Ned Cleary created a GAA stronghold in Castlehaven and he changed an entire parish

March 14th, 2021 7:00 PM

By Tom Lyons

The late Ned Cleary, President of Castlehaven GAA Club, who passed away last weekend.

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TIMOLEAGUE’S loss was Castlehaven’s gain. When Mayo man Ned Cleary arrived in Bandon in 1954 to take up his first posting as a young Garda Síochána, he was no mean footballer and played for a few years in the mid-fifties with the Garda senior football team, based in the city, that played in the Cork county championship.

The following year, 1955, he moved to Timoleague where he spent seven happy years, meeting his future wife, Kathleen Harrington. In 1962, he made his third, and last, move to Castletownshend, and Timoleague’s loss was indeed Castlehaven’s gain as he threw in his lot with the local junior B club.

The beginning of a legend, the founding of a GAA dynasty, was underway as the Ballindine native threw himself – body, heart and soul – into developing the Castlehaven club which had known only lean times since winning their only South West junior B football title in 1944.

Unknown outside West Cork, and not too well known within it, by the time Ned stepped down as trainer and chairman, Castlehaven were Munster senior champions and known all over Ireland. It was a rags to riches story, beginning in 1968 when Ned first took over the training of the team which landed the South West junior B title the following year.

The first-ever junior A title followed in 1973, followed by the South West and junior county titles in 1976 and the county intermediate title in 1978.

Incredibly, the country boys were into senior ranks in 1979, driven on by the man from Mayo and backboned by seven Collins brothers, and everybody sat up and took notice that first year when they took the scalp of All-Ireland club champions, Nemo Rangers, in the championship. They had to wait until 1989 to land their first senior title but on and off the pitch they have forged a premier place in Cork and national GAA.

As a trainer, Ned totally believed in his players being fitter than the opposition, a yard faster, and with the skills to back up the fitness. They played a brand of pure football that was always a joy to watch, backed up by a fierce belief in their own ability. It was a mindset Ned had cultivated in his teams and is now the legacy he has bequeathed to all Haven players.

Ned stepped down as trainer in 1982 to take over as chairman and led the club through a great decade of development, playing a huge part in the development of Páirc Gleann Bhearracháin, one of the finest GAA centres in the county. He was fortunate to be surrounded by club people who shared in his vision for the club, on and off the playing field, but he was the whirlwind at the centre of the growing storm.

When we speak of people becoming legends in their own lifetime, we speak of people like Ned Cleary who look and see what is not there and say, ‘Why not?’

With Castlehaven GAA, Ned, who also served as vice-chairman of the Carbery Board and was president of the Castlehaven club at the time of his death last weekend, spent his long life not only saying ‘Why not?’ but doing something positive about it.

Besides creating the legend that became the Castlehaven senior football club, Ned was also working on creating his own GAA dynasty. Eight children, five girls and three boys, was the result of his happy union with Kathleen Harrington and the deeds of their children, male and female, on the playing pitches of Ireland in the blue of the Haven, the red of Cork and the blue of Munster need no telling here.

It is said the drawers in the Cleary household rattle with the All-Ireland medals and All-Star awards by the dozen and when the daughters married into great GAA families like the Cahalanes, Maguires and Ó Cróiníns, the dynasty grew and expanded. Now Ned’s grandchildren, he enjoyed 27 of them, are adding to the legend and wearing the blue and the red jerseys with pride and honour.

There is only so much one man can do in a lifetime but Ned Cleary ignored that and in his 90 years on this earth, he created not only a GAA stronghold in his adopted Castlehaven, and his own personal GAA dynasty, but changed forever the mindset of a whole parish and its people for the better.

‘Ned was a gentleman, he had time for everybody,’ said James O’Neill, another great Castlehaven Gael, who served as a club officer for many years with Ned, especially in developing Moneyvolihane.

‘He was an outstanding Gael and he brought the Castlehaven club from lowly junior B to the pinnacle of senior football in the county. Some great men like Malachy O’Sullivan had done a lot of ground work but it was Ned who really drove it on for so many years.

‘He respected everybody he knew, especially the players he trained and they gave him great respect in return. He succeeded in getting the whole parish behind him and the fine facilities we now have in the club are a lasting tribute to him. He was always a pleasure to work with and was a great believer in common sense.

‘He and Kathleeen raised a wonderful family and he was always so proud of them all. His very name is synonymous with the Castlehaven club and he would have celebrated his 91st birthday on St Patrick’s Day. What a shame his funeral has to be limited as it would have been one of the biggest ever seen in the area. He will never be forgotten in Castlehaven.’ Men die but legends go on forever. Ned Cleary is a GAA legend whose name will forever be indelibly linked to the great Castlehaven club. We are proud to have known him. To his wife Kathleen and all his family, the sympathy of all Gaels is extended.

Ní bheidh a leithéad arís ann. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

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