The Golden Age of Hurling

The game of hurling is almost as old as Irish civilisation itself. An account of the Battle of Moytura, near Cong, Co. Mayo, which took place over 3,000 years ago describes how the opposing armies challenged each other to a rather ferocious game of hurling before the battle proper. The two 27 man teams engaged in a bloody encounter and the dead were buried before the armies met on the battlefield. Over the next three millennia, hurling, at times, would bear some similarities to that violent encounter in Connacht but the codified sport that we have today bears no resemblance to this earliest form of the ancient game.

One of the most unusual sources of the history of the game from the 16th Century comes from a member of the extended Cosby family of Stradbally. As we have seen earlier in this book, the Cosby’s would not have been expected to take to hurling, it being the most Irish of games. However, Pole Dudley, writing about his father, states that he was ‘a most extraordinary fine hurler’. As Seamus King, in his seminal history of hurling, plausibly speculates, the Dudleys and Cosbys of Stradbally may have had contests with the Purcells of Templemore who were also early hurling enthusiasts.  The freemen of Maryborough were noted to have participated in grand spectacles of hurling in the 16th Century in ‘The Green’ in the town, near where the present train station is located.  In the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, when the land came into the near total ownership of Protestant landlords the game entered its so called first golden age. Seamus King points out that ‘landlords took over the game during the 17th and 18th centuries so that the countryside ran with the sound of spirited contests between teams of rival landlords and inter-barony contests’. 

There is no doubt that in the 17th Century, when the ancient woods of Camross were slowly cleared and farming communities began to grow, so too did the prevalence of hurling in the place which would one day become synonymous with the game. There are no documented 17th or 18th Century hurling games in Camross but there were documented games in Laois, around the Rathdowney area, from the 1760s on.  Seamus King records five instances of documented hurling contests between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries on the Laois-Kilkenny border.  In 1945 a letter writer to the Leinster Express noted that before the establishment of the GAA in 1884, the only places in Laois where hurling was played were Camross, Clonaslee, Rathdowney, and Kilcotton. Football on the other hand was not played in the locality of Camross. Gaelic football, insofar as the game played with a football in Ireland at the time could be compared to Gaelic football, had declined in Laois generally from the 1790s on.

In describing the exploits of The Upperwood Rangers, the Poet Ryan penned one of the most stirring accounts of 18th Century hurling ever committed to paper;

Come on my boys let us march on so glory does invite us

And through Roscrea we'll make our way no danger shall affright us

We for all sorts of liquor called, the landlord says "Ye're strangers,

Are ye the boys we did hear of, are ye the Upperwood Rangers?"

It's true it's from Coolrain we come, that lovely seat of pleasure

Where heroes bold stood uncontrolled beyond all time and measure

It's true that from Coolrain we came at hurling we're no strangers

We are the boys you did hear of, we are the Upperwood Rangers.

The day appointed soon drew nigh, the hills were soon surmounted

Like lions in the den we stood while by them we were counted

The ball was thrown up to the sky the Munster men all shouted,

"We give three cheers for our boys, Shinrone was never doubted.

Young Collier said to his men, "Both front and rear take order

This is the day we'll show them play, proud Munster we'll alarm"

But Phelan then among his men was not the least alarmed

To meet the foe where'er he'd go, no brave was brave young Gorman.

The Ossorians mounted their play, they played the first half-hour

But soon were made to understand that Upperwood was the power,

For them the tussling took place, they cried, "Lay on the strangers!"

But we brought the ball up through the goal, We are the Upperwood Rangers.

Throughout the 19th Century, hurling was viewed by the established classes as more of a social problem than an honourable sport. And they possibly had reason to come to this conclusion given the high number of violent assaults at games. In May 1836 a man called Freighy had his skull cracked in a game of hurling near Kinnity by a man called Mulhall. Mulhall was arrested at the match and was sent to Tullamore prison.  A man was beaten badly during a hurling game in Garron, just outside Knock in March 1843.  Later that year there was outrage at the growing number of hurling matches on a Sunday which were desecrating the Sabbath all over the Queen’s County.  Indeed Statute 7 of the reign of William III stated that ‘any person who shall be found playing at hurling, football, or wrestling, or any other game, sport, or pastime on the Sabbath, shall, on being produced before any justice of the peace, be liable to a fine of twelve pence and costs’.  This legislation, dating from the early 18th century was used in the prosecution of several parties throughout the 1860s in an effort to curb gatherings of young Irish men.

In December 1843, in Ballyfin, Kavan Lalor attacked William Harris with a hurl in a dispute over stolen ash plants that were being fashioned into further hurls.  Lalor was lucky not to be transported to Australia for the attack. He received three months hard labour in prison.  At a hurling match between Portlaoise and Mountrath in 1844 a young man called Matt Phelan, who was a spectator at the game was struck in the side of the head with a hurl by a Casey man. Phelan died a few days later.  The common nature of violence at hurling games got to the stage where, if anyone fell ill at a game, rumour would spread that they were heinously attacked with a hurl. This was the case in a match between the inhabitants of Factory Street and Shannon Street in Mountrath in 1850. Amidst the high drama towards the end of the exciting game a man suffered a heart attack and died. Reports of an apparent vicious assault were only discounted when a verdict of death ‘by the visitation of God’ was reached by the county coroner.

The devastating effects of the Famine upon rural Ireland led to a situation where neither hurling nor Gaelic football were played in places where they had been popular hitherto. Many of the men and women who played and enjoyed the game were dead. Many more had emigrated. Those who were spared were left to pick up the pieces, to raise their families amidst the harsh realities of the time. There was precious little time or energy left for hurling. It is likely that an entire generation, or two, did not hurl at all in Camross. In the 1860s a Home Rule MP said that after the Famine, rural Ireland’s ‘ancient sports and pastimes…disappeared and in many parts…have never returned. The outdoor games, the hurling match…are seen no more’.  As emigration continued, the Leinster Express noted that the Laois emigrant was ‘bidding farewell to all to all they hold dear – from their family or mistresses, down to the chimney corner, the cracked looking glass and the village dance, the merry meeting, the hurling and football match’.

Cricket in Camross

In the immediate aftermath of the famine the only people in rural Ireland capable of organising sports were the loyalist community who tended to, though not in all cases, have survived the Famine unscathed. Their main sport was cricket and in the latter half of the 19th Century cricket began to penetrate rural communities where hurling had once dominated. Initially cricket would have been exclusively played by members of the Church of Ireland communities but as time went by tenant farmers would have turned to the game as hurling or Gaelic football were not being organised in any coherent manner. In the 1830s cricket games were held weekly in The Heath between teams from around Maryborough, Stradbally and beyond. The first mention of a cricket club in Mountrath was in 1840 when they took on a selection from Portarlington. A cursory glance at the Mountrath team and the reception afterwards, held in a marquee on the grounds, suggests little interest from the farming classes. However, by the time of the foundation of the GAA in 1884 and the Parnellite split shortly afterwards cricket certainly had a presence in Camross parish. In the neighbouring region of Roscomroe hurling was said not to have been played at all and that cricket was the only sport played.

One of the earliest references to a cricket team in the greater Camross area came in a report on a game in the Laois Nationalist newspaper between Derrylamougue, from the Rosenallis area, and Baureigh. The match was played on 30 August 1903 and was a victory for the mountain men by 55 runs to 27. Green and Guilfoyle were the noted performers on the Baureigh side. The club in Mountrath had been as vibrant and active as any other in the county but fell away in the early 1900s. A small renaissance in the game occurred in 1930. In the summer of that year the Mountrath club was reformed. The club’s grounds were reported to have been located in a field adjacent to the town and over 50 members signed up. By early August 1930 they had achieved three victories from the four contests they had competed in. In 1934 a cricket club was established in Cardtown and they played one of the old strongholds of the game in Laois, Stradbally. The previous week they had lost to Mountrath Cricket club by 7 overs. Cricket seemed to be most popular in the Killanure area in the 1930s. It is recorded in the National Folklore collection that ‘all the children in [Killanure] play cricket’. Some of the great cricket players of the past from Killanure are also listed; James Burke (Burke’s Cross), Thomas Ryan (Mountain Farm), Kieran Delaney (Drimo), John Carroll (Drimo) and John Burke (living in Ballyfin in 1938). The Carroll and Burke families were noted as being the most enthusiastic players in the 1930s. They all played on the grounds of Major Hamilton’s in Roundwood.

The Foundation of the GAA and 19th Century hurling in Camross

At 3pm on 1 November 1884, Michael Cusack convened a meeting of a small group of men in the Billiard Room of Hayes’ Hotel in Thurles. Maurice Davin, addressing the meeting, pointed out the incongruity of Irishmen permitting Englishmen to organise Irish sport and he emphasised that this had led to the decline of native pastimes and called for a body to draft rules to aid in their revival.  The meeting was poorly attended, proceedings were relatively short and neither date nor venue for a follow up meeting were agreed on. In many ways the foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association would not instil belief in anyone that within a century it would become the largest amateur sporting body in the world.

Despite the inauspicious start, ‘the Association swept the country like a prairie fire’ as Cusack would famously write years later.  The first GAA clubs were Dublin based, the first country club was established in Offaly. The foundation of Clara GAA club on 15 December 1884 was followed by a plethora of rural clubs in Galway and Tipperary. One of the first GAA hurling matches took place in Feagh, Galway between Killimor and Ballinakill.  A crowd of 6,000 witnessed Killimor win by two goals to nil.  In 1886 the first inter-county game took place in the Phoenix Park between Galway and Tipperary. The enthusiasm for such contests was evidenced by the fact that the victorious Tipperary team was welcomed back to Nenagh by a torchlight procession and a crowd of over 4,000 people.

Laois was not represented in the establishment of the Association but by the end of 1885 a number of clubs along the Kilkenny and Tipperary borders had been established. Clubs such as Rathdowney, Durrow, Rapla and Borris-in-Ossory all contested the first championships. Other 19th Century clubs included Clonaslee, Wolfhill, Portarlington and Knockaroo. By the dawn of the 20th Century there were clubs in almost every parish in the county. The first representatives of Laois on the inter-county scenes in both football and hurling took to the pitch in Portlaoise on the same day in June 1888. Rathdowney were the inaugural club hurling champions and they faced the Kilkenny champions, Mooncoin;

A few minutes after three o'clock [the players on the Rathdowney and Mooncooin teams] crossed hurleys. The prevailing idea amongst interested people was that the Mooncoin men, who have made a big name for themselves, would make short work of their less experienced opponents from the Queen's County. However, the Rathdowney hurlers gave the boys of Kilkenny quite enough of it, and made them earn their victory. For the first half the play was rather even, Rathdowney having the best of it as far as the score was concerned going into the second half with two points to their credit to one for Mooncoin. In the second period the Kilkenny men hurled in vastly improved style, and won by a goal and two points to two points for Rathdowney.

For members of the loyalist class, and several of the ordinary labouring class, for that matter, these Irish sports were viewed with curiosity and amusement. This is very evident in the first full report on a club hurling match in the Leinster Express.

‘Gaelic intelligence’ Portarlington (1st) v. Maryborough (1st)

Sunday last brought together a large concourse of all the lovers of the old sport which has now regained the attention it hitherto demanded, and those who sallied forth must confess that they have been repaid as they witnessed a splendid afternoon’s amusement provided for them by the Gaels who had met to experiment on their capabilities as footballers and hurlers. The Maryborough team has not been in existence for long and their first venture was a plucky one as they succeeded much better than could be expected. Like all other games a successful result largely depends on the weather and this too proved very favourable, not so much, perhaps, for the spectators as the players, who must have been delighted with the keen wind which lent the atmosphere its peculiar suitability.

Two early reports on hurling matches in Queen’s County which are of note relate to a team called Tinnakilly. Several sources from the time and up to the late 1930s, especially the archives of the National Folklore Collection, refer to the townland known today as Tinnakill as Tinnakilly. Therefore, there is every possibility that the team referred to relates to a team made up from people around the Tinnakill, Clonin, Derrynaseera and Ballyhorahan areas. In any case, the reports are very relevant to establishing an idea of what early GAA hurling matches looked like in Laois at the time.

The first game took place in April 1889 in Borris-in-Ossory. The venue for the game lends support to the theory that Tinnakilly was a Camross side. The game was a second round tie for the Queen’s County Championship. Their opponents were the dominant side of the era and reigning champions, Rathdowney.

[Tinnakilly] won the toss, but decided to play against the wind for the first half, during which time the game was splendidly contested, and, on going into the second half, the score stood Rathdowney two points; Tinnakilly one. Rathdowney played in great form in the second half, never giving the other side a chance, and at full-time had won by one goal and five points to one point.

The second game took place later that summer, the opponents were Clonaslee.

Immediately on the ball being thrown in by the referee the Clonaslee men took it into the Tinnakilly ground and after a short time got a forty yards puck from their opponents, off which they failed to score. On a puck out from Tinnakilly the ball was taken up the field and a point was scored. But from this until half time the play was kept in neutral ground. On change of sides the Clonaslee men brought the ball several times towards the goal, but were each time unsuccessful. Both teams are capital hurlers and wield their camans in excellent style, but a want of the knowledge of the rules of play was a great drawback to each of them. There is no doubt that the Clonaslee men are the better hurlers of the two, and although they were defeated on this occasion it was the general belief that if the match had to be played again Tinnakilly would not have borne away the laurels, which they did by one point to nil. Referee Mr. John McGuire, Captain Maryborough Hurling Club, Field Umpires, Mr. Treacy Tinnakilly, Mr. Conroy Clonaslee.

If indeed Tinnakilly represented the first hurling team of the GAA era from Camross their initial two outings were not a huge success. The club seemed to have disappeared from the hurling scene after 1889 perhaps due to their initial failures but more likely because of the better players leaving to play with neighbouring clubs such as Borris-in-Ossory. It would be another 14 years before Camross was to have a club of its own.

1903-1914. The Early Years

Foundation

Camross GAA club was established in 1903 by Tom Phelan, Marymount. Phelan became the club’s first chairman and Martin Dooley was its first secretary. The honour of being the club’s first president fell to the Parish Priest, Fr. John Carroll. Early figures of the club also included John Lyons, Michael Phelan and Edward Tarrant.  It is likely that Camross entered the 1904 and 1905 championships at Junior level and possibly at Senior level. However, they had little success in either. 1906 was to be the first breakthrough year for the club.

The club entered a team in the Junior and Senior championships. They opened their Junior campaign with a victory and played neighbours Castletown in the second round. The match was the first game involving Camross that was reported in the national press, appearing in the Freeman’s Journal;

                Queen’s County Junior Hurling Championship

At the Pike of Rushall, on Sunday, the second round for the Junior Hurling Championship of the Queen’s County was played between teams representing Castletown and Camross. A very large crowd of spectators attended to witness the play. At half-time the scoring was Camross, 2 goals and 2 points; Castletown, 1 goal and 1 point. The result was as follows; Camross, 2 goals and 2 points; Castletown, 2 goals and 1 point.

This close contest was not replicated in the side’s next Junior tie against Rathdowney. The game, played in Mondrehid, ended in a 32 point defeat for Camross. To make matters worse, Camross failed to register a single score throughout the entire game. 

1906 Senior County Finalists

The senior team, on the other hand, fared far better. They began their campaign with a first round victory against Clonard, a small club from just outside Mountrath, to set up a semi-final berth against Clonaslee. The match, played in Castletown, resulted in a 7 points to 5 victory for Camross as they advanced to their first ever hurling final. Their 2 point lead at half time proved crucial as both sides scored five points in the second half. As was quite common in the early, and indeed not so early, days of the Association, championships often overran and had to be resolved the following year. This was the case with the 1906 championship. Therefore, on 14 April 1907, the 1906 Queen’s County Hurling championship final took place in Ballacolla between Camross and Kilcotton. The lengthy delay to the final was caused by the multiple postponements of Kilcotton’s semi-final against Rathdowney. Kilcotton had only overcome their opponents two weeks before the final.

The first blue riband day for the club could scarcely have gone worse. The first half was a very tight affair but as the match report below shows, the second half did not go according to plan;

Queen’s Co. Senior Hurling Championship – The Final

Ballacolla on Sunday was the venue for the final in the Senior Hurling Championship of the Queen’s County for 1906. The teams competing were Kilcotton v. Camross. The day was beautifully fine, and there was an extremely large crowd of spectators present. At 3pm, both teams crossed camans and Kilcotton, having won the toss, played with the sun and a slight breeze in their favour. During the first half hour the game was very exciting and well contested throughout. At half-time the score stood; Kilcotton 2 points, Camross nil.

On resumption of play Kilcotton had matters nearly all their own way, having got possession of the ball they made several scores in rapid succession, the leather being practically kept the whole time in their opponent’s territory. Just before the time had expired Camross snatched a point. The final whistle announced the result as follows; Kilcotton 17 points, Camross 1 point.

For the record, the breakdown of Kilcotton’s 17 points was 2-11. The Camross team on the day was John Lyons (Captain), J Lyons, W Byrne, J Byrne, James Byrne, M Byrne, T Dunne, M Dunne, T Pratt, John Joe Collier, J Ward, J Scully, J Meara, W Kirwan, J Moore, D Dunne, D Moore. Despite the heavy defeat, reaching the Senior County Final represented a great achievement for a club that was still very much in its infancy. As was the case with the juniors, they seemed very able to compete toe to toe with their opponents in the first half but wilted disastrously in the second. With greater experience and fitness the signs were that Camross could become a serious challenger to the likes of the established giants of Laois hurling, Rathdowney.

By 1907, the GAA was firmly established as one of the prime ‘fronts’ of the revival of Irish culture. The rapid growth of the organisation in the early 1900s was helped by the realisation from both the Irish Parliamentary Party and the Catholic Church that the GAA was a body that was there to stay and opposing them would only harm their own interests. It could be argued that the county where the GAA was proving most successful in terms of active participation was Laois. With 41 affiliated clubs, there was one club for every 1,332 people within the county. This is by far the lowest club per person ratio in Ireland at the time with Offaly, for instance, having three times more people per club than Laois. This means that the penetration of the Association was extremely high within Laois.

Back on the field, in the Junior Championship, Camross took on Clough in the first round but were defeated. The seniors could not repeat their success of the previous year. The highlight of their year was a spirited contest with Rathdowney in a tournament in Borris-in-Ossory;

This match was well up to expectations. The ground was bare and level, and there was tough, fine clean striking on both sides. Camross, though depending on a scratch team, played a plucky and determined game, but had to acknowledge defeat. In the first half, Camross had the advantage of position, but Rathdowney was leading at the interval by 1 goal and 2 points to 3 points.

In the second half, both teams started with renewed vigour and determination in their work. Rathdowney got a point immediately, and soon after Nolan, who was playing a sound game, raised the red flag by a long low stroke from centre. Play was now very fast and exciting, every man playing for what he was worth. Perhaps some of the players were a little too strenuous, bordering on roughness. From a free, Camross had no difficulty in getting a point per Lyons. Rathdowney soon responded but, off the break, Camross came away with a great burst, and put the leather through for a goal. The next score, a point fell to Camross, and just before the final whistle, Rathdowney increased their lead by another point, leaving the final score: Rathdowney...2 goals and 6 points, Camross 1 goal and 5 points. In the open Camross were better. Lyons, Byrne and Pratt distinguished themselves.

John Lyons, Joe Byrne and Sam Pratt were quickly emerging as household names in Camross and beyond and began to be noticed by selectors for the county team.  Joe Byrne was the first man from the club to hurl with Laois in a game against Dublin in Jones’ Road in November 1908. 

Decline

The 1907 championship was much delayed and the third round was not played until the following March. Camross had managed to get to this stage and they faced Ballacolla in Castletown. Camross, who were a half hour late taking to the field, were equal to Ballacolla in the opening half but faded slightly in the second half and were knocked out of the championship on a score line of nine points to seven.

It seems that after the delayed 1907 championship, Camross and Castletown merged and hurled under the name Upperwoods, the name of the conjoined parish for centuries, and the name which the local hurling team went by during the late 18th Century. On 10 January 1909 the first recorded game involving Upperwoods took place (against Donaghmore). Although difficult to ascertain how they fared in the 1909 season they are noted to have reached the Senior semi-final where they faced Clonaslee. Clonaslee went on to win this semi-final and were defeated by Kilcotton in the final the following March.  Upperwoods seemed to be in existence for some years in the early 1910s. Edward Tarrant represented the club at meetings of the County Board.  In 1912 Castletown took part in the Junior hurling championship, indicating that the merger had come to an end. If the merger did indeed end in 1912 then Camross took quite a while to reorganise. The club are not mentioned in any reports during either the 1912 or 1913 championships.

As Camross were regrouping after their short merger with Castletown, the county side were entering the most successful period that they had enjoyed to that point, and sadly, have ever enjoyed to this day. Kilcotton provided the bulk of the Laois team for the 1914 inter-county championship. They defeated Kilkenny in the Leinster final and met Clare in the All-Ireland final. The historic occasion resulted in a total annihilation of the Laois team. But Laois, led by men from the Ballygeehan club, made amends in the following year when they defeated Cork in a rain sodden Croke Park on 24 October 1915 to with their first All-Ireland. Neither team wore their current colours; Laois wearing black and amber and Cork wearing an all yellow jersey.  Amongst the 15,000 strong crowd was Jack Johnston, the first African-American boxer to hold the World Heavyweight Championship. Johnston, whose seven year reign ended only months beforehand, was said to have been supporting Laois. There was a very tangible link between Camross and the victorious Laois team of the mid-1910s. Paddy Ryan, of Derrycarew, was originally from Ballygeehan. He was the goalkeeper for the All-Ireland winning team. His All-Ireland medal, in the proud possession of Paddy’s son, Patsy, remains the only Celtic Cross in Camross, for now. In an interview in 1972, comparing the game that he played to the hurling of the early 1970s, Paddy Ryan, then 80, said that ‘there is too much dirt in the game now. There was no such thing as pulling across a player with the hurley and there was far less rooting than in the game today … nowadays, they can’t hit the ball on the ground at all. They have to rise it no matter what thereby slowing up the game and making it less attractive from a spectator’s point of view’. 

Paddy Ryan died in November 1973.

1914 Junior Hurling Champions

In 1914 the dormant hurlers of Camross re-emerged on the county scene and entered the Junior Championship. Understandably, the outbreak of the Great War relegated much GAA reporting to the cutting room floor of local newspapers. The grim realities of life on the front rightly occupied the editorial minds of the Laois Nationalist and the Leinster Express. However, life did go on in rural Laois even if it was not documented by the press. The absence of any report on the 1914 Junior Championship was thankfully corrected decades later. Teddy Fennelly, Portlaoise, edited a volume commemorating Camross’ Leinster Championship victory in 1977 and it contains an interview with the last surviving member of the 1914 team, Mick Conroy. Conroy explains how John Lyons re-started the training process for the 1914 season. It is likely that the club might not have fielded a team yet again were it not for Lyons’ determination. Conroy describes Lyons as ‘a great player and captain. He could catch anything. You might as well get the stroke of a tractor wheel as a belt from John Lyons’ hip…He should have been on the 1915 team’. He was in midfield alongside Joe Moore. Conroy himself was left half forward and his brother Jack was in the centre. Fint Lalor, father to the first senior winning captain, was on the other wing. Centre Back was Mick Culleton, whose son Dan would feature on the 1959 winning side. Pat Cordial was full-back. His sons Tim, Paddy and Ned were all key cogs in the teams of the 1930s and 1940s. Pat was said to be a giant of a man and as impassable as a Himalayan mountain. The Pratts were prominent members of the early club and George was goalkeeper in 1914 behind his brother, Gould, who was corner back. Their brother Sam had also served the club with distinction in the early days. Jim Dooley was left half back. His son, Joe, featured on the 1959 side. Joe Delaney was corner forward. Willie Delaney, who would go on to be a priest, occupied the other corner. The trainer of the team was John Carroll, grandfather to the famous goalkeeper of future years.

They defeated Ballygeehan in the first round which was a fantastic achievement considering that it was from Ballygeehan that the bulk of the All-Ireland winning team of 1915 came from. Mountrath were defeated in the semi-final to set up a final with Abbeyleix. Conroy describes some of the clever tactics that John Lyons had to overcome on the day of the final which was played in Clonaheen, near Mountmellick;

In the final Abbeyleix pulled a master stroke by putting Mick Lalor, who then worked in the town (as a shop assistant in Bergin’s in the town) against his brother, Fint. Mick was selected at left half back to curb Fint, the Camross right half forward and the ploy worked, but only for a time. John Lyons, the Camross captain quickly spotted the move and switched myself and Fint. Both of us benefited from the move and the game was duly won.

Mick Lalor did not want to hurl on the day of the final against his native Camross, especially as his brother Fint was playing in the black and amber. Indeed, Fint lost most of his teeth in the game, and barely had a tooth in his head for the rest of his life as a result. But Mick’s job security in Abbeyleix had to take precedence and were he to pull out of the game there was a chance he might lose his job. The final was a very tight affair and Abbeyleix hurled very well for most of the game but slackened somewhat toward the end, allowing Camross back into the game. Camross eventually took the lead and were a point up with the full hour played. With the last puck of the game Abbeyleix were awarded a free in a promising position and who was tasked with scoring an equaliser, only Mick Lalor. It was perhaps a poor move on the Abbeyleix team’s part to entrust Mick with the task of denying his fellow Camross men their first title. Mick hit the free in such a manner that it would go wide, but not obviously so. As the ball came in it dropped and bounced towards the goalmouth and hurtled towards the goals. In a heart stopping moment, all eyes turned to the umpire who waved the ball wide. Mick was a relieved man, as his tactic almost saw Abbeyleix win the game, never mind equalise, with the last puck. Mick wrote to Mick Conroy later the following week apologising for the last minute scare and Lalor said that he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if the goal had have been scored.

The first eleven years were a mixed bag in terms of achievement for Camross. Their magnificent potential was proven in the manner in which they advanced to the 1906 Senior County Final. But the merger with Castletown represented a retrograde step for the black and amber. Upperwoods did not capture the imagination of their namesakes who the Poet Ryan immortalised a century earlier. The ‘temporary little arrangement’ benefitted neither Camross nor Castletown although the years immediately after the merger seemed to leave Camross in a state of disarray. But this disarray gave way to great success through the leadership of John Carroll and John Lyons and plenty of hard work in the first training pitch in Breen’s Hollow.

