THE PROUD HISTORY OF ST. VINCENTS
They left sadly from the old Country, rich in heritage and culture to explore a New World full of promise and opportunity. They were mostly young people in search of a new life. Some went across the Irish Sea to England, across the deep ocean to the land down under, Australia. While more emigrated to America, the land of hope, our relatives and friends came to Canada, the Great White North, many bringing with them the skills, crafts, trades and expertise to help build homes, roads, highways and subway tunnels.
And so the story begins:
On November 27th, 1959, on a cold November afternoon, in the basement of Larry Morrin’s house at 27 Galley Ave, in the parish of St. Vincents, in the west end of Toronto, a meeting was held to form a new GAA club. The meeting was attended by Larry Morrin, Danny Columb, Con Barrett, Eddie O’Brien, Jimmy O’Brien, Dermot O’Neill, John Gilligan, Bill Costello, Louis Delaney, Maurice Houlihan, Martin Shaughnessy, Bill Farrell, Phil Walsh, Vince Howard, Ricky Leahy, Harold Parker, Billy Lehane, and Paul McMahon. A new era began and thus was born the St. Vincent’s Gaelic Football & Hurling club. The oldest club in the city.
Within a few months the members elected their first committee; President Phil Walsh, Secretary Larry Morrin, Treasurer Jim Kelly. Louis Delaney & Paul McMahon, two Canadians of Irish descent donated the first set of jerseys. Nora Maguire, a seamstress by trade, fabricated the first set of togs and made repairs as necessary during the season.
During the following spring and summer, the first official season of Gaelic games were played in High Park. In the early years, games were played against Eire Og, Garryowen and Clan na Gael as the league steadily developed. Soon other clubs formed, and within a decade six teams were competing in the Toronto League. These included St. Vincent’s, Garryowen, Clan na Gael, St. Mikes, St. Pats and Sean Souths
St. Vincent’s had a very strong club from the outset. Most of the hurling side had represented Toronto in the Mid West & North American leagues. Â In fact, a photo of a Toronto Select team in 1957 shows Joe Kennedy, Dermot O’Neill, Pat Lanigan, Tommy Foley, Tony Keyes, Danny Columb, John Gilligan, Benny Maher, Jimmy McVeigh, Eddie O’Brien, Johnny Hurley, Peter Nolan, Phil Welsh, Pat McLaren and Maurice Houlihan, quite a number of them members of St. Vincent’s.
In one six year period in the 1960’s St. Vincent’s hurlers captured six League and five Championship medals. Captain in those early years was the late Eddie O’Brien whose brother Jimmy wrote the Vincents song.
Other hurlers of that era included the Gilligans (Oliver and Tim), Bob Donovan, Con Barrett, Danny Columb, Pat Lanigan, Martin Shaughnessy, Eddie Brett, Mike Keenan, Jimmy Egan, Brendan Power, Bill Costelloe, Jim Egan, Noel Rohan, Larry Cleary, Pat Maloney, Darby Caulfield, Tom Stapleton, Mike Donegan, Dennis Fahy and Eamonn Boyle.
A highlight of that first decade was the 1964 visit of the All-Ireland Champions, Jimmy O’Brien’s beloved Tipperary. The game was played in Varsity Stadium.
The footballers too saw early success. They won the Championship in 1961 and the League in 1962. The 1962 team featured Jim Kelly (Capt), Joe Gogarty, Tom Widdas, Cyril O’Brien, Danny Columb, Pete Kelly, Maurice Houlihan, Larry Morrin, Tom Stapleton, Hugh Lennon, Eddie O’Brien, Tim Cremin, Tommy Murphy, Bill Costelloe and our first President, Phil Walsh.
Towards the end of 1962 there was a big exodus to the United States and St. Vincents lost a number of stalwarts. Among them were Tom Widdas, Cyril O’Brien, Maurice Houlihan, Pete Kelly & Tim Cremin. Hugh Lennon moved to another part of Ontario.
These men were not easily replaced and as a result the team went through a few lean years until the mid 1960’s when a number of new players started to arrive on the scene from home. These men included Paddy McIntyre, Paddy Columb, Donal McCarthy, Rob McDonnell, Mike Jones, Jim Lucey, Andy Byrne (RIP), Ray Carroll, John O’Connell, John Molloy(RIP), Eugene Berry, Rory Brennan, Paddy Burns Sr., Seamus McKenna, Walter Welsh, John Boyle Jr., Liam Callaghan(RIP), Eamonn Boyle, Eugene McCallion, Joe Kelly(RIP), Pat Kelly, Ciaran Bellew, Hubert Quinn, Pat Quinn, Peter Quinn, Tom Boland, Vivian Boland, Joe Moss, John McInerney, Gerry Carolan, Frank McCallion, Niall Doherty, Jim Hogan, Joe Cassidy, David Cassidy, & Des Mallon. They all added new blood, desire and ambition while making large contributions to the GAA in general.
