The first steps towards building a successful junior team were perhaps taken with the minor teams of 1954/55 reaching the northern finals in both years. The curate of the time Fr. White, Minie Kennedy and Tom Fenlon were instrumental in looking after this young team. The latter went on to serve as a county minor selector. It is recalled how after a match the team were duly brought to Jimmy Lennon’s shop and treated to royally to whatever was their choice (Yes, we are talking about minors!!!).
From this team was to emerge Andy Comerford, who went on to play on the Kilkenny minor hurling teams of 1955, ’56 and ‘57. In the 1955 season Gowran beat a Freshford team which included Pa Dillon, who went on to star on future Kilkenny teams.
In 1957 Young Irelands reached their first ever county final when they qualified to meet Tullogher in the county junior final. They were badly beaten on the day (8th Dec) – the weather being described as one of terrible wind and rain. James Byrne turned in a star performance but the luck did not follow the Gowran boys.
Despite having some success in a number of tournaments in intervening years it took until 1964 before the first junior title came their way. In between they won tournaments in Carrickshock, Muckalee, Paulstown, Goresbridge and the Mount Carmel Cup.
In 1964 on the way to the final they accounted for Clara and Conahy before encountering Newpark Sarsfields in the semifinal. Young Irelands were hard pressed for much of the game and it was the switching of Jimmy Byrne from centre forward to centre back that swung the game – he put in a fine display of hurling. Gowran emerged winners and went on to contest the final against Thomastown. The team mentors were Jimmy Brennan, Paddy Byrne, Joe Doyle, Minie Kennedy and Paddy Loughlin.
The final was played on December 6th 1964. The following is the report from the Kilkenny People on the match:
Gowran 9 – 7
Thomastown Rangers – 1 – 3
Playing a superior brand of hurling for most of the hour Gowran completely trounced Thomastown Rangers in the county junior hurling final at Nowlan Park on Sunday.
With the exception of the first ten minutes and a short period at the end of the match when they eased up a little, Gowran were in complete command and scored at will.
Thomastown opened the stronger and looked the more dangerous side but after a number of determined attacks were adequately dealt with by a very dependable Gowran defence. It was nearly all one-way traffic.
Attack after attack bought a torrent of scores for Gowran and by half time they had the game won with a lead of 23 points (7 – 4 to 0 – 2)
They were superior in all sectors and by adopting a policy of first time pulling they both countered the slippery conditions and gave their opponents no opportunity of settling themselves.
Their half back line became almost impregnable and this section together with the centrefield pair who were undisputed masters, kept the forwards well supplied with the ball. And the forwards in turn wasted few chances of scoring.
Backed by the breeze in the second half, Thomastown had a little more of the play, but the Gowran full back line, which was not severely tested in the first half, proved themselves in the top of form of the other sections and allowed the Rangers to only score 1 – 1. On the other hand, Gowran replied with 2 – 3.
However, despite Gowran’s devastating form, it is to the credit of the Thomastown men that they kept fighting determinedly up to the last whistle though the chances of victory were long dead.
There were three Comerford brothers on the Gowran side and all contributed largely to the side’s success. Andy, at centrefield, gave a grand display throughout the hour. Mick was always sound in goal and Pat was a dangerous forward.
Pat Drennan on the half back line gave a great performance and his brother Mick, while not as prominent, was nevertheless very sound on the full back line. Another set of brothers, Dick and Pat Roche were also to the fore in defence.
Martin Murphy, the captain of the side, was no less prominent at centerfield, and left corner back Tom Murphy contributed handsomely to his side’s win. Brendan Phelan was an ideal partner for Andy Comerford and together, the two had a first class hour.
As the score indicates, the Gowran forwards could hardly have been in better form and all shared in the scoring. Jimmy Byrne, Paddy Comerford and Podge McCarthy were the most prominent but Terry Brennan, Tom Carroll and James Byrne were not far behind.
Despite the huge score against him, Ray McEntee in the Rangers goal could not be blamed for Thomastown’s defeat. The defence gave him little cover. Best of the backs were Pat Cullen and Tom Madigan.
The Thomastown attack was not impressive and the only ones to do well were L. O’Neill and L. Forristal. Paddy O’Keeffe had his moments at centrefield.
Thomastown Rangers opened strongly and had the Gowran defence under heavy pressure for the first five minutes. however, they failed to score until awarded a free form which L.O’Neill shot a point.
Gowran soon began to settle down, however, and in the eleventh minute they were awarded a seventy. Martin Murphy’s shot landed in the square and following a hectic tussle in the goalmouth, the ball was forced over the line for a goal.
Two minutes later, Jim Byrne, shot a grand goal and in the sixteenth minute Paddy Comerford connected with an in-coming ground ball and sent it to the net.
Retaining the pressure, Gowran continued to attack and Ray McEntee in the Thomastown goal saved twice in quick succession. But Gowran were determined and from another tussle in the square the ball was sent to the net for a fourth goal.
In the twenty-second minute Thomastown struck back and L. Forristal sent over a point. But shortly afterwards Gowran stormed back into the attack again to register a series of scores that put them in an unassailable position at half time.
Terry Brennan set matters moving when he pointed in the twenty-fifth minute. Podge McCarthy followed with a goal. Tom Carroll with another and Brendan Phelan with a point. Then James Byrne broke though for yet another goal and Terry Brennan and Jim Byrne added points to leave the half-time score: Gowran 7 -–4 to Thomastown 0 – 2.
Despite their big lead, Gowran were first into the attack after the restart. They were awarded a 21 yards free and when Terry Brennan failed to rise the ball he cut it over the bar.
Thomastown were awarded a couple of close-in frees shortly afterwards, but they were forced to go for goals and the shots were blocked down. The ball was eventually sent to the other end and Tom Carroll had Gowran’s eighth goal.
In the ninth minute Rangers broke through for their first and only goal, scored by L. O’Neill. Terry Brennan replied with a point from a free and James Byrne added a goal. Shortly afterwards Andy Comerford closed Gowran’s tally with a long-range point. L. O’Neill replied in kind for Rangers following a seventy.
The last ten minutes of the game were scoreless.
Following this victory Young Ireland’s played in the Senior Grade from 1965 – 1975. The first few years were lean ones. Their first senior outing was in 1965 against Kilmacow. On the day a spirted Gowran team, though beaten, did put up a creditable performance. Their fate remained the same for the next couple of years.
It was not until 1969 that their first victory in the senior grade was notched up when Lisdowney were beaten with James Byrne scoring two goals to help them on their way. One Fan Larkin (James Stephens) refereed the game.
The following year, 1970, Young Irelands were to progress to the senior semi final by beating Freshford, Lisdowney and Thomastown. The opposition in the semi final was the Fenians of Johnstown. Despite a good effort Gowran were beaten on the day on a scoreline of 2 – 16 to 2 – 5 and Johnstown qualified for their second successive county final.
1971 saw them reach the semi final again. This time the opposition was Bennettsbridge and the game turned out to be a rather stormy affair. Bennettsbridge were the hot favourites but the Gowran boys gave them a bit of a fright when with ten minutes remaining they came to within three points of them courtesy of goals from Mick Dwyer and James Byrne. However the ‘Bridge finished the stronger and went on to win by six points.
The semi final stage was reached again in 1972, with Johnstown again providing the opposition. Johnstown were looking to qualify for their fourth successive final. After trailing by nine points, 2 – 9 to 1 – 3, Young Irelands found themselves with just two points behind with five minutes to go. However they were not strong enough to push home their advantage and Johnstown pulled the game out of the fire with a stronger finish. This was a Fenians teamwhich had in its midst stars such as Pat Delaney, Pat Henderson and Nicky Orr.
This was be Gowran’s last appearance in knock out stages for some years. The ensuing years saw them struggle at senior level and in 1976 they opted to play in the Intermediate grade.