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County Final Memory: When Arles-Killeen got the better of Arles in the 1997 intermediate football final

The Arles-Killeen team that won the 1997 Laois intermediate football final

Arles-Killeen 2-6 Arles 0-10
1997 Laois IFC Final

The split in Arles in the early 1990s is one of the biggest ever internal stories in Laois GAA and it’s one that is still relevant almost 30 years later.

It is a saga that saw one club become two and those two go on to be central players in Laois for the next 20 years or so.

It was inevitable that they’d come up against each other at various points and 1997 was the first such occasion.

The original Arles club had split in two in 1994, with the Arles side playing no competitive games at all that year.

For a while the Killeen side played under the parish name of St Michael’s but while the name of the original club was changed to Arles-Killeen, they wore the new white and black colours. Arles, however, were deemed the new club but they wore the original maroon jerseys.

Going back through the years, together they’d been a decent side in the 1970s, reaching a couple of senior semi-finals. By the early 1990s, though they were weak and had dropped to Junior ‘A’, a grade they’d won together in 1991.

In 1992, they could well have won the intermediate, only beaten by eventual champions Barrowhouse after a replay in the semi-final. Had they gone senior then it’s hard to know would they have went their separate ways at all.

In the background was the parish St Michael’s team that also incorporated Ballylinan, a setup that was gobbling up underage titles – including five U-12 titles in a row, two U-14s, two U-16s and a minor. All between 1986 and 1992. The parish was packed with quality young players.

At the time there was a push for one parish team and for Ballylinan and Arles to amalgamate fully. But instead of two clubs, in the end they ended up with three. And it was a rancorous, bitter divide.

In 1996, St Michael’s were beaten in the intermediate final by The Rock. That same year, Arles won the Junior ‘A’ final, beating Clonaslee-St Manman’s in the final. The previous year they’d beaten Mountrath in the Junior ‘B’ final.

In 1997, then, they met in the intermediate final, by which stage the new Arles-Killeen name was in use. At the time, the two clubs were even still playing and training in the same pitch, the one in Rossena where Arles-Killeen still play.

“Two clubs, sharing the same pitch and virtually the same name, clash in the IFC final next Saturday in one of the most eagerly awaited games for neutrals this season,” wrote Brian Keyes in the introductory paragraph in the Leinster Express preview

This was a big one. A county title and promotion to senior football were at stake.

The Arles team that were beaten by Arles-Killeen in the 1997 Laois intermediate football final

“The chronicle of events off the football field which has led both teams to what is an historic day are well documented with the ‘gravy’ obviously being rumour and the odd humourous tale from the rural community around Arles, Killeen and Ballickmoyler.

“GAA rulings over the past three years have declared that, basically, Arles are the new club who have kept the old name and Arles-Killeen are the old club who wanted, and obtained, a new name.

“Of course emotions have run quite high in the area, an indication of how serious football is taken in Laois and of course the impact the GAA has on any local community in the county.”

The final came about six weeks after Laois’s second All Ireland minor success in a row, a championship run that had led to a long holdup in the championship.

Arles-Killeen had defeated Courtwood in the semi-final the previous week by two points, a game that was Courtwood’s first since June. In the other semi-final Arles beat Anannough.

Given the tense buildup, Brian Keyes sounded a word of caution in his preview when he hoped that the talking points in the aftermath would just be about the football.

But the final, played in O’Moore Park on a Saturday afternoon in mid November, was described by the Nationalist newspaper in its report as “an outstanding contest, full of excellent football, played in a great spirit with an abundance of excitement and tension”.

“Most of the tension and excitement was crammed into the hectic final quarter as Arles-Killeen came back from the death to snatch victory.

“Both sides battled it out in what was without doubt one of the best games witnessed in the county this year.”

The report noted that Arles “dominated for much of the game” but “Arles-Killeen displayed a composure and self-confidence that was to see them out by the end of the hour”.

“Even when all seemed lost they never gave up the fight battling to the very end.

