Mayo League History
The group of men who came together in the autumn of 1953 to form the Mayo Association Football League were responding to the need to provide organised football within the county.
But the league was not taken seriously in the early days and did not establish a firm footing of respectability and authority for many years.
Joe McCormack, the founder chairman, said the Mayo League was always destined to experience troubles in its formative years.
He explained: "Economically and socially, the fifties was a grim period in the country. It was extremely hard for clubs to function like they do today.
Clubs did not have enough money to operate properly. If they could not pay for transport to a match on a particular Sunday, they might be given a few day's credit.
But if they did not come up with the money before the next away game, then the bus operator would not entertain them.
"Money was also scarce for the purchase of jerseys, shorts, boots and so on. Even calling a meeting was not as easy as it sounded. So it was hardly surprising that one crisis followed another.
The most frustrating problem, he remembered, was the anti-Mayo League feeling which emanated from the clubs, even through the clubs themselves had been instrumental in setting up the league. If a decision by the league did not suit a particular club, then they rejected the league," he explained.
The founding fathers of the Mayo League met in a room owned by Castlebar businessman Michael Heverin at Shamble Lane in the town.
Michael Heverin, who was chairman of the local Urban Council at the time, was a strong supporter of the game.
He had a long and active association with Castlebar Celtic and held the position of president of the Connaught Football Association during the fifties. There was an ulterior motive behind the initial move to set up the league.
The county was being denied representation on the F.A.I.'s Senior and Junior Councils because there was no organised league in Mayo, and officials involved in the game believed the situation was no longer acceptable.
Galway and Sligo had representation at F.A.I. level since the thirties, and the feeling abounded that the game in Mayo could only benefit from similar status.
Senior Castlebar Celtic officials Robert Kilkelly, a travel agent and merchant by profession, and Joe McCormack, a respected building contractor, decided it was time for change. They were not alone in their views. Hughie McGartland, who came to Castlebar from Omagh, Co. Tyrone, in 1926, had long been campaigning to have the game properly structured in the county.
Hughie came to town to work in Hack Walsh's Barber Shop in Castle Street, where Ivy House now stands. He subsequently opened up his own gents hairdressing business in a different premises halfway down the street. At the annual general meeting of Castlebar Celtic on March 8, 1953, he renewed his call for moves to be taken to set up a properly run league in the county for the first time.
Speaking at the Castlebar Celtic clubrooms in Market Square, he said: In Mayo we are handicapped by the lack of local competition like Galway and Sligo clubs have. But now that teams from Achill and Swinford have affiliated, the time has arrived for the formation of a Mayo League as competition is the lifeblood of any sport
The inaugural meeting of the Mayo League was attended by Joe McCormack, Robert Kilkelly, Hughie McGartland, Chas. Guthrie, Tommy Ketterick, Andy Leonard, Paddy Gilligan, all of whom were members of Castlebar Celtic; John McGreal, John Staunton, and Brod Malone of Westport United; and Benny McAleer and John Foy of Quay Hearts. Joe McCormack accepted the position of chairman and Robert Kilkelly was appointed secretary.
It took the league three years to win representation on the F.A.I. Senior Council, and it was Joe McCormack who achieved the distinction of being the first Mayo official to serve on the authority. He served as a member of the F.A.I. Senior Council for nine years, from 1957 to 1966.
The initiative of the founder members in establishing a ruling soccer body in Mayo for the first time was singularly responsibly for the huge growth in the game that materialised in the seventies, eighties and nineties.
Six clubs were operating in Mayo in 1953. They were Westport Town, Castlebar Celtic, Westport United, Quay Hearts, Dooniver Swifts of Achill, and Swinford. Westport Town was the oldest club in the county, having been formed in 1910. It is accepted, however, that the first soccer club in Westport had been set up some time earlier, in 1889.
Castlebar Celtic came into operation in 1928, but a soccer team had been existence in the town for a number of years before that.
Swinford got their first taste of football in the Castlebar Junior Leagues in the early fifties, while Quay Hearts emerged during the thirties as a local league side in Westport.
