The Early Years
Whilst early records are somewhat unclear it appears that the wheels of motion to establish a GAA unit in Madden began turning at the start of the 1930’s. Gaelic games and pastimes had been linked to the district as far back as the formation of the Association in Hayes Hotel, Thurles, in 1884. However, it was not until 1933 that Madden Rapparees officially arrived on the map. The club was affiliated at the 1934 County Convention which was held at the Parochial Hall in Armagh. The men who confidently put forward the name were Austin Mc Keown and Barney Grimley (Lisdrumbrochus). These pair, along with Paddy Grimley, are recorded as the founding members of Madden club.
Other pioneering activists at the time included James Duggan, P Mc Cusker, Paddy Hughes, Jack Belton, John Mc Keown, Barney Keatings, Frank Mc Ilvanna, Jimmy Hagan, Harry Grimley and Paddy Curry. The timing was perfect in coinciding with the Golden Jubilee of the GAA. This allowed the newly formed Madden club to proudly take its place in the county’s magnificent celebrations which attracted 20,000 to Armagh City. It was a tremendous hosting of the Gael and fully evidenced the great progress which had been made in County Armagh in furtherance of the worthy aims of Cusack’s dreams and aspirations. Madden, were gloriously part of it all. Led by Madden Pipe Band, members of the newly affiliated Madden Rapparees and their supporters stepped right into the annals of GAA History, helping to pave the way for future generations of the club to follow in their footsteps.
On the field of play, the early years were lean and relatively uneventful: but the seed had been sown for what is now in access of 75 years further down the line. The zest and enthusiasm generated by the new club was quickly evidenced with their first major success in 1935 when Madden captured the Mid Division League. Like most small clubs, the founding fathers of Madden had little option but to spread their catchment net to areas such as Milford, Ballyrath, Ballyhoy, Baltarran, Lislea and even Armagh itself in search of playing talent. Indeed it was common practice in those days for players to turn out for different teams: often hopping on a bicycle from one venue to another and perhaps playing as many as two or three games in the one day. Madden’s first home ground was a field owned by Peter Grimley at Brootally Crossroads and green and black were the first colours.
By the Mid 40’s the strip had changed to green with gold hoops and with the success of the famous Down team of the 60’s, winning All Irelands, the now familiar red and black team colours were adopted. When Madden were formed, the county had 25 Football clubs and 2 Hurling clubs. At this stage, the All County League hadn’t yet left the drawing board.
Madden was confined to the Mid Armagh League competing against teams like Knappagh O’Connors (later Tullysaran O’Connells), Middletown Owen Roes, Blackwatertown and two teams from Armagh City, including the legendary Young Irelands and Tir na nOg. Madden winning the competition in 1935, was no mean achievement considering they were mere fledglings. It was the hungry 30’s. Funds were scarce and when a few bob became available, usually through the generosity of some kind benefactor, it was off to either Peter McBrides shop in Thomas Street for football gear, or McStravick's saddlers in English street to buy a football. There was certainly no organised training in these days. Players gathered at the football field “kicking the ball in and out” until dark, and teams were normally only picked on the day of a match as players arrived.
With years of Madden forming the Second World War broke out on 1st September 1939. There were few indeed in the GAA world, or anywhere else in fact, who could have visualised the near disastrous effect that this war was to have on GAA affairs in the County for the next five years. Rigid blackouts in every area turned town and countryside into extreme darkness at night. Petrol rationing and restrictions on taxis and hackney cars made travelling to matches and meetings extremely difficult. Rationing left food and clothing in short supply which meant that footballs, jerseys, togs and football boots were difficult to replace. The GAA ceased to be the first priority with the youth and the standard of fitness in football matches suffered. Many teams were forced out of existence and the newly formed Rapparees joined the casualty list.
Although the Second World War had ended in 1945, the revival of the fortunes of the GAA in the county was slow and gradual even though travel restrictions had eased considerably. Food and clothes rationing still continued, even in 1946 with Gerry Arthurs, of Keady, like a fairy godfather, regularly distributing clothing coupons for jersey tops, boots and footballs at County Board meetings.
