John Fay's Abbeylara adventure continues
By Cian O'Connell
John Fay has given a lifelong service to the GAA in Longford.
His enduring passion for Gaelic Football remains as strong as ever, especially now that Abbeylara are busy preparing for another County Final.
Fay, a Longford selector during Glenn Ryan’s stint in charge, continues to serve the Abbeylara cause. Now Fay is the PRO, one of the many duties carried out since moving to Abbeylara in1961. “I spent all my teaching life in the parish, first in a small school called St Mary's and then in St Bernard's,” the popular Fay says.
“I myself played with Longford Slashers. I was born in the parish of Carrickedmond, then I moved into Longford town and went to St Mel's College.
“I took up a teaching appointment in Abbeylara in 1961. When I arrived in the parish there was no club, the club had gone out of existence since 1953. So in 1965 we made an effort to get the club started off again and it was successful.”
The 1970s brought Junior and Intermediate County titles; Fay was there, always relevant to the Abbeylara cause. “I was involved, but at that stage my better years were behind me,” Fay laughs. “I was in the Junior team in 73 and involved in the Intermediate breakthrough team in 76, I was a sub in that team.
“I spent a lot of time as an official with the County Board and I was on the Central Council for a long number of years. I was County Board Chairman, every committee I served on. I enjoyed it all, it is as simple as that.”
During the last two decades Abbeylara have become a prominent senior outfit in Longford much to Fay’s delight. “This is our eighth County Final, including replays, in the last 20 years. We have won two, drawn one and lost the others, but we are in our eighth now.”
What makes Abbeylara’s collision with St Columba’s, Mullinlagtha, a repeat of the 2016 decider, so interesting is the fact that the clubs combine in the juvenile ranks. That has helped both teams dramatically according to Fay.
“There has always been work carried out and the remarkable thing is that at underage level we are amalgamated,” Fay admits.
“That team is called Northern Gaels. It is really remarkable, the same as last year because most of these players would have played together at underage level for Northern Gaels. After minor they then go back to their own clubs. They play all the underage competitions at under 12, 14, 16 and minor under Northern Gaels, then they go back to their respective clubs.
“The amount of households in the Abbeylara parish is about 230 which is small. The population of the whole parish - men, women, and children is about 750. Then our opponents, St Columba's, Mullinalaghta, they are only a half parish with Gowna in Cavan. They would have similar numbers, if not even a smaller pick. This reflects the work that was done at underage with those players.”
Fay takes pride and satisfaction at how Abbeylara and St Columba’s work together. “It is excellent, we never had any major type of a dispute,” Fay states.
“We were fortunate that the first Chairman of the club was a man called Peter Sheridan, he was a former inter-county player with Longford. Peter was a very good negotiator and his son David Sheridan is presently the Chairman of the Northern Gaels club. We were very fortunate in that respect.
“There is very good relationships. Even after last year's County Final when we were beaten we took it in the right spirit. What else can you do?
“In around 1984 I had looked at the details of the census returns and I could see that there was no hope for either club on their own at underage level. Based on the number of males under 18 in both parishes so I talked to representatives of both clubs and we put a motion into Convention that the two would be allowed to play as one unit in all underage competitions. It was accepted.”
Longford have also benefited from the decision with Fay acknowledging the contribution being made by Abbeylara and St Columba’s on inter-county panels recently. “We have contributed a big number of players to county level,” Fay adds.
“In this year's county under 21 team I think there were seven players from lads who had formerly played for Northern Gaels.
“When these lads were playing at underage they got good exposure, not only within the county, but they took part in tournaments outside against better opposition. That all helps in the development of players.”
Fay helped play his part in the Longford GAA story. That loyal work will never end. Another lively clash between two proud neighbours beckons.