Monday 11 April 2011

Hurling Champions Reunion

There were lessons in nostalgia galore in Wexford C.B.S secondary school last Friday night as the Leinster Colleges junior and senior ‘B’ hurling champions of 1961 and 1963 were honoured at a function in the school.
Every single one of those players who are still alive made the trek back to their Alma Mater fifty years on and those who have passed on were represented by family members.
“It was a time before psychologists or hamstring strains had ever been heard about in hurling, before dieticians, statisticians, yellow cards or any handy frees. We are here tonight to celebrate a golden era in hurling.”
So said John Hegarty, M.C. at the function of the 26 men honoured. Their coach at the time Br McSweeney also travelled down from Dublin to be with his former hurlers.
The school’s Deputy Principal also said “We are here to remember a glorious era for hurling not only in Wexford CBS, but in the county in general, when the foundations were being laid for the great Wexford hurling days of the 1960s and a small CBS School on Thomas Street stood proudly as one of the kingpins of Leinster schools hurling.”
“To win one Leinster title is a massive achievement but to win two with many of the same players in such a short space of time speaks volumes for the character, commitment, dedication and the skill of those involved. Well tonight is all about honouring those players.”
Brother Kinsella opened the evening’s celebration with a prayer and remembered especially the four players who have passed on and their representatives.
The Mayor of Wexford and also a teacher in the school, Cllr. Joe Ryan said he was delighted to be in attendance. He paid tribute “to the sense of community and togetherness that was evident in the room and to those who had travelled from far and wide to attend.”
Gerry Forde, the Chairman of the school’s Board of Management, praised every member of the teams and their families for attending.
It was another past-pupil and former chairman of Leinster Council GAA, Sheamus Howlin who made the presentations to the men honoured.
“I have nothing but fond memories of school and am delighted to be here. I immediately recognised Br McSweeney and am thrilled to see him. I recall the guidance and help he gave me and he is a special person and special man. On behalf of the GAA I would like to thank the Christian Brothers for the role they played in the GAA.
 “I see many hurlers here who played key roles for Wexford in the golden years. I am going to single out one man and that is Willie Bernie. I was a few years behind these teams in school but we all looked up to Willie.
“We all tried to be as skilful as Willie on the field and be the gentleman that he was off the field,” before being interrupted by a round of applause for the team captain.
“It is a great credit to the school to organise an event like this. It could so easily have skipped by,” said Howlin before presenting each of the players with a memento of the evening and a specially produced photograph of the 1961 junior team.
Willie Bernie was next to speak and he thanked the organising committee and the Board of Management of the school. “It is fantastic to be reacquainted with the lads fifty years on. Enjoy the night and thank you.”
The team coach Br. McSweeney told the large crowd that he was delighted to be there. “I have worked all over Ireland and by far the best co-operation I got was when I was here in Wexford.”
He recalled an incident in the first half of a match where midfielder Robin Walsh was hurling the opposing team’s best player out of it and at half-time he told Walsh to stay with his immediate marker in the new half.
“He had him tied up in knots; had him in his pocket so I told Robin to follow him in the second half. Anyway the second half started and I could see Robin running around the field looking for his man to no avail.
“They had changed his jersey to 19 and moved him to wing-forward to keep him away from Robin! Anything I said they did it. I was lucky that such a great bunch came along together and the one time.”
Br. McSweeney paid tribute to the other Brothers and teachers from the primary schools in the area that “did the work on the boys before they sent them into us.”
School principal and chairman of the organising committee, Michael McMahon welcomed everyone to the school; thanked the organising committee of Gerry Forde, Deputy Principal John Hegarty, school secretary Bernadette Stafford and staff member Donal Howlin; Martina Dalton and Ann Howlin who provided the catering for the function; the school’s caretaker Derek Hatchell for setting up the room and music teacher Niele Kavanagh for providing the sound system.   
He also welcomed Billy Sweetman who was teaching at the school when these Leinster titles were won.
He noted that four of the senior team of 1963 won All-Ireland minor hurling medals later that summer with Wexford: Willie Bernie (who captained Wexford to that title), Con Dowdall, Eddie Cousins and Brendan Gaul.
“It was a great experience for us contacting all the men on the panel. Most we found easy enough but for some we had to use South East Radio and we found one man on Google! Willie Bernie just had to cross the road to attend tonight whereas Frank Browne flew in from Spain!”
He concluded by thanking the Board of Management for their support and backing for the function.
Refreshments were then served and the talk of matches won and lost filled the air well into the night as the crowd mingled and talked at length about former glory days.
Leinster Junior Colleges ‘B’ Hurling final 1961-1962: Wexford C.B.S. 5-2 Portlaoise C.B.S 1-6, Nowlan Park.
Leinster Senior Colleges ‘B’ Hurling final 1962-63: Wexford C.B.S 3-7 Gormanstown 4-2, Ashford.
The list of the men honoured on the night: Willie Bernie (Captain), Liam Bent, Nicky Braoders, Frank Browne, Sean Clancy (RIP, represented by his son Tommy), Eddie Cousins, John Devereux, Con Dowdall, Con Doyle, Ray Doyle, Brendan Gaul (RIP, represented by his sister Angela Tennant), Paddy Kehoe, Tim Kehoe, Pat La Roche (RIP, represented by his brother Peter), Richie Lynn, Alfie McGrath, John Meyler, Martin Mulcahy, Basil Murray (RIP, represented by his son Dermot), Benny O’Connor, Michael ‘The Bear’ O’Leary, Jackie Power, Toddy Radford, Toss Ryan, Michael Sills and Robin Walsh.

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