Jack Sharpe

“There wouldn’t be a Raheens football punctured nor an Éire Óg sliothar gone missing unknown to Jack! In fact, there were people in the Parish who firmly believed that he even knew in advance if such a disaster was imminent.” No need to tell the people of Caragh that the ‘Jack’ in question was Jack Sharpe, the man who over a couple of generations steered the Good Ship Raheens G.F.C. through sometimes stormy waters and, in 1981, to a Leinster Club Senior Title, the only one to come to the Short Grass County.

Born in England but brought back as a four-year-old to his mother’s (Mary Keogh) native Blacktrench after the death of his father, Jack spent his life in the Parish of Caragh. World War I, the War of Independence and subsequent Civil War, the Economic War of he Thirties and the ‘Emergency Years’ of 1939 to 1945 all contributed to an early life where times were hard and only the fittest could survive. Even the bare necessities of life were hard won. For years Jack travelled the roads of Caragh, Robertstown, Carbury, Timahoe and Johnstownbridge collecting Life Assurance premiums and later earned 8 shillings (about 51c) per day cutting turf for the County Council. All the travelling was done on a bicycle and, naturally enough, such latter-day ailments as ‘ham-strings’ and ‘groin-strains’ were unheard of. Equally unheard of were complaints about the amount of ‘hard work’ involved in playing or practising football. After a nine-hour stint behind the sleán a couple of hours football was ‘just what the doctor ordered’ to relax aching muscles.

Like life in general, football in those days was tough, and Jack could tell tales of many an energy-sapping encounter with Carbury and Ellistown teams of the Thirties and Forties. “I suppose we (Raheens) were no angels either” and no doubt, there was many a Carbury or Ellistown warrior who would have no problem in seconding that opinion. On the field, however, was the place to settle ‘problems’ in the rugged sporting code of those distant years and, although readily accepting that a lot of the ‘tough’ tactics needed to be eliminated, one always felt that, in Jack’s mind, maybe the softening up process might have been taken a step or two too far.

At the age of seventeen Jack took his place on the Raheens Junior team which brought the club its first title. Apart from that Junior success in 1928, Jack was on the losing side to Athy in the replay of the 1934 Senior Football Final but collected successive titles in the following two seasons. His third Senior medal came in 1943 when Ellistown were beaten at the third attempt, by two points and he also collected a Leinster Junior Football medal in 1938 before going down to Leitrim in the All-Ireland Final. Jack also fittingly won the Kildare ‘Hall of Fame’ award in 2001.

At many games he acted as umpire at Inter-County games refereed by his friend and clubmate, the late Peter Waters and he also served as a County Senior Selector. However, he is best remembered in his capacity as Secretary of the Raheens G.A.A. Club. He first became Secretary of the Club when he succeeded Peter Waters in 1932 and he subsequently served more that 50 years in that role. In that time he oversaw the glory years of the 1960’s, 1970’s and early 1980’s. A shy and unassuming man Jack’s modesty wouldn’t permit him to take credit for those great times and he would point out that it was the various teams who recorded the successes and he would mention great clubmen like Peter Waters, Paddy O’Brien, Mick Brosnan, Tom Lawler, Jim Malone, and Mick and Tommy Campbell. However, no one in Raheens underestimates the enormous contribution made by Jack over the years. During his long years in Coffey’s Bar and Grocery he had his finger on the pulse of G.A.A. life in the locality and his advice and help was sought on many a thorny issue in the day to day sporting life of his customers.

When Hurling came to the Parish in the 1950’s Jack gave it his wholehearted support and contributed in no small way to the acceptance of the small-ball game on an equal footing with the long-established game of Gaelic Football. His son, Peter, figured on the successful Kildare Junior Hurling teams of 1962 and 1966 and together with John collected a string of Kildare Senior Championship medals, Football and Hurling, in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Probably as good a note as any on which to finish, is a tale, told with relish by Peter, about his father’s assessment of a prospective County Hurling Final referee. “We were discussing our prospects against Ardclough on the following Sunday and I wondered, out loud, how the appointed referee would be likely to react to our ‘style’ of hurling”. “Well”, observed my father, “If he referees it the same way he played it, he won’t do you lads any harm”. No doubt Jack was also aware that the Man-in-the-Middle had served his apprenticeship with one of those Clubs who ‘were no angels either’.