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Curtain comes down on Exiles Cup


Curtain comes down on Exiles Cup

Garrymore GAA club ‘retired’ their famous trophy last Sunday after 50 glorious years

Willie McHugh

A CONVERSATION between Garrymore GAA Club Secretary Tom McHugh and the late Frank Heaney outside Heaney’s shop in Ballyglass following a meeting in the early 60’s started it all. Tom wrote a letter to his brother Bertie in New York looking for financial assistance for the club back home. The Garrymore diaspora in New York answered the call and soon a £100 cheque was in the post. The Exiles Cup cost £85 and the balance went towards the purchase of winners’ medals.
For fifty years The Exiles Cup was part of the Easter ritual. It heralded the arrival of summer and an end to the bitter wind, an end to the winter. To Hollymount they came in their droves on Easter Sunday to the semi-finals. The famous football amphitheatre known as ‘The Saucer’ is ever regarded as a spiritual football home. The competition was played there between the cream of Mayo and Galway clubs.
When Garrymore opened their pitch in 1984, the final was played on Easter Monday evening. The presentation function in the complex afterwards was often an ‘all night’ affair.
In the competitive pecking order The Exiles Cup was second only in status to the Mayo Senior Final. It proved a reliable form guide for the outcome of the Moclair Cup competition in Mayo or the Frank Fox Trophy in the Galway Senior Championship.  A trawl through the records bears this out. A year unfolding with an Exile Cup victory usually creased with a county title. For players selected on the Exiles Cup team it was a good indication they were in the frame for the championship selection.  
They played the last Exiles Cup Final in Garrymore last Sunday evening. A clogged fixture list deems it impossible to find a suitable date now to host this longstanding tournament. 
Ireland has changed almost beyond recognition since Castlebar Mitchels won the first final in 1963. Milltown top the roll of honour. They won it four years in-a-row between 1965 and 1968. And when Darren Mullahy accepted The Exiles Cup for the last time from Bertie McHugh on Sunday evening, following their nine points victory over the host club, they carved their own unique niche in Exiles Cup folklore. It was their twentieth win in all and also the fourth time they registered three-in-a-row of victories.  
There was a quiver of emotion in Master of Ceremonies Billy Fitzpatrick’s voice too as he recalled players that won honours at the highest level who also graced The Exiles Cup tournament with their skills.
Billy and his brother Martin were part of the legendary Garrymore team who, along with the Dolans, Nallys, Connollys, Farraghers, Monaghans, Flannerys, Melletts, Pat Dixon and other household names won a plethora of titles. Their first Exiles Cup win was over Kilmaine following a replay in 1969.
Billy rhymed off a roll call of footballing greats. Milltown and players like Noel Tierney, Seán Brennan, Miko Feerick, Joe Waldron and the Blakes of Liskeavy.  Dunmore McHales with the Donnellans, Keenans, and Seamus Leydon.  Castlebar and Ray Prendergast and Mick Ruane. Claremorris teams backboned by Des Griffith, ‘Tick’ and Noel Higgins and the late Mickey Maloney. He recalled Killererin with Padraic and Tommy Joyce, Tommie Wilson and Alan Keane who recorded their brace of wins in 1999 and 2000.
The Exiles Cup epitomised the parcel from America. It financed football in Garrymore for half a century. Sunday was a fitting end to a competition that had captured the imagination of football followers for over half a century. The club gave it a mighty send-off. They marked the occasion with a special souvenir programme. They wallpapered the clubhouse with match report cuttings and memorabilia gathered over the years. Mid West Radio did an outside broadcast from the venue.
It’s the beginning of the ending of an era. The Exiles Cup will take pride of place now in the trophy cabinet of this famous club. It deserves its final resting place in the annals of folklore.
American papers please copy.