Boom, Bust

As per the by-laws of the Association, Camross may well have fielded a senior team in the wake of their Junior victory in 1914. This might indicate towards a weakened Junior side that faced Rathdowney in the 1916 Junior Championship. Of course this might not be the case at all. In some respects this author may be searching for some solace after glancing through the following match report of the game;

On Sunday at Mondrehid, Rathdowney and Camross met in the Junior Hurling championship. A little after the appointed time the teams took the field. Camross winning the toss, played with the wind. On the throw in Rathdowney broke away per Daly, and the forwards missed scoring by inches. On the delivery Camross attacked, but a long drive by Fitzpatrick sent them back, for Tobin to score the first goal for Rathdowney. After this Rathdowney scored twice in succession per Moylan. Play was up and down now for some time until Tobin from 50 yards out scored a point, and at half-time the scores were Rathdowney, 4 goals 1 point to nil. On resuming Jim Daly placed for power to score a goal. Although Camross now seemed beaten, they made a determined push but only a wide resulted. After this they never got a chance, and Rathdowney ran out easy winners by 10 goals and 2 points to nil.

Clearly not a high point in the club’s history, especially disappointing as it came so soon after winning the Junior championship two years earlier.

The following years were largely unsuccessful for the club. Ballygeehan, Kilcotton and Rathdowney continued their domination of the Senior Championships whilst several Junior Championships were not completed. This was probably due to the War of Independence which occupied the lives of so many young men throughout the county. However, just as the War of Independence over, Camross won the 1921 Junior Championship. Several of the men involved in the 1914 team were nearing the end of their career but the 1921 side was to feature the beginning of a new dynasty of Camross hurlers. Jack Cuddy from Killanure, father to future greats Tim and Ollie, was right half back. Another Jack Cuddy, from Aughduff,  father to Ger and Seán, was full forward whilst his brother, Ger, was centre forward. The team on the day was John Lyons, Mick Conroy, Jack Conroy, Joe Carroll, Jim Dooley, Paddy Cordial, Mick Culleton, Jack Dowling, Mick Dowling, Joe Delaney, Tim England, Jack Cuddy (Derrylahan), Jack Cuddy (Killanure), Ger Cuddy.

The Civil War once again put a stop to the regular completion of Junior Championships. The infant Free State was a fraught environment and the process of building and rebuilding after years of divisive bloodshed took precedence over the GAA in many people’s minds. Indeed it was not until 1925 that a Junior Championship would be completed.  Camross competed in the 1926 Senior Championship and recorded a convincing victory over Rathdowney on a score line of 4-8 to 3-3.  Although it seems that they did not proceed much further in that year’s competition, the nature of the victory over Rathdowney, who would recover and go on to win the Championship, shows that the club’s slump since their 1921 victory was coming to an end.

In 1928 Camross competed in a Senior Hurling League to supplement the championship in the county. They reached their second competitive Senior grade final in this tournament but were defeated in the final by Cuddagh by 4-1 to 2-1.  1927 and 1928 were a successful period for the Junior team. They reached both the 1927 and 1928 Junior finals. They defeated the Pike-of-Rushall in the ’27 Semi-Final but suffered defeat at the hands of Cuddagh in the final. In a very dark year for the parish, Camross raised the mood by claiming their third Junior Championship in 1928. They had a convincing 20 point victory over Kilcotton in the final. 

The previous inability to build on success was challenged in the 1929 Junior Championship. A much delayed beginning to this championship meant that Camross were only contesting the second round in February of 1930. They defeated Mountrath 3-2 to 2-3 to set up a meeting with Mountmellick, whom they duly overcame.  There was controversy over the outcome of this game and there was talk of an objection being filed by Mountmellick but they opted not to appeal and Camross progressed to face Ballygeehan in the Junior semi-final.   Unfortunately Ballygeehan proved too strong for Camross on the day and they went on to win the Championship. But Camross showed that they now had the ability to follow up a successful year with a relatively successful year which made a welcome change to the victory-slump-victory pattern that had been the case since the club’s foundation in 1903.

In 1932 there were the largest number of clubs competing in the Senior and Junior Championships in the history of Laois GAA to that point. Camross received a bye into the second round of the Junior Championship whilst they faced Castletown in the first round of the Senior Championship.  Possibly owing to the large number of teams, the Junior Championship was another delayed affair. Camross defeated Derrykearn 5-1 to 3-2 in December to advance into a semi-final.  It was not until the spring of 1933 that this semi-final was played. Errill was the venue and Attanagh were the opponents. Camross advanced to another Junior Championship final with a convincing 3-2 to 0-2 victory.  The Irish Press noted that the stand out performers on the Camross side were Hogan, Conroy, Kelly and Cuddy.

To this point in time, Camross had only tasted defeat once in a Junior final. This excellent record worsened slightly with the outcome of the delayed 1932 Junior Championship final which was not played until April 1933. Errill defeated Camross on a score line of 2-8 to 2-2.  The defeat was disappointing but due to the delay in the completion of the 1932 Championship, the focus had to immediately shift to the 1933 Championship. 1933 proved to be a very difficult year for the club, however. They opened with a heavy defeat at the hands of Castletown on a score line of 5-5 to 3-1.  They then faced the now defunct Boley club in August. Their first clash ended in a draw with Camross crashing out of the 1933 championship in the replay.

One Parish – Several Clubs

By the 1930s it was clear that the Camross team could only realistically accommodate a certain amount of people. Motorcars were not common and in a mountain parish such as Camross, cycling to training and matches was not ideal and the road infrastructure was not as it is today. Three other clubs, centred on three geographic centres outside Camross village, were formed in the parish to cater for the growing number of people playing hurling in the parish.

In those days the acquisition of one’s first hurl was not as easy as it is today. Ash plants were stubbed and would be carried to someone who could fashion them into a hurl with a saw. Kieran Moore speaks about how, in the early 1930s, he, and his neighbours, would carry the stubbed ash to Ned Dobbyn in Borris-in-Ossory who would turn it into a rudimentary hurl. As Kieran says ‘it mightn’t be all that sweet, but it’d do’. Dobbyn, who was a carpenter by trade, would not charge the boys any money for the service.  In later years collections would be held at a training session for the purchase of sliotars for the year. Unsurprisingly, attendance at these sessions were small.

Coolrain Hurling Club

In 1934 Camross parish gained another hurling club; Coolrain. In May of that year, as yet another record was broken for the number of teams participating in Laois championships, Coolrain were drawn into the Junior Hurling Championship group alongside Camross, Mountrath and Castletown. 

In July both sides began their Championships. Camross would face Castletown whilst Coolrain played their first competitive match against Mountrath. Coolrain’s first venture into competitive hurling was not one to live long in the memory as they were easily defeated by Mountrath but Camross fared better with a 3-2 to 2-0 win over their near rivals. Although it was noted that a disputed goal at the end of the game caused hectic scenes. Camross played Coolrain’s victors in the next round. But Mountrath progressed with a 1-1 to 2-1 victory. The noted performers on the Camross side on the day being Pratt and Hogan.

Intermediate advances

In the 1935 championships, Camross Juniors played Cuddagh in the opening round. They won handsomely on a score line of 6-3 to 2-2.  Meanwhile, 1935 was the first year since 1913 that an Intermediate Championship was held in the county. This level, sandwiched in between the Junior and Senior Championships seemed like an ideal fit for the Camross club in the mid-1930s with respect to their performances over the previous years. They defeated Mountrath 4-3 to 1-1 in their first ever game in the grade.  On 15 September Camross defeated Ballyfin and then defeated Mountrath 7-5 to 3-4 a fortnight later. But despite these victories, they advanced no further in their first Intermediate Championship.

1936 saw Camross go a few steps further in the Intermediate Championship, reaching the semi-final. But in extraordinary circumstances, as they were late turning up for their game against Ballyfin, the referee awarded the game to Ballyfin. The Irish Press mistakenly noted that Camross had conceded the game. 

The first report of juvenile hurling games involving teams from the parish took place in 1937. A team from the National School in Camross took on their counterparts in Mountrath in May. They lost the game 5-1 to 1-1.  The first recorded Minor game involving Camross ended in a 8-1 to 1-1 defeat, also to Mountrath.  Much work to do at underage level it seemed. In the Junior Championship Camross defeated Mountrath 2-3 to 1-1.  They then faced Mondrehid but this game was abandoned with Camross one point in arrears owing to a cloudburst.  In August 1938 Camross played their first match in the Junior championship and they heavily defeated Rosenallis by 9-3 to 1-2. They also defeated a Pike-of-Rushall team 4-4 to 2-1.  They went on to play the Rovers team but were knocked out of the championship by their Portlaoise opponents.

Killanure and Clonin Hurling Clubs

Despite a poor showing in the Junior championship for Camross, 1938 was a very significant year for another end of the parish. The first recorded competitive game involving the newly formed Killanure club was a Junior game against Castletown. A fourth team from the parish emerged the following year with the entry of Clonin to the Junior hurling championship. Clonin, in particular, benefitted from internal tensions within the Camross club. Several prominent members of the Camross team threw in their lot with Clonin amidst fears that the Camross club was about to fold altogether. Other prominent Camross players opted to hurl with other clubs such as Castletown. Clonin’s first season did not yield much success with a heavy opening defeat to Cuddagh and a further four point loss to Killanure in May 1939. 

There were then four GAA clubs in the parish towards the end of the 1930s. However, Coolrain seemed to exit the scene as soon as they had emerged into it. So in all likelihood the four clubs did not coexist at the same time for very long. In earlier times there was also a team in the Drim area although it does not seem that they entered formal county competitions.  Of course the Cappamore team, which would later merge with Castletown (initially under the title of Castlemore) would have had several men from the parish playing with them also.  The large number of localised hurling clubs was, of course, not restricted to Camross parish, or indeed Laois. Just over the Offaly border there was a team known as Grawn. Grawn competed against other local teams such as Roscomroe. Around 1946 Grawn played Camross in a match which was played at the bottom of Moll Joy’s Hill in Garranbawn. Paddy Dooley, Neilstown, who was at the game recalled a great performance from Mick Keenan on the day for Camross. Moore recalls other practice matches involving Camross and Roscomroe. Cocks of hay would have to be removed from the playing pitch to accommodate the players before throw-in. Overcoats were used as the goals and local man, Dinny Connors refereed the game. Moore notes the performance of Billy Browne, Gurteen, and his achievement in keeping Paddy Bergin completely out of the game.

1939 was an immensely significant year for the oldest, more established club of the parish. Camross opened up their Junior championship with a 7-1 to 3-2 rout of Mountrath.  In the Intermediate grade they opened with a 3-1 to 0-2 victory over Boley.  A heavy defeat to Mountrath, who gained a morsel of revenge for their heavy defeat earlier in the year followed.  One of the early Camross-Killanure derbies was won by Camross as they progressed in both divisions.  Killanure’s year ended with a heavy defeat at the hands of Mountrath.  Meanwhile, Camross went marching on in the Intermediate Championship with a 8-4 to 0-2 score against Rosenallis. 

Intermediate Champions

On 20 August 1939 Camross competed in their first county Intermediate final. It was the most significant game in the club’s history to that point and their opponents on the day were the stalwarts of Laois hurling, Rathdowney. The first half was a close affair and both teams were level at two points apiece at the break.  Rathdowney kicked on around the three-quarter mark, and were gathering a healthy lead going into the final stages. But the dying moments saw a remarkable turn of events, best described by Mick Conroy in his interview with Teddy Fennelly;

Rathdowney led our lads by seven points and there was only nine minutes to go. Our midfield man, Paddy Bergin, hit it down the wing to Tommy Kelly. Dowling raced down the right wing and connected with the cross scoring a great goal. Two minutes later there was the exact same move, Jack Dowling got another goal. And before the finish Paddy Bergin scored two points from frees to leave us winners by a point.

It was an extraordinary fight-back from Camross, stunning a Rathdowney side who were desperate to add an intermediate title to their seventeen senior titles that they had amassed at that stage. The Camross team on the day included Jack Larkin, Joe Delaney, Patrick Cordial (Crannagh), Tim Cordial (Crannagh), Frank Hogan, Patsy Delaney (Glebe), Billy Delaney (Glebe), John Dowling (Derrcarrow), Mick Dowling (Derrycarrow), Martin Kelly (Ballaghmore), Tom Kelly (Ballaghmore), Paddy Bergin, Tom Bergin, Michael Rigney (Ballaghmore), James Rigney (Ballaghmore), James Tobin (Marymount).

Now in the premier ranks once more Camross’ first Senior Championship game of 1940 was against Kilcotton. They did well against their more experienced opponents in the first half. They were leading 2-3 to 1-4 at half time. But in the first fifteen minutes of the second half Kilcotton were level and just managed to push on to secure a 2-8 to 2-5 victory.  The ‘brothers Bergin’ were noted as Camross’ best performers on the day.  The Juniors had a poor year, losing to Kyle 4-3 to 1-2 in September.  Killanure were knocked out of the Junior championship by Mountrath on 18 August 1940 by 2-1 to 0-1. Clonin hurlers were finding life in competitive action quite tough as shown in two ties against Kyle in August and September. They lost the matches by a total of 52 points.  However, Clonin did achieve some success in football. They beat Errill in the Junior football championship by 2-3 to 0-3, but did not advance to the latter stages.

Camross Intermediate team, 1941. Back row (L. to R.) Jack Larkin, Tom Wall, Fint Cooke, Joseph Delaney, Tim Cordial, Francis Hogan, William Delaney. Middle Row (L. to R.) Patrick Cordial, Joe Holohan, Patrick Delaney. Thomas Kelly, Thomas Bergin. Front Row (L. to R.) Tim Delaney, Padge Collier, Joe Hyland (Glebe, Mascot), Paddy Bergin, Mick Phelan.

In 1941 the Camross Juniors were knocked out of the Championship following defeats to Kyle on a score of 4-3 to 1-2 and Borris-in-Ossory on a score of 5-2 to 5-1.  The seniors were not successful in the Championship either, but did have a good victory over Cuddagh in the Murphy Cup.  One of the greatest achievements in the 1940s for the parish clubs came in 1941 with the Minor Championship being won by Clonin. In an interview in 1986, William Brophy recalls the famous victory noting that two of the successful team, Brendan Hogan and Patrick Wall, went on to hurl for the Laois minor team in that year’s Leinster Championship. Brophy also recalls that Clonin won another minor title only to see their opponents, Cullohill, being awarded the match after a dispute over the first name of a Clonin player being spelt incorrectly.

Camross began the 1942 Senior Hurling Championship with their finest performance in the senior grade in the club’s history. They took on the reigning champions Rathdowney in Borris-in-Ossory in June. Only two weeks previously both teams faced each other in the semi-final of the Murphy Cup and Rathdowney had a convincing victory.  If comparing the performance of Camross on the day to the modern game the victory came in a rather unorthodox fashion. Indeed it was highly unusual, even in 1942, not to score a point in a game and end up as victors. But Camross did just that with a 4-0 to 2-5 victory. A few weeks later Rathdowney made amends somewhat by defeating Camross by a point in the semi-final of the 1942 O’Moore Park tournament.  The seniors were unable to replicate their fine performance against Rathdowney in the Championship semi-final which they lost to heavily to Clonard. 

The Coolrain club made a brief comeback in in 1943 in the form of the Coolrain LDF football team. Their return was a bit of a disaster though. The 4-7 to 0-0 defeat probably put them off competitive action for a while.  Clonin recovered from heavy defeats in preceding years to reach a 1944 Junior group final in which they played Kyle. Unfortunately Kyle had the upper hand once more however. But bearing in mind that this was a Kyle team that was maturing into a future senior winning team there was little shame in their five point defeat. The Clonin club was very well organised and held annual gatherings in late May as well as a medal tournament later in the summer. The chairman of the club in 1944 was T O’Gorman, vice-chairman was M. Fitzpatrick, treasurer was J. Breen and secretary was Denis Phelan. George Whitford was selected as club captain with G. Breen his vice-captain. They took on Camross in the first round of the championship and they defeated the second team of their near neighbours 3-3 to 3-0. Carroll, Young and Fitzpatrick and Breen, who scored 2 points were the difference on the day. Clonin advanced from their district group in the Junior Championship and took on Raheen at the next stage. Clonin’s strength was underlined in their emphatic victory over Raheen. They qualified for a county semi-final against Clonaslee with a 27 point victory. Raheen failed to score.

They were underdogs against a good Clonaslee side but they qualified for the Junior final against the odds by beating their opponents from the far side of the mountain.  Their opponents in the final were near neighbours, Kyle. Kyle had defeated Blandsford in their semi-final. On 12 November 1944 Clonin faced Kyle in Mountrath, in what proved to be the biggest day in the club’s short history. Kyle got out of the blocks at great speed and totally blitzed their opponents in the first half. They lead by eight points at half time, Clonin only managing a point in the first half. They improved somewhat in the second half but Kyle’s lead was insurmountable. Kyle won the title by 2-3 to 1-3.

Camross were a rising team towards the end of the War years. Their 1944 championship didn’t get off to a great start in their divisional group with a three point loss to an in form Mountrath team who were aiming to regain the championship which they had lost in 1943. The score was 3-5 to 3-2.  But they recovered and claimed victory in their next game; defeating Borris-in-Ossory by 4-4 to 1-3. The score line belied a dominant Borris performance in the first half and were it not for three easy Camross goals, Camross may have departed the championship at the district group phase. They played Borris once more in the group final and won 3-1 to 1-3.

They eventually reached the Senior semi-final in 1944 where they came up against Kilcotton. The match was played in Borris-in-Ossory. Kilcotton were on top in the first half and led by two points at half time. They went on to increase their lead to six points early in the second half and they looked certain for a comfortable victory. But credit to the Camross men, they hit two goals in quick succession and brought the sides level. However, Camross wasted several chances to win the game. Paddy Bergin was the best of the Camross forwards but his colleagues delayed on shots for too long which cost Camross dearly. Elsewhere on the pitch, P. Cordial, Joe Delaney and T. Kelly were noted as playing well. But it was the spurned opportunities that cost Camross. T. Fitzpatrick hit a point for Kilcotton against the run of play with the last puck of the ball and won by a point.  They went on to be defeated by Abbeyleix in the final.

Buoyed by a good performance, Camross went into the 1945 championship with high hopes. They had every right to be confident as they easily disposed of Kilcotton in the Championship quarter-final.  Killanure and Camross met in the Junior championship in 1945 with Killanure winning by a point. It was the Junior Group Final and showed the rancour that, at times, soured the relationship between the co-parishioners. In the immediate aftermath of the game it was noted that Camross were very interested in a Killanure midfielder to join their own team.  However, an objection was lodged by Camross on grounds of a small technicality and a replay was kindly offered by the Killanure club. And, indeed, no good deed is ever done unpunished: Camross won the re-fixture and the local group title by 2-5 to 0-2.  Killanure, learning their lesson, counter-objected to Camross later in the year but, unfortunately for them, were overruled by the County Board.  To their credit Killanure battled their way back into contention in the Championship proper but were narrowly defeated by Castletown in September. The noted stars of the Killanure team being Phelan, Abbot and Burke.

Camross faced Rathdowney in the semi-final of the 1945 Senior Championship in Borris-in-Ossory. Camross started off at lightening pace and were 2-2 to 0-0 after a few minutes; Scully, Kelly and Bergin coming up with the scores. Camross added four more points whilst their opponents failed to raise the white flag in the remainder of the first half. The second half was an entirely different story. Rathdowney came out the stronger of the two sides and scored 1-1 to no reply in the opening minutes of the second half. Padge Collier, Camross goalkeeper, was keeping them in the match as he pulled off a string of great saves. Another Camross goal was responded to with two Rathdowney goals. An edgy finish followed, but Camross’ early superiority proved vital as they ran out three point winners.

Their opponents in the final were Abbeyleix who were going for two in a row. They had defeated Clonaslee in the semi-final. Before a large crowd in O’Moore Park, Camross capitulated. They were victims of the same strong start that they had inflicted upon Rathdowney. Just like their semi-final opponents Camross failed to score in the first half. As the Irish Press reported, Abbeyleix were eleven points up after ten minutes.  They were 3-3 to 0-0 by half-time. Two of these goals were said to be of the ‘soft variety’. The game was over bar the shouting and there was precious little of that produced in the second half. Despite good efforts from Bergin, Delaney, Larkin and Fint Cooke, Camross went down by 5-5 to 1-2.

The 1946 O’Moore Park tournament got under way with games throughout the county in March. There was farcical scenes in Mountrath in a local derby. Mid-way through the first half Killanure were leading Clonin by four points. Amidst a goalmouth scramble the ball seemed to cross the line for a Clonin goal. As was common at the time, fans entered the pitch and took matters into their own hands. After the schmozzle was at its end and the players were ready to resume the ball was gone! The referee threw his hands in the air and left shortly afterwards. 

There had been rumours earlier in 1946 that Clonin club was about to fold altogether.  So their continued participation in competitions for the remainder of the year was an achievement itself. Indeed they exceeded what seemed like rather low expectations with several fine performances culminating in a victory over Borris-in-Ossory in a local area final.  They were expected to overcome Cappamore in the following game but were defeated by 6-2 to 3-1.  The first tangible evidence of the beginning of the end of the Clonin club came with the reorganisation of a club in Ballyfin in 1946. The Leinster Express reported that several players were seeking transfers away from Clonin. The long distances involved travelling to Clonin from the Ballyfin area made such transfers inevitable. 1947 was the final true year of Clonin’s GAA Club. The former secretary of Clonin, Denis Phelan of Paddock, was appointed as secretary of the newly formed club in the Deerpark area of Ballyfin, Slieve Bloom. It was claimed that the Clonin club was now ‘defunct’.  In his recollections on the club, William Brophy, notes that the formation of Slieve Bloom was the final blow for the club. But he also said that the scourge of emigration that hit Ireland after the War also played its part.  It seems that the club stopped competing competitively in 1947 but they did continue to participate in the junior football championship. The football team continued on throughout 1948 but a concerted effort in Mountrath to revive football in the town was the final nail in the coffin. The Clonin club’s history spanned ten years.

Killanure won their local group final in June 1947 with a comfortable victory over the newly formed Slieve Bloom.  The game was a sign of things to come for Killanure, in more ways than one. Following a highly impressive display, there were clear signs that Killanure were close to their potential and would make serious challenges for the Junior championship in years to come. But the aftermath of the Slieve Bloom match foreshadowed high profile battles in the board rooms of the county board that would come in future years. Slieve Bloom objected that one of the Killanure men had not been registered in any way to the GAA. Killanure admitted their guilt and the tie was duly awarded to Slieve Bloom. A counter-objection from Killanure was overruled.

1948 was a mixed year for the clubs of the parish. The Laois Senior team advanced to play Dublin in the Leinster Hurling final and although they were defeated, Camross man, Seán Collier was noted as the star of the gallant Laois side.  The Camross Juniors faced Mountrath in the local area final and whilst Camross claimed the victory, the game was utterly marred by clashes among the spectators. A meeting of the Camross GAA club committed to get to the nub of the matter and urged the Laois county board to bring some Mountrath supporters, who were accused of contributing to the ugly scenes, before a hurling committee meeting ‘to answer some questions’. At a meeting of the county committee in Mountrath a huge crowd listened intently as the incidents which marred the game were discussed by officials from both clubs. Tensions were very high throughout as officials from both sides clashed over what to do with those spectators that allegedly assaulted players and officials alike. Eamon De Breun, National School teacher in Camross and possessor of a very rare quality at the meeting, a cool head, suggested that both clubs should simply drop the matter and allow the otherwise good blood between the clubs to prevail. His suggestions was greeted respectfully and the matter was dropped.

In the immediate wake of the meeting, De Breun was keen to save his own club’s reputation which, he felt, was being attacked by elements of the press. Despite taking a calm approach at the meeting in Mountrath, he did not hold back in his letter to the Leinster Express outlining his concern at the way in which the entire incident was reported by the newspaper;

Despite the space given, it is remarkably significant that you completely omit the statements made by the representative of this club. Our club strongly resists the efforts of your correspondent by allegations and omissions, to cast a slur on our members in advance. We, however, feel secure in the belief that the reputation of our club amongst the Gaels of this county is, to put the matter mildly, at least at high as that of the club which attempts to besmirch us.

Meanwhile, the Camross Intermediate team defeated Slieve Bloom 2-1 to 1-3 in a tightly contested game to advance to the 1948 final. Padge Collier in goals, Joe Delaney in defence and Paddy Bergin in midfield were the difference on the day.  The first attempt to play the final against the Rovers was unsuccessful as a number of the Rovers team were ill. In fact it took months to finalise the tie amidst a number of cancellations and re-schedules. Championships and tournaments were well under way for the following year by the time the final was played on 22 May 1949. However, the Rovers were more clinical in front of the posts and Camross were unable to recover;

Camross were hardly as good as they were in Mountrath in the O’Moore Park final, and their forwards never settled down to get scores, despite good work by Paddy Bergin and J.

The first half was a dour affair. Cuddagh were dogged in defence as Camross struggled to take advantage of a lack of drive from the Cuddagh forwards. Dinny Dowling opened the scoring for Camross after four minutes but this was not added to until twenty minutes later with another Camross point. Considering some of the high scoring finals Camross would become involved in over the following decades it is hard to believe that this was the extent Camross’ scoring in the first half. Nevertheless, Cuddagh didn’t score at all, so a slender advantage was welcome.

An early goal in the second half from MJ Hyland, followed by a Joe Dooley point put Camross in complete control. But a Cooke goal for Cuddagh brought them right back into the game and with less than twenty minutes left the game really got going. Another goal for Cuddagh brought the outcome right back into the balance. The decisive moment of the game came when Joe Bergin and Tom Maher, both subbed off in the first half, were recalled for the injured MJ Hyland and Sean Tyrrell. Maher scored an immediate goal to sure up Camross’ lead. Further points from Joe Bergin gave Camross a 2-5 to 2-1 lead going into the closing stages. The final puck of the game was a Cuddagh goal which reduced the deficit to one but it was not enough. Camross had won their first Senior title by a point.

