Cavan’s Carolan clan now comprises a fourth generation in the Tailteann push

Later in the day, the last surviving member of the last Cavan team, raising a trophy for winning a championship at Croke Park, will take his place in front of a crowd expected to be well over 70,000 at the venue.

It has been just three months of 70 years since half-back Paddy helped Carolan Cavan win the 1952 All-Ireland title thanks to a replay win over one of their neighbors and great, even then bitter, rivals Meath.

The replay had been forced by Paddy’s brother Edwin’s point to draw the first game, a contentious and still painful issue to this day along the line that straddles the counties as those on one side claim it was wide.

As a physiotherapist with clinics in Virginia and Kells and regular visits to the Kilmainhamwood retirement village on the Meath side of Kingscourt, Paddy’s son Ronan is all too aware of how divisive his uncle and godfather’s late result from a difficult angle along the end line was.

“There is actually a man in Kilmainhamwood at the moment, he’s a character and I would say he’s mentioned it to me 10 times in the last 10 weeks. “I sat there and looked at it,” he tells me. ‘It had gone over the line’.”

Ronan will accompany his father, who is now in his 90s, to Croke Park for the inaugural Tailteann Cup final which Cavan will contest with Westmeath.

Devotion to the county and the chance to see one of their own lifting a trophy at Croke Park naturally attract them, but also a personal interest. Paddy’s grandson Niall, son of Ronan’s older brother Patrick, is a member of the extended Cavan team.

Niall Carolan, captain of U-20 side Cavan, who came close to winning the Ulster title earlier this year, has featured as a substitute in previous Tailteann Cup games. And that may have created a rare milestone in the Gaelic Games – a four-generation family between the counties.

Galway’s Donnellans are well established as a three-generation family of inter-county footballers. More recently, Michael and John are sons of John and nephews of Pat, whose father Mick played for Galway in the 1920s. But four?

It’s open to correction, of course, but Willie Carolan’s presence in the 1905 Cavan team, who played three games against Armagh that year to win the Ulster title, was the birth of a pedigree that stretches through the Cavan team draws.

“Dad calls him Uncle Willie,” says Ronan. “As far as I know he was a full-back on that team.”

Cavan and Armagh parted ways twice by the same score, five points each, the first game was at the Armagh Harps’ ground, the second at the Cavan Town tournament ground, where the Cavan Gaels now play. The ‘decision’ was played at Newbliss outside Clones, which Cavan won 8-0 4-0 before losing an All-Ireland semi-final to Kildare.

‘Uncle’ Willie played for Virginia but Paddy and Edwin were with Mullagh when they teamed up with Cavan in the 1940s and early 1950s, Edwin was a member of the squad who went to New York in 1947 to play in the All Ireland Playing the finals of the Polo Grounds.

When Brian O’Reilly, a Galway resident, died last November, Paddy Carolan was the last member of the 1952 team, as well as the last surviving All-Ireland winner from a county that had such a storied history in the competition. Paddy Carolan was poignantly brought to Galway by his son Patrick to meet his old colleague two weeks before his death.

“He was a lovely man,” Ronan recalls. “We were in touch with the family and it was arranged that Dad would come to see him about a fortnight before he died and they would have a nice day. His son reported it. Of course we were sad to hear that Brian died not long after, but in other ways we were pleased that they had gotten together one last time.”

Ronan Carolan had a distinguished 14-year career with Cavan from 1986 to 1999, including the 1997 County Ulster Final victory which ensured three generations of the family received provincial medals.

Patrick Carolan had the talent to be a Cavan player too, but for an acute groin injury that kept him out of the game for three years in his late teens, followed by a cruciate ligament injury. Finally, at the age of 25, he played a McKenna Cup game against Tyrone at Cootehill. Now the baton passes to Niall and Ronan sees a bright future for his nephew, who is also a Cúchulainns player.

“It’s great to have a club member in the squad again, we’d be used to that. He’s just starting out, he may not even come, but we hope he has a long and healthy career at Cavan. He is motivated and interested in it.”

As for Cavan’s Tailteann Cup pursuit, the team and management jumped on it first, and now so does the county, he says. “It’s a testament to Mickey (Graham) that he kept everyone on board, there weren’t any defectors at any point. The team is in the works. Win the Tailteann Cup, rise and fall in Division 2, and play at the top of the table again.

“Cavan believes they are doing well enough to engage at a higher level. The Donegal game (Ulster semi-finals) slipped out of their hands from a good position.” Cavan’s Carolan clan now comprises a fourth generation in the Tailteann push

Fry Electronics Team

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