Naas captain, Paul O'Sullivan holds the Tony Carew aloft
It's not today or yesterday I can recall cycling from Our Lady's Place in Naas, down to Fr Brennan Park on the Dublin Road.
The boots (Blackthorn) firmly tied to the handlebars, stuffed with socks and togs, as there were no jumbo sized kit bags back then, unlike today.
We played on what was known than as the 'back pitch' with the old wooden structure as a dressing room and when training/match was over we cycled back, no delays, no warm down, no shower.
Back in those days Naas' played in the junior championship while the second squad played Junior B.
It was puzzling really that a town the size of Naas was not senior and had not been for many, many years, but back in the '20s and early 30s when they were senior they were (I am told) one of the finest around; that of course being a time when Kildare were also up there with the best of them, winning All Irelands with Naas players such as Jack Higgins, Gus Fitzpatrick and Joe Curtis, to name just a few, were know throughout the length and breadth of the land and to this day are remembered in Kerry as icons of the game.
A couple of days ago I visited Naas GAA Head- quarters, now situated on the Sallins Road, having moved from Fr Brennan Park in 2005.
The club, founded on October 16, 1887 was originally situated at Spooer's Field (opposite Naas Race course) as depicted in Liam McManus' history of the club entitled 'To Spooner's Lane And Beyond, Naas GAA 1887-1987' and I understood that Liam is presently working on an updated version, which is certainly something to look forward to.
The reason for my visit was to meet with a few officials of the club for a bit of an informal chat after what can only be described as an incredible season of success on all fronts, football, hurling, camogie, ladies, underage and adult level while their Gaelic4Mothers and Others is a weekly social occasion not to be missed.
One thing that always amazes me is that whenever we visit the Naas Club there inevitably seems to be some-
thing stirring; lots of bodies, car parks full; regardless of the time of year.
On our visit last week for instance there were a dozen or so ladies in the Main Hall preparing for the arrival of the Big Fella with the white Beard in a few days time when some 250 youngsters were due to attend their social occasion of the year with a Christmas Party and all that goes with that.
Chatting with Chairman, John McMahon; Hon Secretary Richie Hogan; PRO Sinead Keogh and Treasurer Clive Lacey, the first thing that struck was the immense pride they have in their club.
Proud of what has been built-up, proud of what was there before them and especially proud of the success they have endured down the years, but especially in 2019.
So where did all the success come from I asked?
It certainly did not come over night was the quick reply from Chairman McMahon, and that goes for all levels and grades.
Richie Hogan said that he felt from a hurling point of view the work undertaken many years ago by Denis Hanley and John Holmes was immense and was the real foundation stone that saw the hurling star of Naas rise and rise to where it is today, county senior hurling champions.
Naas won their first senior hurling championship back in 1951 and made it back-to-back titles the following year, captained by one of Naas' best know warriors, the late 'Noise' Sheridan, who incidentally is grandfather of star player of both Naas and Kildare today, Jack Sheridan.
It took all of 42 years before the senior trophy returned to the county town and then between 1997 and 2001 they captured three tiles in a golden era.
The hurlers of Naas have again been knocking on the door for the past number of years; have been installed as the team to beat but it was not until this year 2019, they finally got over the line to capture their seventh senior title.
But to realise the absolute strength, the absolute dominance of Naas in hurling within the county of Kildare at the moment, one has to look at the various championships they have brought home to their headquarters this season.
Naas made it to the final of the senior hurling league earlier this year, only to lose out to one of their big rivals, Coill Dubh, and to see the boys in red celebrate that win in Newbridge gives testament not only to the fact they won the League but, possibly the fact that they defeated the hot favourites Naas in the final.
Incredible as that may seem that senior league is the only trophy Naas adult hurlers did not win in 2019 as they went on to capture the senior, intermediate, junior, Under 21 and the minor titles, surely a first for any club, possibly anywhere.
And when it came to the GAA annual awards ceremony, just a few weeks ago, that dominance on the field of play was carried forward as they also picked up four hurling awards.