The stand out defender on the day was, once again, Dan Culleton. When Cuddagh scored two goals half way through the first half Cuddagh looked as if they were going to repeat the spirited fight back that had disposed of Culohill, Abbeyleix and Clonad earlier in the season. But the Culleton led defence remained strong. Culleton was ably assisted in his task by a teenage Sean Cuddy, centre-back Padraig Higgins, full-back Dinny Dooley, and corner backs Martin Cuddy and Sean Higgins. Behind the defence stood Mick Lalor, not tested as regularly as the Cuddagh ‘keeper but agile and resolute when needed. It was noted that PJ Gleeson had his best ever game in the black and amber. Fint Lalor also excelled on the other side of midfield. In the first half the Camross forwards missed several chances and had they been more accurate the outcome would have been settled at half time. But credit to Fr. Seán’s tactics, the forwards were far more effective in the second half as they contributed enough scores to just about get over the line.

Paddy Donoghue was the first man to register a score and he worked very well with MJ Hyland in the build up to Camross’ first goal. Corrie Delaney replaced Tom Maher in the first half and he registered Camross scores in either half. The breadth of ages in the Camross team was typified by the fact that Corrie had played in a minor final with Clonin before defender Martin Cuddy was born. The man that Corrie replaced in the first half made a return to play and Tom Maher’s goal was key to Camross’ victory. Another experienced sub that made an impact in the game was Joe Bergin who scored a free in the second half. Dinny Dowling and Joe Dooley made an impact on the scoreboard as well but would not have done so without the important support of Sean Tyrrell.

The fitness of the Camross team showed towards the end as they coped with Cuddagh’s late surge, their late goal aside. For this credit rests with Fr. Seán. Mick Campion’s role in prior years was ably taken up by Paddy Bergin and Tim Cordial. Both men were a link to Camross’ last appearance in the senior final in 1945. Lar Brady presented the Bob O’Keefe cup to Fint Lalor amid scenes of great celebration. Those in attendance were in no doubt that a new era was beginning in Laois hurling. Though few could hardly anticipate the length of the golden era of Camross hurling.

Potential Lost?

For the first time in their history Camross went into a Senior Championship as the target, the team to defeat, the champions to dethrone. Their grip on Bob O’Keefe loosened a great deal in a disappointing first half performance in their first game against Clonad in June 1960. The Camross recovery in the second half merely added a great deal of respectability to the result. Dinny Dowling’s first minute point had hinted towards a continuation of Camross’ winning streak which was entering its fourth year. But any expectations of victory were quashed soon after. Clonad’s Tony Conroy was causing havoc for the Camross defence and Clonad racked up 4-6 before the break. To Dinny Dowling’s opening score Camross could only add two points before Sean Tyrrell scored a goal just before half time.

A Camross comeback began in the second half. Within four minutes of the second half Paddy Donoghue and Sean Tyrrell had scored goals to narrow the gap to six points. But Camross would only add one more point in the game. Clonad added 1-4 to their score and ran out 5-10 to 3-4 winners.  The starting line-up was nearly identical to that which defeated Cuddagh the previous November making the defeat to Clonad all the more disappointing.

Camross were forced to go on the ‘Loser’s Group’ route to the latter stages of the championship and they quickly got back to winning ways with a 6-10 to 2-2 victory over Kyle.  The forwards were on top form in this victory. Paddy Donohue, MJ Hyland, Dinny Dowling and Joe Dowling all helped Camross advance and Mick Dowling made a good impression with an excellent second half goal.

Their next opponents were Portlaoise. Paddy Donohue opened the scoring for Camross but Portlaoise responded with three unanswered points from Sean McCormack, Mick Dalton and Donal Dunne. The game turned in Portlaoise’s favour around the twenty minute mark when they scored two goals within a matter of seconds. A third Portlaoise goal soon followed and Camross were left utterly reeling. Dan Culleton started on the bench for Camross and this could be singled out as a reason for the porous defence. The forwards were not on form either and they were 3-6 to 0-2 down as half time. But Camross roared back minutes into the second half. A Dinny Dowling goal, followed by a brace from Sean Tyrrell brought Camross back to within four points of Portlaoise. But the comeback was halted 12 minutes into the second half. A Christy Fitzpatrick goal reasserted Portlaoise’s dominance and despite a third Sean Tyrrell goal the setbacks in the first half could not be overcome and Camross exited the Championship with a 4-6 to 4-2 defeat. 

1960 proved to be an utterly forgettable year for the club as the Juniors were knocked out of the Championship at the semi-final stage by Portarlington. The 29 point defeat was compounded by the fact that Camross failed to score at all.

The club was boosted by the addition of Paddy Dooley, Neilstown, in 1961. Paddy had begun his Senior club hurling career in 1953 in Sligo town. Despite not being a stronghold of hurling in Connacht, Paddy won two Senior Sligo Championships with Craobh Rua and also won a ‘Four Counties’ Championship medal with the Sligo county team in 1954, defeating Roscommon 5-05 to 5-04 in Ballymote.  By virtue of winning this tournament Sligo faced Galway in the Connacht junior final where they were beaten 5-8 to 2-2.  After his time in Sligo, Dooley hurled with Killavilla and won the 1956 Offaly Junior Hurling Championship and qualified for the 1960 Intermediate final. But owing to an objection, Killavilla lost their place in this final and Dooley began to hurl with Camross thereafter.

The prospects of sustained success at senior level for Camross  were looking very unlikely in 1961 as they were tamely defeated by Borris-in-Ossory in the first round of the Senior Championship. The 4-6 to 3-3 defeat meant another venture into the Loser’s Group. Just like the previous year, Camross recovered from their opening defeat by qualifying for the Loser’s Group final by defeating the reigning Intermediate champions Rathdowney 4-7 to 1-5. A 5-4 to 3-4 victory over Portlaoise avenged the previous year’s defeat somewhat.  The victory over Portlaoise set up a semi-final against the reigning champions Borris-in-Ossory. It turned out to be a day to forget as Camross suffered a 7-4 to 1-2 defeat and another disappointing year ended prematurely. The great potential that was apparent in the late fifties seemed a dim and distant memory as the example of their ever-diminishing neighbours in Kyle loomed large in the minds of the Camross faithful.

Memories of better days were to the fore in a celebration in the Hall in January 1962 when the Seniors received their 1959 Championship medals. Amongst the celebrations there was a general consensus that the years since the Senior victory were far below expectations. Fr. Meaney hoped that 1962 would see the team return to winning ways. The chairman of the Laois Hurling Board, Jack Conroy said that he was at a loss as to the reasons why Camross had not achieved repeated success in 1960 and 1961. He said that it was up to the players to lift themselves up to the level that they had previously reached and with the backing of the people and the clergy they were well capable of doing so.

The 1962 Championship opened promisingly. They faced the reigning Intermediate champions, Ratheniska. Without exerting themselves too much Camross easily overcame their opponents. An early Tom Maher goal gave Camross a lead that they would never relinquish. Two goals from Ollie Cuddy and Joe Dooley just before half time put the game beyond their opponents. Dinny Dowling and Paddy Dooley extended Camross’ lead in the second half as Camross ran out 3-5 to 1-5 winners.  Their quarter-final opponents, St. Canice’s, proved much tougher opponents. Camross opened strongly and immediately went for goals but they were thwarted on three occasions by the inspired Dick Cashin in the Canice’s goal. Camross were frustrated further when Frank Hyland goaled for Canice’s. Camross equalised through a Fint Lalor goal mid-way through the first half. Scores may have been scarce but exchanges were furious. Canice’s went in a point up at the break. It was in the opening minutes of the second half that Camross asserted their dominance and produced the scores that eventually brought them victory. A Padraig Higgins free was finished to the net skilfully by Paddy Dooley and shortly afterwards Sean Cuddy was there to finish a goal following a Cashin save from Tom Maher. MJ Hyland scored Camross’ fourth goal and they managed to defend this lead until the end despite a strong Canice’s fight back. Camross won 4-5 to 4-2.

Their semi-final opponents were the team who had cemented themselves as one of the great club teams in the history of Laois hurling, Borris-in-Ossory. They had contested five of the last six finals and were favourites to progress to another final. Camross had conceded 7-4 in the corresponding tie the previous year but good performances earlier in the year indicated that Camross would not be as far from their excelling neighbours as they had been. But it was not to be. The switch of Christy O’Brien from centre-back to centre-forward was the catalyst for another crushing defeat of Camross. O’Brien ended up scoring four goals as Camross exited the championship to Borris at the semi-final once more on a scoreline of 7-6 to 2-3. Dan Culleton, who was moved around the field by management to plug whatever gaps were emerging was best for a poor Camross on the day. Were it not for a brace of goals from Paddy Dooley and Larry Kavanagh just after half time the scale of the defeat would have been far worse.

 ‘I’ll never hurl junior again!’

In April 1963 the attendees to the AGM of the club were told that there was a desire that the club put the years since they won the Senior title in 1959 behind them and push on to reclaim the Bob O’Keefe cup. Fint Lalor once again led the Seniors as captain with Dinny Dooley his vice-captain. But the memory of turbulent years hung over the club as preparations for the championship began. As the men togged out by the ditch in Bergin’s field in the village it was suggested that if the club did not do well this year that they should re-grade to Junior the following year. Padraig Higgins did not take kindly to this and announced that he would not hurl Junior again.

Amidst a refreshed feel to the panel Camross embarked on the 1963 Championship with an easy 6-4 to 1-2 victory over Errill.  Despite this impressive start expectations were still very low. Camross supporters were thin on the ground in Rathdowney when they faced the reigning champions, Clonad. The interest lay in the clash of Cullohill and Cuddagh, the assumption being that Clonad could not be overcome. But overcome they were, on a score line of 3-10 to 3-8.  The young Camross team were fearless, first to every ball and a couple of goals in quick succession left the champions reeling and they could not recover.

This quarter-final victory set up a semi-final against Cullohill. After defeating the reigning champions, Camross were expected to overcome Cullohill and get back into their first final in four years. But Cullohill proved to be stubborn opponents throughout. Camross scored first, Sean Cuddy pointing after the Cullohill goalkeeper, John Dowling, saved from Pierce Dooley, the Minor captain who was starting his first Senior game for the club. Cullohill responded with two points. Camross retook the lead with a Paddy Dooley goal. Cullohill responded with points and pressed hard toward the Camross goal and a Mick O’Sullivan goal for Cullohill saw the sides 1-3 to 1-3 a quarter way through the game. Goals from Dinny Dowling and Sean Cuddy and a point from Pierce Dooley followed, giving Camross a 3-4 to 1-3 lead at half time. Dowling and Cuddy’s goals to Camross’ eventual victory proved crucial in the end as Cullohill came out the stronger in the second half and had reduced the deficit to two points with twenty minutes left. Sean Cuddy, Pierce Dooley and Dinny Dowling continued their fine form by scoring points to settle any Camross nerves. Another Cullohill goal was cancelled out by a Camross goal from Paddy Dooley who finished a Padraig Higgins free to the net. With P.J. Gleeson in excellent form throughout the game Camross ran out 4-11 to 4-5 winners.

St. Canice’s stood between Camross and a second Senior title. A hectic build up in the week before the game involving wild rumours of player dissention and frenetic car journeys across the parish merely added to the drama as Camross aimed to reclaim the Bob O’Keefe Cup. 3,000 people thronged O’Moore Park on an ideal autumn day to witness what turned out to be one of the closest and most entertaining county finals in years. Camross were without Martin and Paddy Hyland who had returned to college and were also without the services of Tom Maher and Oliver Cuddy. These absences led many to believe that both teams were going in very even. St. Canice’s were appearing in their first final and surely looked at their weakened opponents with victory on their mind.

But St. Canice’s hopes of securing a first title took a blow in the first minute. Shortly after Fr. Martin Walsh, president of Chicago GAA threw in the ball, Camross won a free. Against the breeze Padraig Higgins delivered the placed ball to Pierce Dooley who sent it in towards his brother, Paddy, who put the ball past Tom Bolger in the Canice’s goal to give Camross an ideal start. But credit to Canice’s, they replied shortly afterwards with a goal form Bill Fitzpatrick. Martin Cuddy in the Camross goal made a great save soon after from a Paddy Fitzpatrick shot. Cuddy’s predecessor in goals, Mick Lalor, scored Camross first point in the seventh minute only for St. Canice’s to reply immediately. St. Canice’s began to get on top despite the best efforts of Jackie Cuddy and PJ Gleeson. But Camross regained the lead with a Camross goal shortly before half time. But just before the break Paddy Fitzpatrick put the ball past Martin Cuddy to equalise. The sides went in 2-4 to 2-4 at half time.

Early on in the second half Camross missed some good opportunities to extend a lead re-established by Dinny Dowling four minutes into the second half. With St. Canice’s equalising once more the outcome could not be predicted. The Camross full-back line of Mick Dowling, Dinny Dooley and Sean Higgins began to dominate their opponents and Canice’s found scores much harder to come by as the hour progressed. Jackie Cuddy scored for Camross at the three quarter mark and two further points from Pierce Dooley extended Camross’ lead, a lead they would not relinquish. Sonny Cashin pushed hard for Canice’s and forced a 21 yard free which could have levelled matters. Amidst the scramble Camross managed to clear and the ‘Canisters’ could not muster another attack as Camross claimed their second Senior title.

The years between their first and second titles were difficult and, at times, positively bleak. The 1963 victory confirmed Camross’ place as one of the dominant players on the Laois hurling scene. At a time when emigration was hitting rural Ireland hard, Lar Brady singled Canice Sheeran, Coolrain, out for praise. He said that a majority of the players on the team were employees with the sawmill in Coolrain and were it not for Sheeran’s many of the men may have had to leave for England like so many others had. Brady said that Camross was an example to other rural areas in Laois who were in despair due to emigration.

The defence of the Bob O’Keefe Cup in 1964 began with a 5-9 to 3-1 victory over the Intermediate champions Kilcotton. This victory was never in doubt as Kilcotton rarely troubled the champions. Dinny Dowling scored an impressive 2-2 as Camross eased into the next round.  Rathdowney were their next opponents. The original fixture was postponed at 11am of the day of the game due to the death of Dinny Dooley’s father. Comments made by a frustrated Rathdowney official at a county board meeting the following week added an extra bite to the tie when it was played but Camross marched on to face Ratheniska in the semi-final. This was the first time that Ratheniska had ever reached the last four of the Senior championship and they opened strongly against the reigning champions. Ratheniska had the breeze in the opening half but could not take full advantage as their forwards lacked the accuracy that Camross forwards like Pierce and Paddy Dooley, and Fint and Mick Lalor had. Camross went in one point up at half time but Ratheniska levelled shortly after the restart. Dinny Dowling restored Camross’ lead but with only ten minutes left a Ramsbottom goal for Ratheniska put the result in doubt once more. But points from Pierce Dooley and Mick Lalor secured a 0-10 to 1-3 victory.

Prominent Irish Independent GAA journalist, JD Hickey, wrote the following on the eve of the final between the champions and Cullohill;

That the operation of a losers' group—much as I detest it—can yield a very attractive final is proved by the interest aroused by the Laois senior hurling championship decider between Camross and Cullohill, which will be staged at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, on Sunday. Opinion is much divided as to which is the better team, even though Camross came through the hard way and Cullohill arrived via the "back door" after they had been defeated in the first round.

Camross, winners of the title in 1959 and '63, qualified by beating Kilcotton, Rathineska and Rathdowney. Cullohill, or the other hand, went under by a point to famed Clonad in the opening round. Then in the losers group they disposed Errill and Borris-in-Ossory to find Clonad barring their way to a place in the county final. After the first meeting of the teams Cullohill, to a man, contended that they could have won and the judgment was proven correct when, in the best game of the championship, Clonad went under by a few points.

Indeed, such was the form of Cullohill in the semi-final that those who frowned on the losers' group, which gives teams a second chance, came to admit the scheme had something to recommend it. Cullohill, whose only previous success in the championship was in 1955, are confident that they nave the men to bring the title to the area for the second time … So too, are Camross well equipped and if the Cuddys; Martin, Tim, Jackie, and Ollie, the Dooleys; Dinny, Paddy, and Pierce, Padraig Higgins and Dinny Dowling are in top form Cullohill may have to wait at least another year for their second Laois crown. Tradition is on the side of Camross as no team which came through out of the losers' group has yet won the O'Moore county title.

Camross were a game away from retaining the Senior championship for the first time ever. But history of another kind was made as Cullohill became the first team to come through the losers’ group to claim the championship on a score line of 4-4 to 4-3. Despite the best efforts of Pierce Dooley, who scored 2-1, Mick Lalor and Paddy Dowling who scored the other two Camross goals, Cullohill came out on top by the bare minimum.  The winning score came from ‘Mog’ Mahony who doubled on the ball in the air in a spectacular piece of play which left the crowd dumbfounded. What made it more extraordinary was the fact that, as Fr. Lar Dunphy pointed out, ‘Mog’ had never scored a point of any description, not even in a practice match, never mind a county-title-winning spectacular score.  Indeed, Camross were denied an equaliser by the final whistle as the shrill sound that heralded defeat came as a Paddy Dowling shot was heading towards goal.

The manner of the defeat to Cullohill was more frustrating than disappointing. They knew that they could and probably should have beaten Cullohill. It was a far cry from the low ebb that the club found itself in the opening years of the 1960s. A degree of solace that was taken from the Juniors claiming a first title since the breakthrough year of 1957 was not to last either. Their opponents in the final, Rosenallis, appealed the decision to overrule their objection in the immediate wake of the final to the Leinster Council and they duly deemed that a Camross player had not been correctly re-graded from the 1963 season and Rosenallis were awarded the Junior Championship.  The decision was made in a matter of minutes.

The First Five in a Row

The stripping of the 1964 Junior championship from the club was the culmination of a year to forget. The Seniors opened their 1965 championship with a 1-13 to 1-6 victory over Ratheniska. The tie was more closely contested than the score line suggested and it was only in the closing stages that Camross truly pulled away. Camross were boosted by the addition of the former Cuddagh and Castletown hurler, Jimmy Lyons. Lyons had been on the Cuddagh team that were defeated by Camross in the 1959 Senior Final. He was one of Camross’ star performers in the victory over Ratheniska as he began a hugely successful career with the black and amber. Rathdowney were defeated next to set up a semi-final tie against Clonad.

In retrospect, the semi-final against Clonad proved to be one of the high points in a chain of five great years for the club. Camross faced defeat with ten minutes remaining; Clonad led by 3-4 to 1-2 and it seemed likely that Camross would relinquish their title in rather disappointing fashion. But a remarkable comeback began with a Sean Cuddy goal with nine minutes remaining. Time was still against them as the Clonad defence held out wave after wave of Camross attacks and they were still down by five points with two minutes remaining. But two goals from Pierce Dooley, assisted on both occasions from accurate Dinny Dowling passes, gave Camross a most unlikely lead with time just up. However, a spectacular finish to the game was complete when a last gasp Jack Conroy point equalised for Clonad and forced a replay.

No mistake was made with a dominant Camross display in the replay. Camross ran out 2-10 to 1-2 winners to set up a repeat of the 1964 final against Cullohill. It was a standout day for the Camross defenders. Clonad were not 11 points worse than Camross on the day but the performance of Mick Dowling, Tim Cuddy, Ger Cuddy and Padraig Higgins kept Clonad scores to a minimum.

Camross had the advantage of the breeze in the first half and they were a point up within the opening minute when Jackie Cuddy shot over the bar. Muldowney shot a wide for Cullohill, before Camross returned to the attack following a Tim Cuddy free and a second free from the 21 yards line was pointed by Sean Cuddy. Further points from Padraig Higgins and Pierce Dooley extended Camross’ lead as they began to assert their dominance. Cullohill were forced into some positional switches to great effect with a goal coming in the 12th minute. Seeing their lead cut to a single point, Camross swarmed back to attack, forcing a free which Sean Cuddy sent wide before Jackie Cuddy shot over the bar from play. Following this point a Cullohill puck out fell short and Mick Lalor availed of the opportunity to shoot to the net for a goal, thus stretching the lead to 1-5 to 1-0. A Tim Cuddy point soon followed before some Cullohill attacks which yielded nothing. On the 28th minute P. Spencer pointed a Cullohill free and R. Moore was wide before the well placed before Pierce Dooley shot a Camross point before the interval leaving his side leading 1-7 to 1-1.

Camross scored a 2nd goal early in the second half giving them a nine point lead which Cullohill could not make up during the rest of the game. Although they did come very close. With ten minutes remaining a Cullohill goal and point reduced the deficit to two points. Camross seemed to be shutting down somewhat and Cullohill had the momentum. An exchange of points between the teams was followed by the crucial score of the game. With five minutes remaining Jimmy Lyons passed to Paddy Dooley who finished to the net. Two further points came from Tim and Ger Cuddy and a last minute Cullohill goal was not enough to deny Camross another title.

It was a great season for the club as a whole. The juniors continued on from a dominant opening round victory to qualify for the final where they were defeated by a strong Portlaoise side 4-3 to 2-5.  The u-21s won the inaugural Laois championship which was concluded in 1965 when they defeated the former masters of Laois hurling, Ballygeehan, 6-8 to 2-7. Tim Keenan was utterly dominant on the day scoring 3-1 of Camross’ winning total. Brendan Dollard, who would go on to win Senior honours with Borris-in-Ossory in the 1970s scored two further goals in the victory.

Camross – 1964 Laois u-21 Hurling Champions. Back Row (L. to R.) - Mick Scully,  Pierce Dooley,  John Delaney,  Brendan Cuddy,  Tommy Breen,  Stephen Conroy,  Lua Carey,  Joe Delaney,  Jack Dooley,  Canon Meaney,  Donal O Keeffe,  Tim Keenan,  Teddy Doherty. Front Row (L. to R.) Oliver Cuddy (Ballinrally), Phil Dillon, Lar Moore, Martin Bergin, Ollie Cuddy (Killanure), Ger Cuddy, Brendan Dollard, Michael Delaney. Missing from photo: Paddy Dowling. Picture reproduced courtesy of Ollie Cuddy and Breda Doran.

A 1-11 to 2-4 victory over Borris-in-Ossory opened the defence of the Senior Championship in 1966.  An improving Ballygeehan side were defeated in the next round with a five goal victory.  Five members of the Junior side were brought into the Senior fold in this game and this had a devastating effect on the Junior side who were heavily defeated by Ballinakill in the semi-final to their championship. Cullohill were becoming great rivals of Camross in the 1960s and they renewed this rivalry in the 1966 semi-final. This semi-final ran along very similar lines to their clash in the previous year’s final. Camross were impressive in the first half, leading 2-5 to 0-4. But Cullohill came back very strongly in the second half and brought the deficit down to two. But as they had done the previous year, Camross held out by two points. Ollie Cuddy made some vital saves for Camross in the second half and Pierce Dooley’s 1-5 tally helped Camross on their way to a 4th consecutive final.

Camross went into the final against Rathdowney with a weight of expectation that they had never faced before. For the first time they were expected to brush Rathdowney aside and claim another championship. But, unsurprisingly, Rathdowney had other ideas and kept with Camross for much of the game. Camross had the advantage of the breeze at the start and Paddy Dowling pointed a free in the second minute. A heavy drizzle of rain was falling at this stage as Camross pressed hard for scores, but the Mahons defended well for the Rathdowney, before Pierce Dooley pointed a free for Camross on the 15th minute. From the puck out, Jimmy Lyons gained possession before beating the Rathdowney defence for a good goal. Rathdowney returned to the attack and J. Rafter shot their opening point on the 19th minute. Camross hit back immediately to force a 70 yard free. Tim Cuddy found Paddy Dowling with the pass and he shot to the net.

Both defences were being tested and both were equal to the demands asked of them before Pierce Dooley pointed a Camross free on the 25th minute to stretch the lead. Rathdowney returned to the attack and forced two 21 -yards frees, the second of which T. Hickey shot to the net before the interval when Camross led by 2-3 to 1-1. Rathdowney scored an early goal in the second half but this was as close as they came to the champions. Ger Cuddy finished a Jimmy Lyons side-line stroke to the net. Three points in a row by Paddy and Pierce Dooley and another goal by Ger Cuddy clinched the issue for Camross. A late goal by Sean Cuddy and a Paddy Dowling point finished the scoring as Camross ran out 5-7 to 2-1 winners.  The Bob O’Keefe cup, safely in the arms of Tim Keenan, once more made its way out the well beaten path of the Mountrath road on its way back to Camross.

Aside from back to back Laois Senior Championships with Camross, Pierce Dooley had success as a student in University College Cork. Dooley hurled with an esteemed ‘skull and crossbones’ side that faced Avondhú in both the 1965 and 1966 Cork Senior hurling finals. Although losing both games he was involved in the UCC teams that won two Fitzgibbon Cup titles in the same years.

It is very probable that officials and players alike from Cullohill despaired at the news that Camross were their first opponents in the 1967 championship. They were an excellent hurling side and would likely have won several more championships had their good team not coincided with a rampant Camross side. Camross were without three players for their opening round tie, all of whom were key members of past victories; Pierce Dooley, PJ Gleeson and Dinny Dowling. Without these key players Cullohill had a great chance to defeat their rivals but came up just short. Scoring in past Camross-Cullohill games bore a striking resemblance to cricket. Camross would open strongly and set a total to which Cullohill would attempt to meet in the second half. This was exactly the case in 1967 as Camross led 2-1 to 0-1 at half time. Cullohill hurled excellently in the second half and the sides were level with five minutes remaining. Jimmy Lyons and Sean Cuddy struck late to give Camross a two point lead going into the closing moments. A final Cullohill point made for a nervy finish but Camross held on for a 2-7 to 2-6 victory.

Borris-in-Ossory were Camross’ semi-final opponents. With an excellent victory over Portlaoise under their belts, Borris were viewed as a difficult prospect for Camross but one of the finest team displays in the history of the club secured a final berth. Virtuoso performances from Tim Cuddy, Ger Cuddy, Padraig Higgins, Jackie Dooley, Paddy Dowling, Paddy Dooley and Tim Keenan both shut out the Borris attack for large parts and piled on the pressure for the champions. But none were better on the day than the midfield duo of Ollie Cuddy and Jimmy Lyons who controlled the play, almost as they pleased. Borris were forced to start Christy O’Brien on the bench but even he could do little when introduced in the second half. Camross ran out 8-14 to 3-6 winners.

