A nugget of Donegal GAA history landed on the sports desk this week courtesy of St Eunan’s clubman Sean Boyle in the form of a report on a game of Gaelic football played 80 years ago.
The game was between Porthall, outside Lifford, and a team called Swilly Rovers, the forerunner to Glenswilly. The 80th anniversary of the playing of the match which was a home tie for Porthall, is next Tuesday, May 7th.
Initially when Sean, a former McNamee award-winning Donegal GAA PRO and a native of Lifford, came on the report he thought it referred to Swilly Rovers from the Ramelton area.
“But on researching the matter and chatting to Neil Gallagher a couple of times, we discovered that Swilly Rovers were in fact from the Glenswilly area,” explained Sean.
Swilly Rovers were the forerunners to the current Glenswilly club which was formed in 1982, almost 50 years after the game covered in the report.
While there are no records of a team in Porthall, players from the area around that time used to play with a club called Tir Chonaill Harps, which was based in the townland of Braide and drew its players from Lifford, Rossgier, Porthall and Braide.
The report is thought to have been in the Donegal’s Peoples Press or Derry Journal. Looking through both line-ups they are made up of names that are very much associated with both areas with Crawford, Crossan, Boland and McGettigan among the names in the Porthall line out.
McDaid, Toner, Conaghan, Gallagher and Kelly are all common to the Glenswilly, Churchill and Gartan areas.
Further research through that great Glenwilly clubman Joe Kelly pointed out that Rory McDaid, of the current Glenswilly team, is the only current player with a direct link to that 1933 team. The McDaid, brothers, Joe and John, who lined out at corner back and corner forward respectively were cousins of Rory’s grandfather.
Termon’s Christy Conaghan is a descendent of James Conaghan, who was centre half back for Swilly Rovers. He was from Gartan and by all accounts, was a handy footballer.
Anthony Gallagher, the Swilly Rovers right-half-back, was the father of former Donegal and St Eunan’s defender Anthony Gallagher and his brothers Paddy and the late James Gallagher from Sallaghagraine, Letterkenny.
The game ended in a draw, Porthall 2-1 Swilly Rovers 1-4 and was described rather colourfully in the report as a ‘strong, raw, rough game’ that had some bright outbursts of science.
And as we also see from the colourful introduction, the Porthall men were by all accounts fashion icons of time and somewhat trendsetters. And whatever about their football ability they certainly seemed to be a big hit with the fairer sex!
Both sides ended with 14 players after a second half bust-up.
Porthall v Swilly Rovers, played 7th May, 1933
Home Team Institute a Gaelic Fashion
Motor-racing enthusiasts favour the crash helmet, jockeys favour the skull cap, tennis players favour a net and eye-shade but Porthall prefers the beret. Green berets, red berets, black berets and woolen berets were pressed into service on Sunday in their match against Swilly Rovers.
Whether the caps were worn in much the same spirit as our jousting knights of old wore ‘Milady’s colours’ or for the more practical use of keeping hair out of the players eyes it is difficult to say.
The enthusiasm of the fair sex on the touch-line and the remark of one girl respecting a certain player:-’He ought to be lucky to-day, he’s got my beret on’ - certainly gave a romantic flavour.
In any case Porthall have started a fashion that has its advantages and lends a little more colour to Gaelic football. Why not persevere with it?
Porthall won the toss and chose to play on the uphill gradient against a slight steady breeze. In the opening minutes, Swilly got clear with the ball and Varley opened their register with a point from far out. Porthall started a good movement on the left wing but the Swilly backs quickly blocked it. Swilly, in blue jerseys, retaliated, Loughlin putting past the post. On the kick-out, W. Doherty trapped the ball and passing to McCrossan, the latter scored a point from far out for Porthall, in green jerseys. The visitors retaliated again and the home defence had plenty to do in the next few minutes.
McDonald, the goalie, and Crawford saved some spectacular drives from Loughlin. The latter, securing possession from a save by Conroy, put the greens in the lead by another point.
On the kick-out, McGettigan secured possession and made a good run on the wing. Then passing it to E. McGettigan, the latter scored a brilliant goal. Porthall continued their pressure but Swilly, clearing from a scrum in the goal-mouth, started to run down mid-field. McDonald saved a difficult shot from McDaid, the result of this run, but Loughlin, on the re-bound, pointed over the bar. The score at half time was Swilly Rovers 3 points; Porthall 1 goal 1 point.
On resuming play, Porthall forced the pace, and McGettigan scored another goal from a melee around the goal mouth. Play settled in mid-field after this but it was by no means dull. Trouble started between two players down at centre, one belonging to each team. The other players quickly separated them and the referee dealt quickly with the trouble, ordering both off the field. Play resumed quietly, each team playing a man short. The row was quickly forgotten and both teams warmed to the game. McCrossan, on a pass from Loughlin, scored another point but Swilly missed several good opportunities after this, Crawford, for the homesters, played a nice game on the left wing, going in for a lot of ground play, which suited his position. Swilly scored a goal, per Kelly, from a pass by Loughlin, about ten minutes before the end. After this there was a general mix-up in Swilly goals, the homesters attacking strenuously and the visitors playing a defensive game. Both teams did their utmost to secure the lead.
On the whole, the game was good and excitement intense. One spectator characterised it as a ‘strong, raw, rough game’. That is true, but it had some bright outbursts of science. The teams were about evenly balanced and neither may be said to have had the advantage at any period.
The final score was - Porthall, 2 goals 1 point; Swilly Rovers 1 goal, 4 points.
The players were - Porthall: W. Doherty, Ned Crawford, R. McDonald, B. Kelly, P. Crawford, Ned Crossan, John Crawford, W. McLaughlin, Joe Boland, J. McGettigan, Ed. McLaughlin, John Crossan, John Conroy.
Swilly Rovers: Michael Cullen, Joe McDaid, Michael Peoples, John Toner, Anthony Gallagher, James Conaghan, Anthony Varley, James Crossan, Patrick Loughlin, Charles Ward, Con Ward, Con Kelly, John McDaid.
Mr. Joe McGettigan, Rossgier, proved an efficient referee.