De La Salle College Ballyshannon who won the All Ireland GAA Colleges B title in 1980 with a school roll of just 155 students
Winning an All-Ireland football final is still a rare and precious gem in Donegal, but back in 1980 it was almost unheard of.
This week, the 40th anniversary of a small south Donegal secondary school of 155 students winning the ultimate GAA accolade is being recalled.
The cherished memories of the mighty De La Salle College Ballyshannon, who famously defeated St Mary’s CBS of Portlaoise in the All-Ireland senior colleges B final of 1980 in Croke Park is a great story.
But for the current Covid-19 restrictions, no doubt the Erne Town would have raised a communal glass in memory of a special ‘band of brothers’.
De La Salle had consistently excelled on the sporting field as it almost exclusively concentrated on Gaelic football and produced many of the finest county footballers in the sixties and early seventies.
By 1980 with teachers and talented coaches including Principal Michael McGowan, John Travers, Gerry Breslin and particularly the late Tom Cullen, a deep passion about the game permeated into nearly every young student’s thoughts.
That year of 1980 was also exceptional. For ‘Wee Tom’ as he was affectionately known by students, not alone managed to win the Ulster Colleges McLarnon Cup, that very same day the younger team, which he also managed, won the Ulster Loch an Iuir Cup Final.
A tilt at the All Ireland series was complicated by the fact that the age limit was actually younger than the Ulster competition and lads including the late Pauric Gallagher, Gerry Curran and Dara Daly had to be dropped for the semi final against a Paul Early marshalled Ballyhaunis at a wet and windy Markievicz Park in Sligo.
But the youngsters who came in to replace them including Conor Boyle, Thomas ‘Busby’ Gallagher and Eunan ‘Natch’ Gallagher were equally up to the challenge and the Donegal side prevailed.
CELEBRATIONS IN CROKE PARK AFTER THE FAMOUS 1980 DE LA SALLE VICTORY
In the All-Ireland Final played on Sunday, April 20 1980, the Ulster representatives were quietly confident against the Leinster champions, who were hotly tipped to take the title in the Croke Park decider.
Ironically the venue was switched from Cavan to the citadel of Croker, rather than the other way around. It was an added blessing, as the wider space available played into the hands of the victors.
Indeed, the Ballyshannon school had a simple mission statement - Victory.
Goals from Brian ‘Bringus’ Murray and sub PJ Ward ultimately led to the All-Ireland success that April day on a score of 2-10 to 1-06.
But the 'Democrat' report of the time clearly indicated that victory lay in the collective team performance rather than the individual brilliance of any particular player.
"With a brilliant display of confident, committed, cohesive football which their opponents were never quite able to match or come to terms with, De La Salle Ballyshannon wrote themselves into the GAA history books as All Ireland Colleges 'B' champions 1980, with a seven point victory over Leinster champions Mary's CBS, Portlaoise in Croke Park, on Sunday."
And the manner of the achievement of victory was such that at the end no one could dispute their right to the title; they were more than worthy champions," the report said. The DLS team and subs included: Thomas Cleary; Pauric McLoone, PaschalMcTernan, Conor Boyle; Thomas Gallagher, Tommy McDermott, Paul Tuohy;Brian Tuohy (Capt.), Matt Gallagher; Martin Williamson, Michael McHugh, Tom McMahon; John Lee, Brian Murray, Pauric Bromley. Subs: PJWard for John Lee; Eunan Gallagher, Eunan Doyle, Conor Maguire, TommyMcLoughlin, Declan Gallagher.
THE DONEGAL DEMOCRAT REPORT FROM 40 YEARS AGO
It is also to be acknowledged that the previous year, a talented team from St Eunan’s College in Letterkenny broke the mould in also taking the All Ireland senior B crown for the first time. Little surprise then when members of both school teams became part of Tom Conaghan’s Donegal team which clinched the All Ireland under 21 football title for the very first time in 1982.
Especially remembered by former DLS pupils and teachers are those who have gone to their eternal reward including Tom Cullen, Pauric Gallagher and Martin Williamson.
At Tom’s funeral in Belleek in 2014, the first reading was from the Book of wisdom. For many his own book of wisdom guided many of the players to achieve great things later, both in life and on the football fields.
Indeed, a number of that winning All Ireland team and younger Loch an Iuir success went on to distinguish themselves in the green and gold of Donegal and Ulster.
These included Gary Walsh, Matt Gallagher and Brian Murray, who all played vital roles in Donegal’s first ever All Ireland senior football final victory against Dublin in 1992.
On such pavements of sporting history are future successes both inspired and measured.
And of course, there will be other times to suitably celebrate this special sporting band of brothers!
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