Top class goalies Kevin McFadden (RIP), Gerry Mullin, John Horgan, Kevin McGreal, Sean Hayes Sr., and the renowned Paddy Cullen all ensured that very few balls ever succeeded in reaching the net.
These gallant St. Vincent’s teams contested three league and two championship finals in seven years but unfortunately were beaten in some very close games by strong Garryowen and Clan na Gael sides while earning the respect of local Gaelic fans for their unyielding toughness and fairness combined with exemplary sportsmanship both on and off the field. However a number of open tournaments and several major seven-a-side competitions were won by these same teams as well as several well earned Footballer of the year awards. The incomparable Joe Cassidy won the award on two occasions while Walter Welsh and Paddy Burns Sr. were each similarly rewarded.
Before too long Pat Kelly from Ballygar, Co. Galway, a solid and respected player in his halcyon days with St. Vincent’s, made his way to our nation’s capital and founded the Ottawa Gaels, thereby giving us another out of town trip and one we all keenly looked forward to. Pat Kelly remembers only too well the outstanding performance of a jubilant St. Vincent’s team which included guest stars Mickey Darragh and Canice Woods as they won the inaugural Ottawa 7’s.
A photo of a 1971 Toronto Select Football team that played a number of games against top class clubs visiting from Ireland that year shows no less than eight St. Vincent’s players making the team. These are Liam O’Callaghan, Seamus McKenna, Eugene McCallion, Gerry Mullin, Rory Brennan, Pat Kelly, Jim Lucey and Paddy Columb. Players from other clubs on that team included Sean Byrne, Dan Kinahin, Harry Boland, Mickey Hamill, Micky Reilly, Jack Balfe, Mickey Doherty, Eugene Mullins, Mick Byrnes and John Cawley.
From the mid-seventies on; after St. Vincents had won the Junior North American Championship by beating New Haven, Connecticut, in the final at Syracuse; the team returned to the senior ranks. The new members that had arrived in the previous few years served the club very well at this time. Among them were Joe White, John Horgan, Ben Smith, Eamonn Boyle, Peter McEntire, Mick Reilly, Hughie Green, Seamus Prunti, Tommy Hurley, Seamus Mulgrew, John Woods, John Sheehan, Barry Flynn, Tony Hegney, Pat Hegney, Patsy Sheridan, Sean Keogh Sr., Mike Costello, David Weaver, Francie Harkin, Finbarr Collins, Jim Geraghty, Lorcan Cribbin, Niall Bracken, Noel Doherty, Emmanuel Canavan, Billy McKnight, Brian Kane, Brendan Glavey, Sean Harte, John Sharkey, Mike Malone, Mark Nolan and Gerard Cunningham. Of this group of fine players, Seamus Mulgrew won a Footballer of the Year award and some years later had the pleasure of playing with his son, Aidan on the same St. Vincent’s team.
Travel in those days consisted mainly of trips to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Montreal. On occasion the club would exhibit their skills at Feis and other Irish gatherings always promoting the games and the Irish culture. During this time many members were elected to positions on the GAA executive and the Toronto Divisional Board and played a large part in promoting the spirit and ideals of the Gaelic Athletic Association.
St. Vincent’s, like most other clubs, was good to its own in times of need.
Two young families (with ties to St. Vincent’s), having immigrated to Toronto shortly before, were robbed of their fathers by unexpected death. The bereaved wives with young children were given loving and heartfelt support by the members of the Vincent’s community. Both families later donated Memorial Cups in their honour. The Sean McKenna Cup (1973) & the Maurice Fay Cup (1977) are still contested annually.
As the City of Toronto grew, receiving more and more Irish immigrants, all clubs prospered as more and more people found their way to the Park to play the Gaelic games, to meet new friends and to seek work and accommodations. During the eighties, a lot of Irish nannies arrived in the city to gain some worldly experience while planning to return home in a couple of years. Numerous young men also came with the intention of saving a nest egg to give them a start when they returned home. Some returned but quite a few more stayed and added richly to the GAA and the Irish Canadian community in general.