Dooniver Swifts had been set up during the forties, and Westport United was established in 1952.
By the time the Mayo League first kicked off on Sunday, April 11, 1954, Barcastle, representing Castlebar Bacon Factory, had also been formed.
Only four of the seven existing clubs participated in the league in its first season.
They were Castlebar Celtic, Westport Town, Barcastle, and Quay Hearts.
Westport Town pulled out after failing to fulfil their first fixture against Barcastle at Maryland, Castlebar.
A strange occurrence, one might suspect, but some of the best soccer players the town ever produced also played rugby, including Stephen Walsh, still going strong, Clem Collins, who lives in New York and is a leading figure in the Long Island Junior Soccer League, and the great Tony O’Grady, who sadly passed away some years ago.
The first Mayo League match between Castlebar Celtic and Quay Hearts at the newly opened Sports Park resulted in a 3-1 victory for Celtic.
Celtic’s Josie Feeney, a member of one of the best known sporting families to come from MacHale Road, Castlebar, returning after a spell out of the game through injury, enjoyed the distinction of scoring the first ever league goal.
He converted a penalty, which was awarded by Westport referee Ned Blake for a handball infringement.
Danno Rainsford, another of the MacHale Road brigade, scored twice to put Celtic 3-0 up before Liam Quinn, considered one of the finest players of his time, struck the only goal for Quay Hearts.
The other league match scheduled for that day, involving the newly formed Barcastle United and Westport Town, was not played because Westport Town failed to make an appearance at Maryland, Castlebar.
In their second game in the series, Celtic overcame Westport by 2-0 at the Sports Park in a mid-week match.
Johnny Mee, and Patsy Haugh, were Celtic’s marksmen. Patsy played at outside right. He was a brother of Tommy Haugh, Moneen, Castlebar, Mrs. Mary Geraghty, St. Patrick’s Avenue, and Mrs. Nora O’Brien, Islandeady.
Quay Hearts revived their title hopes by defeating Barcastle 2-1, thanks to goals by Michael Halpin, a member of the distinguished sporting family from the Quay, and Johnny Gibbons of Kilmeena.
Great interest was focused on the first ever-competitive clash between Celtic and Barcastle, which took place in a Mayo League game on June 8th, 1954, at Maryland.
Sam Ryan, who had only transferred from Barcastle to Celtic a number of weeks, previously, scored a hat trick against the Bacon Factory side. Ryan was a native of Station Road subsequently worked as a teacher in England.
The scorers for Barcastle were Sean Flynn, late of St. Bridget’s Crescent, Tommy O’Boyle, Kilkenny, Castlebar, and Tommy Byrne, MacHale Road, who became one of the best goalkeepers ever to don the Mayo senior G.A.A. team jersey.
When Celtic overpowered Quay Hearts by 2-0 in the next round, they virtually assured themselves of the title.
Goals by Joe Feeney and Sam Ryan gave them seven points from four games. It would have taken a miracle to stop them.
Players to contribute to Celtic’s success that season were goalkeeper Andy Redmond, the grounds man at Celtic Park up to recent times, Patsy ‘Bisto’ Feeney, who served as chairman of the Mayo League for a period after retiring from playing, Donald Conway (U.S.A.), Herbie Glynn (Naas), Tommy Fallon, who died in America some years ago, and Jimmy Ryan, a brother of the aforementioned, Sam.
Coverage of the league was scant enough in those days, although a series of reports did appear in the Connaught Telegraph in 1954.
However, no reference could be found to show that Castlebar Celtic had won the Mayo League that season.
In any event, the results of Celtic’s first Mayo League matches spoke for themselves. After defeating Quay Hearts by 3-1, they went on to beat Westport R.F.C. by 2-0; they drew 3-3 with Barcastle, and overcame Quay Hearts again by 2-0.
If the league was operated on a home and away basis, as it seemed to be, then Celtic would have had two more games to play, home to Westport R.F.C. and Barcastle.
Celtic would have had to lose both their remaining games not to have won the title.
But the more I searched for conclusive evidence of their success, the more I began to appreciate Joe McCormack’s view that the Mayo League was a bit of a hit and miss affair in those early days!
Accepting its shortcomings, the league served a dual purpose during its formative years.
Firstly, it helped to add fresh interest to the season for clubs knocked out of the Connaught Cup and F.A.I. Junior Cup competitions at an early stage.
Secondly, clubs going well in either the F.A.I. of Connaught F.A. competition could prepare for their next assignment with regular, competitive games.
Quay Hearts took the Mayo League title in its second season. Again, because of the lack of newspaper coverage of league matches in 1955, I am basing that information solely on a small news item, which I came across in the Westport Topics of the Connaught Telegraph in October 15, 1955.
It read: "At a function in the Pavilion Ballroom on Thursday, Quay Hearts (Mayo League Winners) were presented with the Gill Cup and a set of medals. H. McGartland, Hon. Sec., Mayo League, made the presentation."
There was no other reference to be found in either the Connaught Telegraph or the Mayo News editions of 1955 relating to Quay Hearts’ triumph.
There was no doubt difficulties were being experienced and that the Mayo League was not being taking seriously enough by the clubs or, indeed, the soccer public.
It took a long time before the cynicism was replaced by optimism and hope. (All the above information was extracted from Tom Kelly’s Book on Mayo Football.)
Although the Mayo League was officially formed in 1954, it was not until the 1970’s that proper structures were put in place. The early days of the League did not have rules, proper fixtures programmes, or structures to oversee the smooth running of affairs. It must however be noted that the individuals that kept the games going with varying numbers of clubs competing each season, did “Trojan” work in organizing games in difficult times with little or no resources. Henry Downes, was Chairman during the period 1959 to 1989 and massive change took place during his term of office.
The appointment of Des Sweeney (Knockmore) as Secretary of the Mayo League on 16th May 1974 proved a masterstroke. He was to exercise a hugely influential role over the coming years in properly organizing the administrative side of the game in putting on a proper footing for the first time. The Committee running the game in the county included – Kevin O’Malley (President), Henry Downes (Chairman), Des Sweeney (Secretary / Treasurer), Matt Russel, Paddy Flynn, Pat Quigley, Sean McLoughlin, Don McBride, Hughie McGartland, Martin Keane.
In 1974 the League consisted of 20 teams, and a structure was also put in place whereby the Referees Society received training and undertook an FAI course to obtain their professional badge. The League also endeavored to raise the standard of pitches, but with a lack of resources at club level this was not a realistic proposition during these years. At the start of the 1978/9 season there was a total of 30 clubs (32 teams) represented in the League – the rural revolution had begun. (The above section was also taken from Tom Kelly’s book - "Boots, Rules, and Fantasy Free”)
Milebush Park 1986 / 87
The eighties saw a period of consolidation, but pitches and lack of proper facilities were still a major problem both for the Mayo League and its clubs. The members of the Management Committee saw this as a challenge, and when Michael Feeney stepped down as Secretary of the League in the mid eighties, he put the development of the Leagues own ground as his priority.
Summer Football 1994
As grounds and facilities were still a problem in the nineties a decision was made in 1994 to move to Summer Football. The then Chairman of the Mayo League Donal Benson, and Secretary John Durkan, saw this as an opportunity to have a full season with all games played on the dates set down with no postponements due to wet weather.
Super League 1999
As part of the development of the game the concept of the Super League for the top teams became a reality in 1999. Certain standards were put in place for entry into this division – Manager to have a Level 1 coaching Badge, Dressing rooms with full facilities, playing surface, club structure etc. This major change to the playing season came about during the term of Chairman Tom Kelly.
Coaching Courses / Milebush Facilities / eircom Under 21 League 2001 - 2004
As part of the progression of the game, greater emphasis was put on developing coaches in the county. All clubs within the League were required to have at least one member of the club qualified to coach. A total of 300 club coaches qualified during the period 2001 /3, under the direction of Regional Development Officer, Niall Harrison. A new thinking and standard came about within the clubs as a result of the appointment of Niall with the underage structure within clubs for boys and girls developing at a rapid rate and several Underage International players coming from Mayo at all the various age groups. This progression of the game extended to the Mayo League entering a team into the eircom Under 21 League, and the eircom League Cup, where the players from the county got an opportunity to display their talents at a much higher level. The developments at Milebush Park (erection of new Henry Downes Spectator Stand and full sized, 112yds x 72 yds, OmniGrass all weather artificial pitch with modern floodlighting at a cost of €1,000,000) facilitated this progression of the game - The Mayo League also celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2004 and sponsorship now also formed a great part of the League’s income with the Welcome Inn, Staunton’s Intersport, T.S.B. Bank, A.I.B., Chadwicks , Flannellys, and Westaro contributing in a positive fashion to the overall development of the game in the county.
Regional Centre / Emerging Talent / FAS player development programme / Local Football Partnership / County Development Officer, National Titles 2004 / 10.
As part of the F.A.I’s Technical Plan, a number of programmes were put in place to develop the game at county and regional level Emerging Talent Programme, F.A.I. / F.A.S Training Scheme etc. The appointment in recent times of Paul Byrne as County Development Officer in co-operation with Mayo Co Co is a most positive and progressive step forward in the development of the game. The F.A.I.’s decision to recognize the facilities at Milebush and the progressive nature of the League was a clear factor in nominating Milebush as a Regional Centre and the League being nominated to form one of the first Football partnerships in the country on a pilot basis. Mayo clubs had their first National success in 2004 when Erris Utd won the F.A.I. Youths Cup, and Westport Utd won the F.A.I. Junior Cup in 2005. Mayo women’s football also came to the fore during this 2006/7 period with National titles for the Mayo Women’s League, Ballina Town ladies and Kiltimagh Knock Utd ladies winning at Senior, Intermediate and Junior levels. Castlebar Celtic also won the F.A.I. Youths Cup title with an impressive win over Everton from Cork in Milebush Park in 2007.
Manulla F.C were selected as the Club of the year in 2007 and the F.A.I's Festival of Football and A.G.M. was held in Mayo in 2008. Further developments at Milebush Park also took place in Milebush during 2007/2008 at a cost of €500,000.
Masters (Over 35) league / On-line Registration 2010-Social Media
The Mayo League were the first league in the country to use the on-line Registration system in conjunction with the F.A.I. for the 2010 Season. The Mayo League also introduced the Masters (Over 35) Flodlit League on the Milebush OmniGrass in the 2009 / 2010 Winter period which had 14 teams competing in a very competitive league. Padraig McHale instigated this competition and took over the Chairmanship of the League from Pat Quigley in March 2010. In 2011 the League offically became the ''Mayo Football League'' and a new league crest was introduced. The League established a social media presence with facebook ,twiter, and instagram all being set up.
in 2014 the League became the first League in the country to devolop its own app for mobile phone and tablet devices.
Past Chairmen and Secretaries of the Mayo Association Football League (Mayo League)
1954 – 1955 Joe McCormack
1955 – 1956 Paddy Burns
1956 – 1959 Patsy Feeney
1959 – 1989 Henry Downes
1989 – 1990 Michael Keaveney
1990 – 1993 Pat Quigley
1993 – 1997 Donal Benson
1998 – 2001 Tom Kelly
2001 – 2004 Joe Butler
2004 – 2010 Pat Quigley
2010 Padraig McHale
1954 – 1955 Robert Kilkelly
1955 – 1963 Tommy Gavin
1963 – 1966 Tommy Basquill
1966 – 1968 Pat Flanagan
1968 – 1972 Paddy Moylett
1972 – 1974 Paddy Flynn
1974 – 1981 Des Sweeney
1981 – 1985 Michael Feeney
1985 – 1993 Brian Johnson
1993 - John Durkan
Original Mayo League history produced by Tom Kelly of the Connaught Telegraph for his history of Mayo Football in his book "Boots, Rules & Fantasy Free".