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County Final Memory: Ballyroan end 42-year wait in 1992 before reaching Leinster club final

The Ballyroan team before the 1992 senior football final against St Joseph's. Their two mascots were future Laois footballers Padraig McMahon and Michael Tierney

Ballyroan 0-8 St Joseph’s 0-6
1992 Laois SFC Final

Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, few Laois football clubs suffered as much heartache as Ballyroan

While Portlaoise were utterly dominant in the first part of the decade and won five of the seven titles from 1981 to 1987, there were some rays of light for the other clubs. 

St Joseph’s were triumphant in 1983 and 1989, Portarlington won it out in 1988 and O’Dempsey’s began the decade with a real smash and grab success.

There was also county final appearances for Graiguecullen, Emo, Annanough, Timahoe, Ballylinan and Stradbally. 

Yet Ballyroan were probably closer to any of them but had the misfortune of coming up against Portlaoise every time they reached the final. 

They were beaten after a replay in the Centenary final in 1984 and again in 1985, both times by Portlaoise. 

And The Town dashed their dreams again in 1990 when they beat Ballyroan again in the final. Portlaoise reclaimed the title in 1991 but that was, amazingly, to be their last success for eight years, a famine by the club’s standards. 

St Joseph’s knocked Portlaoise out in the semi-final in 1992, a game that brought the curtain down on the club career of both Colm Browne and Tom Prendergast. In the other semi-final, Ballyroan got the better of Portarlington, the finalists of the previous year. 

For Ballyroan it was to be their fourth final appearance in nine seasons, five if you counted the 1984 replay. 

Ballyroan raced into a 0-4 to 0-0 lead after just ten minutes thanks to points from Jim and Pat Whelan, Enda McDonald and Liam Irwin. McDonald could have had a goal for Ballyroan only for his effort to crash off the crossbar and while Sean Dempsey got Joseph’s off the mark, Ballyroan came close to a goal again when Mick Dempsey was forced to clear a Pat Whelan effort off the line. 

The Ballyroan celebrations after the game

Mark O’Brien and Joe Murphy pulled points back for Joseph’s but Jim Whelan, Liam Irwin and John Murphy responded for Ballyroan. Michael O’Briend pointed for Joseph’s but at half time were 0-7 to 0-4 up. 

Yet they’d add only one more point in the second half, that from 19-year-old sub Noel Delaney in injury time. 

Mark O’Brien and Joe Lacey helped bring the gap back to one and Joseph’s could have gone ahead with five minutes remaining only for a brilliant save by Tony McMahon on his Laois colleague Sean Dempsey. 

The Skies oer Ballyroan gets an airing in O’Moore Park

Noel Delaney nudged Ballyroan two clear 90 seconds into added time and Ballyroan did enough to see it out from there. 

‘Rejoyce Ballyroan’ was the headline on the Leinster Express the following Wednesday. 

“Scenes of unrestrained joy enveloped O’Moore Park last Sunday,” wrote reporter Brian Keyes,  “as Ballyroan captured the SFC title for the ninth time … bridging a 42-year gap since their last title win, in dramatic fashion.”

How the Leinster Express reported the game

“Ballyroan held out steadfastly in a gripping finish,” added Keyes elsewhere in the sports pages, who described how captain Tony McMahon “was escorted through the adoring fans up to the presentation platform”. 

“All they wanted to see was Tony raise that cup aloft, a feat no Ballyroan man had done in 42 years.

“When he did, tears flowed from club members who remembered all the hardships of the past.

Ballyroan captain Tony McMahon with the Jack Delaney Cup

“This was a win not only for the players and the club but for the entire community of the little village.”

For Ballyroan, that was far from the end of it. They would go on to beat Railyard of Kilkenny in the opening round of the Leinster club championship, then beat Dublin champions Kilmacud Crokes and Clan na Gael of Louth to reach the Leinster final. 

Waiting in the final was an Eire Og side managed by Laois man Bobby Miller. Eire Og would only beat Ballyroan by a point to claim their first provincial title before going on to lose the All Ireland final by a replay. 

The programme for the Leinster club football final

Ballyroan would return to reach the 1993 final against The Heath, which they lost after a replay. Their only final appearance since was when Ballyroan Gaels (Ballyroan and Abbeyleix) won the title in 2006. Their manager in 2006 was Johnny Irwin, who had been centre-back and man of the match in the 1992 final. Pat Ryan was also involved with both Ballyroan championship-winning teams. 

St Joseph’s would come back to win the Laois SFC title in 1994, 1996 and 2000 but they haven’t been in a senior final since 2002. 

How the Laois GAA yearbook in 1992 reflected on Ballyroan’s success

SCORERS – Ballyroan: Liam Irwin 0-3 (one free), Jim Whelan 0-2 (one free), Enda McDonald 0-1, Noel Delaney 0-1, John Murphy 0-1. St Joseph’s: Mark O’Brien 0-2 (one free), Sean Dempsey 0-1, Joe Murphy 0-1, Joe Lacey 0-1, Michael O’Brien 0-1

BALLYROAN: Tony McMahon; Michael Drennan, Pat Dunne, Tom McMahon; Paddy McWey, John Irwin, Murtagh McWey; PJ Delaney, John Murphy; Jim Dunne, Liam Irwin, Enda McDonald; Pat Whelan, Jim Whelan, Jim Gee. Subs: Noel Delaney for McDonald

ST JOSEPH’S: Emmet Burke; Fergal Lacey, Martin Dempsey, Willie Knowles; Aidan Lacey, Mick Dempsey, Liam Butler; Joe Lacey, PJ Dempsey; Michael O’Brien, Seamus Murphy, Joe Murphy; Martin O’Reilly, Sean Dempsey, Mark O’Brien. Subs: John Lynch for O’Reilly. 

REFEREE: Tony Maher (Portlaoise)

SEE ALSO – Check out more from our County Final Memory series here