The resurgence throughout the county was reflected in seven new clubs and greatly increased attendances at the annual County Convention: a sure barometer of the state of the GAA in any county. Madden were also back in business, though restricted to a Parish League, and games were played with tremendous gust and excitement at a field located at Lisglyn. It was then owned by the McKeown family and is presently the site of the McCann homestead. The parish league was made up of four teams: Maghery, Kilcreevy, Tamlaght and Madden. It was far from balanced with Maghery backboned by the four O’Hagan brothers from Ballyhoy and the Wood’s brothers from Baltaran much too strong for the rest.
As a result, interest began subsiding and the competition never reached a conclusion. Fortunately, the void was brief and the reformation of the first Madden team since the club folded leading up to the war kept the GAA very much alive in the district. A number of challenge matches were swiftly arranged and victories over neighbouring clubs Keady and Middletown generated a whole new wave of enthusiasm. At the 1946 County Convention held in St Malachys Club in Ogle Street, Madden were represented by Barney Keatings and Jack Belton. These two capable delegates gave their full blessing at this meeting to the formation of a new Mid Armagh League which resulted in Madden being pooled with a selection of clubs. These clubs included Collegeland, Grange, Craobh Rua (Navan Street, Armagh), St. Malachys (Armagh City), Ballymacnab and Keady.
The newly formed Rapparees hadn’t long to wait for a taste of success. In 1946 they won the Trodden Cup and the following year were crowned Mid Division Junior champions: defeating Craobh Rua by a point. The County Championship, however, was to be a different kettle of fish and Madden lost to Killeavy at the semi-final stage. Madden had now assembled a competent side. Players such as former Armagh and Ulster great, Art O’Hagan, Peter Fegan, Felix Woods, Pete Grimley and John Trainor were all on board and were constantly turning in good performances. In 1950 Madden entered the Senior Championship for the first time and upon reaching the semi-final were unfortunate to have been beaten by Lurgan side, St Peters. The following year the club received a major setback with the departure of several key players to neighbouring clubs. A reassessment of strength and purpose was immediately called for and a decision to step down from the senior ranks and reengage in the Junior Championship, due to the fact that there was no Intermediate Championship at the time, was taken.
In 1952 Madden reached the final of the Mid Division Championship once again. On this occasion, defeat was to be their lot by the newly formed city side Pearse Og; who went on to secure the County Junior Title that year. The following Year, 1953, was a truly historic year for Armagh as they reached their first All-Ireland Senior Final. It was also a glorious season for Madden, winning their first ever County Junior Championship under the guidance of the late Maurice Mc Nally, of Milford. Following their victory over Forkhill in the semi-final, the Raparees were up against St Peter’s in the decider. That memorable final was played at the Athletic Grounds: Madden emerging victorious 4-5 to 1-1. The team that wrote Madden into the history books on that historic day over 50 years ago lined out as follows:
- Gerry Mc Kenna
- Frank Hughes
- Felix Woods
- Tommy Corvan
- Pat Grimley
- Joe Duffy
- Barney Cassidy
- Gerald Woods
- Peter Fegan
- Peter Woods
- Pete Grimley
- Jimmy Whan
- Joe Fegan
- John Smith
- Sean Corvan
The celebrations were put on ice as Pete Grimley picked up a badly injured knee in the game and was replaced by Morty Gorman. A victory ceile was held in Armagh City Hall a few months later. In that same year, Madden also reached the Final of the Blackwatertown tournament, losing narrowly by a point to Pearse Og in an absorbing final which ended 4-5 to 4-4. The referee was none other than the late Canon Malachy Coyle, one of Blackwatertown’s most famous sons. This particular era also witnessed the emergence of Madden’s most famous son, in the personage of the one and only Jimmy Whan footballer supreme. Whan’s exemplary career is documented highly in Maddens history and it’s sufficed to say that his likes will never be seen again. He was an exceptional talent, a name still highly revered across the length and breadth of Ireland.
Jimmy, without any fear of contradiction, was Madden’s first super star: a wonder player. He was an aspiring genius whose style and panache coupled with his outstanding vision and presence of mind, singled him out as a product which was away ahead of his time. He was a star for his club, county and province. Jimmy was a central figure in Maddens rise to senior ranks and featured for both Armagh and Ulster for nearly a decade. Anyone who seen Jimmy play all speak of his exceptional talent and skill and generations of Madden Folk are privileged and indeed very proud of all of his achievements whilst playing for the Madden Raparees.