Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ballymore-Eustace’s Proud Handball Record

Part 2

From stories I was told by Bernard Purcell I gather the present 60 by 30 alley replaced an earlier alley which had its front wall running parallel to the road that is to say the players would have been facing towards the road instead of facing towards my late father's stables as at present. This is borne out by the remains of what was the old front wall and which is still in existence.

Tommy Leahy was one of a family of five children who lived with their parents, Michael and Ellen Leahy, in their farmhouse just above where the Golden Falls Dam was constructed and access to their home was by the Golden Falls Lane or Leahy's Lane as it was also known. In 1929 Tommy Leahy became the pride and joy of the local community when he became the first Ballymore man to win an All-Ireland title and more significantly still he won it at senior level. Tommy won that title in a memorable home and away encounter with the reigning IAHU senior hard singles champion, J. J. Kelly (champion from 1925 to 1929), of Dublin. The first leg was played in Weldon's "Boot Inn" alley in Bally­mun while the second leg was played in Bally­more. Old-timers recall that the second leg was a great occasion with a capacity crowd present.

There is no doubt that Tommy Leahy captured the imagination of old time Ballymore fans in a way that no other player of his generation did. He was a powerful two­-handed player, the best of a generation of good handballers, and he dominated the senior hard singles scene under IAHU rules from 1929 to 1933. He also won the corresponding doubles titles in 1932 partnered by Jack Byrne and in 1933 partnered by Jimmy Dolan. Tommy also played doubles partnered by Peter O'Rourke.

Other well-known players he defeated were Paddy Coyne of Carlow (champion from 1910 to 1912) and Morgan Pembroke of Dublin (champion from 1920 to 1925). Tommy's late sister Bridie was married to the late Mick McDonald who helped with the running of the Club and provided Tommy with transport for his away from home games. Bridie was featured in an article in the Ballymore Bugle of February 1998. After his successful handball career Tommy immigrated to England where he died on March 6, 1940.

Two generations of the Byrne family contributed to the Ballymore handball scene. Jack experienced All-Ireland success under IAHU rules while two of his sons had All-Ireland success under IAHA rules. His brother Christy was the first to come to prominence in his role as Secretary of the Club during the Club's first period of success (1929 - 1937). Christy was a top class hardball maker and supplied the hardball needs of the local players. He was also a very useful player with whom Tommy Leahy had many a tough work out in preparation for his big games.

The late Jack (died in 1970) made his breakthrough in 1932 when he partnered Tommy Leahy in his hard doubles success. Jack succeeded Tommy Leahy as senior hard singles champion in 1933 and held that title until 1935. I saw Jack in action in the early fifties and his talents were obvious even though he was then past his best. Jack was a great all round sportsman who played in goal in 1953 on Ballymore's only team to win the Kildare senior football championship.

Jack's third son Jackie won an All-Ireland minor hard doubles medal in 1960 and thus the Byrnes became the first Ballymore family to supply champions from two generations. During a short career Jackie won two minor hard doubles medals. He was a very fast two-handed player who could play hardball and softball equally well.

I can personally vouch for Jackie's abilities having had a number of stirring encounters with him in which neither of us asked for or were given any quarter and each of us had our own band of loyal supporters. Our personal battles to represent in singles over we teamed up successfully in hard and soft doubles. Like his father Jackie was a good all round sportsman.

Jack's youngest son Justin became the third member of his family to win All-Ireland honours when he won the 1973 junior hard doubles medal. Like all the Byrnes he was a stylish, two-handed player who was fast around the alley and a good all round sportsman.

Jack's other sons Myles, the late Tommy (died in March 1999) and Declan all were useful handballers while Tommy was a good hardball maker who kept the game alive in the sixties when he was the only one who possessed the skill of making hardballs.

© Matt Purcell (June 2008)

No comments: