Dr Joseph Kerlin and the famous Claudy Cup

GAA correspondent Bernie Mullan looks at the history of a famous old cup coveted by North Derry clubs for generations

Dr Joseph Kerlin and the famous Claudy Cup

Dr Joseph Kerlin, after whom the cup is named, presents the trophy to the victorious Glenullin team in 1939, three years after the tournament was introduced in 1936.

By Damian Mullan


By Damian Mullan



THE Dr. Kerlin Cup was first contested in 1936 and has been played every year since.
However, 2020 is very much up in the air due, allegedly, to a China man cooking a bat!
Cups are won but, rarely, is there much thought put into who it is named after.
But, then, Dr Kerlin was no ordinary man.
Joseph P. Kerlin was born in Glenullin in 1885, the son of two schoolteachers Patrick and Philomena.
It is a remarkable coincidence that three of the four main cups played for in North Derry are in memory of three men born in Glenullin.
The others are James O’Hagan, an uncle, and Harry O’Kane, the late father of well known photographer Danny O’Kane.
As a boy, Kerlin attended primary school in Glenullin but he had Claudy connections.
His father came from Craigbane in the rural end of the Claudy parish where the name Kerlin is still quite common.
His secondary education was in St. Columb’s College Derry.
From there, he enrolled in the Catholic University of Medicine in Dublin. There he proved to be a student of outstanding ability. He was top of the class in virtually every phase of medicine; In his third year he had seven firsts.
“He was the best man in his class on four occasions. I regard Dr Kerlin as one of the best men who has gone through this school,” said one of his tutors.
He qualified as a doctor at the age of 23 and two years later, in 1910, the Bishop of Derry, the Rev. Charles McHugh, gave Dr Kerlin a glowing reference. “He is sure to devote himself with painstaking care and intelligence to the duties put before him,” he said.
He set up his practice in Magherafelt in that year and it lasted until 1961 when he died at the age of 76.
His prowess as a doctor cannot be overstated, as was detailed in a report after an incident at 1am on June 5 1921.
A party of RIC men were ambushed in Swatragh, resulting in Sergeant Michael Burke being shot dead and Constable John Kennedy shot in the throat and back.
Kennedy was taken to Coleraine Cottage Hospital and Dr. Kerlin brought all the way from Magherafelt to attend him.
Kennedy had been shot through the wind pipe and, after treatment, was transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where he is said to have made a full recovery.
An indication of the fear that gripped the country at that time struck again later that day just a few miles from Swatragh.
27-year-old Alexander O’Connor from Glack and his friend, John Harkin from Limavady, were cycling on the Ballintemple Road between Garvagh and Glenullin when O’Connor was shot dead under mysterious circumstances.
O’Connor may have had connections with O’Connor’s Glack GAA who played in the 1921/22 North Derry League.
With the GAA coming and going in North Derry, until 1936 when a meeting in Claudy set up a district board.
This was to last until the county was restructured in 2007 which resulted in the Kerlin Cup losing a lot of its earlier prestige.
The attendances dropped from a few thousand to a few hundred or less.

Dr. Kerlin stood in the Derry County Council election in 1936 and was elected as a Nationalist candidate beating C.R McCausland (Unionist) by 892 votes to 625. There was an amazing 91% turn out with three spoiled votes.
In appreciation of the support he received from the Claudy people, the Dr. Kerlin Cup was presented to the North Derry Board, with the final to be played annually at Claudy’s parochial sports day. That tradition has continued for the last 84 years.
With the championships being based on an all county basis from 1958, the clubs of North Derry regarded this cup as the North Derry championship, and it has had its thrills, spills and controversy down through the years.
On one occasion, for example, a referee was nearly dipped into the Faughan River, which ran along Claudy Green where the final was played until the seventies. The losing fans were incensed at having four goals ruled out!
In 1936, with emigration rife and the country impoverished, footballers were in short supply so the competition started off at 13-a-side and that tradition still continues until the present day.

First Winners
The cup was not long in the hands of the committee when the action started and the first winners were O’Connor’s Limavady.
This was a combination of Glack and Limavady players and they defeated the now defunct Park in the final.
Their panel and management was: J. Guy, J. (Baker) Mullan, A. Kealey, F. Cummings, H. Owens, J. O’Kane, L. Brolly, M. Duffy, M. Toner, T O’Kane, S Beattie, T Holmes, P. Bryson and another J. Guy.