Clonad stood between Camross and another Senior title. Clonad were aiming for their 13th Senior title and Camross, having only lost one game since 1963, were aiming for their 5th. Clonad were the stronger in the opening exchanges and after fifteen minutes they were leading 1-3 to 1-1, Sean Cuddy with the Camross goal. The game then turned after fifteen minutes when a player from each side was sent off. After a couple of tense minutes where the referee struggled to maintain control, Camross drew level and took an eventual lead with further goals from Sean Cuddy and Jimmy Lyons. Camross began to dominate in the second half with two further goals as they opened up a lead that they would not surrender. Camross eventually ran out 5-4 to 3-4 winners.

Three titles in a row, Camross were red-hot favourites to go on and claim a fourth on the trot come September 1968. As if to re-emphasis the dominance that they had developed within the Laois hurling scene Camross retained the 1967 u-21 championship with a 7-9 to 2-3 victory over Abbeyleix. This u-21 side showed that a conveyor belt of talent was well under way. A future star of the Senior team, Frank Keenan announced himself with an impressive tally of 2-1.  Sean Cuddy scored 3-3 in a convincing victory over Portlaoise in the Senior quarter-final to qualify for a semi-final against Mountmellick.  A facile 9-14 to 2-4 victory saw Camross qualify for another final without being troubled.  And, in truth, their greatest of rivals, Cullohill, did not trouble them either in the final. Cullohill took the lead in the second minute with a good point and they held the lead for all of two minutes before Ger Cuddy equalised. The youth, speed and teamwork of the Camross side then proceeded to halt any Cullohill attack whilst laying constant siege upon the opposition’s goal. Jackie Dooley, Ger Cuddy, Sean Cuddy, Jimmy Lyons, Paddy Dowling, Tim Keenan, Frank Keenan and Pierce Dooley all starred as Camross won their fourth straight senior title 5-13 to 2-5. Tom Cushen, vice-chairman of the Laois hurling board, presented the Bob O’Keefe cup to Ger Cuddy, said that he could not see Camross beaten in ten years. Corrie Delaney and Kieran Moore, who had taken up the role fulfilled by Fr. Sean and Mick Campion years before, replied with thanks and thanked the people of Camross for their support.

After an easy defence of their title, the Laois County Board began to recognise that Camross were dominating the county hurling scene like no club had ever done before. By virtue of competing against, and beating, top clubs from other counties in tournaments and charity matches throughout their excellent run, Camross were the flag bearers of the county in hurling terms and the County Board ceded control of the selection process for the county team to Corrie Delaney and Fint Lalor.  With rumours and discussions emerging about the establishment of an inter-county club competition there was a feeling that Camross could emerge as a dominant force outside Laois, as well as inside. Eight Camross men lined out for Laois in their first National League game of the season against Kilkenny in October 1968. Martin Cuddy, Tim Cuddy, Jimmy Lyons, Ollie Cuddy, Paddy Dowling, Tim Keenan, Ger Cuddy, Sean Cuddy all started for Laois on the day and Jackie Dooley came on as a sub in the second half. Even though they went down by seven points in the end, there was only two points in the game half way through the second half and Laois missed a number of opportunities to go on and win. In many ways this was an endorsement of the quality of the Camross team. A team largely made up of men from the club went toe to toe with a team who had won the All-Ireland only a year previously that featured names such as Noel Skeehan and Eddie Keher.  Further proof of Camross’ strength came when they faced Roscrea in a challenge game in 1969. A last minute Roscrea goal gave them a 3-7 to 3-5 victory but considering that this same team would go on to win the inaugural All-Ireland club championship two years later, the Camross performance was one to be proud of. 

On the back of such performances Camross easily got past an Abbeyleix selection in the opening round of the 1969 championship.  The seniors were 23 better than Ballygeehan in the quarter-final. The two stand out stars on the day were Tim Keenan who scored 2-1 and newcomer, Michael Delaney, from the village, who scored 3-2.  A Mountrath area team stood between Camross and an unprecedented 7th Senior final in a row and a chance to equal the great Ballygeehan’s five in a row of the 1910s. A 9-17 to 1-2 victory for Camross benefitted neither Camross nor Ballygeehan on the day but another final had been reached. A total of 100 points had been reached en-route to the final and it was expected that Rathdowney would be swept aside to claim a fifth senior title. 

Rathdowney were the sternest opposition Camross faced in 1969 and their determined effort caused many problems for Camross. The scores were even for the first twenty minutes but a second goal for Frank Keenan in the 25th minute led to a flurry of Camross points from Michael Delaney, Jimmy Lyons, Paddy Dowling and Tim Keenan. Camross led 2-8 to 1-3 as Jimmy Rankins, who would go on to referee the 1978 All-Ireland final, blew the half-time whistle. Ger Cuddy opened the scoring in the second half with a Camross point to extend the lead but a Tom McGrath goal for Rathdowney brought them right back into the game. For the next ten minutes the game was in the balance. Despite still retaining a commanding lead, Camross were forced to mount a strong defence in the face of constant Rathdowney attacks led by Tim Duggan. Camross had a new man between the sticks, and John Carroll performed excellently in the second half. He was ably helped by Martin Cuddy, Jackie Dooley, Christy Donovan and Lar Moore in the defence.

The decisive score was Camross’ third goal, from the stick of Ger Cuddy, which ended any hopes of a Rathdowney victory. Camross eventually ran out 3-13 to 2-4 winners. As he presented Ger Cuddy the Bob O’Keefe cup, Tom Cushen pointed out that only six of the team that lined out against Cullohill at the start of their current run in 1965 started on that day against Rathdowney. It was a team that had just made history, and yet it was a team in transition. An ominous sign for their rivals.

Challenged once More

The 1970s opened with u-21 success. After surrendering the title for the first time the season before, Camross overcame Errill 4-9 to 3-5 in the 1969 final played in O’Moore Park in April 1970. Errill led by four points at half time and would likely have had a much larger lead were it not for John Carroll in the Camross goal. In the second-half the Camross forwards settled down and began to pick off scores. Camross’ two senior inter-county stars, Frank Keenan and Michael Delaney scored 1-8 between them. Sean Bergin, son of club stalwart Paddy Bergin, scored a further two goals as Camross reasserted their dominance at the u-21 grade.

A repeat of the 1969 final was what faced Camross in the opening round of the 1970 championship. But this tie lacked any of the bite that made the previous year’s final an entertaining affair. The Camross defence kept out Rathdowney completely as Camross ran out 3-10 to 0-0 winners. The disappointing game was controlled by Paddy Dowling and Jimmy Lyons in midfield whilst the returning Pierce Dooley led the attack, scoring 1-3 on the day. 

A quarter-final against Clonad was next on the cards for Camross. Camross had not lost a championship game since the county final six years before. One of the longest winning streaks in the history of the GAA was expected to stretch on far beyond a run-of-the-mill quarter-final against Clonad in O’Moore Park. But once the teams took to the field it was apparent that the streak was under severe threat. Clonad were clearly the more eager of the sides in the opening exchanges and were very unlucky not to convert their possession into scores. But their impressive, if a bit un-clinical, start was a sign of things to come as Clonad ground down the champions to seal their place in the county semi-final.

The defeat was met with more frustrated annoyance than disappointment in the club. Camross had shown in the previous years that they were in a league of their own and the defeat to Clonad, despite the fact that they would go on to win the county final, could be considered somewhat of a freak result. But freak result or not, the club found themselves in the unfamiliar situation of having a summer layoff. They filled the void with challenge games, tournaments, and a rather unique game where the Cuddys took on the rest of the parish in a challenge game.  The u-21s reached the county final after an exciting 4-5 to 4-3 victory over Cullohill-Durrow in the semi-final.  They went on to defeat Borris-in-Ossory in the final 2-6 to 3-2 to regain the u-21 championship to make up slightly for an otherwise disappointing year. New players that were coming through the ranks that helped Camross to victory included Eugene Lacumber and Richard Maloney.

The path back to glory for the Seniors began in Mountrath the following May. Intermediate champions Ballyfin fancied their chances against a wounded Camross side. But a winter’s reflection upon the defeat to Clonad had reinvigorated the Camross men and they eased past Ballyfin 5-11 to 2-4. Sean Cuddy and Mick Lalor contributed 4-3 between them.  A very weak Abbeyleix side, noted as being far out of their depth in the senior grade at the time, provided little resistance in the next round, Camross winning 9-10 to 2-6.  Camross’ semi-final opponents were Borris-in-Ossory. The game was played before a record crowd for a semi-final game in O’Moore Park. Borris began on top and scored the game’s opening score, a Joe Hanrahan goal. Borris continued to dominate play but could not convert enough chances to open up a healthy lead. Shortly before half time Camross clawed their way back into the game and held the advantage at the break through goals from Mick Lalor and Frank Keenan. Lalor’s goal came from a marvellous piece of skill from a Jimmy Lyons line ball. Another Mick Lalor early in the second half effectively sealed the tie. Further scores from Ollie Cuddy and Frank Keenan rounded off Camross’ scoring as they won 5-9 to 2-5.

Who better for Camross to face in the 1971 final than the team that denied them six Championships in a row? If Cullohill were Camross’ fiercest rivals in the early 1960s then Clonad were certainly the team that Camross would most desire to overcome in the early 1970s. And so it came to pass as they regained the championship on a score line of 4-10 to 3-8.

Their dominance within Laois reasserted, Camross now had an opportunity to embark on a new adventure, the Leinster Senior Club Hurling Championship. This was their chance to prove themselves on a provincial stage. As we have seen, Laois teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s were predominantly made up of Camross men and they had performed admirably against some of the legends of the game. There was a certain level of expectation that Camross would enter this new inter-county tournament and claim the Leinster title in a matter of years. The first team that Camross faced in the Leinster Championship was a team that would go on to become one of the country’s most iconic club teams. But the Birr side of the early 1970s were not the dominant team that they once were, or indeed would become in the future. In fact, their 1971 Offaly Championship victory was their first since 1948 and they would not win another until 1994. Therefore, Camross’ victory over Birr by 2-7 to 0-6 was largely expected and sent few shockwaves around the province. John Carroll, who was becoming a household name as being one of the best inter-county goalkeepers in the country, was man of the match on the day. As is often the case with new club tournaments in GAA circles, teething problems befell the inaugural club championship the year before. Indeed, the first All-Ireland final between Roscrea and St. Rynagh’s did not take place until the week after Camross had defeated the team who had taken Rynagh’s Offaly Championship. This did take away somewhat from Camross’ victory but little did they care as they advanced to face the Kilkenny champions, Bennetsbridge, in the next round.

This game was played the following March in difficult conditions in Nowlan Park. In a very low scoring first half Camross led by 1-0 to 0-2 and held on to this lead towards the three quarter hour mark. But Bennetsbridge then came storming into the game with John Kinsella and Paddy Moran picking off the scores that Camross were finding increasingly difficult to convert scores as they hurled into a strong breeze in the second half. Camross exited their first Leinster Championship at the quarter-final stage on a score line of 1-9 to 1-1.

Once again the 1972 Laois Senior team was dominated by Camross men. Named on the starting team for the Leinster Championship tie against Offaly were John Carroll, Tim Cuddy, Jackie Dooley, Frank Keenan, Paddy Dowling, and Ger Cuddy. Sean Cuddy and Jimmy Lyons were on the bench as well. The Camross men played a vital role in the excellent 4-7 to 3-9 victory over their neighbours as they advanced to the Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny.  Although defeated by seven points by Kilkenny in the semi-final, the seven Camross men that performed on the day contributed to a very brave showing against the black and amber.

Camross began the 1972 Championship with a victory over their main rivals of the past few years, Clonad. After an even opening half, Camross led by two points 3-3 to 2-4 at the interval. Favoured by the breeze on the re-start, Camross gained control around midfield, and after having the better of the exchanges throughout the closing period, emerged deserving winners by 6-7 to 3-5. 

The next game for the Camross seniors was against Clonaslee. The game was initially called off due to Clonaslee’s opposition to playing the game in Mountrath. This strange decision was reversed at a county board meeting on the eve of the game and led to a very small crowd in the pitch in Mountrath due to the confusion. Clonaslee were duly defeated 7-9 to 3-7. However, the result masked over a fair degree of poor play from the Camross side. Played under ideal conditions the game was said to have produced the best hurling of the 1972 championship campaign, with only a single point between the sides at the three-quarter stage, and it was not until the last quarter that Camross asserted their superiority during which they banged in four goals and a point, without reply, to emerge deserving winners of a hard fought game. Paddy Dowling, who did not start the game due to illness, made the difference when he was introduced at half time.

Borris-in-Ossory were Camross’ semi-final opponents. The game was one of the most dramatic and controversial games seen in years in O’Moore Park as Camross aimed to reach another county final. The following Leinster Express match day report captures the drama of the frenetic game;

Camross had the better of the early exchanges and led 2-2 to 0-3 the end of the first quarter, a period during which the youthful Borris-in-Ossory side appeared be unsettled. They failed to take advantage of a few good openings and conceded a couple of rather soft goals. It was not until the twentieth minute, when veteran Christy O'Brien lashed a 21 yards free to the Camross net that the challengers produced anything like their true form. They finished the first half two goals down, and after the re-start took complete control to draw level inside three minutes.

Those two goals scored by former inter-county and former inter provincial star, Christy O'Brien, sparked off the great revival, with every move made by the Borris-in-Ossory giant showing a touch of class.

When Paul Dollard shot Borris-in-Ossory into the lead for the first time in the thirty fifth minute, there was only one team in it. At the three-quarter stage Borris-in-Ossory had turned a two goal interval deficit into a four point’s lead, which they still held at the end of a game that produced the best hurling of the current championship campaign.

Camross who had had a good reign - six times holders of the O’Keefe Cup in the last seven years need have no regrets. They made their exit to a fast determined and youthful Borris-in-Ossory side, capably led by the evergreen Christy O'Brien, who contributed no less than 4-2 of their 4-9 winning total.

The game was a very heated affair and a brawl in the second half marred a game which was full of skill and pace. Once the game was over the frustration of having being knocked out got the better of several Camross players and officials as the referee, Larry O’Mahony, was man-handled as he blew the final whistle. It was a truly forgettable way to exit the championship.  Four Camross players were given a year’s suspension between them and the club was fined £20 and warned about their conduct.  The performance of Christy O’Brien on the day was one of the finest seen against Camross and he was duly rewarded later that autumn when Borris defeated Ballyfin to win the championship. Captain Brendan Dollard became the first Borris man to lift the Bob O’Keefe cup since 1962.

Camross began the 1973 Senior Championship with a 5-11 to 1-4 victory over Abbeyleix.  Their next game was a much tighter affair, a 4-6 to 1-13 victory over Clonaslee. John Carroll was in top class form in the first half of the game bringing off some point blank saves to deny Clonaslee. The game was in doubt until the closing stages when Camross managed to secure the final scores to claim a place in the championship semi-final against Cullohill who were overcome booking a place in the final against Borris-in-Ossory. 

It was not unil the final quarter that Camross took complete control of the final, and with Sean Cuddy in devastating form, Camross regained the Laois senior hurling championship title after a lapse of two years on a score line of 5-13 to 0-14 in O’Moore Park. In a game that produced some top class hurling, the issue was always in doubt up to the closing quarter. In fact, early indications were that Borris would go on to retain the Bob O’Keefe cup. They were ahead 0-12 to 2-3 at the interval and were three points in arrears at the close of the third quarter. It was then that the Camross forwards clicked into gear. Sean Cuddy gave a performance unequalled before or since in a county final, scoring from all angles including two goals from frees to leave Camross winners by double scores.  His tally of 3-8 remains the higest ever scored in a Laois county final.

Camross received a bye to the second round of the Leinster Championship and they faced the Offaly champions in their second venture into the tournament. St. Rynagh’s were the formidable opposition that Camross faced. Camross were underdogs against their Cloghan/Banagher opponents. St. Rynagh’s had won two of the three opening Leinster Championships and had been defeated in the All-Ireland final to Roscrea. Indeed, they were due to face Glen Rovers of Cork in the 1972/73 All-Irleand final. In a hugely contraversial move Glen Rovers had been awarded this final by a decision of the ‘Activities Committee’ and it was only after a plea from Glen Rovers to have the match played that Rynagh’s were eventually given the chance to claim a first All-Ireland. But before they faced Glen Rovers in Croke Park they had to face Camross in the present season’s Leinster quarter-final.

Camross were favoured by the breeze at the start but St Rynagh's forced the pace in the opening exchanges and goalie John Carroll, who was making a return to the game following an injury sustained in a National League tie against Offaly a few weeks ago, brought off two good saves from Padge Mulhare and Barney Moylan before Moylan pointed a free after five minutes with Mulhare adding a point a minute later. Camross then opened their account when Frank Keenan pointed a long range free in the seventh minute and the Laois title holders came more into the picture, but their finishing was poor. They forced three frees in a row which were sent wide and then forced a 70 which fell short and was cleared, before Ollie Cuddy crashed the ball to the St. Rynagh's net for a good goal and the lead for Camross.

In an effort to curb the Camross supremacy at midfield where Paddy Dowling and Frank Keenan had much the better of the exchanges, St. Rynagh’s switched Paudge Mulhare and Ray Horan to this vital sector and they did make a slight improvement. The Offaly champions had a point from a free by Barney Moylan is the 18th minute and a goal by P.J. Whelehan a minute later to regain the lead. Sean Cuddy then pointed a Camross free but this was offset when Jim Horan replied for St Rynagh’s … In the 28th minute Moylan pointed a St Rynagh's free to give his side 1 1-5 to 1-2 interval lead.

Hurling of a very high standard was served up during the third quarter with both defences tested time and time again, and both goalies bringing off brilliant saves. Tim Keenan was narrowly wide of the post in an early Camross attack, and Martin in goal was seen at his best on a couple of occasions before Barney Moylan pointed a St Rynagh's free after six minutes… Play swung from end to end for the next ten minutes of brilliant hurling during which neither side raised a flag. Eventually Jim Horan broke the deadlock, when shooting a St Rynagh's point in the 20th minute. Then followed three St Rynagh's wides, before Moylan shot their eight and final point six minutes from time. Camross rallied and forced a 21 yards free which Sean Cuddy shot low and hard for goal but his effort was deflected over the end line for a 70 which Jackie Dooley centred but was cleared outfield by Padraig Horan who sent St Rynagh's attacking, but Moylan's shot sailed wide. Back swept Camross to the attack from the puck out and Frank Keenan was wide. Following the puck out Camross launched a further attack which Frank Keenan finished to the net for a goal for the last score of the game, leaving St Rynagh's narrow winners 1-8 to 2-2.

It was a gallant effort from the Camross team but the game was marred by disgraceful scenes at the end which saw a Camross player strechered off the pitch and scuffles breaking out at the full time whistle. Two players had already been sent off, one from each side, earlier in the game.  Both clubs were handed £100 fines by the Leinster Council.  But leaving the aforementioned scenes to one side, Camross were left to rue missed chances in the first half. Two weeks later, Glen Rovers defeated St. Rynagh’s in a drab encounter before a small crowd in Croke Park.

1973 was a special year for the Camross goalkeeper John Carroll. At just 24 years of age he collected his second Railway cup medal for Leinster on St. Patrick’s day. He was featured in a special interview piece in the Leinster Express in which he stated that the best way to counteract nervousness before a big game was a solid nine hours sleep the night before a big game.  He crowned the year by being nominated for an All Star for his efforts.

1974 saw the introduction of the Brady Cup, a league cup which became the latest in a long line of new Laois hurling tournaments. Camross opened their participation in this tournement by reaching the final following a 4-8 to 1-5 victory over Portlaoise.  They were defeated 3-9 to 2-9 by Borris-in-Ossory in the final.  The championship went along more established lines as the advanced to a final against Clonaslee which they won on a score line of 1-15 to 0-5.

With their 10th senior title in the bag, Camross were eager for retribution as they faced St. Rynagh’s once more in the Leinster Championship. Birr was the venue as St. Rynagh’s almost claimed a victory they scarcely deserved but a Mick Cuddy point with two minutes levelled up the match and ensured a replay would be needed to settle the tie. A draw was a fair result, for Camross were dominant for most of the hour, holding an 0-5 to 0-2 lead at half-time and looked all set for a famous victory. St. Rynagh's, playing without forwards Barney Moylan and Padge Mulhare, lacked their usual punch in the attack but in the last quarter hour they rallied for an all-out attack and two goals put them in front by a point before substitute Mick Cuddy scored his late equaliser.  The replay was moved from O’Moore Park to Rathdowney following a pitch inspection failure at the former.  A goal by Barney Moylan was the decisive score of the game. Coming in the 20th minute of the second half, it clinched the issue for St. Rynaghs.

Camross began the defence of their championship in 1975 with a 4-10 to 1-7 victory over Cullahill.  The tie, played in Borris-in-Ossory, was never truly in doubt after the first quarter. In that first quarter, however, Cullohill were the better side and were 1-1 up after ten minutes. But once Camross settled they picked off the scores that Cullohill could not get and after a brief resurgance in the second half Camross pulled away to progress at a canter. In defence, Joe Fitzpatrick, Jackie Dooley and Richard Maloney stood out whilst Sean Bergin and Paddy Dowling dominated the centre. Mick, Martin, Sean and Ger Cuddy, along with Tim Keenan dominated play up-front after a slow start. 

In the semi-final Camross faced a Clonaslee side who were still bitterly dissapointed at their poor performance in the county final of the previous year. The game began ominously for Clonaslee as Camross mounted a succession of attacks. But unfortunately for Camross, accuracy was eluding the forwards as Tim Keenan and Sean Cuddy both missed good chances before Sean Cuddy opened the scoring in the 7th minute. He scored two further frees to which another was added by Martin Cuddy as Clonaslee remained stalled in the starting blocks. A fifth point for Camross, by Mick Carroll, followed by a penalty save by John Carroll in  the Camross goal seemed to assure those in attendance that Camross would go on to face Clonad in the final. Clonaslee scored their first point with only a few minutes of the first half remaining but the crucial score of the game was a Paddy Bates’ goal for Clonaslee just before the interval. Camross were the better in the early stages of the second half but Clonaslee put in a far more determined effort as the likes of Paddy Bates, Fran Bates and John Delahunty began to pick off scores. Clonaslee hit the front late on and a Mick Carroll effort at the death just went wide as the final whistle blew and Camross relinquished their championship.  

Towards the end of 1975 and the beginning of 1976 two Camross men were elected to very important positions within the administration of the GAA. Michael Scully was elected as chairman of the Laois Hurling Board. He won the vote by a very narrow margin. He succeded Denis Phelan of the Slieve Bloom club who had been chairman for the previous 11 years. 

Meanwhile, the secretary of the Leinster GAA Council, Ciarán O’Neill resigned his role to take up a position in Croke Park opening up the highest administrative position in the province. When 27 year old Michael Delaney was elected as the new secretary in January 1976 he said that he was absolutly delighted and pleasantly surprised. It was a huge opportunity for the Camross man. Before his venture behind the scenes Delaney had proved himself to be a fine hurler. He represented Camross and Laois at all grades underage and at senior. Whilst a student in St. Kieran’s College he won an All-Ireland medal in 1965. He also had success in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. He won a Laois senior hurling title in 1969. His teaching career brought him to Bagenalstown and Longford (Offaly) before seeing out his short teaching career in Ballacolla. The full time nature of his new role forced him to leave the profession as he threw himself into his new role, a role he would hold for the next 38 years.

The Second Five in a Row

The Greatest Season of All

1976 began like so many years had done before. Camross recorded several convincing victories in the Brady Cup in preparation for the championship. Their first senior championship victory came over Ballacolla in May, followed by an eight point victory over Borris-in-Ossory. Good performaces in tournaments in Kilkenny brought a sense of optimism back to the club that may have been harmed by the tame manner of their exit from the previous year’s championship. But any expectation that the county title would be reclaimed without a great struggle was shattered when they were defeated by Clonad in the final of a tournament in Rathdowney.  Meanwhile, Clonaslee proved that a sustained period of success for the first time in six decades was possible as they reached a third county final in a row and sat in wait to defend their title against either Camross or Cullohill. Camross duly defeated Cullohill 1-14 to 2-7 in the semi-final to book a place in the final.

Clonaslee began the defence of their title much the stronger and inside the first five minutes they were a goal and two points to the good. Joe Fitzpatrick replied with a goal for Camross, a score which brought them back into the game with a vengeance. The sides were level at 1-2 apiece after the 20 minutes but Clonaslee managed to finish the half in front; 1-5 to 1-4. They stretched that lead with a further point on the restart, but with Camross coming more and more into the game, scoring four points without reply, it was clearly evident that the Clonaslee attack were finding it increasingly difficult to gain access to the Camross goal area.

Two further points followed for Camross, which gave them a four-point lead, and while Clonaslee cut the lead to three points on two occasions, they could never manage that all-important goal against a resolute Camross defence. With two minutes remaining Frank Keenan got a point that Camross ensured them victory. Camross won their 11th title on a scoreline of 1-13 to 1-9. 

For the fourth time Camross entered the Leinster Championship and in the quarter-final they were drawn against Dublin champions, Kilmacud Crokes. The south-Dublin outfit had defeated Craobh Chiarán in the Dublin final. The game, played in November in O’Moore Park was a very close and exciting affair. In a top class and keenly contested game, the sides were level on two occasions in the opening quarter before Tommy Ring pointed to give Crokes the lead. Camross recovered, however, and thanks to a goal from Frank Keenan, Camross forged ahead by double scores, 1-7 to 0-5 at the interval. Despite an improvement by the Dublin champions, Camross went further ahead before goals from Mattie Fox and Brian Cooney again levelled for Crokes. When Mick Bermingham pointed entering the final quarter, it appeared as if Crokes might win. Camross had other ideas, however, and when Sean Cuddy goaled they were through to the semi-final against St Rynagh's or Naomh Eoin of Carlow. 

St. Rynagh’s overcame their Carlow opponents to book a date with their keenest of rivals in the Leinster championship. The biggest day in the history of the club at that point took place in Rathdowney. Camross were aiming to join Portlaoise in the Leinster finals, the town reaching the football final the week before. When St Rynagh’s led 0-6 to 0-3 at the interval and stretched that lead 1-7 to 0-3 two minutes into the second half it appeared that they would continue to hold the upper hand over their Laois rivals. Camross had other ideas, however, and having cut the lead to a single point at the end of the quarter went ahead when Frank Keenan scored a great goal and then tapped over two points. St. Rynagh’s tried all they could to get back into the game but against a resolute defence and a brilliant performance from John Carroll their only reward was a single point to which Camross replied with a similar score. Camross reached the Leinster Final on a score line of 2-8 to 1-8. 

