The 1998’s Lions footballers headed off to Tralee on 10th September to compete in the 26th year of the Austin Stacks Juvenile tournament. There were a total of 16 teams from across the country and an early start for the lads who gathered at Heuston Station at 6.30am. Having played musical chairs with our fellow travellers Clontarf and Ballyboden, the excitement mounted further when Na Piarsaigh from Cork joined the crew at Mallow.
A fleet of cars ferried us all up to Connolly Park and first up was a fixture against the Galway Champions Salthill Knocknacarra. They were a big physical team but Cuala put a year of frustration behind them and opened up with some lovely football to take advantage of the wind and build a 1-03 lead, Fergus O’Rourke, Jack Hartnett and Emmet Murphy were all on the score sheet before a surging run from wing back Greg Sheehan landed dangerously in the box and spun off a Salthill hand into their own net for a crucial score. The tribesmen came back though as the break approached, putting 1-01 on the board before a another score from Emmet made it a three point game.
When the wave of Salthill pressure came after the break, the full back line of Joe Mahony, James Murphy and Oisin Marry were masterful, restricting them to only one more score. When Fergus found the net with a left foot pile driver it was all over. First win then for the Cuala boys, led proudly by Rory McMahon, captaining the side on the pitch where his father had once, a long time ago, lined out for the Stacks.
A short break and refuelling courtesy of a superbly run home team effort before The Legion from Killarney were next up. They had lost their first game in the group to Tralee side Kerrins O’Rahilly’s but were out to make amends. Cuala were on a roll though and with Daniel Johnson and Ruari Frankling dominating the middle, they were able to swing the ball around for Mark Tracey to notch a goal and a point and Fergus to add to his tally. Diarmait Maas was playing his best football of the year at wing back and Cathal Gillen and Thomas McCarthy’s tackling back meant the Legion were finding it hard to close the gap. Two well taken frees from Jack on the right and one from Fergus on the left saw the lads through 1-07 to 1-04 . It could have been closer but for some magnificent diving saves from Tiernan Lane whose Dublin cap must have been dazzling the Kerry forwards.
Kerrins O’Rahilly’s were the last opponents in the group stage but the early morning was taking its toll and despite heroic performances from Rory, Conor Newman and Tiernan Dunne in particular, the eventual tournament winners were just too strong.
Cuala then were into the Shield semi final against Sean Óg O’Halpíns club Na Piarsaigh of Cork. The game threw in at 7pm, fully 14 hours after most of the lads alarm clocks had gone off but they brushed that aside and held the Cork men to a single point advantage at the half. With the wind at their backs and high hopes, a levelling point with ten minutes to go could have been enough but an injury to Mark that necessitated a stretcher was too much to overcome in the gathering gloom and Na Piarsaigh just edged it.
After a quick trip to Tralee General Hospital Mark was deemed fit enough to return to the gang who by now were painting the town red and white after pizza and chips. They met the na Piarsaigh lads on the way back to the hostel and friendships were cemented around the statur of singer songwriter Christy Hennessy. Nemo Rangers were staying in the same place but some sleep was eventually had and on Sunday morning it was agreed that we would have one last outing taking on Austin Stacks in a Challenge. A quick stroll around the town had (most) of the lads chuckling at the Kerry dressed windows ahead of the All Ireland but when we saw collectors outside St John’s church for the Kerry football training fund, those who were wearing their Dublin blue could not resist trying to tape over the buckets.
There were tired legs and bodies as the game threw in against Stacks but new positions for everyone sparked a fantastic show and a 4-07 to 3-06 win to crown the trip.
The flotilla of Stacks mentors were on hand to bring us all back to the station and the end of a wonderful weekend that will live long in the memory.
Well done to all the lads, and the parents who travelled down, and a special word for Seanie who organised our participation in the event as well as all the trimmings around it.