How time flies. This weekend nine years ago, Ballyroan-Abbey became just the fourth Laois football club to ever win a Leinster title.
Indeed as a club they are the only Laois side – and one of the few in the province – to have played in Leinster finals at both senior and intermediate.
On this occasion it was the Leinster intermediate title they got their hands on when their fine team of that era added another trophy to their collection.
In 2006 – as Ballyroan Gaels – they won the Laois SFC final, after an incredible campaign. As Gaels team (Abbeyleix players were allowed to play with them but also with their own club in the intermediate grade) they weren’t permitted to play in the Leinster championship. So they joined up fully, the football side of Abbeyleix coming fully under the Ballyroan banner, albeit with a new name.
Then the unthinkable happened. In 2007 they lost five championship games on the trot and were relegated from the senior grade less than 12 months after winning the championship and in their first year as a new club.
But they bounced back in style. Although they slipped up to Park-Ratheniska in the group stages of the Laois intermediate, wins over Annanough, Kilcavan and Courtwood allowed them gain revenge on Park in the final.
They then went on a run in Leinster. They had home advantage for a number of games but their pitch in Ballyroan was unplayable, forcing them to move one of their early games to Timahoe and then having the final in Abbeyleix.
The host club put on a great show that day as a venue unused to major club football games got to host a Leinster final. Meath side St Ultan’s were the opposition but Ballyroan-Abbey weren’t to be denied and there was great scenes in Fr Breen Park as they got their hands on silverware once again.
That was a fine team. Goalkeeper Gary Scully had a booming kickout; three Abbeyleix lads were in defence – future rugby league international Tim Bergin, Niall Wallace and Eoin O’Brien – while Padraig McMahon was well on his way to establishing himself as one of Laois’s top players.
Alan Burnell and Daire Phelan formed one of the best midfield partnerships in the county at the time and Scott Conroy and Michael J Tierney were exceptional forwards at the grade too.
St Michael’s of Galway edged them out narrowly in the All Ireland semi-final a couple of weeks later, denying them a big day out in Croke Park.
The Leinster triumph, though, remains a treasured day in their history – with only Portlaoise (senior), Crettyard (intermediate), Park-Ratheniska (junior) and Rosenallis (junior) from Laois having tasted provincial football success.
Alf Harvey’s photos from that day – which include action, celebration, supporters and the brilliant Ballyroan Brass Band – provide a wonderful record of a memorable occasion.
The LaoisToday 2017 Annual is now on sale in bookshops and newsagents around the county – this is where you can buy it