With their rivals of the past few years finally defeated Camross looked forward to a marquee event, a Leinster Club Hurling final against the mighty James Stephen’s of Kilkenny. Stephen’s were the greatest hurling club in Ireland. They were the reigning All-Ireland Champions, the first Leinster team to achieve this. Their team sheet was dotted with some of the finest hurlers to ever play the game; Brian Cody,  Mick Crotty, Joe Hennessy, Fan Larkin, Tom McCormack, and Liam O’Brien who would all go on to win a total of 19 All-Ireland titles with Kilkenny between them. That is not to mention the 16 All Star awards that the same men would go on to claim or the 11 All-Ireland titles (as of 2015) that Cody would go on to win as manager of Kilkenny.

They had easily overcome the Kildare champions Ardclough in the semi-final. The highest drama that concerned them came before the game came when Liam O’Brien arrived mere moments before throw-in due to a delayed flight from London where he was attending the Kilkenny Men’s Association gala dinner. Despite the less than ideal preparation he scored 8 points of the ‘Village’s’ 1-16 total.  All of the Stephen’s stars contributed to the rather facile victory as they rarely left second gear to overcome their opponents who were vastly out of step with the pace or skill of the game.

After a short break over December and into the new year both teams returned to training in early January for the final which was set for the first Sunday in February in Dr. Cullen Park, Carlow. Stephen’s suffered a big scare in the run-up to the Camross game when a case against their All-Ireland winning captain, ‘Fan’ Larkin, was brought before the GAA Activities Committee. Larkin was cleared of using abusive language to referree Gerry Kirwan of Offaly in a league game between Kilkenny and Dublin the previous October.  However, cleared of this indiscretion, Larkin was ruled out of the game due to an injury.

Meanwhile, the national press began to focus on the prospect of an upset from a Camross side who were expected to line out with no less than seven Cuddys. The Cuddys were made up of two sets of brothers, both of whom were first cousins of the other. Tim, Oliver, Martin (captain), and Michael were all from Killanure whilst their brother Lar was a sub. From Aughduff there was PJ, Ger and Sean. Thirteen of the Camross starting fifteen had represented Laois at senior inter-county level and Joe Doran had been a key part of the Laois u-21 team the previous season. The sense that an upset was on the cards was boosted by Larkin’s injury and also a finger injury sustained by Mick Crotty. Portlaoise had won their second Leinster Football title by beating Cooley Kickhams the week before and confidence was high that a unique double could be achieved by the Laois champions.

On Sunday, 6 February 1977, the champions of Laois and Kilkenny took to Dr. Cullen Park to compete for the Leinster Championship in front of 5,000 people in driving wind and rain. Curiously, the game began a few minutes earlier than scheduled and Camross seemed a little sluggish in the opening exchanges. Liam O'Brien got Stephen’s off the mark with a pointed free which was added to by Josie O'Brien and in the 7th minute by Denis McCormack.

Frank Keenan opened the scoring for Camross with a point. Once again Liam O'Brien planted a free over the bar for the Village before Camross, who began hurling very well, made the first noteworthy breach of the champions' defence. Again Keenan was the crucial character. He managed to stealthily get behind the Kilkenny men’s defence, but from only a matter of yards he rushed his shot which was only rewarded by a point, when the goal was there for the taking. Paddy Dowling, a doubt for the game due to a workplace injury, shrugged off any niggling pain and his partnership with P. J. Cuddy was making life very difficult for Joe Hennessy and Denis McCormack in the ‘Village’s’ midfield. Martin Cuddy collected an accurate side-line ball and pointed before Frank Keenan brought the sides to four points apiece five minutes later. Camross went in front for the first time in the 22nd minute when Mick Carroll drove over from 20 yards. Then the Village put in their best work of the half in the time up to the interval. A Josie O'Brien goal started the scoring rush for James Stephen’s. Mick Leahy provided the defence splitting pass which ended with O'Brien just beating John Carroll in a race to the ball. James Stephen’s now led 1-5 to 0-5. Within the next two minutes, Mick Crotty and Mick Taylor tacked on scores and John McCormack accounted for the last score of the half. Two minutes before the end of that period Mick Moore was penalised for fouling the ball on the goal line but Sean Cuddy's goal effort was saved.

First out for the second half in which they were to attack the town goal, Camross had a rearranged back line. Centre-back Joe Fitzpatrick moved back to corner back and Richard Maloney took up duty on the left flank. OIlie Cuddy moved in as pivot around the centre of the pitch and was to play a very effective part in keeping tabs on Liam O'Brien, who had a quiet day by his own standards. Stephen’s drew first blood in the half and Mick Leahy extended their lead to six points, 1-8 to 0-5. But the game turned when Ger Cuddy and Frank Keenan combined to wipe out the hard earned Village lead in a two minute period. First Ger Cuddy left Mick Moore struggling with a fierce ground shot which hit the net. And then after much untidy goalmouth play a minute later, Keenan pushed the ball over the line to put the sides level for the second time. Almost immediately after that Keenan goal, Mick Taylor went close at the other end. Joe Hennessy went one better as he burst through the Camross defence to lob over a point that was only allowed after the referee consulted his umpires. Liam O'Brien hit a point from a free from 45 yards after Tom McCormack was fouled and James Stephen’s seemed to have weathered the storm. But the maelstrom was merely brewing. Paddy Dowling, who went for a 'rest period' into the forward line and later returned to midfield, was fouled in the square and Sean Cuddy settled for a point. Mick Crotty replied to that with a kicked point before Frank Keenan cut the arrears to the minimum again. Points were exchanged as both sets of goalkeepers found the poor Carlow turf difficult to deal with. The decisive score in the game came with about six minutes left.

Brian Cody was penalised for over carrying and Frank Keenan's short dropping effort was deflected to the net by Tim Keenan who had joined the play from the bench. Camross were now three points up and it was they who had to withstand a Stephen’s storm. They made a brave effort to save their crown and get at least a replay when Mick Crotty and John McCormack scores cut down the arrears. A last gasp free was awarded to the Kilkenny men and Liam O’Brien, who had scored four points from placed balls earlier, and from much tougher positions, incredibly missed the chance to force the game to a replay. The final whistle blew and Camross were victorious on a score line of 3-9 to 1-14. 

The remarkable victory was a true team effort. John Carroll in goal put in a stellar performance, the goal he conceded passing him only after a slip on the poor ground. Jackie Dooley cleared ball after ball to launch several Camross attacks and full back Tim Cuddy relegated Mick Crotty to a very average performance. Likewise, Liam O’Brien’s quiet day was largely due to the performance of Ollie Cuddy. Richard Maloney and Joe Doran, two of the youngest members of the team, also performed admirably. The youngest player on the team, PJ Cuddy helped the injured Paddy Dowling into the game and they both controlled the central segment. Stephen’s bulwark of a centre-back, Brian Cody, was forced into mistakes by Ger Cuddy, including the key incident that led to Tim Keenan’s goal. Martin Cuddy, Mick Carroll, Mick Cuddy and Sean Cuddy all contributed to the Camross attack. But 1-4 from Frank Keenan earned him the man of the match award as he dictated play up front as Camross recorded their most famous victory.

Champions of Leinster, Camross now went on to the All-Ireland series and after defeating the reigning All-Ireland champions, the opposition of Ballycran from Down was viewed as a golden opportunity to reach the final. It may have been viewed as a tie Camross could easily negotiate but Ballycran were still on a par with many teams that had overcome Camross in the previous couple of years. Aside from a panel of very fine hurlers, Ballycran had the huge advantage of playing the game in Down. Despite the great distance between the clubs, there were two interesting links between them. Both sides played in black and amber and county colours would have to be donned by the teams in the All-Ireland semi-final. Furthermore, 19 year old Ballycran midfielder Tommy Brown was a son of Camross woman, Philomena Moore originally from Killanure. Brown, being a relation of Camross stalwarts Kieran and Lar Moore, no doubt had mixed emotions in the build up to the game but the Newtonards man was going to be key to any tilt at the All-Ireland title that the Down side would mount.

The team began the long journey by bus the day before the game and stayed in the Fairway’s Hotel in Dundalk. The following morning they travelled to Strangford where they took the ferry to Portaferry and then by rural roads to Ballycran in the heart of the Ards Peninsula. Even by today’s standards a journey from Camross to Ballycran is a tough drive. But to make such a journey in March 1977 was huge undertaking.  The Troubles were tearing Northern Ireland apart, and in the weeks and days before the game there were a number of high profile incidents that would make even the most stubborn of people a little nervous taking a trip up North. The Shankill Butchers were at the height of their campaign of terror, a UVF bomb exploded prematurely in Belfast killing two, and both a week before and a week after the game the IRA shot dead two prominent Belfast business men. 

However, there was little to fear in rural Down. In all, five bus loads travelled from Camross on the day to cheer on their side. As it turned out the game was a very poor affair. Camross eased their way to the All-Ireland final with a relatively comfortable 3-12 to 0-7 victory over their Down opponents. In very poor conditions Camross were 1-9 to 0-1 up at half time and despite a brief Ballycran revival Camross never looked like they would be beaten. 1-10 from Frank Keenan proved his worth to the Camross team once more. The remainder of the Camross’ scores coming from Ger Cuddy, Martin Cuddy, Sean Cuddy and Joe Fitzpatrick.

Their opponents in the final were a club as steeped in hurling tradition as any other. Glen Rovers defeated Roscommon champions Tremaine by 28 points in the other semi-final, Tremaine having shocked Galway champions Kiltormer in the Connacht final (one of only two non-Galway clubs to win the provincial title). Indeed, national papers had been openly discussing the match ups between Glen Rovers and Camross long before either side had sealed their place in the final. The highest accolade in the club game was now within Camross’ reach. It was only 20 years since Kieran Moore and Fint Lalor travelled to Errill to speak to Fr. Sean Collier to train the local junior side. In two decades Camross had become one of the great club hurling teams in Leinster, and in reaching the All-Ireland final securing their place as the greatest club team to emerge from Laois. It is true that they lacked the tradition that Glen Rovers had. After all, the Rovers had won the Cork Championship 24 times, the Munster title three times and already had an All-Ireland title. They lost only five championship games in the twenty years between 1934 and 1954, largely due to the help of two of the greatest hurlers of all-time, Christy Ring and Jack Lynch. Indeed Ring was noted by the Irish Independent in the run up to the big game as having spearheaded the backroom efforts of the Rovers as they prepared to take on Camross. They were a Cork city side who had a very high population catchment area. There may have been more clubmen with Glen Rovers than males of any description in Camross. The fact that Camross had reached the level of Glen Rovers in such a short period of time after their first county title was one of the finest achievements in the history of Laois GAA.

In the run up to the final there was much discussion among players with regards training methods and the Parish Priest, Fr. John Joe Reidy began to exert an influence. The co-trainers of the team, Fint Lalor and Jimmy Lyons welcomed the clergy man with open arms. Fr. Reidy made great plans in the run up to the final, including military style precision timing, which saw the team arrive in Thurles at a time when they comfortably could have been leaving Camross at.

12,000 spectators were in Semple Stadium as the following Camross men took to the field to battle for the All-Ireland championship; John Carroll, Jackie Dooley, Tim Cuddy, Richard Maloney, Joe Doran, Joe Fitzpatrick, Ollie Cuddy, PJ Cuddy, Paddy Dowling, Martin Cuddy, Ger Cuddy, Mick Carroll, Mick Cuddy, Frank Keenan and Sean Cuddy. Tim Keenan, Sean Bergin and Seamus Collier would take to the pitch during the second half as replacements. The pitch was in perfect condition but the omens for a perfect day for Camross were not apparent; the game was delayed by ten minutes due to referee John Maloney arriving late to the stadium and as a consequence both sides were denied the honour of parading around the pitch behind the Thurles Silver Band before the game. The circumstances of the delay in the referee taking to field, and the late arrival of the Glen Rovers team to Thurles are speculated upon to this day. The delay certainly did Camross no favours. The bitterly cold weather certainly hampered the team who had arrived in Thurles so early, due to Fr. Reidy’s insistence, and were practicing on the pitch amidst torrential hail and a driving wind with no sign of either a referee or any opponents.

The Cork men’s delay in taking to the field resulted in a sluggish Camross start. Glen Rovers opened the scoring with an O’Doherty point after three minutes. Camross equalised with a Frank Keenan point and shortly afterwards John Carroll made a great save in the Camross goal, deflecting a Tom Collins shot over the bar. Camross were struggling to contain the Rovers attack and after 24 minutes they were 0-7 to 0-2 down. Then came a crucial moment in the game; Joe Fitzpatrick took a 70 yard free which dropped toward the Rovers’ goal. The sliotar was connected to by Frank Keenan and the Killanure man reeled away in celebration as Camross were right back in it. But moments later the umpires crossed their flags and disallowed the goal to the disbelief of Keenan, the Camross players, officials and fans, and also reportedly the press box who could neither see an infringement or a square ball. With a perfectly good goal disallowed Camross suffered another blow shortly afterwards when Glen Rovers were awarded a penalty. Paddy Harte shot low and hard but corner-back Joe Doran deflected the ball over the bar. Camross went in six points in arrears at half time. Mick Cuddy was forced off injured early in the second half and a scrappy Tom Collins goal for Glen Rovers proved to be the decisive score that brought to an end any prospect of a Camross comeback. A second scrappy goal from Collins gave Rovers an unassailable lead as the Cork men ran out 2-12 to 0-8 victors.

There was palpable dissapointment for Camross as they realised that they had allowed themselves to be dominated by a side who were flattered by the final score line and were very lucky that Frank Keenan’s goal was disallowed. Nevertheless, as players, officals and fans left Thurles that March afternoon they were assured that Camross had firmly pulled up their seat to the top table of club hurling in Ireland. It was an unforgettable year for the club, a year which saw the defeat of the All-Irleand champions en route to  a first Leinster title. It truly was the greatest season of all.Later in 1977, Teddy Fennelly of Portlaoise edited a commemarative booklet tracking the history of the club and celebrating the great 1976/77 season. The book opened with a comment from former Glen Rovers and Cork star, An Taoiseach, Jack Lynch. Lynch, who was in the crowd in Thurles, said the game was ‘skilful and sporting and the greater experience of Glen Rovers, who had already won the championship, was the decisive factor. Much of the credit for the quality of the game was due to the players of Camross who significantly enhanced the growing reputation of their club and county. I hope both will have their due reward at All-Irleand level for both club and county’. 

Fr. Reidy continued to assist with the senior team following the All-Ireland defeat, albeit to a lesser extent. He was one of the great characters associated with the club in the late 1970s. One day the team were gathered by Fint Lalor and Jimmy Lyons for a meeting. It happened to be on a no-smoking day, organised by the church. Fr. Reidy addressed the meeting by saying ‘I want none of ye to be smoking! Have some respect! There’s to be no smoking of any description!’ He barely stopped short of searching people’s pockets for cigarettes. The meeting went on for some time, and Fint and Jimmy decided to call a bit of a break. Fr. Reidy approached Fint and said that he wanted to talk to him outside. Out both men went into the open air and walked up to the graveyard. Fr. Reidy smoked two full cigarettes, at the same time, during the three or four minute walk, sucking the smoke into him as if it was going out of fashion, all of which was much to Fint’s amusement. As they returned to the meeting Fr. Reidy asked Fint not to say anything and he mumbled whether or not ‘you could get the smell of smoke off him’. Fint said not at all, so Fr. Reidy re-entered the meeting smelling of a week old ash tray. True to his word, Fint never uttered a word of this to anyone until Fr. Reidy’s death which took place only weeks later, in June 1977.

Mick, Martin, Tim and Sean Cuddy, Tim Keenan, Jackie Dooley, Mick Lalor, Eric Abraham, Mick Fitzpatrick, Padraig Higgins, Patrick Galvin and Sean Higgins all pose with the O’Neill Cup following Camross’ Leinster final victory.  W

Back to Basics

Nothing better to bring one back from the dizzying heights of the national glare of an All-Ireland Final than a Brady Cup tie against Clonad in a drizzly Mountrath. This is how Camross returned to basics with a 3-5 to 2-10 victory.  They began their defence of the Bob O’Keefe cup with a battling victory over a determined Rathdowney side 2-7 to 1-8. 

Meanwhile, Jimmy Lyons was coach and trainer of the Laois team in 1977 as they competed in the Senior B Championship. With a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway at stake, the tournament was a great opportunity to get into a position to cause a huge shock. Laois battled their way to the Senior B final against London and there were five Camross men amongst the starting 15; John Carroll, Richard Maloney, Joe Doran, Paddy Dowling and Martin Cuddy. The final was played in Croke Park in late June and proved to be a historic affair as Laois claimed their first All-Ireland B title and their first place in the All-Ireland series since 1949. Best of the Camross performers were John Carroll and Martin Cuddy, who scored a goal. But undoubtedly, the man of the match was Clonaslee’s Phil Dillon who scored 13 points of Laois’ 3-21 total.  Martin Cuddy, captain of the Laois team, had the great honour of leading his men on the iconic walk up the steps of the Hogan stand as he was presented with the Central Council Cup. Laois were now two games away from an All-Ireland Hurling final, a position they had not found themselves in for a generation. And even though few thought that they would overcome Galway, the team with a backbone of Camross players, and management did themselves proud in getting to that point. Galway were far the better side in the quarter-final in Birr as they defeated Laois by 2-12 to 0-8 but Laois did enough to contribute to a keenly contested game.

Durrow were Camross’ next opponents in the Senior Championship. Durrow had been promoted after winning the 1976 Intermediate championship and caused a huge shock in defeating Clonaslee in the first round. Camross were rightly very wary of their opponents as they clashed in an epic game in O’Moore Park. Camross were two points up with as many minutes remaining but points from Jim and PJ Phelan forced the tie to a replay as the sides finished level, 3-5 to 1-11.  No mistake was made the second time around but Camross were made to work for their passage into the semi-finals, eventually coming out on top 1-10 to 1-5.  Camross qualified for the County final after a rather uninspiring 1-12 to 0-5 victory over Clonad.

Portlaoise were Camross’ opponents on the day. The Irish Independent claimed in the run up to the game that Portlaoise were the youngest team to ever reach a Laois decider.  Camross on the other hand were the reigning Leinster Champions and their panel of players had scores of county titles between them. The Irish Press described them as ‘all but lords of creation in the Laois hurling scene’.  Camross was favoured by a strong breeze in the first half and they used this to devastating effect as they muscled their young opponents out of the game very early on. Mick Carroll opened the scoring for Camross and a minute later Sean Cuddy had scored a goal and the game went on from that point in much the same manner. Camross lead 2-7 to 0-3 at half time, Martin Cuddy scoring the second Camross goal. Portlaoise could only raise the white flag twice more in the second half as Camross added seven more points. Camross winning another championship on a score line of 2-14 to 0-5.  A wounded Portlaoise side, amongst them a young Pat Critchley, left the field that day knowing better days lay ahead in the future. Little did anyone know the intensity of the rivalry that would build between the two clubs over the following decade.

Éire Óg of Kildare were easily defeated in the quarter-final of the Leinster Championship as Camross looked to retain the O’Neill Cup. The ‘Lillywhite’ commentator of the Leinster Express exclaimed in light of the humiliating defeat of the Athy men ‘something drastic must be done about hurling in the short-grass county’.   After a tough opening to their season, Camross were untested for three games in a row. Neither Clonad, Portlaoise nor Éire Óg provided any real resistance but that would all change with their next opponents, Wexford champions Rathnure. Rathnure boasted the likes of inter-county stars such as Martin and John Quigley and Teddy and Denis O’Connor. But despite the Wexford men’s strength Camross probably went into the game as slight favourites given their position as reigning champions.

The game, on December 4th, was played in Geraldine Park in Athy in atrocious conditions not conducive to quality hurling. A cross wind blew the entire hour. Rathnure took the lead in the opening seconds with a Dennis O’Connor point. Camross almost replied in kind moments later. Sean Cuddy’s shot at goal was tipped away for a ‘70’ which resulted in nothing for the Laois champions. Camross were back on terms not long after that though; Sean Cuddy proving the danger man once more levelling matters. However, a worrying trend emerged thereafter for the Laois men. Camross were gifted gilt-edge scoring opportunities which were not taken. They could have had several more scores before the turning point in the game which came at an unfortunately early stage from Camross’ point of view. Martin Quigley scored a goal for Rathnure as they reinforced their lead. To their credit Camross continued to play well but were let down by both the conditions and their forwards’ accuracy. They went in 1-5 to 0-4 down at the interval. They lead was stretched to 1-8 to 0-4 early in the second half and were it not for a 40th minute goal from Frank Keenan, who scrambled to the net a Sean Cuddy free, Rathnure would have been out of sight. Camross could only add one further point to their total for the remainder of the game despite play being in the Rathnure half for most of the remaining 20 minutes. Camross surrendered their Leinster title on a score line of 1-9 to 1-5.

Fint Scully is presented with the Seán Nós Cup in 1977 by Fr. Dominic O’Hanlon and Fr. Donal Walsh C.C. Also in photo, Camross GAA club officials Pat Delaney and Mick Lalor.

1978 was the first year in which the Senior Championship would open with a league format as opposed to the traditional straight knockout format of the previous 91 years. This led to a much shorter off season break for the Camross hurlers as they resumed action in March and a tricky tie against Clonad which they won 3-9 to 3-5.  They had to recover from a five point half-time deficit in their next game against Ballinakill to record a 0-12 to 0-7 victory.  Colt were defeated by over 20 points in the next game but a major test was just on the horizon.  Camross lost their first Senior Championship game in Laois since 1975 when they were defeated by Borris-in-Ossory on a score line of 1-11 to 1-7. Even though they were through to the next round, the four point defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for Camross, especially when the defeat came from their old rivals and neighbours.  But it would not be the last time the teams would meet in the season.

Both Camross and Borris reached the county final and the expectations for an excellent game of hurling were high given Borris’ performance earlier in the year defeating the champions. The national press noted that Borris had the psychological edge over their neighbours given the earlier victory and they fancied the Borris side led by the likes of Christy Jones, Brendan Dollard, Paddy Kelly, Don Thompson and Sean Hanrahan to cause an upset.

However, an inspired performance by John Carroll in the Camross goal was to be decisive as Camross claimed their 13th title in 19 years. Carroll made two excellent saves, both from shots taken by Johnny Kirwan. Camross only had four scorers on the day but the combined efforts of the goal scorers, Sean and Martin Cuddy, and Frank Keenan and Mick Cuddy was more than enough as Camross beat Borris 2-9 to 0-5.

Camross qualified for the semi-final of the Leinster Championship with a 3-12 to 0-11 victory over the Meath champions Kilmessan. They faced the Kilkenny champions, Ballyhale Shamrocks in the final four. Nowadays, it is hard to imagine Ballyhale as anything but one of the greatest club teams in the history of the game. But the team that Camross faced in 1978 were not widely known, having only claimed their first ever Kilkenny title that very year. The club was only founded a few years earlier when neighbouring clubs Ballyhale and Knocktopher merged to form the Shamrocks. Just as Camross relied so heavily on one extended family, the hopes of Ballyhale largely rested upon six brothers. Ger, Kevin, Micheal, Brendan, Liam, and Sean Fennelly were key to the Shamrock’s victory in the Kilkenny championship and they looked to them as they took on their more experienced opponents from Laois. Not for the first time Camross were forced to play in horrendous weather conditions in the Leinster Championship. Camross stuck with Ballyhale for the first half. The early introduction of Frank Keenan in the first half proved crucial for Camross as a twentieth minute goal left the sides level 1-1 to 1-1. Both sides exchanged points before Ballyhale pointed once more to take a minimal lead into the second half. Unfortunately for Camross, they could only add one more score, a fiftieth minute goal, as Ballyhale began to completely dominate at midfield.  They eventually ran out eighteen point winners and went on to defeat Crumlin in the Leinster Final.

A Year of Comebacks

The 1979 Championship began very successfully for Camross. The league phase of the championship posed little difficulty for the Camross men as they topped a group that also included Durrow, Clonad, Ballyfin, Cullohill, Portlaoise and Clonaslee. A quarter-final victory over an enthusiastic, young Ballacolla side set up a semi-final against Borris-in-Ossory. A place against Ballinakill awaited the victors. The game was close and tense in the opening minutes as both teams registered scores. But after ten minutes Borris took advantage of a strong breeze and took complete control of the game. They led by eight points at half time, Camross only scoring three points in the opening half hour. Borris continued to dominate in the second half and with barely five minutes left Borris had a commanding 1-15 to 1-8 lead. Just as Portlaoise had surrendered their football title in the game preceding the hurling, it seemed inevitable that Camross would be put to the sword also. But things changed utterly in an incident which left Sean Cuddy reeling on the floor and Borris reduced to 14 men. A furious Cuddy got straight up and channelled his frustrations into a rasper of a shot that hit the back of the Borris net and the deficit was reduced to four. A calm and collected response would have still ensured a Borris victory but Camross launched immediately into another attack and Martin Cuddy scored another goal and incredibly there was only a point in it. There was time for both sides to have the final say but both Sean Cuddy and Paul Dollard missed chances for their sides before Frank Keenan coolly slotted over the equalising point with the final puck of the game. 

Camross had got out of jail against their old rivals. The replay preceded the All-Ireland u-21 Championship final between Galway and Tipperary. Being on the undercard for such an illustrious tie led to a vastly inflated crowd who came early for the main game for an opportunity to view first hand a Camross side whose reputation was now firmly established all across Ireland. Just as in the first game the sides were very even in the first half but unlike the first game, it was Camross that surged ahead in the second quarter of the game. They led 2-5 to 1-4 at half time and after a low scoring second half Camross advanced to the final on a score-line of 2-9 to 1-7. 

Ballinakill had never won a county title and they were eager to strike up a lead early on. But the manner in which they dominated the opening third of the game surprised everyone and was a great worry for the Camross officials. Ballinakill stormed to a 1-5 to 0-0 lead before Camross eventually came to life when Sean Bergin placed a line ball to Tim Keenan who flicked the ball to the net for a Camross goal. Camross then slowly came back into the game and ate into Ballinakill’s hefty lead. Martin Cuddy scored another Camross goal just before half time to leave them only three points down at half time. Unfortunately for Ballinakill they could only add one point in the second half as Martin Cuddy, Frank Keenan and Ger Cuddy took complete control. Camross ran out 3-9 to 1-7 winners as they claimed their 14th Bob O’Keefe title.