O’Connor’s failed narrowly to retain the cup when they lost in the next final to Dungiven.
In 1938, they should have been contesting the final against Glenullin but they were unable to field and, for the one and only time, the cup was awarded without the game being played.
Glenullin defended the cup in some style as the world sat on the brink of the Second World War.
In an era when scores were often low, this proved to be one of the highest tally between two teams with Glenullin beating Foreglen by 0-18 to 0-12.
The players who brought the cup to ‘The Glen of The Eagle’ for a second time were: P McIntyre, James McNicholl, P Higgins, P McNicholl, J.B McNicholl, P O’Hagan, John McNicholl, B, McNicholl, H. O’Kane, J. McCloskey, D McNicholl and P. Harkin.

A Poem For the Winners

A win in the Kerlin Cup brought out the local poets.
Indeed, when O’Connor’s became the first winners, James Cartin of Glack put pen to paper with a stirring poem titled ‘The Gaelic Revival.’

‘Hail manly recreation of the strong and vigorous youth.
I welcome your revival in the green fields of the North.
It calls to mind the days gone by as I oft heard old men say.
When fields were filled with stalwart forms on every Christmas Day.

I love to hear the fine array when teams form up in line.
The bone and sinew of our land in manhood’s bloom and prime.
It fills my heart to see again the contest fast and clean.
As Erin’s sons disport themselves upon their native green.

Alas, our boys had once to go across the ocean foam.
To find a means of livelihood they could not get at home.
Rich syndicates, huge liners built to take them o’er the main.
I pray that I may never hear that siren sound again.

The O’Connor lads have proved the best of all the Gaelic men.
From Longfield’s plain to Sawell’s crest that towers o’er green Tyrone.
May health be theirs and length of years, brave hardy sons of toil.
They won the cup and their flag is up, and may it never fail.

Park Celebrated In Style

There was a strong tradition of football in the picturesque village of Park for many years.
They played in the initial North Derry League in the early twenties.
They folded in the mid sixties with the emergence of Banagher and Craigbane on either side of them.
They won the Kerlin Cup in 1948 beating O’Connor’s by 0-5 to 0-3 in a replay.
Local bard Terry Shiels really went to town with a 16 verse poem with some stirring emotions in the 74 lines - a verse was devoted to each player.
Here is a sample.

‘Victory’ by Terry Shiels

You will find in history’s pages, heroes of great fame.
The deeds they’ve done, the matches won.
And how they made their name.
There’s not a team in Derry since Noah left the ark.
Like the team that won the Kerlin Cup.
The lads that came from Park.

The Parish Priest threw in the ball, the epic match was on.
The ebb and flow of battle. I’ll describe to you in song.
You know the Conway brothers, one is Shamie and one is Tom.(twins)
Excuse me if I make mistakes or get their names in wrong.

The home team they attacked in strength.
That was the run of play.
But our stalwart Paddy Arthur, he soon got the ball away.
Jim Hampson sent to Eddie who got her on his toe.
And sent her clean across the bar, another point you know.

When the match was in the balance, and playing gets intense.
You can depend on Paddy Arthur, he’s a stonewall in defence.
Just watch Tommy Farren, who’s official referee.
Has out his book out when McNickle takes a free.

Final verse
The Cup’s in Mickie’s (Forrester) window, it’s plain there to be seen.
Its background is of yellow, the shelf is coloured green.
Now that we have the trophy, in its right and proper place.
We’ll keep it there for many years, with Gods help and His grace.

The Park team included the following players: P.A O’Kane, P Halliday, J. O’Kane, J Hasson, J. Hampson, J. McNickle, F. Forrester, M. Gormley, T. Conway, M. Forrester, S. Conway, E. Forrester, H . Halliday, B. Boyle, Jim Hampson.
They would have to wait another seven years before the cup came back, beating neighbours Banagher by 0-8 to 1-3 in the 1955 final.

New Names Appear

While Glenullin were prominent in the early years, with four wins between 1938 and 1945, new names began to appear on the roll of honour.
Exactly 80 years ago, Drum had their one and only success with victory over O’Connor’s in a replay.
Faughanvale had a first in 1943 and repeated the feat four years later with a four point victory over Ballerin, a relatively new club who were to make a huge impression on the competition until the mid-seventies.
In 1950, the cup was shared for the one and only time when Faughanvale and Dungiven drew but the replay never took place.
The Faughanvale team on that occasion was James Canavan, Kevin Bryson, John McColgan, Charlie McGurk, John Quinn, Phil Bryson, John Bradley, Gerard King, Hugh Bryson, James Donaghey, Robert O’Kane, Paddy O’Doherty, Dan Bradley.
Dungiven won the cup seven times between 1944 and ’54.
A typical line out at that time was Sean McCloskey, John Eddie Mullan, Eddie Lowry, Niall Hasson, Larry Boyle, M. McLaughlin, Charlie Hasson, Patsy Kelly, Frank Donaghy, Dan O’Kane, Willie McElhinney, Patrick Kealey and Eddie Kealey.