St. Vincent’s had a lot of success too in the eighties. From 1980 to 1983 they captured four consecutive League titles and rounded this off with a Championship victory in 1983, just in time for the club’s 25th Anniversary celebration.
This banquet and dinner held at the Irish Center on Dupont St. was attended by a very large crowd including many of our founding fathers. Nostalgia was the order of the night.
In the mid-eighties immigrants again started to arrive from Ireland. Although St. Vincent’s were beaten in the League and Championship Finals in 1986, they represented themselves well both on and off the field.
During this period, travelling to the Catskills on an annual basis became the social event of the year. Each and every trip holds special memories, from Danny and Carmel to Callaghan and Barrett flagging down a poor unsuspecting driver at 2 AM to take them to catch up with the rest of the team after they had stayed late to listen to the great Dermot O’Brien (RIP). And also we cannot forget the way the ladies in the Irish Center pub swooned while listening to Sean Hayes Jr. singing The Cat’s in the Cradle. And then there was Pierce Mulhall and his taxi service, which some wanted, some didn’t, and others who had no choice at all. Also there was Dan Ryan exercising complete control of the room which was shared much to the chagrin of Brod Regan. And who can forget Paddy Cullen, on the stage, whilst introducing himself and John Horgan as the Symbolics, by saying I’m Sym. Occasionally, a football game was even played, although not taken seriously and quite obviously not being the main reason for going down. One day soon, while the fond memories abide, we must collectively sit down to write a book about those highly memorable St. Vincent’s trips and what great times were had by one and all.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Canada, there was lots of hard work going on in the larger GAA scheme of things. For several years, some in Toronto, including John Horgan and John McGlynn, had endeavoured to establish stronger ties between Canada and Croke Park, headquarters of the GAA in Ireland, culminating in 1985 with such affiliation thus paving the way for Irish teams to come to Canada and vice-a-versa.
While the veterans kept the ball rolling in the Park Sunday after Sunday, a great development had taken root. Since 1979, Danny Columb, Mickey Hamill, Jimmy Hayes, Sean Harte, Mike Holly Sr., Cormac O’Muiri and others had been involved in teaching the sons and their friends how to play our national sports. Their steady work eventually led to the formation of the Juvenile Board in 1987 under the guidance of Brian Farmer and Billy Millar. Young boys from the age of nine and on, joined the Juvenile Board and this in turn led to the establishment of the Minor Board. Today, John Molloy and Patricia O’Callaghan-Molloy, Damian Cox and Kenny Ray of St. Vincent’s are heavily involved in all aspects of the Minor Board. We salute them all.
A memorable and historical event occurred on January 25th, 1985 when St. Vincents sponsored and introduced Michael O’Hehir (RIP), the legendary voice of the G.A.A. to the Gaels of Toronto. The press release at the time proudly announced him as an institution in European broadcasting and a legendary figure representative of true journalistic skill. Michael O’Hehir (RIP) was the living voice of ninety nine All-Irelands and was also an equally accomplished announcer of horse racing.
As time went on the young ladies also began to play the Gaelic game. Quite a few daughters of St. Vincent’s men lined out with the newly formed Michael Cusacks Ladies Football Club and for years they shared trips and expenses with the St. Vincent’s players.
It is perhaps no small coincidence then that quite a few of the St.Vincents lads married Michael Cusacks women. The club undoubtedly became stronger and socially much more vibrant due to the ongoing involvement of these wives and other dedicated ladies.
As such, St Vincents entered the nineties strong and confident.
Toronto Gaels defeated St Vincents in the 1990 football championship but by 1991 St Vincents had put together a highly talented team with a nice blend of youth and experience, skill and strength. The team included Kenny Kerr, the Rafter brothers Seamus and David, Mike Cassidy, Martin McNally, Seamus Mulgrew, Mickey O’Neill, Paddy Burns, Sean Hayes Jr, Tom Lucey, Mike Holly, Kenny Ray, Stuart Neely, John Molloy, Liam Carroll and Mickey Hayes.
This never say die team narrowly beat the Toronto Gaels in the semi-final of the 1991 Championship by virtue of a desperation goal scored by Mike Holly late on, and in the Championship final that same year, they beat a highly fancied Clan na Gael side with an unforgettable last minute goal. With the clock winding down and Vincents two points in arrears, the ball came to team captain Paddy Burns from Cork, who finished with aplomb. The red shirted Clan boys were left shell-shocked as the men in green and gold celebrated.
