O’ Donovan Rossa Gaelic Football Club Magherafelt has a proud history. It evolved from young lads saving up to buy a football in the early thirties into a thriving club now boasting twenty-six teams from under 8 in football and camogie.
Founded in 1934 and named by Pat Mc Flynn it is easily the oldest sporting club in Magherafelt having fielded teams ever since. Red has always been the colour of the jerseys and in recent years features the club crest of the coat of arms of the O’ Donovan.
The club has always been to the fore in the county both on the field of play and the boardroom and the club has a number of ‘firsts’. The club bought the first land to be owned by the association in the County. Rossa Park, or what used to be called the County Grounds was purchased in 1941 for five hundred pounds. The County Board thought that it was too much of a responsibility for one club and took it over, but left the Rossas to develop it. It was only handed back a few years ago.
We now have two excellent enclosed pitches – one with floodlights and a training area along with excellent changing facilities and showers, a referee’s room, a first aid room and a weights facility. The social club is well utilised and is a comfortable place to meet and is open for use by other organisations. All this did not happen overnight and it was years of hard work and dedication of club members that brought it about.
In the early days games were played at Bellvue Park on the Station Road and also at the corner of the Pound Road, a venue used by both soccer and Rugby. 1941 was a landmark year – the GAA had a home in the county and it was the venue for many finals and county matches. Developments were carried out and funded by the club. The second full-sized pitch with floodlights was completed in 2010. The club was always involved in the affairs of the Association in the County and Province.
Founder member Paddy MacFlynn, who passed away last year aged ninety-five went up through the ranks of District, County and Province to the highest position in the Association in 1979, when he was elected President and guided the Association through harrowing times during the hunger strikes in the North. His life story was published just before his death. The late Willie John Halferty served for many years at District Board Secretary, County Treasurer, Referee and for years was the main reporter of games in the District. Joey Taylor was County Secretary and Inter-County Referee.
It was on the field of play that the Rossas made headlines by playing an attractive style of football. The first player to catch the eye was Paddy Maguire known as ‘Sticky’, after an old Cliftonville soccer player of the same name and was part of the famous Ulster Railway Cup half-forward line in 1942 of Alf Murray and Kevin Armstrong. Pat Keenan captained Derry to victory in the County’s first National League Final in 1947. Playing beside him in the half forward line was Francey Niblock and Larry, now Monsignor, Higgins. Between them they accounted for one goal and eight points out of a total of 2-9. Gerry O’ Loughlin captained Derry and played along with Mickey Niblock in Derry and Ulster. Mickey and Gerry played for Derry when they won their first AllIreland minor title in 1965. Gary Coleman was left back in Derry’s first and only All-Ireland win in 1993 and over the years the club has been well represented at County Minor, U-21 and Senior level.
The Rossa senior team can hold it’s own in Derry football. Five senior championships, two junior, three senior leagues and numerous under-age titles have been won. The current senior team features many players who won the All-Ireland U14 Feile in 2007 and the Derry Minor Championship in 2010. Given that the current U14 team won the 2014 Derry Feile title and the County Championship and our minor team has competed in the 2014 County Final, added to a very strong Rossa Og’s structure, the club is well placed to compete at the highest level in the coming years. Significant numbers of young boys and girls are given every chance to progress through regular training sessions and our underage structures are recognised as being among the best in the County. Much has happened in the eighty years since 1934. The first fifty years history was issued in 1989 and some copies are still available. There should be lots to celebrate in the next twenty years leading to our Centenary.