The finals of 1940, 41 and ’48 went to replays. O’Connor’s, Limavady, were involved in all three draws winning one and losing two.

19 Finals in 28 Years

Ballerin played in 19 finals between 1947 and 1975, winning ten and losing nine.
Their first success came in 1952 when they beat Glack by 5-3 to 0-2 and their last in 1974 with 3-11 to 3-7 victory over Banagher in one of the best finals ever seen at the ‘Green.’
They were also involved in two remarkable comebacks.
In 1960, they trailed hosts Claudy by 2-5 to 0-1 at half-time but 1-3 from Brian Mullan and 2-0 from Dermot Mullan saw them emerge winners by 3-4 to 2-5.
That team was Bobby Mullan, Peter McKinney, John McCorriston, Hugh O’Connell, Willie Harkin, Gerald Mullan, Paddy O’Connell, Brian Mullan, Dermot Mullan, Patsy Lynch, Jim ‘Twin’ Mullan and John Faulkner.
In 1967 they looked dead and buried at half-time, trailing Drumsurn by eight points but a second half tally of 3-4 by Sean O’Connell saw a complete turn around and a 4-8 to 4-2 victory.
Since contesting every final from 1965 to 1975 they have only been back once and that was a defeat to Claudy in 1985 by 1-10 to 0-5.
Two Ballerin players - Paddy O’Connell and Sean McGahon, with ten medals each - are believed to be the most successful players in Kerlin Cup history.
An indication of just how competitive this cup was can be indicated by the 1957 final.
Ballerin won the Derry championship that year and their only defeat in 29 games was against Claudy in the Dr. Kerlin Cup final.
Claudy won by the somewhat unusual score of 4-3 to 3-4.
That Claudy team consisted of Patsy Gormley, John Devine, Mickey J Donaghy, G. Peoples, John White, Seamus Bryce, M. McLaughlin, J. McCloskey, Johnny Burke, Michael Donaghy, Patsy’Pickles’ McCloskey, Tony Gormley and Seamus Lynch.

Foreglen Excel In The Sixties

Foreglen, based just a few miles from Claudy, had a great run in the sixties, winning three times from 1961 to 1965.
They beat Claudy 1-9 to 0-8, Ballerin 2-4 to 1-6 and again this time by 1-4 to 0-5.
Their third victory came against Ballerin in ’65 by 3-10 to 1-6.
The winning panel of 1963 was H. McGilligan, Willie John McTaggart, Fonsey O’Kane, Barney McNicholl, Josie McLaughlin, Brendan McLaughlin, D O’Connor, G McLaughlin, John Desmond McCloskey, James McCormack, Johnny McLaughlin, Mickey Doherty, Gerry McCloskey, Willie O’Kane and Tom McFeely.

Magilligan had been a strong force in North Derry during the sixties yet they reached only one final.
That was in 1962 when they beat Foreglen by 2-9 to 1-7.
The Magilligan squad was Pat Crampsie, Michael Clyde, George McGee, Robert Noble, Kevin Gilloway, Hugh McGill, Jackie McNally, James McLaughlin, Harry Wilson, Benny McCorriston, Seamus McLaughlin, Billy Boylan, Patrick Hasson, Oliver Doherty, John Cunning.
From the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, the cup more or less became the preserve of Banagher and Dungiven.
From 1976 to 1984 Banagher won six and Dungiven three.
Banagher had some very good teams down the years but they had to wait until 1976 when a 1-7 to 0-6 victory over Dungiven put them on course for many more in the succeeding years.
They lost narrowly in two finals during the fifties to Park and Dungiven with a team that included players like Tommy B. Stevenson, ‘Ginger’ John Mullan, Seamus Doran, Willie. J. McElhinney and Willie Stevenson.
Winning five between 1976 to ’91, including four in a row, might have indicated the start of a big run for Banagher but since then they have won only three - in 1984, 1987 and 1995.

Craigbane contested their first final in 1986, the 50th year of the cup, and they quickly became a new force making regular appearances and taking the cup ‘home.’
Some of their games against Banagher and Claudy in the nineties brought huge crowds.
Dungiven, Claudy, Glenullin and Foreglen still gave their all in support of the competition.
With a change of structure in the county in 2007 and a generally crowded programme, the district competitions took on a new look.
In the days of the North Derry Board, the cup was played on a straight knock-out basis.
Under the new regime, only senior and strong intermediate teams were allowed to play for the Kerlin Cup.
Others played in either the James O’Hagan or Neal Carlin cups.
In 2018, it was open to clubs from the south of the county for the first time and, fittingly, Slaughtneil were the winners.
Eoghan Rua Coleraine have won two of the last three but a lot of the magic has gone from this once proud competition.

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