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The Early Years

The Club is named for Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, victor of the Battle of Clontibret in 1595 and otherwise known as The Great O’Neill who also held lands at Clerran in the parish.

The first mention of the Hugh O’Neills club was in a tournament held in Donaghmoyne in August 1896, yet they were described in the Dundalk Democrat report as “ old and tried players” It would appear that the first Hugh ONeills club was a Clontibret parish team and their first recorded championship match took place on the Sheepwalk Doohamlet on 12th May 1906 when they were defeated by Inniskeen. Players on that team included Ned Smyth, Joe Smyth, Joe McNally, James McNally and F Mc Quaid. These players were also members of a soccer club in Clontibret and in 1910 this was converted into Clontibret Rovers GAA club but was not affiliated to the Monaghan GAA Board at the time.

At a county board meeting in Ballybay on 26th April 1913 Clontibret Rovers were allowed change their name to O’Neills and since then there has been over the years two clubs in the parish named in honour of Hugh O’Neill.

Founder members of the Hugh O’Neills club in Clontibret ( or St Mary’s as it was then commonly known) were Ned Smyth (father of the great Joe of later years and Eamon) who became team captain and first club secretary, Joe McNally, Barney Smyth, John Andy Brennan, Owen “Klondike” Sherry, Owen “Cooper” Leonard,Tullybuck, Fra Moen,,Corcaskea, Richard Brennan, Tonagh, Charles McElreavy, Mullyard, John McAdam Lemgar, Peter Woods, Annagh,, Michael “Fly” Hughes, Patrick McArdle Corlealackagh, Francis “Eoin “ Carragher, Moneyvolen, Patrick Connolly, Lackagh, Peter Forde Ballynagarry, Harry Macklin, Crosshue, Peter King, Lisaginny, Patrick Hughes, Carrickaderry, John McNally Moys, Pat McCormack NT Moys, Tom O’Connor ,Moys, Jimmy Hanratty, John Henry Fitzsimmons,Robert Winters, Ardaghey, Tommy Loughran.

The team contested three county finals in 1917,1918 and 1919 but were unsuccessful in all three but did win the Toal Cup, for the North Monaghan championship four years in a row from 1916 to 1919. Following the political unrest of the early 1920’s Clontibret and Doohamlet amalgamated once again and by the mid 1930’s Clontibret were on their own again as an intermediate team, but by 1936 this team had run out of steam and the club folded in favour of a new club in Tasson.

By the mid 1940’s a new group of players was coming on stream and as it was evident that Tasson’s run was coming to a close, moves were made in 1944 to re-establish the Hugh O’Neills club at Clontibret. This came to fruition in 1945 due to the efforts of Eamon Smyth, Tommy Smyth, Packie Hughes, the McSkeane brothers Peter, Mickey and Tommy, Hughie McQuaid, John Mone, Pat McMahon and the chief organiser and club Secretary, Packie McCully.

The first committee elected in 1944 included Ned Smyth, Tom O’ Connor, Con Short (from Crossmaglen who was an NT locally), James Geoghegan, James Hawthorne, Phil Dawson, NT.,Peter Woods, Patsy Chesser.

In 1947 the new club succeeded in the Monaghan Junior championship and made no secret of their hopes for senior success in 1948, but alas it would be 1949 before the breakthrough came.

The 1949 breakthrough by the O’Neills must surely rate as their greatest ever triumph. It was won the hard way in an unusual pairing against Carrickmacross on a scoreline of 0-11 to 2-3 to become the first holders of The American Cup. It was almost impossible to score a goal due to the brilliance of Carrick goalkeeper, Walter Durkan. Clontibret was forced to field without their injured midfielder and captain, John Murray. Highlights of the match were the solo runs of Hughie McKearney, the sturdiness of McNally and the accuracy from frees by Tony Prunty. In the earlier semi-final encounter against Castleblayney in Ballybay on one of the wettest Sundays in memory, Clontibret was awarded the game after a ‘Blayney player refused to go to the line after an attack on Pat Clarke. One of Clontibret’s easiest wins was in the 1950 final, when Killanny fell by 2-11 to 1-2. Clontibret captain, John Murray, had to retire with a bad facial injury in the first half, but returned to the field in the second half. On a great all-round team, John Rice and Hugh McKearney stood out. In the 1950 campaign, they beat Donaghmoyne and Inniskeen in a replay. Hughie McKearney was on the Ulster Railway Cup team that brought the honours to the province in 1950. It is difficult to believe that another of Clontibret’s easiest-ever victories in a County Final was in 1951 when they defeated the mighty Faughs convincingly by 5-7 to 0-3. John Rice who capped a great display by scoring a goal directly from a ’50’ dominated this final. In this championship campaign, the O’Neills scored a total of 11 goals 29 points to the opposing teams’ total of 2 goals and 6 points.