Brian Byrne was chosen as the county hurler of the year; Rian Boran received senior club hurler of the year while Ian Blackburne and Emmet Carroll picked up the intermediate and junior club hurler of the year awards.
Something that happened some years ago, from a football point of view, was pointed out by Richie Hogan , Club Secretary, during our chat.
Getting coaches into the schools has been a huge boost to the club, he told us.
“That has helped us enormously as our success at underage level testifies to.”
Naas CBS of course are flying at the moment and while all their players are not members of Naas, the vast majority are and their success in winning the Leinster Schools 'A' title and the Bro Bosco Cup last year was a huge boost to one and all, and while they went on to reach the schools All Ireland final only to meet one school too strong for them, it would seem they are at least as strong, if not stronger, this time around, so it will be interesting to see how they fair out under the manage-
ment of Naas senior player and teacher Ronan Joyce, and his fellow management team.
As we said it was no surprise when the Naas hurlers finally made it over the line in 2019, the success of their footballers may not have been anticipated to the same degree.
Yet the seeds have been sown over the past few seasons when this year they contested their third county minor final in four years, having made the breakthrough in 2016, Niall Cronin managing them to their first success since 1983, that team captained by Terry McDonald who was to go on and lead Naas to their first senior title in all of 68 years.
Niall Cronin, whose family have been synonymous with Naas GAA for as far back as one can remember, then stepped up and took charge of the senior squad in 2019.
Cronin knows his football as his success at minor and U21 testifies to that , yet it was still a brave move by his club to elevate him to the top football job at senior level.
The club enjoyed an excellent run in the senior league in 2019, not only making it to the final of the Leinster Leader Cup but bringing home the oldest trophy in the history of Kildare football to the county town, defeating Carbury in the 100th final of the prestigious competition.
That was a huge break through for Naas and while their senior football championship campaign turned out to be something of a horror show, failing to get out of their group before retaining their senior status in a relegation semi final play-off; nevertheless that league success can only benefit them long-term.
But that was not the end of Naas' football season by any stretch of the imagin-
ation; remember they went on to capture the U17 and minor titlse and then added the icing to the cake winning the U21 title, with Niall Cronin, again calling the the shots; not forgetting their success in the Féile.
So things are certainly looking rosy for the boys from the Sallins Road.
In all the club has a membership of some 2,500 members with a playing membership, from all sections,of 1,500 players.
But there in lies a problem as the club has a mere two full size playing pitches plus an underage pitch.
The club has secured land adjacent to the underage pitch and work on that is about to get underway, that will give them another full size playing area along with a training area but really for a club that boasts no less than 90 teams the pressure on pitches, according to club officials is immense.
“That is why our Grounds Committee is such a vital part of the club for us and while we do have the use of other areas around the town it is a problem and with Naas set to grow and grow there is no doubt that more ground has to be top of the agenda” said chairman John McMahon.
Naas are very proud of the fact that in recent times they have produced players not only capable of lining out with the county side but in fact leaders and captains.
Eamonn Callaghan who has given the county incredible service having played for 17 years before hanging up his (county) boots just last year, while Eoin Doyle has been captain of the footballers for the past few years; Brian Byrne led the county hurlers to Christy Ring honours and will lead the hurlers, under manager David Herity, again in 2020.
Despite all the success in 2019, and while being the only GAA Club in the town, they are nevertheless under pressure from rival sporting bodies in the town. Naas RFC is an absolute thriving club with a top class under age section for both boys and girls; soccer is very strong as is hockey, while Naas Tennis Club is not alone one of the top clubs in the province but in fact in the entire country, so the pressure is there all the time to get young players in.
Earlier this year Naas launched a five year €500,000 development plan that will see major improvement in playing areas, car parking, upgrading of floodlights, clubhouse renovation and much more.
Naas GAA is one very busy place to visit; always something stirring whether on or off the playing fields; they have enjoyed great success in 2019 and one feels there is more to come.
It is 1990 since Naas last won the SFC and before that 1932, but surely on the evidence of what we have seen in the last few seasons, and particularly in 2019, that statistic will soon change.
And you know it could be sooner rather than later!