In the 1992 championship the following year, St Vincents easily beat St. Pats in the quarter-final before coming up against the Ottawa Gaels in the semi-final. Only two weeks previously, this excellent Ottawa team had played Vincents off the park in a league game, winning by a big margin. However, Vincents, renowned for rising to the championship occasion, beat the fancied Ottawa side after extra time. In the final, they went on to defeat a very good St Mikes side with 14 men, Mickey O’Neill being sent off after 15 minutes.
St Vincents completed a fine double by also winning the Football League trophy in 1992, again beating St Mikes in the final, and once again playing with 14 men for most of the game (Martin Conway having got the marching orders this time). A late penalty save from Damien Heaney lifted the team who held on despite playing against a gale. John Horgan had to observe from the hill having been sent from the line for contesting too many decisions by the referee. Half of this team in 1992 was born in Canada, a tremendous achievement at the time. Memorable trips to Montreal and Ottawa at the time helped create lasting friendships and relationships!
In 1993, John Molloy took over the coaching reins from Liam Callaghan and with Vincents now going for three-in-a-row; they came up against Brian Farmer’s Durham Robert Emmets in the championship final. On a windy day, Durham managed to beat St Vincents with a late point and clinch their very first championship success. Similarly, in 1994, as Vincents contested their 4th final in a row, Toronto Gaels outlasted them by a point or two in a hotly contested encounter in difficult conditions at Centennial Park.
After this successful era for the club, quite a few of the team either retired or headed for greener pastures. Paddy Burns and Kenny Ray left for New York while Mickey O’Neill headed west to Vancouver. Jim Maguire departed to Boston and Martin Conway to Chicago. Paddy Morrison, Sean Hayes Jr., Tom Lucey, Mike Holly, Martin McNally, Seamus Rafter, David Rafter and Padraic Conroy were soon packing it in and so, a couple of barren years followed.
Sadly, in 1994, we lost one of our fine young men. The very popular Ed McGlynn died prematurely at the young age of thirty-three. In a loving tribute, his father, John McGlynn (recently deceased), presented the Ed McGlynn Memorial Cup which is awarded annually to the club’s top footballer. It should not go without mention that the successful team of this era was coached by the irrepressible Liam O’Callaghan (RIP) from Navan in Co. Meath. His tough, no-nonsense approach was legendary and his sidekick Paddy McIntyre was always close by to offer a little piece of advice or a subtle piece of humour.
1995 and 1996 were team-building years for St. Vincents as the young lads came through the ranks. Additions to the club’s line-up of young energetic footballers did us proud. In 1997, the club reached the semi-final of the Championship against St. Pat’s but having just played in the quarter-final against Durham Robert Emmett’s less than twenty four hours earlier, the boys ran out of steam. In 1998 St. Vincents also won the coveted Owen Nolan tournament trophy.
St. Vincents also won a number of other competitions (e.g. McKenna and Fay Cups) as well as earning several Footballer of the Year awards all through the 90’s. Recipients of the latter trophy included Paddy Burns in 1991, Sean Hayes in 1992, Kenny Ray in 1994 and Dinny Cahalane in 1998.
On March 27th, 1999 the club celebrated its 40th Anniversary with a sold out function at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Keele St. Those in attendance were treated to a great night of entertainment, in the company of our guest of honour, the Meath legend Colm O’Rourke and with the indomitable Hugo Straney again doing a brilliant job as Emcee.
Following this very successful 40th anniversary banquet in 1999, St. Vincents were determined to end a barren run of 7 years without a championship. Having defeated Toronto Gaels in the semi-final, St.Vincents met St.Mikes in the final but fair play to St.Mikes who ran out winners by 3 points in a tightly contested match.
The new Millennium began brightly. St. Vincents enjoyed a good win over St. Mikes in the team’s first league game of 2000. The year ended with St.Vincents proudly clutching the league trophy which they won against Ottawa in the last game of the league campaign. Unfortunately they weren’t so lucky when being defeated at the championship semi-final stage. In 2001 St. Vincents, led by maturing young players, J.P Horgan, Sean Egan and Eamon Dorgan had a good league campaign with a second place finish, but again came undone in the championship semi-final this time against the Toronto Gaels.
In 2002, Manager Ben Smith coaxed the indomitable Mike Cassidy, one of the stars of the club’s 1992 team, into training the team. Cassidy’s training methods were instrumental as the maturing St.Vincents finally achieved championship success once again. The Toronto Gaels were defeated in the final and St. Vincents club collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief. Stars that day included Joe Bannon, Wayne Kelly, Andrew Cullen in goal, J.P Horgan at midfield, Conor Hartnett, Justin Cummins and Brendhan Malone in attack. The future was indeed beginning to look bright.
