Déise side Lismore took on Galway champions Ahascragh-Foghenagh in the All-Ireland intermediate semi-final a couple of weeks back, and the TG4 commentator was pulling for his native place back across the Shannon: “Stop, stop, the savage loves his native shore.”
That corner of Galway has known big days before, of course. “We had a taste of it with Caltra’s footballers, back in 2004. They won the county, Connacht, and then you’re in absolute dreamland. Ahascragh and Caltra is a bit like Fourmilewater and Ballymacarbry, or Ballinacourty and Abbeyside. They’re two halves of the parish - and Fohenagh is across the bridge, then.”
The famous Meehan brothers were the engine of that Caltra team, of course.
“They were excellent hurlers,” says Mac Donncha. “Declan was a great hurler, but he gave it up to focus on football. Noel was another good hurler. There are survivors, too. Brian Kilroy is corner-back tomorrow for the hurlers, and he played for Caltra back in 2004. Thirteen years ago: that’d be a fair record if he finished it off. Kevin Gavin was centre-back on the Caltra team that time and would probably be featuring for Ahascragh- Foghenagh tomorrow but he picked up a bad injury.
“It doesn’t surprise me that link hasn’t been made, because Caltra were on their own, and Ahascragh- Foghenagh are on their own, but that crossover exists. The Mannions, for instance, would probably make the Galway football team if they were concentrating on football.”
The amalgamation of Ahascragh and Foghenagh is a familiar one for GAA fans.
“In the past Foghenagh were the better team. The teams amalgamated in 2002 but between 1958 and 1963 Foghenagh contested five of the six Galway senior hurling finals, winning two. That was when Castlegar and Turloughmore were serious operators, so it was a fair achievement. They contested a county minor final one of those days, too. Foghenagh is a very small parish, so it was a great achievement. Tim Sweeney, who hurled with Galway in the 50s, was a mainstay, but after that period they went back into the wilderness.”
Ahascragh plied their trade in junior hurling, he adds. They won a junior title in 1931 and 1970, and again in 1981 when beating . . . Foghenagh.
“I won’t say this is unique to Galway,” says Mac Donncha, a sub on that ’81 team, “but it’s certainly rare enough outside - Ahascragh and Foghenagh would kill each other if they met in a game, but if Ahascragh made a county final, then Fohenagh would back them to a man, and vice versa. You don’t often have that with near neighbours. There was a decline in numbers all round. Ahascragh were able to win a junior championship but weren’t able to make much progress at intermediate. They made a semi-final in 1983 but then fell away. Foghenagh were struggling for numbers, so they decided to come together. They won some underage B titles and improved, but they’ve served a tough apprenticeship.”
They have, losing the Galway intermediate final in 2012 to Killimordaly and losing the 2014 title to Cappataggle after a replay before winning last year against Balindereen. Mac Donncha is “realistic” about their chances this weekend; “There are 22 senior teams in Galway, and 12 senior teams in Kilkenny, so the 23rd team in Galway is playing the 13th team in Kilkenny, and Carrickshock were in a Kilkenny county senior final only three years ago against Clara.
“They’re the favourites but still, we’re there.”