The Dawn of a New Era

Winning both the Down junior and Minor football championship finals in 1961 heralded the dawn of a new era for the RGU. The Minors retained their championship in 1962 and in 1969 captured their third title within a decade. The seniors meanwhile contested two senior championships titles in 1963 and 1967 both of which they unfortunately lost.

Back Row: Pat Morgan, Bernard Deeny, Felix McKnight, Des McNeill, Danny Kelly, Liam Byrne.
Seated: Roisin McCann, Dessie Killen, Malachy McGrady, Eddie McKay, Sally Connolly.

Perhaps the greatest success story of the 60 s was the formation of the Russell Youth Club, run under the auspicious the Russell Gaelic Union. The youth club founded in 1964 produced a varied range of sporting, social and recreational activities. Its impact was immense, for it was operating at a time when society, attitudes and moral values were in a state of fluctuation. After nine fruitful years the RGU courageously and amicably handed over the youth club to the parish in May 1973.

The 70s also commenced in a winning vein when the RGU’s minor team had back to back wins in the championship in 1971 and 72, before taking their third title in 1976.

The form of the senior team at that time was inconsistent but in 1972 they got their act together, and they deprived Bryansford of a possible six-in-a-row by taking the championship that year. In the final they defeated a determined Loughinisland side by 2.5 to 0.8. The RGU captained by Pat McKinney, featured club stalwarts Barney Fitzsimons and Willie Walsh. Top scorer on the day, Paddy Smyth, had excellent support from Paddy Kelly, Anthony King and Mikey Williams. Kiernan Deeny and Dan Connolly were the midfield stars, while in defence John Killen, Mikey Ward, Bobby Stranney and Macartan Bryce were outstanding.

Back: Sean Carville, Paddy Smith, Paddy Galbraith, John Killen, Kieran Deeny, Bobby Straney, Dan Connolly, Macartan Bryce, Brendan Moore, Danny Kelly.
Front: Barney Fitzsimmons, Jim Prior, Micky Ward, Michael Williams, Willie Walsh, Tony King, Pat McKinney, Joe McStay, Paddy Kelly, Gerry Sweeney, Jimmy Quinn.

The RGU did not have to wait thirty-seven years for their next title, which was achieved six years later in 1978.

Sunday 17th September 1978 was a most memorable day in the lifetime of the R.G.U for the R.G.U not only won the senior title but also all the silverware on view in St. Patrick’s Park that day.

Stevie Stockdale won the first ever under 16 penalty kick competition, the under 14s swamped Castlewellan in the East Down championship and Barney Fitzsimons received the Man of the Match reward for his outstanding performance in the senior final.

Downpatrick’s 0.11 to 0.6 victory over Warrenpoint was inspired by manager Pat Oakes, whose enthusiasm spread throughout the team. Gerard McStay was top scorer, and second championship medals went to Paddy Galbraith, Macarton Bryce, Barry Fitzsimons, Kieran Deeny, Paddy Kelly and Willie Walsh. Newcomer’s Peter and Brian Deeny, Joe Little, Kieran McGrady, Stephen Rice, Anthony Evans, Ciaran McCurry and Gerard Oakes received their first medals.

The Downpatrick Team which won the Co. Down SFC in 1978

Back Row: Willie Walsh, Francis Morgan, Peter Bohill, Paddy Killen, Steven Stockdale, Eamonn Fitzsimmons, Peter Deeny, Seamus Oman, Anthony Evans, Joe McStay, Gerard McStay, Seamus Lennon, Paddy Galbraith, Pat Oakes.
Middle Row: Kieran Deeny, Ciaran McCurry, Macartan Bryce, Fred McStay, Joe Lyttle, Barney Fitzsimmons, Micky Ward, John Collins, Brian Deeny, Stephen Rice, Keith Rodgers.
Front Row: Derek Fegan, Kieran McGrady, Gerard Oakes, Micky Drummy, Joe O’Neill,
Mascot: Gareth Oakes

In spite of success on the field of play, the 70s was a nightmare period for the club with support waning and a chronic shortage of willing and capable administrators. But even these administrative problems could not hinder success at underage level.

Divisional U12s, U14s and U16s titles were commonplace with County U14 and U16 championships doubles on 1981 and 82.

The U12 continued the sequence when they won the county title in 1983.

In the early 80s under age football was dominated by the RGU, and their list of successes was most impressive. The Under 16s won the East Down League and Championship five consecutive occasions from 1978 to 1983, and the County Championship three times in 1978, 81 and 82. The under 14s won the East Down League and Championship in 1980, 81, 82 and in 81 and 82 won the County Championship. The U12 League’s successes were in 81, 82 and 83, with East Down Championship in 82 and 83 and the County Championship in 1983. Success in Down 0g Sport was also achieved in 81 and 82. This was a phenomenal record, and one from which the club was to benefit in later years.

The 80s will also be remembered for the opening of the RGU clubrooms in Scotch Street in 1981, and the formation of a football commission in 1984. This commission had the onerous task to try and invigorate new life into senior football. The commission set about its work in a thorough, professional manner, and succeeded in revitalising football and creating the structure from which arguably the greatest ever Downpatrick team emerged. Success at senior level during this period was confined to the seconds winning the Reserve Football Championship in 1980 and the Premier Reserve Division One title in 1989. The senior team also collected the clubs second Junior Football Championship title in 1984, having won the last in 1961.

Back Row: Tommy Kelly (coach), Kryan Smyth, Brian Crawford, Barry Magee, Kevin Reynolds, Gary McLoughlin, Aidan Gormley, Joe Cunningham, Barry Breen, Joe McStay (coach), Patsy Cromie.
Middle Row: Brian McCreanor, Robert Mason, Paul Evans, Paddy Cromie, Barry Oakes, Paul McCoubrey.
Front Row: Ian McLaughlin, Martin Trainor, Jeffrey Breen, Paul Brown, Mark Quinn, Brian McCurry. Catrina Byrne.