1957 was a big year for Gaelic football in Louth, for reasons obvious to all of us. It is a year even more so fondly remembered in one particular part of Mid-Louth. Founded by club greats Christy Byrne and the late Paddy Halpenny and Eugene Reilly, this Sunday night’s celebration at Darver Castle will remember the many achievements of John Mitchels GFC in that time – and the people behind them.
It was November 1957 that the very first John Mitchels GFC AGM was held. The next year, the club competed in official county board competition for the very first time. The founding trio felt that despite a heavy GAA presence in the area – Ardee St Marys, Sean McDermotts, Hunterstown Rovers and Westerns GFC were all already in existence – there was still a necessity for a new GAA club.
Months earlier, there had been a big local representation in the winning Louth team. Every young boy in the county seemingly was playing – or wanted to play – Gaelic football.
Their vision led to the formation of the club that continues to thrive today in what are difficult conditions for any small GAA club to survive in, let alone flourish.
With an old second division title and two Junior Football Championships amongst the trophies under their belt, the Mitchels enjoyed reasonable success before the turn of the century – after which senior team triumphs have been harder to come by.
Within six years of the club’s beginning, they competed a Second Division championship final – narrowly losing out to Annaghminnon Rovers by a scoreline of 1-09 to 2-05 in Knockbridge. Three years later, the Mitchels returned to the second tier final and played closer to home in Ardee, they won their first ever championship, beating Stabannon Parnells 5-05 and 1-02.
In 1969, the Mitchels made their first appearance in the old MacArdle Cup league final but they while they lost out to Glyde Rangers, they went one further in 1971. That year, they beat Cooley Kickhams by four points.
Mitchels winners to be honoured
At Sunday’s Diamond Jubilee event at Darver Castle, the 1990 MacArdle Cup winners and the 1992 JFC winners will be presented.
In the early 1980s, the club made two championship semi-final appearances before making the Junior Championship final in 1985 – only to lose to Lannleire. That was one half of a double blow for the Mitchels in ’85, who also lost another McArdle Cup final to Dundalk Gaels.
By the end of the 1980s – and with Stephen Melia in their ranks – the Mitchels found themselves among the intermediate ranks after the structure reshuffle and whilst there, they had a brand new pitch at a new site at Ballybailie to welcome visitors to.
Back in the junior ranks in 1990, they won another MacArdle Cup before – 25 years after their first triumph – the Mitchels were crowned Junior Football Champions courtesy of a 1-04 to 0-06 win over Glyde Rangers in Haggardstown.
Remarkably, they were soon mounting an assault on the Intermediate Football Championship. They reached the final in 1994, but Lann Leire stopped them in their tracks at Pairc Muire in Ardee.
The best was yet to come in 1998. Embarking on a scarcely believable 29 (yes, 29!) match unbeaten run as the John Mitchels enjoyed their best year to date in their 60 years in existence. Winning the JFC and MacArdle Cup double, they just missed out on a historic treble when they were pipped to the Avondale Shield by the O’Raghallaighs.
Still, the 1-08 to 0-09 win over St Brides in Louth Village, where a last minute goal won the championship again for the men from Ballybailie, will live long in the memories of Mitchels fans. The Christy Bellew Cup was theres. The McArdle Cup followed when the same opposition were defeated in the final Division 3 league game in Ballybailie.
Since the turn of the century, success has been harder to come by. Whilst 90s rivals moved up the grades and onto better things, the Mitchels frustratingly perhaps failed to build on their success of the time.
There was a 2002 victory in the Kevin Mullen Shield when Na Piarsaigh were beaten in Dundalk – but that was that. In the same year, the club embarked on a major redevelopment of the grounds and eight years later, the club officially opened their Pairc Sean Misteal grounds with GAA President Christy Cooney and former Louth County Board chairman Padraic O Connor among those in attendance.
It was the culmination of 23 years of hard work, graft and vision too. Ballybalie had been their home for that time after living a nomadic life to that point. By 2010, they had a clubhouse, spectator stand, boundary wall, floodlighting and more. The three club founders all played their part in making the John Mitchels GFC modern day facility happen – as did the likes of James Sweeney, James Halpenny, Frankie Sands, Pat Kane and John Joe Curtis.
Now, Pairc Sean Misteal is home to the current crop of senior players – a mixture of youth and bountiful experience – and a burgeoning juvenile and academy section too. The Mitchels have been represented well at inter-county level with youngsters starring for teams up to and including Louth minors.
In 2011, the club captured the Division 3 Shield and at the latter end of 2014 – along with the O Connells and Stabannon Parnells – they took the U21 title back to Mid-Louth too. The minors followed that triumph up with the Minor B Championship in 2016 – also with the O Connells and Stabannon Parnells.