Castletowngeoghan, champions of Westmeath, were the opposition for Camross as they ventured once more into the Leinster Championship. Camross ran out 6-12 to 3-9 winners to set up a semi-final berth against Rathnure of Wexford.

Camross had surrendered their Leinster title rather tamely to Rathnure a few years prior and this game was a great opportunity to avenge this defeat. Backboned by the likes of John and Martin Quigley, Rathnure had won six Wexford titles in the 1970s. On three of these occasions they won the Leinster championship and were runners up in the All-Ireland final. The toppling of a team of such calibre would be up there with the historic victory over James Stephen’s and Camross went into the game full of confidence as key players were performing excellently with the Laois team.

Both sides took to the field in Nowlan Park in their respective county colours, as they would every time they faced each other in their developing rivalry, both sides usually donning the black and amber. Rathnure brought off the opening attack of the game but were repulsed by a sharp Camross defence. The ball went up to the other end of the pitch to Frank Keenan who was fouled. He dusted himself off to point the resultant free as Camross recorded the opening score. Rathnure then hit a purple patch. John Conran scored a goal for the Wexford men and points were added to this decisive goal as Rathnure began to open up a lead. Perhaps the key score of the game came in the 12th minute. Rathnure were on top and Camross were reeling. It was a point in the game where Rathnure could easily have pulled away but Mattie Collier, a new addition to the senior side, scored an all important goal which brought Camross back into the game. Points were swapped between both sides as the hurling hit a higher gear. A second Camross goal, from Martin Cuddy, gave Camross a two point lead at half time. Camross opened up a four point lead and just like in the first half it seemed a possibility that Camross could pull away. But a freak goal from Pat Codd and a Denis O’Connor point levelled matters mid-way through the second half. Amidst frenetic hurling Camross missed a penalty but shortly afterwards Frank Keenan scored Camross’ third goal to restore Camross’ lead. But Rathnure came back and picked off four points without reply. John Carroll in the Camross goal made a vital save from a Martin Quigley shot which could have given Rathnure the momentum to go on and win. Rathnure hit the front with a Martin Quigley point five minutes from time. Den O’Connor then had a free which could have sealed Rathnure’s place in the Leinster final but it hit the post and was cleared to Martin Cuddy whose shot was saved and cleared for a ‘65’. The resultant scramble that followed the free puck eventually came to Sean Bergin who passed to Mick Cuddy who equalised. Just before the end of the game Frank Keenan found himself in possession racing towards goal and hit the winner in the dying seconds.

A dream Leinster final tie between Camross and their near-neighbours Kinnitty was denied by the Dublin champions, Crumlin. Crumlin had won back to back titles in Dublin and had the services of Noel Quinn and Bernie Donovan. They were a relatively new club, only formed in 1969 through the amalgamation of St Columan’s Hurling club and St Agnes’ Hurling club. Despite their recent successes Crumlin had no pitch of their own and relied upon Dublin Corporation pitches to train in. This contrasted with Camross, who with only a fraction of the population had the use of a field in the village and with their greater tradition the local and national press favoured Camross to win their second Leinster title. The game got off to a bad start for Camross when Crumlin forward Bernard Donavan capitalised on a rare mistake by John Carroll to score a goal with only a minute and a half on the clock. The rest of the first half continued in the same vain and Camross went in at the break six points down. Camross outscored Crumlin in the second half by nine points to two goals but in the end the failure of Camross to breach Alan Forde’s Crumlin goal was decisive. Crumlin won the O’Neill Cup on a score-line of 3-5 to 0-11.

A ‘Foreign’ Game

In the late 1970s Frank McGlynn, a native of Co. Tyrone, moved to Derrynaseera with his Camross wife Maud and his children. Frank was a keen follower of the GAA and in April 1980 he was appointed as secretary of the Referee’s Committee. But being from Tyrone, hurling was not his first love. And Frank certainly found himself in the middle of an area where his beloved football was considered as alien as other ‘foreign’ games as rugby or soccer.

Ever since the formation of the club in 1903 Gaelic football had never been considered anywhere near on a par with hurling. Geography had as much to do with this fact as anything else. The Jack Delaney Cup has never gone further west than Portlaoise and this fact does not look likely to change any time soon. The various clubs that existed in the parish in times gone by certainly did not shun the sport altogether though. Clonin could be considered as a football ‘hotspot’ in the 1930s and 1940s albeit never achieving much success.

Therefore, what occurred in 1980 has to be viewed from this perspective of apathy and a Kilkenny-esque lack of participation. Kyle were due to be Camross’ first opponents in the 1980 Junior A Football championship. As it turned out this game did not take place as Kyle gave a walkover to their neighbours and Camross suddenly found themselves opposing Portlaoise. If Camross are considered to be Laois’ most successful hurling club then Portlaoise are undoubtedly their equivalent in football. They were the reigning Laois champions and were runners up to Walsh Island in the previous season’s Leister final, a title they had already won twice. The club were three years away from capturing the county’s only All-Ireland football title and if someone were to suggest that Camross could pose a threat in any football competition, even if it was the Junior A championship, they would be dismissed with laughter. So when the sides met in Castletown in the second round of the championship there was only one possible outcome foreseen. But Ray Sheeran and Corrie Culleton had other ideas as they lashed home two first half goals to give them six point leave at half time. A second half fight back from Portlaoise was limited to a few points due to the hard working trio of Martin Cuddy, Mattie Collier and Richard Maloney. Jim Scully also made some crucial saves in the Camross goal. Up front Ray Sheeran led the scoring but was ably assisted by Michael Delaney and Pat Keenan. Camross went on to knock out Portlaoise on a score-line of 2-8 to 2-4. Further victories against the football strongholds of Ballyroan and Mountmellick came next as Camross found themselves in the Laois Junior A Football final for the first ever time.

Their opponents in the final were another surprise outfit, Ballyfin. They had a comparatively easier path to the final as they faced teams from hurling areas such as Kilcotton, Borris-in-Ossory and Mountrath. The exception to this was a fine victory over The Heath in the quarter-final. Frank McGlynn was the team’s trainer and he had the team firing on all cylinders as they prepared for a tilt at one of the most unique titles the club would ever aim for. The spine of the team was obviously made up of distinguished hurlers but two members of the team had previously won football medals elsewhere. Pat Keenan, formerly of Portlaoise, won a senior football title with his native town in 1972 whilst Michael Delaney won football honours at St. Kieran’s College.

It was Delaney who registered the first point of the game for Camross which was quickly met with a reply by Gus Lanham for Ballyfin. A point blank save from John Connolly in the Ballyfin goal denied PJ Cuddy before Mattie Collier restored Camross’ lead. Indeed it was Camross’ first two point scorers, Delaney and Collier, who proved to be the difference on the day as Camross began to settle well into their rhythm. But a Tommy Dunne goal for Ballyfin against the run of play gave Ballyfin the lead which they held into the second half. McGlynn made some fine tactical switches at half time bringing Richard Maloney to full forward from midfield as Ray Sheeran moved out to the centre. Ballyfin wasted a number of great chances in the second half and only raised the white flag once in the second half as Camross registered scores from the boots of Collier, Delaney, PJ Cuddy and Richard Maloney. Camross won their first ever football title on a score line of 0-12 to 1-5. Bill Phelan presented the cup to Camross captain Martin Cuddy who was hoisted upon his team mate’s shoulders as they savoured a most unlikely of victories.  Michael Delaney went on to claim the Laois Junior Footballer of the year award for his efforts.

The Final Piece

The very nature of the group phases of the Laois championship was brought into question in the early stages of the 1980 hurling championship. Such was the ease of Camross’ passage into the knock out phase which included massive score lines against the likes of Colt and Rathdowney that the county board discussed tweaking formats to avoid such un-competitive games in the future.

Camross were drawn against Ratheniska in the quarter-final. Despite their easy passage to that point the Sunday Independent considered the defeat of Portlaoise in the football championship as an omen that the other dominant club in the county was about to surrender their title.  A nine point victory over Ratheniska set up a semi-final against Abbeyleix whom they duly overcame to go for a second five-in a row against Portlaoise.

In 1977 Portlaoise provided little opposition for Camross in the county final as they won back to back senior titles. But with a couple more years’ experience under their belts, Portlaoise were maturing into a very fine team worthy of lifting Bob O’Keefe. They had earned their place in the 1977 final with a one point win over Ballacolla but could point to the 11 point victory over the same opponents en-route to the 1980 final as proof of their advancement. But Camross were laden down with scores of titles. The likes of Sean Cuddy, Ger Cuddy, Tim Cuddy, Ollie Cuddy and Jack Dooley were probably the most successful club hurlers of their generation anywhere in Ireland. Some of the Cuddys were going for their 14th title. Dooley, on the other hand was going for an unprecedented 15th medal. For all of Portlaoise’s youth and potential, the experience of the Camross men was seen as a key factor going into the game.

Both teams took to the field in O’Moore Park in front of a huge crowd. Portlaoise went on the attack immediately from the throw in and Jim Maher got the opening point of the game for Portlaoise. Phillip Rochford brought off a great save in the Portlaoise goal from a Sean Bergin shot and soon afterwards Portlaoise increased their lead to three points to nil. Frank Keenan scored Camross’ first point and a few minutes later he sent in a free towards the goalmouth which was finished to the net for a crucial goal by Martin Cuddy. Portlaoise were not rattled though and levelled matters soon afterwards. Sean Bergin and Jack Dooley scored just before the half time whistle to give Camross a two point lead. Portlaoise levelled matters early in the second half with points from Billy Bohane.

Just as Portlaoise seemed to be getting the upper hand, Sean Bergin cut a sideline ball towards Martin Cuddy who scored his second goal of the game to restore Camross’ lead. But the momentum that Portlaoise were building was not halted by Cuddy’s goal. They replied with an unanswered 1-2 as the dream of another five-in-a-row for Camross looked more and more unlikely. But a Frank Keenan point showed that Camross would not lie down and the crucial score of the game mid-way through the second half was about to come; PJ Cuddy blasting the ball past Phillip Rochford to restore Camross’ lead. They were now two points up with quite a bit of hurling remaining. The rest of the game was tense and tight. Both sides missed great chances. Eugene Lacumber and Mattie Collier could have put the game beyond reach but missed the target. Ray Sheeran missed a great goal chance to give Portlaoise further sign that their luck was in. In the dying minutes they surged forward for an elusive goal. When Matt Keegan was fouled giving Portlaoise a penalty a collective groan rose from the Camross faithful. John Bohane stepped forward to take the penalty. The pitch was in poor condition around the goals and the 21’. This led to a poor lift from Bohane and the strike suffered as a consequence. It was easily saved by John Carroll in the Camross goal.  The ball was cleared as the final whistle blew. The five-in-a-row had been repeated. Richard Maloney became the 11th Camross man to lift the Bob O’Keefe cup following in the footsteps of Fint Lalor, Tim Cuddy, Ger Cuddy, Jimmy Lyons, John Carroll, Christy Donovan, Martin Cuddy, Paddy Dowling, Sean Cuddy and Michael Carroll.

The victory over Portlaoise was the culmination of over two decades of dominance. Never again would the club power their way through the Laois hurling landscape to claim the Bob O’Keefe with the same regularity. Their next game proved that the end of a glorious era was on the horizon. They went into their game with Kildare champions, Ardclough as huge favourites. After all, they had easily overcome Kildare opposition in the past and there was no feeling that this occasion would be any different. The club graciously brought the game forward to accommodate two Ardclough players who were involved with the Kildare footballers. But this act of graciousness was not reciprocated when 96 year old Margaret Hogan (nee Cuddy), was due to be buried on the same day as the rearranged match. Michael Delaney pursued every avenue to have the game postponed but to no avail. Camross lost the game by four points and were duly knocked out of the Leinster Championship.

End of an Era

1981 began on a very sad note. Club stalwart Paddy Bergin died in March. Paddy won an Intermediate title with Camross in 1939 and played in the 1945 county final against Abbeyleix. He was best remembered as club secretary during the years that Camross made their breakthrough in the late 1950s. He also served as vice-chairman of the Laois hurling board.  His brother, Tom, who also hurled with distinction for Camross, died whilst attending a Laois-Tipperary hurling league game in Kilkenny merely three weeks later. 

On the pitch, the quest for an unprecedented six-in-a-row was going according to the usual tried and tested plan used for the past several years. The only blemish in the league phase of the championship came in a victory for Castletown over their near neighbours. Camross, however, had little to play for on the day as they had already qualified for the quarter-finals and Castletown were scrapping with Borris-in-Ossory for a place in the final eight. But the manner in which Camross collapsed in the second half should have raised some alarm bells as Con Wall and Joe Dollard dominated the Camross defence as they ran out 3-11 to 2-7 winners. 

They qualified for their 17th semi-final in 18 years after a 7-11 to 0-8 victory over Abbeyleix.  The semi-final itself was a much closer affair and John Carroll was in inspired form as he brought off a string of saves in the first half to deny their opponents, Durrow. Camross eventually stuttered to 1-15 to 0-11 victory and a place in the county final against Portlaoise.

Camross were now one game away from achieving a six-in-a-row. They could re-cement themselves as the greatest team in the history of the game in the county, surpassing further the great five-in-a-row Ballygeehan team, and indeed an earlier generation of Camross greats from the 60s and 70s. But history also beckoned for Portlaoise. They had already secured the football title and Jimmy Harding, Billy Bohane, Billy Harding and Pat Critchley were looking to become the first men to ever win the double in Laois. With O’Moore Park undergoing a huge redevelopment, Rathdowney was the venue for the final. Portlaoise got off to a dream start and were 1-1 up with only three minutes on the clock. But Camross settled back into the game and after a frenetic first half Camross led by two points at half time. But for all the excitement of the first half the second half hour will live long in the memory of Laois hurling enthusiasts as one of the most dramatic halves of hurling ever seen in the county. Sean Bergin and Mattie Collier had dominated the centre of the park in the opening half but early in the second half Portlaoise began to assert their dominance and provide their forward line with a good supply of ball. In the first play of the second half Mattie Keegan gained possession and shot past Carroll to give Portlaoise a one point lead. Frank Keenan missed a scoring chance at the other end whilst Billy Bohane pointed to extend Portlaoise’s lead.

Camross had a great chance to retake the lead when PJ Cuddy crossed perfectly for Eugene Lacumber but he missed when scoring seemed easier as Portlaoise cleared their lines. Pat Critchley was coming strongly into the game and he was the architect of another Portlaoise score and the town side looked to pull away. Camross strived for scores as the game entered its final quarter but the Portlaoise defence remained strong. Pat Critchley then pointed to give Portlaoise a five point lead. The six-in-a-row dream was fading fast. Changes were made as Ray Sheeran was introduced and he had an immediate impact when he placed PJ Cuddy for his third goal of the game. Camross were now back in it with ten minutes remaining. Billy Bohane grabbed a point back for Portlaoise but PJ Cuddy capped an incredible performance with his fourth goal of the game to bring the sides level with mere minutes remaining. The ball came back out from the resultant puck out and Martin Cuddy gained possession and he passed to Sean Bergin who shot a tremendous point to give Camross the lead amidst jubilant scenes on the sideline. But seconds later, Billy Bohane levelled for Portlaoise as the tie seemed destined to end in a draw. Mattie Collier had two great chances to clinch the game and the six-in-a-row for Camross but his first shot was magnificently saved by Sean ‘Goggie’ Delaney in the Portlaoise goal and the wind took the second shot just beyond the post. With the bitter memories of 1977 and 1980 in their minds Portlaoise pushed on and, with the marginal advantage of youth, were able to keep going and register two points at the death from Billy Bohane and Mattie Keegan. The final whistle, when it came, heralded the end of an era for Camross GAA club. Portlaoise were champions on a score of 2-13 to 4-5.

The ‘long’ wait begins

Camross recovered from the dramatic loss to Portlaoise the previous year as they once more reached the knock out stages of the championship in 1982, albeit with more difficulty than previous years. They faced Castletown in the quarter-final. PJ Mullaney gave Castletown a fantastic start with a goal after two minutes. Fint Scully replied with a Camross point. But points from Con Wall, Mick O’Sullivan, two from Vinny Palmer and a goal from Joe Phelan showed that Castletown were mounting a serious challenge to the seasoned veterans. Frank Keenan stemmed the Castletown dominance with a fine goal but two more points from Vinny Palmer and another from Joe Dollard re-established Castletown’s healthy lead. It took a supreme performance from Camross in the second half to see them through. Two early goals from Frank Keenan were added to with points from Sean Bergin and Fint Scully. A late surge from Castletown was not enough as Camross advanced. 

Camross found themselves in the very unfamiliar position of facing the reigning champions in the semi-final. And on the basis of the steely determination of Portlaoise in the previous year’s county final, the champions went into the game as slight favourites. The game turned out to be a game to forget for Camross and was their worst performance in years, perhaps a generation. They were completely outclassed by a rampant Portlaoise side. Newcomer Des Healy opened the scoring for Camross but it did not go according to plan after that. Despite the best efforts of Camross’ best players on the day Joe Doran, PJ Cuddy, Tommy Delaney and Frank Keenan, Portlaoise ran out 1-17 to 3-2 winners. They went on to defeat Errill in the final.

The heavy defeat was avenged in a small way the following June when Camross defeated Portlaoise 4-9 to 0-8 in the final of the 1982 Brady Cup Final in Borris-in-Ossory.  The highlight of 1983 was undoubtedly the capture of the club’s third Intermediate title after a tight struggle against Kilcotton in the final game in Borris-in-Ossory. A man of the match performance from Fint Lalor who scored 1-4 on the day was pivotal as the black and amber claimed their first intermediate title since Lalor’s father captained the great breakthrough team to intermediate success in 1958. By virtue of their victory Camross joined a very elite group of Laois GAA clubs to win an intermediate title with the club’s second fifteen.

The Seniors went one better than the thoroughly disappointing 1982 season as they qualified for the 1983 County Final following a dominant performance against Borris-in-Ossory. For the first time ever the semi-final was played on a Saturday and all arrangements were meticulously met by the Hurling Board and the hosts, Mountrath. However, neither party could be held responsible for the atrocious weather conditions that both teams faced. Portlaoise had already booked their place in the final in the preceding game with an exciting victory over Durrow. This game was played in slightly better conditions but an hour of intense hurling coupled with worsening rain led to heavy conditions underfoot for both teams. Undoubtedly Camross adapted to the tricky conditions much better, albeit thanks to the help of a strong wind which eased in the second half. The game was marked by a marquee performance from PJ Cuddy who scored 4-3, a certain record at the time for that stage of the championship. Three of Cuddy’s goals came in the first half and the strong breeze really led to the collapse of the game as a spectacle as Camross held a fifteen point half time lead. They went on to record a 4-14 to 2-6 victory over their neighbours to book a place against the champions Portlaoise.

Portlaoise dominance continues

Mountrath was also the venue for the 1983 final and the pitch was again in a poor shape once Camross took to the field; the soil reduced to a quagmire following a deluge during the Minor game which preceded the main event. The difficult conditions underfoot were not coupled with further rain or wind, however, and both teams did their very best to put on an exhilarating tie to conclude the championship. Crucially, Camross were forced to start without Joe Fitzpatrick and Frank Keenan. Keenan’s absence was due to a recurring knee injury. The injury forcing him to drop half of his dual role as player/trainer.

Camross opened the final with an attack and Des Healy missed a great chance to open the scoring from the placed ball. But Healy made up for his error by opening Camross’ account a few minutes later. Billy Bohane levelled for Portlaoise five minutes later as both teams struggled with the poor conditions. Camross got a huge boost after about ten minutes of play when a Sean Bergin ’70 went the whole way into the net to give Camross a three point lead. Portlaoise were clearly unsettled and the larger presence of the likes of Ger Cuddy was proving decisive as the goalmouth at both ends began to cut up badly. Cuddy had the ball in the net following a great counter attack by Camross but the goal was disallowed much to the relief of the town. Chances were at a premium and Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett and Des Healy swapped bad misses before a Portlaoise goal which brought the town level. They took the lead a minute later with a Billy Bohane point. The rain eased off after this but the damage had been done to the beleaguered turf and when Ger Cuddy restored Camross’ lead with a goal, large chunks of Mountrath literally sailed past Sean Delaney in the Portlaoise goal along with the sliotar. Fint Scully almost extended Camross’ lead to five points but his shot rocketed across the face of the Portlaoise goal and the town escaped. John Carroll made a tremendous save from Pat Critchley shortly thereafter as Portlaoise refused to give up on their dream of three-in-a-row. Critchley eventually got the better of Carroll to score a crucial goal and leave Portlaoise only two points down at half time.

Camross’ chances of regaining the Bob O’Keefe cup improved no end when Fint Scully got on the end of a Sean Bergin free to score Camross’ third goal of the game early in the second half. Camross were now five points up and were attacking with greater regularity, albeit with little efficiency. It was at this stage that Frank Keenan was missed most as several chances went a begging. Portlaoise were the fitter of the two sides, especially in the centre of the field, and Camross began to wilt as the efforts of adding to their lead was proving deflating for the Camross forwards. Portlaoise picked off some fine points before Mick Bohane scored a goal that levelled matters. Des Healy pointed to give Camross a one point lead but it was the height of Camross’ efforts as they failed to score thereafter. A Pat Critchley goal with ten minutes left was the decisive score as the town closed the game out to record a 3-10 to 3-5 victory.

Centenary Year

Club chairman, Pat Delaney, presided over the AGM of the club in January 1984. He pointed out that the centenary year for the GAA would be a very important one for the club as it would be the first full year of development of the club’s newly purchased field in Derrynaseera. Delaney also wisely surmised that that the primary function of the club was to provide sufficient games for all its members regardless of ability and he reminded everyone that a club need not necessarily win trophies to be a success. A salient point amidst the perceived disaster of not claiming senior success for a couple of years.

The early summer was to be a memorable one for the Laois hurling team and for PJ Cuddy in particular. To commemorate the 100th year of the GAA a special once off Centenary Cup competition was organised. Laois claimed huge scalps on the way to the semi-final of the completion by defeating Limerick and Tipperary. In the semi-final they faced a very strong Galway side. Laois were leading by three points at half time but three goals from Galway early in the second half seemed to condemn Laois to inevitable defeat. But as the Irish Press stated ‘defeat is not a word that Laois take kindly to these days and they wrote another glorious chapter in their hurling renaissance with a breath-taking finish that culminated in a memorable success.’  PJ Cuddy was central to this remarkable comeback and his second and third goals of the game drew the sides level before Martin Brophy scored the winner. In truth the comeback against Galway was the highest point of the tournament for Laois. The final itself was a drab affair as Cork were largely unchallenged as they claimed the Centenary Cup. For the two Camross men who started on the day, PJ (who scored a goal) and Martin Cuddy it was bitter disappointment tinged with some element of pride in having competed

Then Camross had a glorious opportunity to get back into the game. Mick Carroll took a free from his own half back line which he sent towards the half forward line. The ball broke to PJ Cuddy who sent the ball fast into Joe Dollard. Dollard managed to keep a hold of the rasping pass as he shook off his defender and found himself one-on-one with Portlaoise goalkeeper John Hannify. Dollard’s shot was magnificently blocked by the Portlaoise man. The ball ricocheted upwards and with Hannify still on the ground it seemed likely that all Dollard had to do was tap on the ball as it came down into the empty net but it was tipped away from him athletically by another Portlaoise defender. The ball landed at the feet of several players from both sides who were rushing in. Mick Cuddy managed to get the ball away from his feet and pulled a shot off the ground but it blazed wide. Portlaoise went up to the other end of the field and almost scored a goal which was cleared for a 65 which was pointed by Paul Bergin. This exciting two minutes of action was to be the turning point of the game.

With three points between the sides and fifteen minutes remaining everything was still to play for. Then a melee broke out around the Camross half back line involving up to 25 players and officials. After scenes every bit as bad as those which had plagued the club in recent years, Camross were reduced to 14 men, as were Portlaoise. The ramifications of the incident were felt long afterwards with the club initially being handed a £1,000 fine and multiple suspensions. After a lengthy saga involving the Laois County Board, the Leinster Council, and the GAA Management Committee the suspensions were significantly reduced. The £1,000 fine, which was paid the following spring, was donated to the Laois Hospice Foundation.

The remainder of the final had no altercations thereafter, and indeed the ugly scenes that marred the game were completely out of touch with the reminder of the game which was played in good spirits. Hannify pulled off another great save to deny Camross an equalising goal as Rigney, Bergin and Tommy Fitzpatrick scored further points to give Portlaoise a six point lead. Camross could do little to respond as they lost their title on a score line of 0-12 to 1-4.  Portlaoise gained their 6th title since 1981, rightly earning them the title of the Laois team of the 1980s.

The Greatest

Back to Leinster

Boardroom drama regarding the 1989 Laois hurling final replay was the issue as the 1990s began. Laois hurling was thrown into the spotlight as the general state of the game in Laois was brought under the spotlight following a tumultuous National League campaign which left a lot of questions unanswered. But Mick Lalor, club chairman, at the 1990 AGM urged everyone in the club to put past ‘debacles’ to one side and continue on as normal. 1989 had seen the opening of the pitch in Derrynaseera, an occasion Mick described as one of the greatest in the club’s history.  With their new base everyone in the club was expectant of a very successful new decade full of promise.

Camross advanced to the 1990 senior-quarter-final where they faced old rivals, Borris-in-Ossory. Without doubt Portlaoise had been Camross’ great rivals of the past decade but Borris reminded their near rivals of the quality that was inherent in the parish and that they should never be taken for granted and they very nearly condemned Camross to a shock exit. The omens were indeed poor for Camross. None of the defenders that took to the field against Portlaoise the previous year were available and Borris had already knocked Camross out of the Brady Cup a few weeks earlier. Willie Kirwan got Borris going with an early score which was answered with a Joe Dollard point. Play was even as both teams exchanged points. The difference in the opening quarter was a Fran Dowling goal for Camross. But when Owen Coss moved to midfield for the combined Borris-Kilcotton team they began to get the upper hand. A great spell for Borris just before halftime saw them take a healthy 2-8 to 1-6 lead into the interval. They extended their lead early in the second half before Camross gradually came back into the game. Points from Fint Lalor and Joe Dollard brought them back into the game before a Kevin Drennan goal brought Camross to within a point of their opponents. With 15 minutes remaining PJ Cuddy levelled matter to set up a grandstand finish. Two points were shared between the sides before Peter Dooley, emulating his father nearly 30 years before, doubled on the ball whilst in the air from all of forty metres to give Camross the lead. Further points from Fint Lalor extended Camross’ lead before Borris scored a late goal to leave a single point between the teams. But Camross held on to record a 2-15 to 2-14 victory.

