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Red Letter Day for Maghery Sean MacDermott’s

16 March 2003

All-Ireland Champions to open new Felix Hamill Memorial Park
Official opening of Felix Hamill Memorial Park
By Joe Mc Manus

This Sunday, March 16, writes yet another chapter in the long and varying history of Maghery Sean Mc Dermott's GFC when the county team travel to the Loughshore to play Westmeath as part of the ceremonies for the official opening of the club's new playing field and facilities, appropriately named the Felix Hamill Memorial Park, in honour of one of the club's greatest servants. The throw-in is at 3.30 p.m.

It's a tribute to the new field committee consisting of chairman, John Robinson, Kevin Rafferty (former county player), Stevie McConville and Brian Nugent, what the club has now produced.

Football has always been a major part in Maghery life (the first club was founded in 1906). Some great players have played for the club and have went on to play for their county. Players like Sean Smith, who played for Armagh county team who won the minor All-Ireland in 1949; Frank O’Doherty played for the county junior team in 1926 this was Armagh’s first ever All-Ireland; also Gerard Fox, Kenny Laverty, Noel Toye, Frank Hanna and Sean McKenna, who played both at club and county level.

The only Maghery player to take part in an All-Ireland senior final is Kevin Rafferty, whose son, Kieran, won Ulster minor and under 21 medals with the county. Martin Toye played for the county for many years in the 80’s and 90’s and Damian ‘Dixie’ Robinson was one of the finest place kickers the county has ever produced. He also represented Armagh. These are only a few of the household names to play the game and to have worn the Maghery colours.

Some great sporting moments have taken place in the area, one in particular when the 1953 Armagh team took up residence for two weeks in the local hotel and trained on the pitch in preparation for the All-Ireland final under the watchful eye of Father William Me Knight, who was the County Chairman and also in his fifth year as local priest. His training and guidance of the team contributed much to glory earned by it even in defeat.

At club level he had a great respect for everyone. He aroused great interest and enthusiasm for the project to build the club’s own field. His dream was fulfilled and on the opening day a crowd of 4,500 watched Armagh play Tyrone. Fr McKnight’s work in the area will never be forgotten.

St. Malachy’s was the first name of the club, Tommy Connolly, well known Ulster Sprinter, one of the key figures behind its formation nearly 100 years ago. In 1918 the club was known as Tom Clarke’s.

The season 1926-27 the famous Phelim Brady's Club was formed and proceeded to make football history, with the assistance of a few fine players from Tyrone. Beating St Malachy’s College, Belfast in the South Antrim league was looked upon as a magnificent achievement. The Brady's success continued in the 30's with the winning of the Armagh Junior Championship and McOscar Cup.

About 1939 a new team took shape in the Columbcille area; this team was called the Geraldines, and they took part in the Lurgan league. In 1947 there was the amalgamation of the two teams to form the Shamrock Club based in Milltown. The Fifties saw the Shamrocks struggle for honours, winning a good few tournaments on the way. Then in 1958 they won the first of two Junior Championships, the other being won in 1962. In 1966, the club was renamed Sean Me Dermott's winning Division One of the ACL in 1971, 1982 and 1987.

Maghery have yet to win a county senior final but have come so agonisingly close on a number of occasions. They had fine a senior team in the 80’s and 90's, the Rafferty's, Robinson's, Forker's, Fox's, McConville's and Toye's all to the fore.

Over the years the club has produced many personalities including managers Bill Devlin and Malachy Heaney but perhaps one of the most noted characters attached to the Shamrocks was Felix Hamill who as a player knew no fear. He went on to give many years of valued administration as club treasurer. Felix who was awarded Clubman of the Year at the 1990 County Dinner was closely linked to county panels in the 70's and 80’s when he willingly assisted with player transport to matches and training sessions. What greater honour could the club give Felix than to name this beautiful complex after him.

When Armagh Supporters Club was formed some years ago another Maghery man, Joe Corr became Chairman and contributed in large measure to the early success of this sporting group.

A name that will always be associated with the Maghery, Club is that of the late Frank Hanna whose sudden and untimely death in July of 1978 cut short his deep, total and sustained involvement with the G.A.A. and robbed the county of one of its most able and enthusiastic officials.

Frank first came to prominence in the early seventies when he made his debut on the Armagh senior team. His involvement at underage level was outstanding. He was the man at the helm in 1974 when Shamrocks won the county minor title. It was a tribute to his managerial skills that 12 months later he was handed the reins of the county minor team. Within two seasons he had taken them to an Ulster final. They lost after a replay to Down, the eventual all-Ireland champions. Yet in defeat there was much to admire and that side saw the birth of players of the calibre of John Corvan, Peter Rafferty, Hank Kernan, Dermot Dowling and Mickey McDonald.

Sean MacDermott’s presented the Frank Hanna Memorial Cup to the Armagh county board in 1978 for the county minor championship.

So as one can see Maghery's contribution to the Armagh GAA story has been noteworthy and when manager Joe Kernan was asked to bring the County team to the Loughshore this Sunday he was delighted.

"I remember going to Maghery in may own playing days with Cross. It was tough on the field but you were always given a great welcome. I am delighted to bring the county team there on Sunday and help them out. It will be a strong side, we'll rest a few more, look at a few new ones and there will be a few Maghery men. There will be plenty of the big names and we are looking forward to the game with Westmeath whom we have come across in the league a few times in the past," said Joe.

There will be more activities to celebrate this special occasion in the club’s history. On Saturday April 12 Armagh’s over 40’s team will play a Loughshore line-up and on the following Sunday, April 13, All-Ireland minor champions Derry will play Armagh minors at 1.30pm. Archbishop Sean Brady will conduct the official blessing of the field at 3pm followed by Maghery’s first league match at 3.30pm. Honorary guests on the day will include representatives from Armagh county board, the Ulster GAA President John O’Reilly and former president of the GAA Peter Quinn.

Armagh and Westmeath go back a long time. Perhaps Joe Kernan won't want reminded about the day in Castletowngeoghan when he was sent off. The Leinster side have been up and coming in recent years and no longer the proverbial pushover for their illustrious neighbours, Meath. They have been quite unfortunate in the Leinster championship of late. The last time they played Armagh was in the league in Crossmaglen, a game which Armagh won comfortably. Westmeath who are unbeaten at the top of Division 2A will take a strong team to the Loughshore.

John Robinson, that hard working Sean Mac Dermott's chairman, who has laboured so hard in connection with this development over the past 16 months and drawing a programme of events, is just over the moon that Armagh are coming to the Loughshore as All-Ireland Champions. Fifty years ago they trained there when only one step away from the ultimate prize. It may have taken 50 years for Armagh to complete the business, but sure it was well worth waiting on.

There is a rumour circulating that our neighbours Tyrone might invade Maghery this weekend and have a 'ship' waiting to sail Sam across the Lough ... but sure you know what rumours are! In the past Maghery has always had a good relationship with their neighbours from the other side of the Lough and many from Tyrone have played in the Maghery colours. As a matter of interest, Gavin Devlin, the Tyrone centre half-back who got man of the match last Sunday was born in Maghery... pay back time, so to speak.

The flags will be flying in Maghery this weekend to herald a red letter day in the club's history and what better time to reflect on the invaluable contributions of those dedicated Gaels, no longer with us, cornerstones like Felix Hamill and Frank Hanna, who will be looking down on the proceedings from the seats on high.


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