Paddy Bracken was one of those Portlaoise footballers who blazed the trail for the club in the 1950s when championship wins were scarce and in the 1960s when winning became more fashionable.
Having won an intermediate title in 1956, along with his brother, Tom, he had to wait until 1964 to celebrate a senior success. He was in goal when the club won the final in a replay against neighbours, The Heath, in 1958, but that title was lost on an objection.
The significance of the win in 1964 lies in the statistic that the club had not won the football title for 57 years but that turned the tide in a huge way because Portlaoise have been champions of Laois 32 times since 1964 (57 years). Paddy, who won under age medals in both codes, went on to win four more senior medals before retiring after the 1970 final. He was replaced by another famous goalie for Portlaoise, Laois and Leinster, Mick Mulhall.
The Portlaoise man starred for his county for over ten years and played in three losing Leinster finals. He was honoured by Leinster on a number of occasions and won a Railway Cup medal in 1961, a prize he coveted to the end. He was selected for the Laois Millenium team in the year 2000. Paddy came from great GAA stock and his father, Joe, was an eminent club chairman from 1959 to 1967. His brother, Tom, was an outstanding hurler for club and county and was a tireless worker and lifelong supporter of Portlaoise.
The Millennium Men
Paddy Bracken (Portlaoise), Dan Walsh (Army), Dick Miller (Annanough), John Conway (Arles), Colm Browne (Portlaoise), Paddy Dunne (Park), Mick Haughney (Graiguecullen), Tommy Murphy (Graiguecullen), Bill Delaney (Stradbally), Jack Kenna (O’Dempseys), Jack Delaney (Stradbally), Fintan Walsh (Ballylinan), Danny Douglas (Army), Eamon Whelan (Portlaoise), Tom Prendergast (Portlaoise).
Railway Cup with Leinster
1961, 1965, 1966, 1967
Paddy sat down for an interview alongside another Town legend Paddy Brennan with Brian Delaney and Teddy Fennelly asking the questions. The interview took place in Club Centre, at Fr. Browne Avenue on Thursday, 29 March 2007.
Paddy Bracken: I started off playing football with Kilminchy. We used to train there. Probably early 1949. There was no Portlaoise team at the time. They were due to play De Montfords in the semi-final. I came out of Mass on the Sunday morning and Fr. Harris asked me would I play with De Montfords ‘today’ even though I had been training with Kilminchy. He and Charlie Aherne, were over the Montfords. I might have been a substitute for Kilminchy. I did any way and for some unknown reason they put me in goal, whether it was a pure accident or not I really don’t know. We had a scrap team, lads who would not normally have been playing football were playing on it. We were beaten by a few points.
The following year I was playing with Portlaoise minors. Kilminchy played us and Arthur Whelan, Atch’s father, was one of those over the Kilminchy team. After the match I remember him coming to me and asked me back to Kilminchy and said if I did that he would get me on the county minor team. The strange thing is that I was picked on the county minor team the next year anyway and in goal. Badger Callinan was full-back and Mickey McDonnell, Spink, was on the team as well. Portlaoise had just been reformed in 1949 and won the minor hurling. It was mostly hurling in the club. Sonny Brown and myself, ‘Jockser’ Fitz, our own Tom and Sean Bergin, Meelick were some of those on the football team. They were all mostly hurlers who were playing football. Sean wasn’t a great man to catch a ball but, when he got it, he kicked it along the ground and he was so fast he would run and get it again himself. I have a photograph of it somewhere. Mary Scully took the picture.
Paddy Brennan: I was with the Rovers that time. They won six or seven minor titles in a row up to 1947. I played on the 1947 team. Cappamore (Castletown-Borris in Ossory area) won it in 1948, Timmy Maher’s team. They beat us in the final. There weren’t many teams around. Durrow might have had the best team but some teams we heard could have picked Kilkenny lads to play with them.
I finished with the Rovers when the whole team came into the town (about 1954). The meetings were in the Courthouse. Everyone came in bar Tom Byrne. Tom went to Clonad. The whole team came in and the whole team went again. All the Rovers went to Clonad in the hurling and The Heath in the football. They made up those clubs.
I played in the 1952 final with the Rovers. This was played in 1953, against Kyle. It was the hardest match I ever played in. It was the spring and we weren’t ready for the heavy stuff and we were sore all over. Hanrahan and Tommy Carey, and the others were hardy bucks. I played with Portlaoise seniors for many years. I played in one final with Portlaoise, against Borris in Ossory in 1960. They beat us by a point. We’d have won the match if it had been picked right. I finished up in a challenge match against Borris in Ossory, maybe in the early 1970s. I never played in a junior match. The junior was a tough grade. You were meeting all the good fellows who had come back from senior.
Paddy Bracken: Our selectors could have done things better betimes. I remember them picking Alfie Lewis centre forward and it was a disaster.
Paddy Brennan: We nearly got to the final another time probably the late 1960s. when we were beating Rathdowney well in the semi-final. But Mr. Mahon, father of some of the Rathdowney players, sadly died at the match and it was called off. They beat us in the rematch. We were in a bit of hard luck down the years. We had some good hurlers such as Mick “Shem” Larkin. He was brilliant. He could go in and win a match for you. But, like us all, he wasn’t in good form the whole time. I played with the county in 1950s and into the 1960s, mostly wing half back.