The Leinster Express coverage of the game

“That was evidenced by the composure shown by Alan Myron as he landed two great points from play in the dying minutes that were to give the championship to his side.”

It was all Arles in the first half and they led 0-7 to 0-2 at the break, five of their points from Chris Conway with Lar Wall and Kevin Kealy getting one apiece. Brian ‘Beano’ McDonald and John Wall got Arles-Killeen’s scores.

Arles-Killeen, who were managed by Declan O’Loughlin, had the wind in the second half and though they’d a goal disallowed early in the second half, John McDonald found the back of the net just five minutes after the restart.

A couple of frees from Beano soon had the sides level. But two more points from Conway and one from Wall had Arles three points up entering the final ten minutes.

The game’s big moment came in the 55th minute, when Beano converted a penalty after being fouled himself. The sides were level.

“With light fading fast, a replay looked on the cards with just a minute left,” went the Nationalist report

“But in the space of 30 seconds Alan Myron was to land the two points that was to ensure Arles-Killeen the title they so craved.

“The scenes that greeted the final whistle were unbelievable as the black and white bedecked hoards invaded the O’Moore Park pitch. It was time to celebrate with their heroes.”

In a sidebar panel in the Nationalist, the teams were praised for the spirit the game was played in. “There was much hype as to the mischief and malice which would be undertaken in the name of football,” said the piece.

“That said, most of this type of comment came from people outside of the two clubs. Praise must go to both sides who resisted any temptation to partake in any antagonism or conflict. Both went out to play football.”

Arles-Killeen captain Jody Walsh accepted the trophy after the game and referenced the history between them – with a nod towards reconciliation.

“Before I call for three cheers for Arles, I want to say that whatever differences there are I hope in years to come they will be settled and we can play as one.”

As of yet, that hasn’t played out. Arles would go on to lose the intermediate final again in 1998 to St Manman’s but beat Courtwood in 1999.

In time, they moved out to a temporary new pitch before settling down for good in Arles village. Along the way, they were ordered to change the name; Arles-Kilcruise was the compromise.

In 2003, they famously claimed senior glory and reached senior finals again in 2009, 2011 and 2012, when they were beaten by Portlaoise on all three occasions.

Arles-Killeen went between senior and intermediate for a couple of years, winning the intermediate title again in 2001 and 2003. They reached the senior final in 2006 when they were beaten by Ballyroan Gaels and lost back to back finals in 2013 and 2014 to Portlaoise.

They have met on numerous occasions in the senior grade since, most notably in the 2009 semi-final which Arles-Kilcruise won.

SCORERS – Arles-Killeen: Brian McDonald 1-3, John McDonald 1-0, Alan Myron 0-2, John Wall 0-1. Arles: Chris Conway 0-7, Lar Wall 0-2, Kevin Kealy 0-1

ARLES-KILLEEN: Michael Leigh; PJ Kennedy, Paul McDonald, Sean Byrne; Brian Kennedy, Padraig Dunne, John Wall; Timothy Kavanagh, Eamon Mahon; Gerry Enright, Alan Myron, Jody Walsh; John McDonald, Brian McDonald, Billy Brennan. Subs: Seamus Kavanagh for Mahon, Pat Morrissey for Brennan, Michael O’Sullivan for Walsh

ARLES: Tom Wall; Michael Mooney, Michael Wall, Jim Wall; JP Conway, James Conway, Paudge Conway; Kevin Kealy, Niall Kelly; Chris Conway, Eddie Mulhall, Eoin Mooney; John Michael McDonald, Lar Wall, Francis Tully. Sub: Thomas Dempsey for Tully

REFEREE: Tony Maher (Portlaoise)

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

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Steven Miller is owner and managing editor of LaoisToday.ie. From Laois, Steven studied Journalism in DCU and has 14 years experience in the media, almost 10 of those in an editorial role. Husband of Emily, father of William and Lillian, he's happiest when he's telling stories or kicking a point.