In his book on handball the late Tom McElligott devoted two sections thereof to Ballymore Eustace players. The book itself was published to coincide with the World Handball Championships which were played in Ireland in 1984.
General Secretary and Journalist
Tom was a teacher and loved handball. His book has become the standard book on handball. For six years in the late forties and early fifties Tom was the General Secretary of the Irish Handball Association. For many years he also wrote a piece on handball in one of the national Sunday papers under the name Alley Cracker.
Ballymore Eustace Players
One of the two Ballymore Eustace players Tom devoted a separate section to was the late Tommy Leahy of the Golden Falls. For his part, Tommy Leahy was the first great player produced by Ballymore Eustace. He was also our first All-Ireland senior winner. Tommy played under the Irish Amateur Handball Union rules. This was a semi-professional body and operated in much the same way as professional boxers do.
Tommy Leahy 1906 – 1940
The 1911 Census indicates that Tommy was 5 years old when the Census was taken on April 2, 1911. When did Tommy start playing handball? I don’t know. Like many a handball player he probably started playing when at the old National School. Fact that he grew up at the Golden Falls was probably no hurt either.
Jim Byrne and Donal Gallagher both played their part in fostering a love of handball in their pupils. I know Jim Byrne even ran small competitions in handball.
In the fifties, I recall a mad rush from the school students for the ball alley at lunch time. On reaching the ball alley the fastest took up the most favourable position and everyone played short ways. In due course, Donal Gallagher would come over and keep an eye on proceedings.
But for Tom’s book we would have no information on the exploits of Ballymore Eustace’s first top handball players. Trouble is Tom’s book only deals with their exploits after they had come to prominence. Good players are the result of years of training and dedication to the game they love. The late Bernard Purcell was a big fan of the late Tommy Leahy and lauded his handball achievements at every opportunity (Bernard was an expert on handball and a leading member of Ballymore Eustace’s original handball club).
Tommy’s Main Achievements
From Tom McElligott’s book we learn that Tommy won a county novice title in 1924 – at that stage Tommy would have been 18 years old. He then defeated Paddy Coyne of Carlow in 1927 to win his first big match. His next match was against Morgan Pembroke whom he beat in a home and home rubber in 1928. The following year he took on J.J. Kelly of Dublin for the Irish title and won. He won it again in 1930 when he was also presented with the Weldon Cup given by Mrs T. Weldon of the Boot Inn, Ballymun, in memory of her husband. The Weldon Cup was recognition that Tommy was the World Champion.
He met J.J. Kelly in competition in 1933 when, in partnership with Jack Byrne, they defeated Pembroke and Kelly by 8 games to 4 in a match for the 1932 title. In partnership with Jimmy Dolan, he won the 1933 title, beating Kelly and Weldon by 8 games to 3. In 1936 O’Rourke and he lost the Kildare title to Aldridge and Foley of Athy. On March 6, 1940 Tommy died while still a young man.
Tommy Leahy’s Brothers and Sisters
Tommy had two brothers and two sisters. I knew his brother Mick. Sadly, Mick was only 49 when he died. He had two sisters namely Bridie and Molly. Bridie married Mick McDonald. John Holland interviewed Bridie and did an article for the November 1996 Bugle.
Rose B. O’Donoghue also interviewed Bridie and her article appeared in the February 1998 Bugle. Mick McDonald played an important part in Tommy’s handball life. Bridie, the last surviving Leahy, died on August 3, 2002 while Mick died C. 1991. Tommy’s sister Molly was married to Alex Cassidy.
A John G. McDonald with Ballymore Eustace links died in Durban, South Africa in 1997. Was this Mick’s Brother John who I did not know?
© Matt Purcell (08/10/2013)