follows: Seamus Morris; Terence O'Reilly, Phil Reilly Mal Sheridan; S. Clarke, John McCormack, G. McCormack, Peadar Doyle, Sean Magee, Sear Kelly, Seamus Drumm, P. J Masterson; P. Fitzpatrick, P McSeain, Frank Magee.

 

 

 

CAVAN' S FOOTBALL STORY
 
By

REV. DANIEL GALLOGLY

 PUBLISHED BY THE CAVAN COUNTY COMMITTEE

OF THE GAELIC ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION 1979

Cornafean Naoimh  Fionnain

A VERY significant milestone in Cavan football history was the establishment of Cornafean Naoimh Fionnain. It was a lucky day for Cavan football when John P. Johnson and his family moved to Cornafean from Killeshandra. John P., and particularly his own son, Paul, better known as Pol MacSeain, were principally responsible for establishing the new club out of the old Killeshandra Leaguers and Cornafean Tom Moronies. The club grew out of a meeting held at Farranseer lane in 1908. Its first president was Fr Osborne; chairman, Peter O'Reilly, Pottle, Kildallan; secretary, Pol MacSeain. It must be said that Pol MacSeain was one of the most active and dedicated officials the county has ever known. He gave a life-time of service not just to football at club and county level but also to the Gaelic League, hurling and camogie. He was a product of the gaelic revival which swept the country in the early years of the century. He saw gaelic games as one other aspect of a wider cultural movement. He was largely responsible for organising an active branch of the Gaelic League in Cornafean in the 1910s. The branch held Irish classes, dancing classes and regular ceilithe which attracted large attendances. He was also to the forefront of attempts to establish hurling and camogie in his area. In addition to being secretary of the Cornafean club he was joint secretary and treasurer of the county board from 1909-1911 and had the unique distinction of serving under his father, John P. Johnson, as chairman, during that period. He himself was chairman from 1925 to 1927. In 1921 he was interned in Ballykinler Camp where he set to work at once organising football and wrote to the Cavan county board for a football.

Cornafean first won the championship in 1909, just a year after the club's foundation. That same year, on the eve of the 12 July, one of their half-backs, Terry O'Reilly, was seriously wounded when shot by an emergency man called Samuel Gilpin of Killygar at Yewer Lane near Killeshandra. He had to be removed to Dublin to have the bullet removed from near his heart. The incident brought an outburst of sectarianism in the area. The barrack in Killeshandra, where Mr Gilpin was being held, was surrounded by an angry crowd. The following day an attempted Orange march from the market-house to the church in Killeshandra nearly caused a riot.

Terry O'Reilly survived the shooting and was able to attend the Ulster final at the end of the year. The incident brought a tide of sympathy and challenges, tournaments and functions were held all over the county for the Terry O' Reilly Sustentation Fund. The final of the 1909 championship wasn't played until 17 April 1910. It resulted in a 1-7 to 0-1 victory over Crosserlough and the first of twenty championships for Cornafean. This was the beginning of the famous 'Reds'. They dominated football in the 1910s and even more so in the 1930s. But if they did, they also gave the county team players who made champions. Indeed, the history of club football in the county down to 1950 and especially in these two decades is largely the history of Cornafean. Even when they were not winning championships in the 1920s and 1940s they were still a force. They developed over the years an almost fanatical loyalty to the red jersey and the roar of the Cornafean supporters spoke volumes of determination and pride.

