This Article celebrating Ellistown’s centenary, having been founded in 1918, was written by Kildaregaa365 founder Richard Commins and appeared first in the Kildare Nationalist Newspaper dated Tuesday 13th November, 2018.
Whether it’s the Buckleys for Sarsfields, Doyles for Allenwood or McNallys for Johnstownbridge, the GAA is woven from a great tapestry of family names. Take a look at any club’s team sheets down the years and there’s a comforting familiarity.
Trace the history of Ellistown GAA club and names like Cullen, Martin, Donnelly, Melia, Gorry and Noons are constants down the last hundred years.
The club celebrated their Centenary in the Heritage on Friday last with Paul Collins from Ballywire Media & Today FM as MC and ex Kildare and current Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney as guest speaker. Not surprisingly, he spoke impressively as always, and you could literally hear a pin drop.
Although clubs such as Mountrice Blunts, Knavenstown, Umerus and Springfield existed in the area beforehand, and Blunts won two county titles before disbanding after four years, it was only when Ellistown was founded in 1918 that a stable and long-term representative of the townlands near Kildare town was born.
They quickly made their mark, winning the Junior Championship within four years when they overcame Celbridge in 1922. Bob Melia captained that side and was on the Kildare team in that year’s championship.
He was soon joined by Paddy Martin, who was called up to the Kildare team for the 1923 championship, although the Lilywhites lost to Kilkenny by 2-3 to 2-1 in Maryborough.
Paddy went on to become Ellistown’s most decorated player, lining out in six All-Ireland finals (including a replay) between 1926 and 1935, by which time he was described as the “doyen of the team”. He won two All-Irelands, seven Leinsters and six Railway Cups as well as representing Ireland twice at Tailteann Games.
It is fitting that the club in its centenary year decided to name their grounds, opened in 1991, after the great man.
After that Junior triumph they made a couple of semi-final appearances in the senior grade but dropped to Intermediate level and claimed that crown in 1935 with a 1-6 to 0-3 win over Celbridge once more. Martins, Donnellys, Gorrys and Cullens were to the fore once more along with Peter McLoughlin, grandfather of latter-day county star Andriú.
Prematurely, in hindsight, Ellistown were installed as favourites for the 1936 senior competition and a record crowd saw them overcome Sarsfields by a point at Milltown in the opening round. Bob Martin was the outstanding performer and engineered the winning goal.
Surprisingly, McDonagh shocked them next time out and the following year Sarsfields gained revenge in the quarter final.
Ellistown regrouped though and reached their first senior final in 1938. Unfortunately, it was a game that never happened! With six players out through illness, they expected a postponement but were furious when neighbours St. Patrick’s of Kildare were given a walk-over.
The “sick six” were Bob’s brother Steve, Jim “Tugger” Melia, Joe Behan, John Gorry, Peter McLoughlin and Ned Cullen.
This brought the rivalry with St. Patrick’s to fever pitch and (as these things go) the two clashed in the final again the following year. Ellistown had taken all their vitamins this time and were able to field.
On the day Britain and France declared war on Hitler, Ellistown powered to a historic first senior title by 3-2 to 1-3. Ned Cullen and Mick “Butt” Donnelly (those surnames again) were among the goals for the winners who were captained by Bob Martin.
Episode three of their rivalry ended badly for Ellistown. With Bob Martin now playing his football in Dublin, they lost in the first round to St. Patrick’s in 1940 by ten points.
They came back strong again though in 1941 and just lost out in a “manly” game to Athy in the semi-final.
Despite a heavy defeat to the Army the following year, Ellistown’s powers of recovery surfaced again in 1943 and they met Raheens in the final. A three-game saga ensued.
In the first game (1-3 each), Tom Keogh scored Ellistown’s goal while the second game was even tighter with only four scores (1-1 each). “Butt” Donnelly shouldered the Raheens ‘keeper, Waters, over the line for Ellistown’s goal after Keogh’s effort was saved.
The referee was not enamoured with some rough play: “If players indulged in unseemly tactics when my back was turned, it does not speak well for their spirit of sportsmanship”. Indeed.
The third game was again tight on the scoreboard but conceding an early goal and “injudicious hand-passing” scuppered Ellistown hopes. It seems it wasn’t all “catch-and-kick” in those days after all. Raheens won by two points.
Again, they showed their resilience, though, and were back in 1944 to win their second (and last) senior title. There was reportedly a certain amount of luck involved in their final win over Carbury with the cross-bar and uprights being deemed their best defenders in front of a 3,500 crowd. Perhaps the reporter was a little biased. Christy Holohan captained this team.
The team’s longevity around the top was noteworthy in that decade for such a relatively small club although they racked up five consecutive semi-final defeats from 1946 to 1950.
Strangely, but perhaps out of sheer frustration, they dropped to Intermediate for 1951 and not surprisingly won that title immediately, beating Raheens by 1-6 to 1-5 in the final.
A renaissance at senior level wasn’t forthcoming though in that decade and eventually they slipped to Junior level.