Once again Clonad provided the opposition in the semi-final. The game was barely alive when play was stopped as referee Pat Delaney was treated for a nose injury. The sliotar had struck him square in the face showing that the 31st man on the pitch could not be guaranteed of leaving proceedings unscathed. Amidst a strong breeze scores were very hard to come by and after the first quarter the sides were locked at a point apiece. A flurry of scores near the break left the crowd wanting more as Camross went in two points up at half time. With eight minutes gone in the second half the hurls were flying and the players dropping as tempers flared. Clonad were reduced to 14 but managed to cancel out a Fint Lalor goal for Camross with one of their own. With 11 minutes reaming the game was very much up for grabs for Clonad as they chased a one point deficit. But Camross pulled away from that point and scored 1-5 without reply, the Camross goal coming from Kevin Culleton as they booked their place in yet another final against Portlaoise.

It was a huge occasion for both sets of players as they got the opportunity to claim a victory in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of spectators in O’Moore Park who would be gathering for the All-Ireland u-21 final between Tipperary and Kilkenny which would take place following the county final. Both sides opened the game with wides before the scoring began with a Joe Dollard shot from 70 yards out. Joe Dollard was in outstanding form and it was his huge clearance that fell to the feet of Peter Dooley who scored Camross’ opening goal of the game after six minutes. Portlaoise were now four points down and needed to respond fast. They did just that with two Liam Bergin points. Camross then missed some easy chances; Fint Scully and PJ Cuddy both failing to hit the target when they would have been expected to do so. But Portlaoise struggled to take advantage. They were sluggish in the centre of the field as Camross reasserted their dominance with some clever play which led to a Seamus Cuddy point. Towards half time both sides began to find their scores with greater efficiency as Camross’ goal was the difference between the sides as they went in for half time.

As the thousands entered the stadium for the All-Ireland final they were treated to a fine second half performance from Camross. Portlaoise made no changes at the break and they were punished by the Camross forwards who were now coming into their own. Points from Mattie Collier, Fint Scully and Peter Dooley extended Camross’ lead as they searched for the goal that would kill off the game completely. The goal eventually did come and it was from the boot of Fint Scully who, having lost his hurl, kicked the sliotar to the net to condemn Portlaoise to defeat. A late Portlaoise goal gave a sense of respectability to the scoreboard but in truth Camross had it all their own way as they claimed a record 19th senior hurling crown. They overtook Rathdowney’s record on a score line of 2-13 to 1-7.

Following their suspension from the Leinster Championship for five years following the infamous game against Clara in 1986 it did not seem likely that Camross would progress to represent Laois in the tournament. However, following their victory over Portlaoise the Laois County Board decided to make a recommendation to the Leinster Council to have Camross re-admitted to the Leinster Championship. The Leinster Council agreed to reinstate Camross and a new generation of Camross players were given the chance to compete at the provincial level.  Up first for Camross was St. Patrick’s of Wicklow. Camross went into the game as huge favourites as no Wicklow hurling team had ever managed to win a game in the Leinster club championship. And so the trend continued when Camross recorded an easy 12 point victory without having to enter their higher gears.  Their next opponents would prove to be an altogether different prospect.

Before their re-introduction to the Leinster Championship, Camross’ last game was a Leinster final in Croke Park against Wexford champions, Rathnure. Four years later Camross and Rathnure did battle once more, this time for a place in the 1990 Leinster semi-final. Jimmy Houlihan had the Wexford men a point up in the first minute but four minutes later Fint Lalor settled any nerves that Camross may have had with an equalising point. A crucial score came two minutes later; Joe Dollard cleared the ball from Camross lines with a monster puck which caused bedlam in the Rathnure square. As the ball was sailing in John Lalor got himself into a great position and finished the ball to the net for a Camross goal. Mattie Collier added a point before they really got into gear and made the most of the wind which was on their side. PJ Cuddy capitalised on a Rathnure mistake to score another goal for Camross and points from Fint Lalor and Joe Dollard gave Camross a commanding 11 point lead at half time. But with the wind retaining its strength as the teams rested an expected Rathnure fight back seemed inevitable. And so it proved. Changes in the Wexford outfit’s side heralded a fresh approach and an Austin Codd goal rejuvenated Rathnure. Another goal came as the Wexford men pressed for the entire second half. But Camross survived. Fint Scully scored Camross’ lone point in the second half and it proved vital as Camross ran out 2-8 to 2-7 winners.

Martin Cuddy had not lined out for Camross in over a year before their Leinster semi-final against the Dublin champions O’Tooles. But the veteran’s coming out of retirement to don the black and amber once more was just what Camross needed in the run up to the vital game. Any doubters of the comeback were totally silenced after Martin scored a goal after only two minutes. This was not even Camross’ first score; Joe Dollard had already opened his account after half a minute. Camross were jubilant but in another twist to an exciting opening, O’Tooles were awarded a penalty which resulted in a goal that brought them right back into the game. Both sides went at it with gusto thereafter. Points were exchanged and Patsy Carroll was forced into some fine saves to deny O’Tooles. Camross held a narrow advantage at half time but this was wiped out by an O’Toole’s goal in the opening salvos of the second half. O’Tooles found themselves two points up with twenty minutes remaining and were going very strong. But Camross responded in style. Martin Cuddy scored his second goal of the game and Fint Lalor added another to give Camross the lead once more. Camross closed out the final stages to qualify for their fourth Leinster final.

Kilkenny champions Glenmore were favourites going into the final but all of the pundits were rightly cautious of assigning a favourites tag to either club given Camross’ propensity to cause great shocks when it came to the Leinster Championship. Camross were dealt a blow when in-form attacker Fint Scully could not recover from a niggling knee injury to claim his place on the team. He was, however, ably replaced by Fran Dowling. Indeed Dowling contributed to Camross’ strong opening and alongside points from PJ Cuddy and Fint Lalor, Camross were 0-5 to 0-2 up after fifteen minutes. Camross were on top, but Glenmore showed that they could still be dangerous even when they were on the back foot. John Flynn surged forward for the Kilkenny men and was brought down by two Camross defenders. As he palmed the ball to the net a free was awarded to Camross and they had gotten off lightly. Ray Heffernan did add a free shortly afterwards but Peter Dooley pointed in response for Camross. Fran Dowling almost goaled for Camross shortly before the break but Glenmore had the final say of the half; a Heffernan point reducing the deficit to two.

Two points up at half time Camross had half the job completed. But George Leahy, the Laois and Glenmore trainer, had other ideas.  Shocked into action by a fierce opening half performance by Camross, Leahy switched things around just enough to have Glenmore firing on all cylinders as the sides re-emerged for the second half. Joe Dollard and Fint Lalor did extend Camross’ lead early in the second half but Camross’ lead vanished as Glenmore scored eight points before Camross could respond. The response, when it eventually came, was too late. A Fint Lalor free was followed by a Martin Cuddy goal with mere minutes remaining. Camross were two points down with moments remaining but could not get the goal that would have secured victory. Glenmore claimed the O’Neill cup on a score line of 0-14 to 1-9. 

The Ebb and Flow

Left ruing another Leinster title that they left behind them, Camross embraced their familiar role as favourites for the Bob O’Keefe Cup as they defeated Castletown 3-17 to 3-2 in the first round.  Everything was going according to plan as they set up to face Clonad in the quarter-final. There were certainly echoes of 1970 when Camross’ first great team were denied a six-in-a-row by Clonad at the quarter-final stage. Indeed that defeat to Clonad was the only time in the previous 29 years that Camross had failed to reach the last four. Clonad put on a determined effort in the opening minutes of the tie and began to use their wind advantage from the very beginning as Michael Drennan and Michael Doran both pointed for Clonad in the opening minutes. But alarm bells really started to ring for the champions when John Fennell scored two goals in the fifth and sixth minutes. Evin Fennel and Gordon Conroy added two further points before Michael Drennan scored yet another goal for Clonad. Eleven minutes into the quarter-final the score read; Clonad 3-4 Camross 0-0.

Thirteen points down in as many minutes, Camross had been utterly blitzed by their opponents. Camross eventually stuttered to a start with points from Fint Lalor, Seamus Cuddy and Mattie Collier but Clonad were rampant. They added five more points before the break and brought a fifteen point lead into the break. It was not as if this was totally unexpected. Clonad had been knocking on the door for years. They had reached the final four on multiple occasions since the early 1980s and had knocked Camross out of the 1987 championship after a semi-final replay. But the shockwaves that rippled through the crowd during the half time interval in a warm Rathdowney afternoon was palpable. It was as unexpected a turn of events that anyone could have thought.

The last thing Camross needed was Clonad to score first in the second half and that is just what happened, an Evin Fennell point extending the lead to 16. This was the height of the deficit but it took Camross an age to get going. Half of the second period had gone before Camross shifted into gear and scored their first goal, from a Fint Lalor penalty. Camross did rally with further goals from Fint Lalor and Kevin Culleton which closed the gap to four. But the deficit was too great and Clonad knocked out the champions on a score line of 3-12 to 3-7.  It was not a day to remember for the club. It reminded everyone involved with Camross GAA that the progress of success ebbed and flowed.

In an otherwise forgettable year for the club there was some success as the club won their second ever football title. The Junior C football team won the league by defeating St. Manman’s 3-8 to 1-4. Two goals from Kevin Drennan proved crucial for Camross as Jim Scully became the second Camross man, after Martin Cuddy 11 years earlier, to lift a football trophy.

The road to redemption for the Seniors began the following summer against Borris-in-Ossory. With memories of their great struggle from two years before still fresh on the Camross men’s minds the complacency which may have been their downfall the previous year was not present as they performed well to advance with a ten point victory.  Even despite their renewed respect for their opposition, Rosenallis were not expected to provide enough of a test to Camross to be a real threat to stopping them reach the final four. But Camross stuttered throughout the game and certainly did not look like posing a threat to Portlaoise’s title. Kevin Culleton’s goal in the first half was a gift from the Rosenallis defence and it turned out to be crucial as the game went on. Rosenallis were dogged in defence and limited Camross’ scoring chances but their efforts were spent on keeping Camross at bay and could not put away enough of their own scores. Camross eventually ground out a 2-8 to 1-3 victory and a place in the semi-finals. 

For the first time in many, many years, Clonad went into a championship game against Camross as favourites. The manner of their victory over Camross the previous year and the form that Camross showed against Rosenallis did nothing to change people’s expectations for a Clonad victory. Unlike 1991, however, it was Camross who made the running in the opening minutes. Peter Dooley opened the scoring and Seamus Cuddy added a point to give them the early advantage. An exchange of points between Evin Fennell and PJ Cuddy maintained Camross’ slender lead going into the second quarter of the game. Camross then enjoyed their best spell of the game. A John Lalor goal was added to by points from Joe Dollard but a fine save from the Clonad keeper denied PJ Cuddy a certain goal. Donncha Dowling pointed to finish the scoring for the half, Camross cruising 2-5 to 0-3.

Changes on the Clonad side rejuvenated them somewhat in the opening minutes of the half but their scores were cancelled out by a Peter Dooley goal nine minutes into the second half. But this was where Camross stuttered to a stop. Clonad roared into action and overhauled the Camross lead and an inevitable goal for Clonad changed the game entirely. Noel Roe’s strike seven minutes from the end gave Clonad the lead and as Camross desperately sought an equaliser, Clonad closed out the game to advance to the final.  Clonad eventually went on to record a well-deserved first championship title since 1970 later that month against Portlaoise.

It was another year of bitter disappointment for the seniors. Their heroics against Rathnure seemed a dim and distant memory. But talent was trickling through and the prospects were looking very bright for the future. Despite an unexplainable inability to get over the line at the Minor grade, a first title at u-15 level was greeted with glee amongst the older and wiser members of the club who realised that long overdue success at juvenile level was now what was needed for future success. The likes of the captain Packie Cuddy, Damian Keenan, Brendan Lowry and Tony Doran all got their first taste for success as they overcame a tough challenge from neighbours Castletown. Needless to say, Castletown were looking at the achievement of reaching the final in much the same vain as Camross. They had maintained underage success for a number of years by 1992, and had won two minor titles at a time when they were vying with The Harps for the title of the up and coming club in Laois hurling. Ger Cuddy and Seamus O’Hanlon starred for the blue and white on the day and the intensity at which the game was played was an omen for things to come.

The year ended on an unfamiliar, yet welcome note. The footballers managed to retain the Junior C Football league title, the first time any club had achieved the feat and certainly the first back to back football titles for the club. It was a great achievement for some of the pioneers of the large ball in the club. Frank McGlynn, who had kept his own tradition of football going in an environment altogether unfamiliar to the sport, warranted most praise for the victory which was a welcome Christmas boost for the parish. Most of the players on the side were multiple winners with the hurling teams. Mattie Collier and Joe Dollard were some of the finest footballers west of Portlaoise. For goalkeeper Pat Coyne and forward Corrie Culleton, two stalwarts of the game in the parish, the victory was extra sweet.

Rising Tide

1993 began with a renewal of a burgeoning rivalry between Camross and Castletown. This time the tie was at minor level and the occasion was the league final. Camross won by a single point in a game that moved back and forth. On both sides there were young men who would go on to win multiple titles with their clubs. For Camross Packie Cuddy was joined by some of his slightly older counterparts, Ken Cuddy, Ollie Dowling, Seamie Higgins, Greg Cuddy, Barry Keenan, Tom Guilfoyle and Damian Culleton. The coming force of the Castletown Cuddys was shown in the fine performances of Ger, Paul, Ray, Fergal and David.

With the championship reverting back to league/knockout format Camross began their championship campaign in April. Perhaps the earlier start suited Camross and the fact that the abolition of the league stage in the early nineties coincided with a less than successful period may have been no coincidence. They faced Kilcotton in the opening game and it was an opportunity for several newcomers to the senior side to show their worth. Considering they had a rather new look team their two point victory was just the start they needed.  Improvements were apparent as they brushed aside Ballacolla in the next game before they claimed a huge morale boosting victory in the end of April.

Still experimenting with a more youthful team, manager Sean Cuddy started a team with very few experienced stars. But it paid off handsomely as they defeated champions Clonad 3-9 to 0-8. Tim Lowry excelled in his debut in goals whilst Ray Cuddy, Padraig Hogan, Ollie Dowling and Seamus Moore all impressed alongside stalwarts such as Mattie Collier, Joe Dollard and PJ Cuddy.   Camross went through the entire league phase unbeaten and qualified for a quarter-final against Rosenallis. The black and amber were an altogether different team to the one that was run close by Rosenallis the previous year but Rosenallis proved to be a huge obstacle once more, an obstacle Camross barely got over. With only two points between the sides with a quarter of the game remaining the Camross defenders were put to the pin of their collars but somehow managed to hold Rosenallis at bay; Camross advancing after a 3-8 to 3-6 victory. 

The Harps were Camross’ semi-final opponents as a final against old rivals Portlaoise beckoned. The hour began with a Padraig Hogan point but Camross faltered somewhat after Joe Dollard was treated for an injury. The delay broke up the rhythm of the game and helped neither side. Camross had a few chances to score goals but efforts from Fint Scully and Fint Lalor were wide of the mark. Noel Delaney opened The Harps account but it was replied to with sustained Camross pressure which yielded a couple of scores. The game began to escape The Harps when Ray Cuddy scored a 16th minute goal. Just before half time the tie was put almost beyond doubt with a scrappy PJ Cuddy goal. The Harps battled on in the second half but Noel Kirby’s goal was the height of their challenge. A PJ Cuddy penalty at the end put a gloss on the score board for Camross but they knew they would have to improve immensely if they were to regain the Bob O’Keefe Cup.

No place for chaps

The ‘traditional’ Laois finalists were atop the food chain once more. In the run up to the 1993 decider, Pat Critchley recalled his first county final, in 1977, which pitted the sides against each other in the county final for the first time in the modern era. Portlaoise were the youngest team to ever reach the final. It was a sign of a decade of success that was on the horizon. But on the day itself, it resembled a show of men against boys. Critchley was only 17 then and towards the end of the game he set off on a solo run towards the Camross goal. He was soundly stopped when a black and amber shoulder appeared from nowhere and levelled the future All-Star. An older member of the Portlaoise side confronted the offending Camross defender and as Critchley stumbled to his feet he was told ‘This is no place for chaps!’. However, the shoe was now firmly on the other foot. Camross were the young guns coming at the more experienced Portlaoise side.

The first score of the final went to Camross. The Portlaoise midfielders pulled ferociously in the throw in and Camross were awarded an instant free which Joe Dollard duly converted. Camross continued to press and they made the most of their chances and had a dream start. Padraig Hogan scored a goal just after receiving an excellent pass from Dollard. Dollard was once again the provider as his long clearance fell to Fint Lalor who finished the ball to the net for a goal. After a break in play for injuries Portlaoise scored their first point from Niall Rigney but shortly afterwards Rigney missed from a placed ball on the Camross ’21. It was a poor miss, and would not be his last of the day. Points were exchanged towards half time and Fint Lalor’s goal proved crucial as they took a four point lead to the break.

Portlaoise came alive in the first minute of the second half. A ball came in towards the Camross goal and Tim Lowry made a rare mistake and Tom Fitzpatrick finished for a Portlaoise goal. Five minutes later Portlaoise were in front from a Pat Critchley goal. Barely a minute later Mattie Collier equalised as the game solidified into a titanic struggle. Portlaoise could not get ahead of Camross but were more than able to peg them back whenever Camross went a point or two ahead. Fint Scully and PJ Cuddy missed two fine goal chances which could have killed off the game as Portlaoise rode their luck. But with five minutes remaining PJ Cuddy gave Camross a three point lead which looked enough to secure victory. But Portlaoise came back again and points from Declan Hearns and Niall Rigney brought them to within one. With time up John Taylor managed to escape with the ball from a midfield scramble and scored an equaliser to force a replay.

The replayed final began with a thunder blow to Camross’ ambitions. Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett’s point effort in the first minute came off the post and down to a grateful Tom Fitzpatrick who slotted the ball into Tim Lowry’s goal. It took the entire first half for Camross to regain parity against their rivals. Both sets of forwards were on form with wides as rare as hen’s teeth. Fint Scully and Fint Lalor were efficient in their strikes and when Lalor scored a point in the 28th minute Camross were level 0-7 to 1-4. The second half was another even struggle. Lalor continued to be excellent for Camross and put in a captain’s performance with his accuracy from the placed ball. Camross took the lead for the first time seven minutes into the second half and with the bit between their teeth they rarely looked back. Fint Scully’s goal in the 13th minute of the second half was the decisive score of the game. Portlaoise struggled to get back into it and in truth, Niall Rigney’s injury time goal merely served to give the impression of a game that was close throughout. In reality Camross never looked like losing the game after Scully’s goal and the Camross defence shut out the town thereafter. Tim Lowry, Joe Doran, Joe Dollard, and Donncha Dowling were excellent in providing a base from which to launch very efficient attacks. Camross claimed the Bob O’Keefe cup for the 20th time on a score line of 1-13 to 2-9. 

Offaly champions, St. Rynagh’s, were Camross’ opponents in the Leinster championship. Rynagh’s went into the game as slight favourites and they also had the mental advantage of having never been beaten by Camross in their previous meetings. Birr was the venue for the meeting of the kingpins of Laois and Offaly hurling.  Camross got off to the perfect start. Joe Dollard’s free was sent in towards the Rynagh’s goalmouth and Fint Scully broke the ball to Ray Cuddy who finished it to the net. Scully scored a point of his own moments later to give Camross a four point lead within three minutes. Rynagh’s opened their account with the first of Michael Coneely’s 11 points. But Fint Lalor proved he was every bit as accurate with two points of his own. Camross were just about keeping three points between the sides but Rynagh’s were playing well and Conneely was in devastating form. Just before half time Conneely dropped a free short and hit was hit towards the goal by Tom Taylor. Tim Lowry managed to save but the ball broke to Michael Duignan who roofed the ball into the Camross net to give Rynagh’s a one point lead at half time. The second half opened with a series of swapped scores, Rynagh’s two point lead remaining intact until the 50th minute. Camross were dealt a huge blow when Fint Dolan received the ball from Duignan and slotted the ball past Lowry to give them a seven point lead. The game could have been beyond Camross then but the gritty determination inherent in the jersey showed again as Camross scored four unanswered points from the sticks of Fint Lalor, PJ Cuddy and Ollie Dowling. There was a goal in it and Camross were surging forward time after time. At the very death, Fint Lalor broke through the Rynagh’s defence and was bearing down on goal. He let it off to Padraig Hogan but Martin Hanamy stepped in to take the ball and clear. With that the whistle blew and Camross were knocked out.

The year closed with further success for the club and clubmen past and present. Seamus Cuddy, who had won a Laois title with Camross in 1990 was part of The Nire team that defeated Dungarvan by a point in the Waterford Senior football final. Meanwhile, several young Camross men made up the spine of the St. Aengus, Mountrath, team that won the Laois VEC football championship. For one man, Jack Cuddy, there was double victory as he was also on the Camross senior team that defeated Castletown in the Brady Cup final, the 6th time the club claimed the cup.

 Camross/Kyle – Laois U-21 Hurling Champions. Back Row (L. to R.) Fint Scully (Trainer), Packie Cuddy, Tom Guilfoyle, Graham Culleton, David Fairbrother, Tim Lowry, Patrick Dooley, Michael John Moore, Damien Culleton, Noel Cuddy, Damien Cuddy, Middle Row (L. to R.) Seamie Higgins, Seamus Kennedy, Mark Delaney, Ariel Delaney, Ollie Dowling, Shane Cuddy, Brendan Lowry, Martin Gaughan. Front Row (L. to R.) Tadhg Quinlan, Gearoid Walsh, Barry Keenan, Seamus Moore, John Cuddy, Martin Moore, Liam Higgins. Picture reproduced courtesy of Alf Harvey. Thanks to Patrick Dooley and Tim Lowry for their help with player names.

Camross began the 1994 championship with a victory over Castletown. Castletown were very strong in the early stages and led after thirteen minutes. Their lead was short-lived, however, and Camross were able to push on and secure victory on a score line of 2-9 to 1-7.  Two very close and tight games followed but Camross managed to collect maximum points against The Harps and Borris-in-Ossory. Rathdowney were the quarter-final opposition and they gave Camross all they had in the first half. Camross brought a two point lead into the second half but with the wind against them they knew that they would have to re-double their efforts if they wanted to retain the county title. They emerged a different side and before Rathdowney could register their first score of the second half Camross had scored 1-4. In the final five minutes they scored another flurry of scores to close out the game with fifteen points to spare.

September began well for Camross as they began the month with Junior B championship success. The team was a mixture of young and old. Veterans such as Frank Keenan, Jim Delaney, Richard Maloney, Martin Cuddy and Eugene Lacumber lined out alongside men who were not born when some of their teammates were winning county titles. Young men such as Brendan Lowry, Barry Keenan and Tom Guilfoyle did most of the leg work but it was the old hands that got the scores including 1-2 from the stick of Lacumber. Frank Keenan raised the Eamon MacCluskey cup after the final whistle, their third success at the grade.  It was a particularly fond day for the Keenans. Frank played alongside his son Barry and his youngest son Zane was mascot for the team.

Ever since Castletown won the 1988 minor title there was a sense of expectation that a serious challenge to Camross and Portlaoise’s dominance in Laois hurling from the Noresiders would be the story of the 1990s just as the rise of the town side was in the 1980s. The 1994 senior semi-final against Camross was the perfect chance for Castletown to show how far they had come. But it was the longest serving veteran on the field that opened the scoring on the day. PJ Cuddy collected a breaking ball mere seconds into the game and had Camross a point up. Brian Moore added a second minutes later as the young Castletown side struggled to adjust to the pace of the play. Fionain O’Sullivan scored Castletown’s first point all of 17 minutes in. But Camross were playing far the better of the hurling. There were very few of Joe Dollard’s former teammates on the Castletown side and Joe showed the up and coming generation what a loss he was to the club as he towered in defence. PJ Cuddy struck the post, scored a point and sent the ball past John Lyons to register Camross’ first goal in a matter of minutes as Camross looked like they would pull away.

But play then got a bit scrappier as the rain began to fall. Scores became rare and three unanswered Castletown points reduced the deficit to one at half time. Castletown came out the stronger and took the lead with O’Sullivan and David Cuddy points. Ollie Dowling responded in kind with an equaliser. The introduction of Fint Lalor proved pivotal. With one of his first touches he blasted a free to the Castletown net. It was a huge blow to Castletown as they succumbed to points from PJ Cuddy, Ray Cuddy, Brian Moore and two from Ollie Dowling. Both teams were reduced to 14 before the final whistle blew and Camross had escaped from a tense tight encounter with a two goal victory. 

Clonad had a very indifferent season. Their league form was atrocious and were lucky to reach the knock out stages. But they gathered themselves in the quarter and semi-finals and managed to reach the county final. The build up to the game was dominated by talk of Clonad not even honouring the tie due to their opposition to the appointed referee. The Laois County board was not for budging, however, and Clonad lined out against Camross to attempt to regain the O’Keefe cup they last won in 1992. After ten minutes of the game the teams were level. It looked as if Clonad were well up to the task and were going to mount a serious challenge to the champions. Clonad’s next score, a Greg Norton point, came 44 minutes later with only five minutes left in the game. There is little else to say regarding Camross’ march to their 21st senior title. Pat Roe and Denis Lalor were impressive in the Clonad defence but they were overrun by a Camross side who should have won by a lot more than they did. Seamus Moore scored Camross’ first goal of the game after 24 minutes and PJ Cuddy added another in the second half. Tommy Delaney lifted the Bob O’Keefe cup after a surreal game.