In 2003 St.Vincents were again victorious; this time defeating their old rival St. Mikes in the final after extra time was added. Wayne Kelly and Brendhan Malone sealed the deal for Vincents when they each scored a goal in extra time. Other St. Vincents stars included Brian Stokes, Ian Smith, Paddy O’Donoghue, Damian Cox, Joe Bannon, J.P Horgan, Andrew Cullen and Eamon Cronin.
In 2004 St. Vincents were trained by the infamous Tommy Brennan. It was a bleak year in the history of the club as following the repatriation of Paddy O’Donohue, Joe Bannon, and Eamon Cronin plus the sanctioning of seven players and retirement through injury of Eamon Dorgan, St.Vincents lost a total of eleven players from the 2003 team. Subsequently St. Vincents were disqualified from the Championship through being unable to consistently field a regular fifteen man team as per GAA rules.
2005 saw the return of Kenny Ray to St. Vincents. Razor had previously won championship medals with the club in 1991 and 92 so the club entered the season with renewed vigour. This 2005 team which included Johnny Poland and Neil Carbery brought home the George Curry memorial cup along with the Denis Leyne trophy but slipped at the championship semi-final stage to Durham Robert Emmets. Denis Leyne success was repeated in 2006 along with the Fay Cup.
2007 proved to be a memorable year as the club reached the championship final against old rivals St Mikes. Going into the final as big underdogs, Vincents came out victorious in a very close and exciting game to clinch their 3rd championship success in 6 years. Stars on the day included Andrew Cullen in goal, Tom Curtin, Kenny Ray, Aidan Gilleran, Damian Cox, Shane Boyd (Capt.), J.P.Horgan and man of the match Sean Egan. It should be noted that Kenny Ray won the Toronto GAA Footballer of the Year award this season having already won the award in previously 1994. 2008 also saw a very competitive St Vincent’s side play good football but unfortunately no hardware was brought home.
2009 was another banner year for the club in which started on Saturday May 30th with our Golden Jubilee banquet. There were over 600 guests on the night with notable dignitaries including the club founders, GAA legend Peter Canavan, His Excellency Declan Kelly (the Irish Ambassador to Canada) and our Guest of honour An Uachtaráin Cumann Luthchleas Gael Christy Cooney. Further success was achieved later in the year with St. Vincent’s regaining the Championship for the 5th time in the decade. An exciting game was sent to extra-time with a swing of Sean Egan’s boot and the game was one with virtually the last kick of extra-time from what people would say was an impossible angle by the aforementioned Egan. League success followed in 2010 with a victory over St. Mikes on a cool Saturday afternoon in Centennial Park in mid-September.
The club is deeply indebted to the great men who have worn the shirt with pride down the years. We thank them for their dedication and commitment to the well-being of the club and the great measure of success that it has enjoyed. We are all likewise indebted to their families for their long-term dedication to the club’s cause and its best interests.
Throughout our history, we have continually fielded teams in various parts of Canada and America. Wherever these teams have played, and whatever the result, the St. Vincents men have always left a positive image of the GAA and the club. For half a century, we have battled bravely on the field and fostered lasting friendship off it. The memories forever will remain.
Over the years St. Vincents was always proud to have had strong representation of our members amongst the GAA leadership. As such, we salute Danny Columb, Jim Lucey, Jim Kelly, Dan Ryan, Sean Harte, John Molloy, Ken Kerr, Ben Smith, Eddie Brett, Eamonn Boyle and Phil Walsh, our first President, also being the first President of the GAA in Toronto. The younger generation of Vincents members have carried on the traditions of the GAA, including Noreen Morrison, Ann-Marie Walsh, Erin Horgan, June Callaghan, Gabriel Hurl, John Paul Horgan, Brendan Reilly, Oisin and Oran Kerr, Aisling, Orla and Sinead Smith and Caelainn Cox.
St. Vincent’s began the new Millennium after a half century laden with much success. We strive on into our next 50 years with renewed commitment and a great sense of optimism with some enthusiastic new blood arriving on the scene to complement the continued dedication of the current members. These men and women, both young and old will no doubt continue to lead us with distinction into this present decade.
Beir bheannacht chuig foireann Naomh Uinsinn go deo agus an rath céanna oraibh go léir.