In November 1952 in Ballybay, Clontibret defeated Inniskeen by 1-6 to 1-3 in that year’s Championship Final in one of the best finals for many years. The real turning point of that game was a typical Joe Smyth goal just before the interval, a great tonic at a crucial stage in the game. John Murray, Packie McQuaid, John Rice and Joe Smyth excelled in the game. Murray lined out at midfield but often dropped back to relieve the defence in the second half. McQuaid had an excellent game, often bursting through to clear his lines. Once again Rice was stalwart in defence at centre-half back and along with McQuaid took much of the sting out of Inniskeen’s forwards. Smyth was a great tactician on the ’40’ and always constituted the biggest danger to the Inniskeen defence. In the ’52 Final, Hughie McKearney was nursing a leg injury and he only came on in the second half. Clontibret’s reign had come to an end and the big crunch came when they went under to Donaghmoyne in the 1953 semi-final. It is interesting to note that a Clontibret minor team competed that year.

New Era

After their defeat by Donaghmoyne in the 1953 semi-final, Clontibret O’Neills came back stronger than ever and those were the years when the O’Neills and Ballybay Pearse Brothers dominated the Monaghan scene and provided some of the best club football ever seen in Co. Monaghan. There was never more than a kick of the ball between them and a Clontibret-Ballybay decider was always a crowd puller. The rivalry between them was tremendous and those were the years of the clash of the cousins, Hughie McKearney and his cousin, Paddy, who was a key player in the Ballybay defence. In the 1954 final it was quite a feat for Ballybay to beat Clontibret by ten points, considering that the former had six or seven men playing on the county team. However, emigration had taken its toll. Fr. Tony Prunty had gone to the missions in Kenya. Packie McQuaid, Seamus McMullen and Peter McSkeane were in England, Eamon Smyth was in hospital and Packie McCully and Pete Gormley were no longer on the team, but new men like Macartan McCormack and Pat Murphy were now wearing the Clontibret colours with distinction.

1955 was another great year for the O’Neills, winning not only the Senior Championship but also the Owen Ward Cup. The clash of Clontibret’s right half-back Jim Woods and Ballybay’s Francis Noel Duffy was one of the highlights in this final, while Pat Clarke’s goal was the clincher. In the 1956 Championship final, corner forward Sean Duffy scored the winning goal with only four minutes to go. The final score was Clontibret 3-8 Ballybay 3-6 and the O’Neills had won their sixth senior final. In 1957 it took two memorable meetings between Clontibret and Ballybay before the latter relieved Clontibret of the title but the following year Clontibret defeated Donaghmoyne by 0-7 to 0-4 in a tough, hard hitting final. They could have won much more comfortably but for faulty finishing. Clontibret had already beaten Threemilehouse and Monaghan in the 1958 campaign. A new Clontibret name, that of Benny Mone, had now hit the headlines. His move to mid-field during this game was an inspired one. Sean and Brendan Woods were now very much part of the new Clontibret outfit. Still holding his place on the team was the third Woods brother, Jim, a veteran of the 1949 team.