Straight after the convincing defeat of Clonad, Camross captain Tommy Delaney spoke about how they were keen to make a mark in Leinster following their narrow defeat to St. Rynagh’s in 1993. Their opponents in the first round were from Wexford, but not their old foes Rathnure. Camross faced newcomers to the Leinster Championship, Oulart the Ballagh. Oulart boasted some fine hurlers in the form of Thomas Dunne, Liam Dunne and Martin Storey, who would go on to claim All-Ireland medals only two years later.

Camross were the more experienced side of the two in terms of representing their county and they justified their favourites tag with a fine first half performance. Sean Dunne’s opening point for Oulart was cancelled out by a fine Fran Dowling equaliser. Ollie Dowling gave Camross the lead after 11 minutes but they were inaccurate and wasted a number of scoring chances. Donncha Dowling became the third Camross scorer, and third Dowling scorer, with an effort from 60 metres out. Camross were now two points up but the Wexford men clawed them back only for Fint Lalor to open up a slim advantage once more. Mattie Collier closed the scoring for the half and Camross were 0-5 to 0-3 up at half time.

When both sides re-emerged for the second half they were greeted with a downpour. Wexford Park cut up pretty badly as both sides struggled with the conditions. But unfortunately for Camross, Oulart eventually got to grips with the terrain, literally, whilst Camross faltered. Perhaps the home advantage paid off for Oulart as they overhauled the Camross lead and were soon in front themselves. But Camross were dogged and kept trying their best but were thwarted by the Oulart defence. With ten minutes left there was only a point in it and there was still plenty of hope. But Oulart inched further ahead with points from Storey and Pierce Redmond. Had PJ Cuddy scored a goal with seven minutes left the result could have been different but Thomas Dunne dispossessed Cuddy as he prepared to pull the trigger. A Pierce Redmond goal moments later killed off the game. The referee allowed the goal stand despite the clear suspicion of a square ball infringement. Oulart closed out the game to win by 1-12 to 0-5. The score line was very flattering to the Wexford champions but Camross failed to score in the second half and could not expect to win any game with that statistic to their name.

Men of the Nore

The 1995 championship began for Camross with good wins before a tie that showed the sheer gulf in quality that was present in Laois club hurling at the time. They had 28 points to spare over Mountrath Shamrocks in a game that was of little benefit to either team. Fint Lalor gave a man of the match performance as he led by example as Camross qualified for the semi-final by virtue of topping their group following a 2-14 to 1-7 victory over Rathdowney.

The semi-final was played on a very humid day in O’Moore Park in the third week of August. Castletown, so long in the shadow of their neighbours, were determined to reach their first county final whilst Camross were seeking a three-in-a-row, which would be the third in the club’s history. Fint Lalor opened the scoring for Camross with a marvellous piece of skill; a sideline ball placed right between the uprights from the 14 yard line. Castletown equalised from Patrick Phelan and both sides began to swap points for the next ten minutes. Ollie Dowling received the ball from a PJ Cuddy pass to put Camross back into the lead on fifteen minutes with a fine point. However, Castletown came into their own at this stage. Three unanswered points gave Castletown the lead but Camross managed to claw them back with another sideline puck from Lalor as well as a point from play. The Castletown attack were beginning to cause a lot of hardship for Camross by this stage. Cyril Cuddy’s kicked effort came off the post. Just before half time the game changed with two goal chances; one taken and the other missed. PJ Cuddy’s shot on goal was magnificently saved by John Lyons in the Castletown goal and they went up to the other end of the field and scored a goal of their own from Paddy Dollard giving Castletown a four point half time lead.

Early points in the second half from PJ Cuddy and Joe Dollard reduced the deficit to two. But Castletown put in an excellent performance in the latter stages to crush the defending champions. They scored 1-6 without reply to secure their passage to their first county final. A solitary Fint Lalor free in injury time was scant consolation as the Men of the Nore swept to victory en-route to their first ever Senior title.  They defeated Portlaoise in the final on a score line of 1-12 to 0-11. In defeating the experienced town team they ushered in a new era of hurling in Laois, one which would place Castletown at the very peak for years to come. But Camross would have one more decisive say before this new era began.

Having enjoyed their success over the winter and spring, Castletown went into the 1996 season with high hopes. But so too did Camross. Aside from their rather disappointing exit at the hands of their neighbours they had performed relatively well in the championship up to that point. So when both sides clashed in the League in May the large attendance anticipated a fine display of hurling between the two in-form teams in the county. They were certainly not disappointed as Camross overturned the champions by five points but the game was marred by an unsavoury off-the-ball incident which left Joe Dollard prostrate, unconscious, and detained overnight in hospital.  Despite the otherwise excellent hurling it was apparent that there were underlying tensions which threatened to boil over at any stage.

Camross claimed a place in the knock out phases of the Senior championship with a hard fought victory over long-time rivals Clonad. Unconvincing for large parts of the game, a man-of-the-match performance from Mattie Collier helped Camross stumble to a four point victory.  With qualification secured, their next game against Errill was an opportunity to iron out some of the creaks may have developed. Errill had been quite unlucky in the previous year’s championship. They had a number of drawn games, including one against Castletown, which cost them progression to the final four. But following Shield victory earlier in the year they were confident of taking the scalp of Camross on a very windy July evening. The game was just what Camross needed; a tough tight encounter that tested all positions very well. True to form Errill managed to grab a late draw from a goal by Dermot Dowling, who had only got married two days earlier. Camross secured their point largely due to some excellent defending from their last lines of defence. Tim and Brendan Lowry combined well in goals and corner back, Joe Doran reeled back the years yet again with an outstanding performance, whilst former Errill man, Jim Scully starred for the black and amber.

Rathdowney had not beaten Camross in over thirty years in the senior championship. Their 1996 encounter was not expected to throw up a different result, despite a brave Rathdowney effort following a farcical opening to the game. Nine minutes into the game Ray Cuddy had the ball in the Rathdowney net for the game’s opening score. There was, however, only one umpire, and it was a Camross official. The goal stood, much to the annoyance of the Rathdowney team, and the game was delayed until the referee could muster up a full quota of umpires and linesmen. The lack of organisation apparent on the day was raised in a subsequent Laois County Board meeting. When play resumed Rathdowney conceded another goal. There was no complaints following PJ Cuddy’s strike as the realisation of the challenge ahead sunk in. Rathdowney played gallantly in the second half but the two early Camross goals proved the difference as they progressed to their 32nd semi-final since 1963.

More used to facing each other in the final stage of the championship Camross and Portlaoise faced each other for the right to face Castletown in the decider. Portlaoise got off to a good start with a point from the centre of the field from Niall Rigney. But Camross were level a minute later when Joe Dollard pointed following a long solo run from the half back line. Dollard was having an excellent game and he kept Camross in touch with his second point in response to four further points from Portlaoise. His performance helped Camross to up their game considerably in the second quarter of the game. He scored three frees which was added to by an Ollie Dowling point as Camross surged ahead. Just before the break Portlaoise had equalised and Cyril Duggan’s point, the last puck of the half, gave Portlaoise the minimum advantage at half time.

Camross would have been more pleased coming back out for the second half. They had played into a strong breeze and were only a point down. As the second half progressed it was clear that Portlaoise were becoming more and more frustrated with several town men going into the referee’s book. Their eight wides in the first half haunted them as they could only muster a single point in the second half. Camross were not spectacular in a dour second half. But they were efficient. Points from the placed ball from Dollard and a good score from Damian Culleton were enough to trump Portlaoise whose David Rigney point five minutes from time barely registered a cheer from a disappointed Portlaoise crowd. Camross securing a final berth on a score line of 0-12 to 0-9.

For the first time ever, the bordering clubs of Camross and Castletown faced each other for the Bob O’Keefe Cup. As can be clearly seen from the historical section of this book, both parishes have a shared history. Indeed, both parishes were one until the 19th Century. History and family links were evident in the line-ups for the 1996 County Final. Castletown goalkeeper, John Lyons, was son of Jimmy, captain of the 1973 Camross winning team. John’s grandfather helped Camross win their first ever hurling title in 1914. Indeed, Jimmy was part of Batt Lynch’s backroom team with Castletown. Joe Dollard, former Castletown player, faced off against his brother, Pat. For Camross trainer, Frank Keenan, the opposition were no strangers. Frank had trained Castletown for three years and had almost guided them to the trio of Junior, Intermediate and Senior titles in three years. They fell at the penultimate hurdle in the 1994 semi-final against Camross. For two of Camross’ veterans, they knew that they would not have too many more county finals in them Joe Doran was seeking his 13th Laois title. Many of his team mates were not born when he collected his first medal. PJ Cuddy was seeking his 12th medal. All in all, the board was set for an intriguing game between two teams who had intimate knowledge of each other.

There were several seamless positional changes to the Camross team from their semi-final victory and this had the desired effect from very early on as they largely snuffed out some of Castletown’s go-to players. Camross got off to a great start when Ollie Dowling and PJ Cuddy combined to set Fint Lalor away on the wing to register the first score of the game after a minute. It settled what nerves were there as the Camross faithful tested the resilience of the galvanise in the upper corner of the old stand of O’Moore Park. They had further reason to cheer as the half progressed. Joe Dollard picked up where he left off after his performance against Portlaoise and scored three points, two from placed balls, to give Camross a four point lead. The end of the first half was getting worryingly near for Castletown who had not registered a score. But they got back into the game with a Patrick Phelan point and a goal scored by Fionain O’Sullivan following a great save by Tim Lowry. For all of Camross’ superiority their opponents were back on top of them but they closed the half very impressively. Joe Dollard added to his haul a point and Ollie Dowling got a score also. A fine David Cuddy point concluded the first half; Camross three points to the good.

The third quarter was fairly even. Points were swapped by both sides as Camross managed to keep their three point cushion despite Castletown’s best efforts. The crucial scores fell to Camross at this stage. Two from Joe Dollard and another from PJ Cuddy extended Camross’ lead as Castletown reverted to goal attempts. Tim Lowry was in inspired form and denied Castletown on a number of occasions. One save in particular from David Cuddy gave Camross the confidence that a 22nd title was about to be secured.

The game was tough up to this stage but there was rarely a dirty stroke pulled. This changed utterly in the final minute of the game when bedlam broke out in the centre of the field which gradually edged towards the stands as players, officials and fans wielded hurls as if in battle. All the while, Fint Lalor lay injured on the turf as some of his teammates, and indeed some Castletown players, checked on his wellbeing. It took all of seven minutes for the chaos to subside and a further eleven before Lalor was stretchered off the pitch. Referee Pat Delaney sent one Castletown player from the field and the match was over moments later. Mattie Collier was presented the Bob O’Keefe Cup as Camross silenced their critics who believed that they were a spent force followed their tame exit from the 1995 championship. Collier said in his speech that ‘he loved this jersey and he loved where he came from’. Frank Keenan said after the game that the winning of the title came in the manner that Camross responded to the Castletown goal. Joe Dollard, who scored 11 of Camross’ 15 points on the day, was at his modest best afterwards when he said ‘I really don’t take frees you know, but I was asked to take them coming into the semi-final. I’m new enough to them’.

Camross advanced to the Leinster Semi-final with an easy victory over Westmeath champions Loughlene Gaels. Their semi-final opponents were, not for the first time, Rathnure. This was the fifth time that Camross had faced Rathnure in the Leinster Championship with both sides level on two wins apiece. Camross, lining out in the blue and white of Laois, faced their Wexford opponents in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. The game opened with points being exchanged by both sides. Camross were looking the more dangerous, however, and they made their slight advantage count in the 14th minute. George Danne split the Rathnure defence with a run, and after avoiding two tackles he hit the ball into the Rathnure net to give Camross the decisive score of the half. Thanks to the Danne goal Camross took a two point lead into the second half. Crucially Rathnure struck three wides in the opening minutes of the second half. They did score a point to reduce the deficit to a single point but Mattie Collier scored Camross’ second goal of the game. Then followed a long period of Rathnure dominance as Camross were forced into a rear-guard action that brought the best out of the Camross defence. Rathnure had come back to within one point but two quick scores from Joe Dollard re-established a three point lead. The memorable moment of the game came near the very end. Rathnure were going for goal and Paul Codd raced through and struck a rasper low toward the corner of the Camross goal. But Tim Lowry somehow managed to block the ball over the bar and prevented a replay. The final whistle blew moments later as Camross advanced to their fifth Leinster final with a two point victory.

Kings of Leinster

Camross had played in four Leinster finals before 1996. Their record was poor. Their only victory was in their debut in the final in 1976. Indeed, debutants in the Leinster decider had a very good record; St. Rynagh’s, Fenians, James Stephen’s, Ballyhale Shamrocks, St Martin’s, and Glenmore all won the O’Neill cup on their first attempt just as Camross had. Camross’ opponents were looking to add their name to the list of successful debutants. O’Toole’s got over Seir Kieran’s in their semi-final after a replay. One of the key battles that was focused upon in the run up to the game was the clash of Joe Doran and Eamon Morrissey. Doran was the most experienced man on the pitch, from either team. Along with PJ Cuddy he hoped to add to his single Leinster medal that he won in 1976. His man on the day was one of the game’s most in-form hurlers. Recipient of an All-Star six years earlier Morrissey had 2 All-Ireland and 3 Leinster medals with Kilkenny. He was the third man involved in both teams to have a Leinster medal; in 1984 he was a substitute as his native St. Martin’s won the Leinster title en route to their All-Ireland victory.

The game was due to take place on Sunday, 1 December but it was postponed due to the wintry weather in Kilkenny on the day of the game. It may have been a slightly deflating feeling for both teams who were ready to go, but it did suit Camross in so far as it gave some players an additional week to recover from injuries.

The line-up as per the match day programme for the 1996 Leinster Final. Due to injury, Pat Collier was unable to start at corner back. His place was taken by Jack Cuddy. George ‘Deane’ did not line out for Camross on the day either. George Danne, on the other hand, had a magnificent game.

So a week later than planned, and with an extra week’s reserves in the legs, Camross made the journey to Nowlan Park on a bitterly cold December morning as they bid to claim their second Leinster title and exorcise the ghosts of their disappointing defeat in 1980 to Dublin opposition. O’Toole’s got off to the better start. Mick Dunne burst through the Camross half back line almost from the throw in. Dunne was fouled and Jamesie Brennan converted the resultant free to give the Dublin men the lead. But their lead was short lived as Camross showed a determination not to repeat the poor start that handed Crumlin the title 16 years earlier. Joe Dollard pointed an excellent equaliser before Damien Culleton had Camross in front after seven minutes. Playing into the wind Camross capitalised on a good spell of play with another score, a Joe Dollard free, to stretch their lead. There were goal chances too. The best of which came from a ground stroke from Mattie Collier but the ball went narrowly wide of Brendan McLoughlin’s goal.

O’Toole’s star man, Eamon Morrissey, had his first chance in the 18th minute. His shot sailed over as Andy Cunningham moved one of his full forwards out to midfield to pack the central sector and bring the Dublin side more into the game. Joe Dollard restored Camross’ three point lead. Then came a pivotal score for Camross. A Fran Dowling line ball was cut in toward the Camross full forward line and PJ Cuddy met the ball with a fierce pull and the ball hit the net. Camross now had a commanding lead. Points were swapped before the interval and Camross went in 1-5 to 0-4 up.

Moments into the second half O’Toole’s were on the attack and Paul Donohue had a point back. But with the wind at their backs Camross dominated the next quarter hour. After some errors PJ Cuddy found Joe Dollard with a great pass as he cancelled out Donohue’s point. Tim Lowry then made a brave and crucial save from a Morrissey penalty. Fran Dowling scored a huge point as Joe Dollard and Mattie Collier kept the scoreboard ticking over. The game was fast going away from O’Toole’s and had Joe Dollard’s goal chance gone in ten minutes from the end the game would have been over as a competitive tie.

But O’Toole’s had a huge slice of luck when Jamesie Brennan’s free sailed into the Camross net. With eight minutes left is seemed that the Dublin men were about to rally but Mattie Collier settled matters with Camross’ final point as the full back line, led by the evergreen Joe Doran cleared a couple of late efforts. A Neil Howard goal from the ’21 at the death was mere consolation as the final whistle blew just afterwards. Camross were kings of Leinster once more.

Mattie Collier emulated Martin Cuddy twenty years earlier as he raised the O’Neill cup, presented to him by fellow Camross man Michael Delaney. It was a victory brought about by an all-round performance from the sixteen men who hurled for Camross on the day. At 22 years of age Tim Lowry showed a maturity and calmness beyond his years as well as youthful agility when he repeated his semi-final heroics in denying Eamon Morrissey early in the second half. The much talked about battle between Joe Doran and his all-star opponent was undoubtedly won by the Clonin veteran. When O’Toole’s re-jigged their positions mid-way through the first half Jack Cuddy was forced further out the field but he was stellar regardless of where he collected the ball and fed the half forward line. Jim Scully showed no signs of his injury issues as he was rock solid on Paul Donohue. Seamus Moore was the man-of-the match on the day. His performance in the first half in particular was crucial. With the wind against Camross, Moore’s performance was key in negating O’Toole’s wind advantage. Tommy Delaney and Fran Dowling ably assisted Moore in his job of work. Dowling’s second half point from all of 70 yards out was one of the highlights of the game. The conditions were not conducive to free flowing hurling for midfielders but Geroge Danne and Ollie Dowling were excellent under the dropping ball for the hour and were a crucial conduit through which the Camross defence moved the ball to the forwards. The half forward line was a mixture of experience and youthful pace. PJ Cuddy seized almost every opportunity he got including Camross’ goal whilst Joe Dollard finished the day with seven points. Ray Cuddy provided the pace for the line and linked up well with the equally pacy Damian Culleton. Mattie Collier scored two points of Camross’ total and Padraig Hogan’s contribution in chasing back in defence was crucial. Just as there was in 1976 there was a Keenan presence on the pitch as Frank’s son Barry was introduced to strengthen the Camross attack in the second half.

In 1976 Camross were one of the most impressive hurling clubs in Ireland. Most felt that the defeat of James Stephens would be the first of several Leinster titles and that an All-Ireland title would only be a matter of time. The twenty years between that victory and their second had shown that this certainly was not going to be the case. Three Leinster final defeats and controversies that dogged the club during the 1980s showed everyone that success was never a given and that so called ‘golden generations’ can come and go with nothing to show if the correct mind-set and dedication was not present. The 1996 victory was a victory for the dedication and will of the club. Two decades of mixed emotions, from elation to bitter despair and anger, were swept aside amidst a tide of jubilation as Martin O’Neill took his place beside Bob O’Keefe on a mantelpiece in Carrowreigh. The only question that remained was whether Tommy Moore would join them.

Athenry defeated Roscommon champions Four Roads in the Connacht final to take on Camross in the All-Ireland semi-final. They were certainly a more difficult proposal that Ballycran had been twenty years earlier. They only won their first Galway title in 1987 but a slew of underage success before and since culminated in a very strong senior side by the mid-nineties, one which would go on to dominate Galway hurling for years. Joe Rabbitte was their star performer, but their young full-forward and free taker, Eugene Cloonan, was key to their victory in Galway and he had played a pivotal part of Galway’s successful minor side the previous year. For Camross they had kept nimble over the Christmas period with four challenge games. Their more experienced players shared a number of plaudits for their Leinster final glory; PJ Cuddy won the Laois hurler of the year, Joe Doran won club hurler of the year, Joe Dollard won Leinster club hurler of the year and Mattie Collier picked up a sport star of the week award. But as trainer Frank Keenan said ‘it’s a new year now and the players have to prove themselves all over again’.

One of the great faults of the club championship is its timing. It is a fault which exists to this day as hurlers and footballer brave poor conditions and poorer terrain for the pride of their club. Inevitably the winter of 1997 was not the ideal time to be preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final, not that there was any choice in the matter. A bout of flu ran roughshod through the panel in the week before the Athenry game and floored many members of the Camross panel. It was far from a desirable situation but they battled through their problems and travelled to Thurles to take on the men west of the Shannon for a place in the All-Ireland final against Wolfe-Tones.  Memories of the last time Camross took to the field in Semple Stadium sprung to mind as the hurlers had to deal with driving wind and rain. From the very beginning the Camross defence was left exposed. Donal Moran soloed in through the half back line and opened Athenry’s account with a goal. Pat Rabbitte and Eugene Cloonan added points. Seven minutes into the game and Camross were in trouble. But then came Camross’ best spell. They brought themselves right back into it. A Joe Dollard point was followed up by a lucky Ollie Dowling goal. Dowling’s ’65 fell from the sky into the Athenry net; the conditions hampering visibility and handling. The manner in which Athenry responded was key to their eventual victory. They stepped up their performance and scored points from all angles. Ollie Dowling was having a great game and he added to his goal with a point but it barely made a dent in the Athenry attack. Damian Culleton brought them back somewhat with a goal that would become his trademark later in his career; a direct run into the defence from the wing and a blistering shot to the net. But again Athenry responded with three points and a goal which tamely dropped into the Camross net just before half time effectively ended Camross’ challenge. A Joe Dollard goal aside, the second half was a rout. Athenry eventually ran out 4-17 to 3-3 victors as they moved on to win the All-Ireland final on St. Patrick’s day.

Post-Script - A Minor Success

In the first century of Camross GAA club the following accolades had been amassed;

  •              Leinster Senior Hurling titles – 2
  •              Laois Senior Hurling titles – 22
  •              Laois Senior Hurling League titles – 12
  •              Laois Intermediate Hurling titles – 5
  •              Laois Intermediate Hurling League titles – 3
  •              Laois Junior A Hurling titles – 8
  •              Laois Junior B Hurling titles – 4
  •              Laois Under-21 Hurling titles – 12
  •              Laois Junior A Football titles – 1
  • Amidst all of the success, amidst all of the decorated days in the club’s history, there was one title that eluded Camross for successive generations, the Minor hurling championship. It is true that underage success was largely biased towards urban centres for much of the 20th century due to demographics and population change. There was simply more young boys in the towns of Laois willing and able to hurl for their club than in rural Camross. After the minor championship was revived in Laois in 1939, urban teams won the minor title for the next thirty years with the exception of Cullohill’s victory in 1941.

    Camross had a long history of reaching the minor final, a history which did not include a single victory. Their first two appearances were against Portlaoise. The 1956 and 1962 teams suffered heavy defeats as Portlaoise continued their long dominance at the U-18 grade. In 1973 they were defeated by Ballacolla by a single goal. Portlaoise were victors in 1985. In 1993 they were defeated by Castletown/Slieve Bloom. Joined with their nearest neighbours Kyle, the young men earned a hard earned draw against Portlaoise in the 1996 final, Peter Guilfoyle pointing the last puck of the game to earn a replay.  The replay went Portlaoise’s way. The long wait was destined to continue.

    Every Camross minor team that took to the field from the mid-1950s on, no matter the name of the team or the form of the amalgamation, contained future Laois senior medallists. The fact that none of them had ever collected a minor title beforehand was baffling. As the club entered its 2nd century a generation of young talent began to emerge and sweep to victory in almost every tournament they entered. Beginning in 1999, Mattie Collier guided a group of Camross boys to u-12 victory. They defeated a fancied Clough/Ballacolla team who were going for back to back titles on a score line of 4-4 to 2-3. Colin Delaney captained his first Camross winning side as he collected the cup from Laois Juvenile chairman, Tom Jones.  Another u-12 title followed the following year. Two years later u-14 success was secured as well as a memorable run to the All-Ireland Féile na nGael Division 2 final against Carrigaline in Casement Park, Belfast. Defeat after extra time was their lot on the day but the rare experience of defeat did no harm to the maturing group. U-16 success inevitably followed before the group was ready to make a true tilt for the minor championship in 2005.

    Under the guidance of George Danne, Peter Dooley and Stephen Mortimer, Camross/Kyle negotiated a very tricky path to the minor final where they faced Borris-in-Ossory/Kilcotton. With the dust barely settled after an infamous defeat in the Senior final to Castletown after a replay the combined Camross and Ballagmore faithful travelled en-masse to Rathdowney united in the real belief that for the first time ever minor glory was an hour of hurling away. Two of Camross’ key players, Dean Delaney and Darrel Dooley, struggled with injuries and began the game on the bench. Borris had no such problems and they began the game with two points from Noel Delaney. Camross were slow to settle but Andrew Collier helped settle the nerves with Camross’ opening score of the final. Both sides exchanged points from the placed ball before Kyle man, Ray Clarke, was fouled as he bounded towards goal. Zane Keenan stepped up and despite the early stage of the game few expected the Cardtown man to settle for a point. Keenan’s ability to score goals from the placed ball, as well as points, was renowned. A month earlier he had dramatically forced the senior final to a replay with a last gasp ’21 which he blasted to the net. Borris knew all about Keenan’s ability and placed eight men on the line. But the combined efforts of over half of the opposing team could not stop the bullet that sped past them as Camross took the lead. Further points from Keenan followed before Joe Phelan somehow managed to connect with the sliotar whilst on his knees to score Camross’ second goal of the day. A flurry of points just before the interval kept Borris in it but Camross were very happy with their first half efforts as they rested on a four point advantage with the wind at their backs for the second half.

    Borris were gifted a lifeline moments into the second half. From the throw-in Kevin Finlay won the ball and sent it toward the Camross square. The ball was not dealt with as Padraig Bergin sent the ball past Tom Dunphy to close the gap to a single point. Blind panic followed from Camross as they shot four wides in quick succession before Borris were level from the stick of Brian Stapleton. The hurling was fierce at this stage and Borris were gaining the upper hand. They eventually took the lead before Zane Keenan converted two ‘65s to overturn the deficit into a slender lead. But as the minutes ticked on Borris responded and responded once more when Camross re-took the lead to equalise. The crucial score of the game came with mere minutes left. With the sides level Dean Delaney, who had entered the fray, won the ball after some good work by Ray Clarke. He placed the ball for Joe Phelan who eased the ball into the net for his second of the day and Camross’ third goal. They were three points up now as the game entered added time. The Camross defence were forced to defend a torrent of Borris pressure. Led by their captain, Colin Delaney at half back, and vice-captain, Eoin Doran at full back, Camross held out and reduced Borris to a single decent chance which Matthew Whelan blazed over. Their final effort was cut out by Eoin Doran and as he cleared his lines the referee blew his whistle to conclude the game. After years of toil and effort Camross were minor champions on a scoreline of 3-8 to 1-12.