They held on to their championship crown in 1910, defeating Denn by 2-1 to 0-2. The team was; Terry O'Reilly (capt), Phil O'Reilly, John O'Reilly, Benny O'Reilly, J.J. O'Reilly, Benny O'Reilly, Paddy O'Reilly, Dick McClean, Tom McClean, Sean McCormack, T. Farrelly, P. Gilronan, J. Gilronan, Tommy Flood, Pat Flood, J. McKiernan. It was drawn mostly from a small area in the Coronea district of Killeshandra. In addition to having seven O'Reillys it was very much a family affair —a team of brothers, Dick and Tom McClean, Tom and Pat Flood, John and Peter McCormack, John and Benny O'Reilly, Paddy and Joe 'Duck' Gilronan. After losing to Bailieborough in the 1911 final, Cornafean went on to win four championships in a row by defeating Cross (1912), Bailieborough (1913), Virginia (1914) and Virginia (1915). They set up a record of being the first club to win four-in-arow. In 1914 they brought off the double by defeating Crosserlough in the junior final and in 1915 they became the first intermediate champions of Cavan, a competition which afterward lapsed. While they still looked to be on the crest of a wave a shock notice appeared in the Anglo-Celt on 5 July 1916 as follows: 'I have lately heard with regret that the famous old Cornafean team has ceased to exist due to emigration of some of the members and the resignation of the president, Fr Osborne . . .' The article went on to express the hope that they would soon be back. The going of Cornafean cleared the way for Virginia to win the 1916 championship, defeating Belturbet 1-2 to 0-0, and for Cavan Slashers to win in 1917.

Cornafean were back to win the championship in 1918. The name of Willie Young appears on this team as a forward. For him it was the first of 11 championship medals, the last won in 1939, twenty-one years later. Although he is best remembered as Cavan's goalie of the 'thirties he played most of his football as a forward both for club and county until about 1930. There was a dispute over a venue for the 1920 final. It was fixed for Ballyhaise but Cornafean wanted Belturbet and refused to travel. Finally they agreed to draw for the venue and Ballyhaise won. The report of the actual final is missing from the Anglo-Celt and all we know is that Cornafean won. There followed eight years of defeat, many of them in finals at the hands of Cavan Slashers who were then the leading force in club football. They defeated Maghera McFinns, the reigning champions, in 1928 final by 1-3 to 0-3. They also began a great run in the league, winning the title five years in succession (1928- 1932). The 1929 final against Cavan Slashers had a tame first half. Cornafean were leading by 2-2 to 0-0 at half-time. The second half burst into a thriller and Slashers looked as if they might at least get a goal to earn a draw. But the 'Reds' held out to win by 2-5 to 2-2 despite having a man sent off. In fact it was this that allowed Slashers back into the game. Slashers revenged this defeat by beating them in the finals of 1930 and 1931. Both games were classics, attracting record attendances. In 1932 Slashers were on the way down and Cornafean were poised on the threshold of a golden era which lasted down to 1940. During that time they won eight championships, Mullahoran nipping in to deprive them of a ninth in 1935. The records do not credit Cornafean with the 1937 championship and unfairly so. The championship was abandoned due to the draw and replay in the All-Ireland final against Kerry. Instead it was agreed to finish the league as a league-championship. Cornafean defeated Bailieborough in the final played on 9 January 1938. The medals presented to Cornafean for the 1938 championship refer to the championship of both 1937 and 1938. The Cornafean team of the 'thirties was a star-studded outfit with county players like Packie Phair, Mick Dinneny, Big Tom O'Reilly, Willie Young, John Joe O'Reilly, Packie Devlin. In addition, players like Ned Reilly, Frank Dinneny, Bob Millar, Joe Martin, Frank McKiernan and Phil Smith could hold their own with the best. Cornatean was the glamour team of the decade. They dominated football at a time when standards were high and competition was keen. The best players from the whole parish were attracted to the 'Reds', partly because of their success and partly because it was seen as the gateway to the county team. Not only did Cornafean sread its wings far beyond the little area of Coronea to take in the best players in the entire parish of Killeshandra but it also flowed over into neighbouring parishes. The red jersey attracted Packie Devlin and Jimmie Murphy from Kildallan, the O'Reilly brothers? Big Torn, Jvhn Joe and Brian, Phil Smith, Bob Millar, Ned anti l'aekie O'Rcilly, Peter Paul Cialligan and later still the Maguire brothers, Seamus, Liam and Des, all from Kilmore parish. Cornafean embraced a much bigger area than the name suggests. This, however, does not take away in the least from their greatness as a team. They combined plenty of football ability with fine physique and determination. This coupled with an almost fanatical pride in and loyalty to the red jersey was the recipe for victory. They produced the kind of football that made county players

