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Leinster Leader 31 May 2007
Another summer of action on the GAA grounds of the island stretches ahead with speculation surrounding the hot favourites for the Senior Football and Hurling titles. County colours are being taken from attics and presses as fans across the country mobilise for the early rounds of the championships.
And that was very much the sentiment in County Kildare fifty years ago when the county team took on neighbours Offaly in the first round of the championship. The mid-fifties were a halcyon period for Kildare sports followers when the Lily white strip was a byword for flair and style on the playing fields of the land. Indeed Kildare went in to the 1957 championship as Leinster title-holders and were pitted against Offaly in the first round fixture at Portlaoise.
For all their favourite status the Lilywhite followers got a shock when Offaly scored in the opening minutes. To take up the report from the Leinster Leader of 25 May 1957 ‘Our followers received a severe cold douche when Offaly scored a goal in the first few minutes’. However the Kildare side regrouped and the Leader correspondent highlighted the contribution made by the some of the Lilywhite squad: ‘Wright, slightly over 19 years of age, has secured a place in the hearts of our followers … Aldridge was the surprise packet of the match … Harrison was a brilliant and accurate worker and we owe a lot to him for raising the flag so often.’
The Leader GAA correspondent of 1957 clearly did not believe in handing out bouquets just for the sake of it and had mastered the art of the qualified compliment, as his assessment of some other Kildare players shows: ‘ P Loughlin though still slow, showed good opportunism …left-corner man Hogan did not come up to expectations but it was his first real test … Larry McCormack was unfortunate to receive a hard knock at the beginning of the game, yet under the disability he worried his man and added his quota to our success.’
The game comes across as an exciting one which exemplified the old footballing virtues of the high-catch and kick, as the following passage recounts: ‘ Offaly were still dangerous and kept up the pressure but Kildare getting free put Aldridge in possession. In a neat bit of play Wright jumped high for the ball and in a split second sent to the net to give us a comfortable lead.’
Kildare held on to the lead and accelerated away from the Faithful county to win comfortably with a scoreline of 2-10 to 1-3. Much of the credit went to Kildare’s accuracy from the placed ball according to the report: ‘the Offaly men’s finishing efforts were extremely poor whilst Kildare’s forwards, especially Seamus Harrison, rarely missed an opportunity of scoring from all angles. Harrison was deadly accurate on frees.’
Not all of the praise for the Lilywhite’s promising opening win was expended on the players. Then, as now, the behind-the-scenes team had a role to play. According to the Leader  analysis ‘ A word of praise is due to the trainer Mr. J. Fitzgerald of Saggart who has inculcated in the players the enthusiasm that previous teams lacked and their fitness and determination was apparent from the start.’.
Thus Kildare GAA officials of May 1957 had something to cheer about from the opening championship round. But the joy of the county board administrators was tempered by some unwelcome venue intrusions as a black-box notice, curiously printed in the middle of the match report, announced: ‘Owing to the destruction of property at St. Conleth’s Park (Football Grounds), Droichead Nua, all persons – old or young – found trespassing on the Park will be prosecuted.’
Soon that rather stern note the sporting readers of the Leader of 1957 settled down to follow the fortunes of the Lilywhites through another championship season.
* Many thanks to the Local History Dept., Kildare County Library for help with this material. Series No. 17

Liam Kenny comments on the opening round of the Championship of 1957 in his regular column, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' in the Leinster Leader of 31 May 2007. Our thanks to Liam.

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