Clery still passionate about Galway football

John Clery was a key player when the Galway & District League won the Oscar Traynor Cup in 1971

On a wild and wet Monday morning, a few yards from the River Corrib, John Clery sits in the splendid Commercial Boat Club to talk about one of his passions: Galway football.

Clery was a key figure in the Galway & District League's famous Oscar Traynor Cup final triumph in 1971 at Terryland Park.

In the intervening time developing that stadium and the journey from Terryland to Eamonn Deacy Park always captured Clery's imagination.

For Clery, though, it all started in Bohermore. "When I was growing up in Galway, football was what we did in Bohermore, some great players came from Bohermore. In actual fact the best player ever that I saw in my lifetime playing junior football was Brian Delargy, a true professional in the relation to the way he played football. He was two footed, he could do everything.

"He was the best player as far as I was concerned that ever came out of Bohermore that I saw. When we were growing up in Bohermore we played in the dump. It was named the dump for a reason because previously it had been a dump.

"That is where all of the footballers played football. You would just go down there after school, there was no such thing as age groups. You just went in, you played. Big lads, small lads, in between lads, it was all the same - you just played. We played football all night, we'd go home when we were called by our parents."

It assisted so many, but then Clery took the next step on his sporting journey. "When I was 10 or 11 years old my father introduced me to the Boys Club, in the Boys Club there was nothing, but sport in the Boys Club," he adds.

"Everything from dancing to rugby to soccer. So I played soccer, I had the pleasure of playing under the man who was managing the team, Billy Carr.

"Anyone who knows the Carr family from Henry Street, they are icons in relation to playing football in Galway. The five brothers played, I think it was in 1963, when they won the Connacht Cup for Boys Club with five brothers on the team. That was a great achievement, I used to always look up to Billy Carr. The only thing Billy cared about was football. A fabulous person, you couldn't meet better."

In the following campaign Clery graduated to play junior football at 14 years of age. After impressing in Galway, Clery joined Athlone Town with Drumcondra and Sligo Rovers subsequently both eager to capture his signature.

Clery, though, simply wanted to live in Galway eventually switching to conclude his playing career Hibs. "I joined Hibs, I said to Hibs this is twilight time, the family were growing up, I said I would give you two years, but the two years turned out to be more than 10 years.

"In 1984 or 1985 Hibs won the Connacht Cup for the first time since they won it back in 1950. It was fabulous to finish the career with Hibs.”

A move into the coaching and administration side of football was inevitable. "I was on the committee of the Galway & District League when I was playing football, I managed an Oscar Traynor side that were beaten in a final up in Wicklow, really a game we should have won.”

Improving facilities at Terryland Park was a mission Clery wanted to accomplish. “There was some reference made in relation to them playing on a cabbage patch,” he says about a match involving Galway United and Shelbourne at the venue.

“From that it triggered in my mind that maybe we should have a go at developing Terryland Park. I went to a Galway FA meeting soon afterwards and said we would have to put something in Terryland Park in relation to a building, that at least we would have dressing rooms.”

It was the start of a process, but looking back Clery outlines what has occurred. “The vision we had was that the players now would have a surface and facility to hone their skills, to get better and better by virtue of the fact that they are now playing on a surface that is up to standard - that was the aim,” he says.

“We completed the project, you can see what is there. For all of the people that were involved down through the years, I think we achieved our goal in relation to putting a facility there that was one of the best in Ireland. I'm a Galway & District League person, we had what nobody else had. We were possibly the only junior league in the entire country that owned a facility. We reached our goal, we had our ground.”

Last month Clery went to watch Galway United’s SSE Airtricity League first division play-off semi-final against Bray Wanderers. Eamonn Deacy Park was brimful. “I usually sit in the first stand, it is warmer, but we sat in the big stand,” Clery adds.

“We looked across, I took a photograph. It wouldn't be the first time it was filled, but it was the first time in a long, long time that it was full. Do you know what? It was fabulous to see. You see what the future can hold. We now know from that kind of a game that basically we have the support, we need the team.”

A Galwegian to the core, Clery stresses the value of having locals representing the flagship team.

“I am a Galway person, I always claim that I would like to see the nucleus of a team as Galway,” he says. “I don't mind Galway for the sake of Galway, but the players we produce that we are able to hold in Galway to play for Galway rather than to be farmed out to the St Pat's or Bohs.

“If we can hold what we produce and add four or five players to that then we have a chance of keeping everybody happy. We are Galway and we would like to see Galway representation on the field.

“If you are on development committees, if you are on the Galway & District League or underage committees you are striving to get the best out of what you have got in Galway. You want to showcase what is in Galway, that is what you want to do. I know the professional game is the professional game. I know there is no sentiment - if you are not good enough you don't play.

“I agree with that, but we have produced players. We were not able to either pay the players enough to stay or there were bigger and better gardens they wanted to ply their trade in. Galway United has to put the foundation there financially that they can going forward at least hold what we produce. If we do that we have a good chance.”

Taking opportunities is vital in sport. Fifty years ago the Galway & District League triumphed in a fabled Oscar Traynor Cup final, a game and occasion still fondly recalled by many. “It was a great day, Terryland was packed,” Clery says before listing the players and squad members involved.

“I had signed with Drumcondra, I had a problem getting released. I remember Pat Browne with Boys Club, God rest his soul, he asked would I sign if they got the release. I said Boys Club was my club. Pat got the release at the time, I didn't care how he got it, so I played.”

Something stirred in Galway that day. “Michael Geary and Brod Trill were elated, we had won the unachievable,” Clery remembers. “Since then we have been in five finals and lost five of them,” offering a stark reminder of how difficult it can be to sample success.

It is not simply about accumulating trophies. What matters deeply to Clery is the willingness to work, to try to craft footballers for the future, to afford them a fitting stage and platform to demonstrate their talent. “I love Galway, I love the football in Galway, I love the people associated with the game in Galway.”

Five decades after flourishing for the Galway & District League on a cherished afternoon, Clery’s passion still burns.

**Listen to the full interview with John Clery on this week's 'Cian on Sport' podcast available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.


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