The 1932 semi-final against Slashers played in Cootehill, ended in a draw after play was ‘over rigorous’ and Cornafean had a man sent off and the crowd rushed the pitch. In the replay the 'Reds' won by 1-6 to 0-5. The final against Bailieborough was a walkover. (Cornafean 5-5, Bailieborough 0-5). This was the beginning of their dominance. In the 1933 final they defeated Slashers by 4-1 to 0-3, and in 1934 they outclassed Bailieborough by 3-5 to 1-2. They were surprised in 1935 by Mullahoran but were back in 1936 to win the final over S1ashers by 3-6 to 0-5. We have seen how the 1937 championship was abandoned but Cornatean won the league that replaced it. The 1938 final was one of the poorest in years. Gowna were completely outclassed after two early goals. Cornafean 2-6, Gowna 0-5. The 1939 final was the best since the early 'thirties. A gallant effort by newcomers Killinkere to halt the monopoly of the champions just failed by a point. Cornafean were 1-2 up within six minutes and led by a goal at half-time (1-3 to 0-3). A goal by Joe Stafford towards the end left only a point between the sides. Then Killinkere were awarded a '50' in the dying moments but Cooney failed to score. Cornafean 1-6, Killinkere 1-5. The following year Killinkere were back again but this final was one both sides will like to forget about. After a great first half it developed into a riot that was a disgrace to the association. When Tom O'Reilly was injured the crowd rushed the pitch and warring factions exchanged blows. It was eventually cleared and the game resumed but not for long. Trouble blew up again into a general riot and after another long delay the pitch was cleared and Cornafean eventually won by 1-4 to 0-3. It fell to Slashers to break the Cornafean run in 1941.
 
The 1942 final was reckoned one of the greatest ever but the last word in it belonged to Mullahoran, who won by a single point after a hectic hour. Mullahoran 1-8, Cornafean 0-10.

Cornafean had revenge the following year. After playing against a strong breeze they were only three points down at half-time. They came back to win by six points in the second-half, 3-7 to 2-4. This was the end of an era for the Reds. It marked the end of the road for players like Mick Dinneny, Ned Reilly, Bob Millar, Phil Smith, Joe Martin, men who seemed to be ageless. It was Mick Dinneny's eleventh senior championship win and gives him the distinction along with Ned Reilly and Willie Young of playing in and winning a record number of championships. Mention of Cornafean immediately calls to mind Packie Masterson. He first played for Cornafean in 1910 and played his last game in 1947, thirty seven years later. This must certainly be a record in Cavan football. He played for the county from 1912 to 192X and also served as a referee and county selector. He was an ageless warrior known to generations of Cavan football supporters.

It was now Mullahoran's turn to take over in the 'forties, but not without a fight from Cornafean and the clashes between these two clubs became the show-piece of Cavan club football evoking tremendous rivalry, good football and excitements that occasionally boiled over. Although still a force in Cavan football they would have to wait thirteen years for their next title. During that period they had great players in Liam and Des Maguire, Seamus Morris, P. P. Galligan, Des Benson, Seamus Maguire, Peadar Doyle. Thirteen years in the wilderness was a long period for a club so laden with success. In 1956 they took on the title-holders Bailieborough in search of their 20th title. Bailieborough were favourites but Cornafean stole the game in a three minute spell just after half-time in which they scored three goals and turned a half-time deficit of three points into a six point lead. This shattered Bailieborough, who were well in control in the first half and the Reds went on to win by 4-3 to 1-7.

All this happened twenty-three years ago and since then Cornafean have become increasingly a memory. In 1964 they opened splendid new grounds Pairc Naoimh Fionnain, thus supplying a long- felt need. The cynic may well say today, that when they had footballers they had no pitch, now they have a pitch but no footballers. This comment is less than fair to a great club. It is more than coincidence that their decline in the 'fifties corresponded with that of Mullahoran, though Mullahoran have won a senior title since then and recently have shown signs of revival. It was part of the depopulation of rural Cavan that went on with renewed acceleration in the 'fifties robbing rural areas of their youth. It is also more than coincidental that the decline of Cavan county team also dates from this point. Cavan is all the poorer because of their going.

                                

                                   

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