The emergence of a remarkable talent in Jack Donnelly helped to propel the side to the Junior title in 1963. Sharpshooter Donnelly scored 1-6 from midfield in a team that also included Liam Molloy and Phil Noons as Ballymore were routed 3-9 to 2-4.
A year later they followed it up with the Intermediate title, beating Maynooth in a thrilling final by 2-10 to 2-7. Ellistown came from behind as Donnelly scored two goals from frees while full-back Molloy was also heroic.
Back in senior they made their mark in 1968 when beating Sarsfields by six points in the quarter-final. Again, Donnelly was superb. Carbury brought their gallop to an end in a replayed semi-final.
After losing first time out for the next three years, in 1972 they were back for their last senior final appearance to date.
Again, Sarsfields were despatched (in the last four) en route to the final with Carbury. Sadly, it was to be a forgettable day for the club as they went down by thirteen points. The monotony of a one-sided game was broken by a fire set by youths at one end of the ground, the smoke “depriving” many of the chance to see the last fifteen minutes. Donnelly again stood out with six points.
Jack’s record for Kildare is up there with many of the county’s greats. Between his senior debut in 1965 and his final game in the Leinster Final ten years later, he appeared 82 times. He scored 6-314, putting him third in the Kildare scoring charts behind Johnny Doyle and Tommy Carew. His average of 4 points per game was the same as Doyle’s while, incredibly, he scored in all but 5 of his appearances.
Of course, he, along with Noons and John Cullen, was also part of Kildare’s 1965 All-Ireland under-21 success. Donnelly scored 2-3 in the final v Cork.
Ellistown struggled to make much impression at senior level through the remainder of the 1970’s, even amalgamating with Rathangan as Springfield at one point, and they dropped to Intermediate, where in 1982, they lost heavily to Kilcock in the final.
They dropped further to Junior level but reached both the ‘A’ and ‘B’ finals in 1993 where, incredibly, they met Caragh in both finals. They won the ‘B’ but lost the ‘A’.
The road back to senior began in 1999. Ken Donnelly and Fergal Noons grabbed two goals each as they overcame Ardclough by 4-3 to 0-9 in the Junior final. A year later they matched the ‘63/’64 team by claiming the Intermediate crown, beating Ballyteague in Sarsfields by 2-5 to 0-10 with Donnelly the man-of-the-match, scoring 1-4. Tom O’Loughlin captained that team and a young Andriú MacLochlainn and Martin Donnelly made regular substitute appearances that summer.
2001 was a red-letter year as well as Ellistown claimed not one but two county under-21 titles! The millennium final had been held over until May 2001 due to the ‘foot and mouth’ epidemic and a talented team captained by Davy Byrne beat Ballymore by six points.
A lot of the same players, including the likes of the Donnellys, MacLochlainn, Enda Noons, Padraig Mullarkey and Philip Hennessy (Capt.) remained on board to defend the title in December of the same year when they edged out St. Edward’s in a low-scoring final in Athy.
The club was very competitive then at senior level, and reached semi-finals in 2004 and 2006, losing to St. Laurence’s and Allenwood respectively.
Relegated in 2010, they came close to bouncing straight back up the following year but lost out in a low-scoring Intermediate final against Confey that should never really have been played due to atrocious conditions.
In 2015, they beat old rivals Towers in the Keogh Cup in Hawkfield, captained by Paddy McDermott.
This year a Division Four SFL title got the year off to a good start and their resilience came to the fore again when over-coming Ballymore Eustace in a relegation play-off to retain Intermediate status.
Shane Maughan, only 21, who won a Leinster with Kildare Juniors this year, Conor O’Loughlin and Tomás Scully produced their best football for the club while Tom O’Loughlin at the age of 43 has passed into legendary status at this stage and is one of the finest club midfielders the county has seen.
The u21’s are in their respective championship final this weekend.
Ellistown started a ladies football section in recent years, which goes from strength to strength and they’ve already reached two senior finals. With Louise Scully a prominent young player lighting up the Kildare ladies football scene, making the team of the league and getting player of the month this year. Going way back to 1936 however, they were county champions in camogie. Yet again it was rivals Kildare who they overcame in that final.
In modern times, Ken and Murt Donnelly both wore the Kildare jersey as did Andriú MacLochlainn and Enda Noons. Ken had a particularly fine Leinster final against Dublin in 2009 and clocked up 47 appearances overall.
MacLochlainn holds the distinction of captaining his county at every level from under-14 to under-21 and lifted the Leinster under-21 title in 2003 when a star-studded Dublin team were beaten in the final.
MacLochlainn became a mainstay of the senior team and was renowned as the team’s go-to man-marker, always detailed to take care of the leading forwards of the day. In all he made a club record 88 appearances at senior level for his county.
To coin a phrase, ‘Club is Family’, and whatever’s in store for Ellistown over the next one hundred years, you could hazard a guess at the family names that will feature strongly on that journey.