Clontibret had to wait ten years before the Championship returned to its old familiar surroundings for the eighth occasion. In the meantime, Ballybay defeated them in a replay in 1959. During the sixties, Scotstown won both the 1960 and 1961 Championships and Ballybay won in 1962. In 1962 and 1963 Clontibret won the Fr. Hackett Cup. In 1965 Castleblayney beat Clontibret by 1-5 to 0-3. In 1967 came one of the greatest County Finals ever played, Castleblayney again defeating Clontibret by 2-9 to 1-10. Clontibret were again to the fore in 1968 and showed great promise when their Junior team defeated hot favourites Inniskeen to win the Brennan Cup for the first time. Also in 1968, the Senior Championship title returned to Clontibret although it looked as if it would be Scotstown’s title but poor finishing was their ultimate downfall. Trailing by four points from the fifth minute of the first half, a brilliant goal by Sean Woods, who had been given a perfect pass by Joe Smyth early in the second half transformed the game. A feature of this game was the winning of a Monaghan S.F.C. medal by the Offaly All-Ireland star, Kieran Claffey. Monaghan Harps surprisingly eliminated Clontibret in the first round of the 1969 Championship. Clontibret again reached the final with ‘Blayney in 1970, ‘Blayney winning by 1-10 to 0-9. At half-time ‘Blayney led by 1-6 to 0-3. A great second half recovery by Clontibret redeemed the game but it never lived up to the 1967 standards. In 1971, O’Neills again met Castleblayney in the Senior Championship Final but again ‘Blayney took the honours. Nearly every Ulster Railway Cup team for the twenty year period from the late forties to the late sixties included a Clontibret player:- John Rice, Hughie McKearney, Francie McQuaid, Benny Mone and Sean Woods – an almost unique contribution from any club, surely!

Recent Years

After a lapse of twenty-six years the Senior Cup returned to Clontibret in 1994. In the first round of the Championship the O’Neills defeated Carrickmacross 3-11 to 0-12. In the quarter final they recorded a two point victory against Emyvale 1-6 to 0-7 and in the semi-final they had a facile victory over Castleblayney on a scoreline of 1-15 to 0-9. They defeated Donaghmoyne in the Final. Rory Mone, Fintully, who had played on the minor team, was introduced at half-time in the ‘Blayney game, scoring six points. He was again introduced at half-time in the final and this time he scored two goals. He became a regular with Clontibret throughout the Ulster Club Championship campaign, playing particularly well in the semi-final against Armagh champions Clan na Gael in Newry. They had already defeated Down champions Castlewellan in a game in which Kieran Lavelle scored three goals. They were defeated in the Ulster Club Championship Final by one point by Bellaghy from Derry. In this campaign, Kevin Carragher, who returned to midfield after injury, was a steadying influence. The youthful McShanes, twenty years old captain, Barry, at full back and Padraig at centrefield also made significant contributions. In the 1995 Championship, Clontibret defeated Drumhowan in the quarter-final by 1-11 to 1-9 on a July afternoon in Ballybay and again at Ballybay in the semi-final, Rory Mone excelled, scoring 2-5 to help the O’Neills to a convincing victory over Carrickmacross 2-13 to 3-2. It took a replay before Castleblayney beat Clontibret to clinch the ’95 Senior title.

However, Clontibret hadn’t long to wait for success to return because in 1997 they defeated Castleblayney Faughs in the Championship Final. Man of the Match, Gerard Moen – all 6 feet, 14 stone of him – proved quite a handful, knocking over 2 glorious points in the first fifteen minutes. The final score was Clontibret 0-11, ‘Blayney 0-8. In the first round of the competition, Brian McSkane’s late goal rescued Clontibret to make an amazing recovery and clinch a draw against Monaghan Harps. In the replay goals from Declan Brennan and Kieran Lavelle ensured victory for Clontibret. In the semi-final against Carrickmacross, Mickey Hughes, Ciaran McShane and Kieran Lavelle all scored goals to clinch victory after withstanding a lot of pressure and a missed penalty. Despite a goal from Niall Magennis, seven points from Declan Brennan and an outstanding performance by Ciaran McShane, Clontibret were subsequently beaten in the first round of the Ulster Club Championship by the narrowest of margins by Tyrone champions, Errigal Ciaran. The club went on however to win the Senior League, defeating Carrickmacross 3-10 to 1-9 and thus ‘do the double’ for the first time since 1958. On the same weekend the Clontibret minors also completed the double when they defeated Scotstown on a scoreline of 1-17 to 1-5 to retain the Fr. Maguire Cup. It that wasn’t enough Clontibret went on to win the Division Three League defeating Castleblayney in a hard fought final at Scotstown.

1998 was a year of mixed fortunes for the O’Neills. The senior team lost by a three point margin to ‘Blayney in the championship final in Clones. They denied ‘Blayney a double, however, by beating them in the league final (2-3 to 0-6) in Ballybay. All all-round good team performance coupled with a real hunger to seek revenge for the Championship Final defeat, meant the O’Neills retained the Owen Ward Cup.