Paddy Bracken: When I started with Portlaoise they weren’t senior. They won the Intermediate in 1956 beating Barrowhouse in the final. Eamon Phelan scored the goal, a scrambled one, I never saw such a kick. But it went in anyway to win the match. Then we went senior. Park beat us in first round in 1957. We were foolish trying to play Park at their own game. We got to the final in 1958. That was a famous one. We won it in a replay but the Heath took it on objection. That had a fierce effect on the town. They didn’t get over it for a few years.
Portarlington beat us the following year in the final. That was a disaster. We camped in their end of the field but couldn’t score … I made a terrible mistake that day. “Thatcher” Coleman took a free and if he had to hit it I would have caught it. It came in real slow. I jumped too early and was coming down at the time when it passed over my hands. John Dunne (full back) deflected another one into the far corner. They were two disasters. It’s very hard to come back from such disasters. John Keenan was up full-forward that day. Then the following year in Graiguecullen we were beaten by the Heath, three points to two. Pascal was put off that day. Wasn’t five minutes in when he was gone. ‘Woksie’ Kenneally was also put off. Another disaster. All the chances in the world and we couldn’t score.
Yes, it took us a long time to recover from 1958. Eventually 1964 came along. We were lucky enough. Scrambled home by a point. But 1964 was a turning point for the club. We lost to Graiguecullen in 1965 and then won the next three. Timahoe beat us in 1969 and, coming off the field, Alfie and myself said that was it. But Jack (Delaney) asked us to give it another year. We won the 1970 final against St. Josephs. Tony O’Brien missed a free in front of goal to equalise. I started with the county in 1958. The first match was against Dublin in the league. They had won the All-Ireland and we played them first in the League. Paddy Conroy used to say “God help the goalkeeper”. It was in O’Toole Park. It was a whole new Laois team. Robert Miller was in the backs, P.J. Conlon was a corner back and Teddy Delaney in the other corner. Phil O’Keeffe was a corner forward that day. The next year we got to the Leinster final. Dublin beat us in Tullamore. We were leading by seven points at half-time. Mick Phelan scored two goals. Cathal O’Leary was the man who destroyed us that day.
Looking back over Laois’ years. I blame one of our so-called stars for losing the Leinster final in 1959. I remember Paddy Dunne and myself going to him before the game and saying to him “whatever you do, don’t let O’Leary up the field with the ball”. He never followed him once. In 1963 you know what happened. One of our players got injured the week of the match and he started which was a big mistake. Tom Browne had played a stormer in the Leinster final. But our selectors did not get him on the Leinster team. That’s what happened to Tom Browne by going to Meath. It was terrible unfair to him. The next Leinster final I was in was 1968 against Longford. Well then you know they (Longford) brought Mick Higgins in to train the team. Laois did nothing. The only time we had a trainer was in 1963 when we had Danny Douglas. I finished with Laois in 1970. I won one Railway Cup (in Offaly’s year, I think, 1961). I played a few years with them. There was very little organisation at that time. Except for 1963 we never had a trainer. Danny was good. He was an artist. The club was reformed in 1949. Ned Tobin was first chairman, Jack Connell, Joe Fennelly, Lar Dunne, Tom Lalor, the tailor, Paddy Scully. I remember they had their meetings in the Courthouse. Jim Loughlin and his brother, Andy, were later. They kept the club going for many years. I remember when we were playing minor, Paddy Scully would come in at half-time with an armful of oranges. Tom Lalor had an auld car and he’d bring us up to Ballyfin to play practice matches. You’d be afraid of your life of him in the car. Ould Dickie O’Brien brought us out to play a game in the Heath one time and he brought all nineteen of us in the one car. How he got them all into the one car I don’t know. He had an old Bewick at the time. Jimmy Cotter and Jimmy Sexton were great men for the club too. Jimmy Sexton was waiting for a juvenile grant from the hurling board and he paid it himself. It was money he set aside for a holiday and his missus did not know about him giving it to the club. He got the cheque the day before going on holidays. He was lucky because he said the missus would have put him out if she knew the story. There was no go back in Jimmy Cotter. He fought the club’s cause every inch of the way. He had an argument one day on the sideline with a man from the opposing team. He used to have a pump to pump the football. Jimmy got very annoyed and he gave your man a dart with the pump. Ah, there was no harm done. (Laughter)
The teams trained where the ESB is now opposite O’Moore Park. We also played, of course in the pitch outside O’Moore Park. Other teams played down the Green Road, where Dunnes Stores is now and also in the pitch beside that field that we owned with the VEC.
Paddy Brennan: The street leagues. They were only in hurling. They were the best games of them all. They were as good as county matches now. Fr. O’Donnell was over them. It must have been back in the 1950s. Everyone could play in the street leagues even if you came from other counties or played with other clubs.
Paddy Bracken: I remember Joe Styles. He played with Clonad, of course. He was to play with the New Road on a Wednesday night and with Clonad the following Sunday. He wasn’t going to play in the street league until he met Fr. O’Donnell. Joe told him he was afraid of getting hurt on the Wednesday night. Fr. O’Donnell told him ‘Listen, you could get killed crossing the road tonight.’ Joe changed his mind and played. He was afraid because of the priest saying it that it might happen. He was very religious.
Paddy Brennan: They made me chairman in 1968. Paddy’s father, Joe, had stepped down after many years. It was a great time for the club. There was a lot of serious stuff going on but we had some good laughs too. I remember we organised a club trip to London and it was the talk of the town for years. We had a great time and had a good laugh. There were great characters on the trip. It was one to remember. Portlaoise is a great club. We were always lucky to have great people over it and great players too. We can be proud of the club.