Reprinted from Park/Ratheniska GAA Grounds Open Day programme
Paddy Dunne in his Leinster Jersey
On this day of all days, Paddy Dunne can look around at the new facilities that his beloved Park/Ratheniska GAA Club have amassed and comment on how times have changed since his days of donning the famous green and gold. Over fifty years have passed since Paddy became the last Park/Ratheniska Captain to lay his hands on the Laois Senior Football Trophy but mention of his playing days brings a glint to the great mans eye.
For a man who has pitted his wits against some of the greatest names to grace football fields throughout the country such as Sean Purcell of Galway, Paddy O Brien of Meath, and Kevin Heffernan of Dublin to name but a few, nothing can surpass the feeling of immense pride Paddy Dunne feels when thinking back to his days pulling on the Green and Gold of the Park football Club.
Thinking back now, Paddy remembers it fondly “Your Club was everything to you, especially for me, because it gave me the upper hand over fellas from other Club’s in the County when we used to meet up for Laois games”. Paddy always looked the part on a football field from a young age when he starred with Laois Minor teams from 45-47. This set him up nicely for the tasks ahead, as it filled a young man from one of the lesser known Clubs at hte time, with the confidence it took to take the next steps.
That was to come in 1949 when he made the Laois Senior Football team after some impressive performances following Park’s promotion in 1947 from the Intermediate ranks, and in the subsequent Senior Championship. Paddy remembers that first ever Senior Club Championship game to this day, coming up against the reigning champions Graiguecullen, a team containing no other than the Boy Wonder himself Tommy Murphy. The infant Senior Club nearly pulled off the shock of the decade by coming within seconds of knocking their more illustrious rivals out, but a last minute goal saved the champions blushes.
Things got better though for the Club, and under the astute training of Will McEvoy, the Park team developed into a team to be reckoned with. Of the training employed, Paddy recalls it fondly; “the crack was always mighty among us, and looking back on it now, it was revolutionary for its time.” Training games outside the County pushed the team on further and come Championship time, they were in rearing to go. The blazed a trail all the way to the County final, where they pushed aside Ballyroan on a score-line of 0-5 to 0-3, with Paddy captaining the team from centre-back.
In 1953 Park were back again, this time intent on proving that 1952 was no flash in the pan. Following a period of tournament game’s in pre championship, which was the privilege that went along with being County Champions at the time, they again hit the ground running, storming their way to the final, where they defeated Portarlington on a score-line of 0-6 to 0-5. “Hard-fought games they were, both of those finals” Paddy reminisces, “It was such a highlight for us all, there was so much pride in being out there, representing our Club, our people like that. It was just a great time for us all.”
From there on things began to spiral for Paddy, a call up to the Laois team in 1949 lead to him being centre back on the Laois team who were narrowly defeated by Meath in the 1951 Leinster final. By this stage though, Paddy was being noticed by more than those inside his own County and his performances earned him a call-up for the Railway Cup team in 1952. Will McEvoy came to Paddy’s aid, bringing him down to the field training on his own, up to three nights a week. As Paddy himself chuckles “ some day's he’d have to drag me out of the kitchen I used to be so tired after the days work! But that man was very good to me.”
Paddy was thrown straight into the mix in his first Railway Cup appearance, starting centre back against Connaught, performing admirably and holding his place when they won the Railway Cup final on St Patrick’s Day in 1952. Further Railway Cup triumphs came in 1953 and 1954 as Paddy brought further glory to himself, his Club and County.
Another Leinster Final was to come with Laois in 1959, but again Paddy was to see his dream of winning a Leinster title with his county go unfulfilled, as the power of the Dubs proved too much for the Laois men. Further representative honours were to come Paddy’s way in the form of selection for the Rest of Ireland XV in 1953 and 1954. Paddy retired from Club football in 1959 due to a recurring back injury.
Looking back now, it’s all still as vivid in the mans mind as if it happened only yesterday, he can recall his great tussles with Bill Delaney of Stradbally, Tommy Murphy of Graiguecullen, Sean Purcell of Galway whom he rates as one of the toughest opponents he ever had the joy to test himself against.
As a testament to the true Laois legend he is, Paddy has still been collecting gongs and honours long past his playing days. At the turn of the millennium Paddy was voted onto the Laois Football team of the Millennium in his accustomed centre back position. To cap it all off, in 2008 Paddy was voted into the Laois GAA Hall of Fame, further recognition of the mans legendary status in Laois GAA circles.
He sees how times have changed since he pulled on the Green and Gold of Park, but the Club still means as much to him today, as it did all those years ago when he lead the team himself. And in his eyes, you can see, the pride is as strong as ever.