The Durham Region (enveloping such towns as Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa) is found east of the greater Toronto area and is the home of the Durham Robert Emmets G.F.C. However in recent times training has moved to Toronto to facilitate the large number of players now living in the city but it is still easily accessible for all those coming in from Durham. The idea of forming a club was initially raised in 1989 on the back of the success of a minor team in the newly formed Toronto minor programme. Clubs in Brampton, Etobicoke and Scarborough were formed to introduce an important part of Irish culture & Gaelic Football to Canadian born kids. In 1990 Durham GFC was born and Eddie Mangan became the clubs first President as they officially became a club of the Toronto GAA.
The club’s name Robert Emmets came from one of the founding members, Brian Farmer, whose home club in Armagh was named Clonmore Robert Emmets. The team colors of blue and white were selected by the founding members and were a replica of the jerseys worn by the men from Laois.
As is somewhat usual with a lot of “overseas” clubs the founding meeting took place in the local Pub in Ajax known as the Harp and Thistle. This popular establishment was owned by Paddy and Alice Columb who hail from Roscommon and Waterford respectively. Other members who were present included Eddie Mangan (Dublin), Florrie O’Donoghue (Kerry), Matt Healy (Kerry), Nishi Farmer (Armagh), Jim Kelly (Carlow), Sean Laverty (Down), Ronnie Coughlin (Dublin), Tony Walsh (Wicklow), Mike O’Hara (Antrim) and Paddy Columb (Roscommon) all of whom contributed financially to help get the club off the ground.
These founding members set out with a dream to establish a vibrant, competitive club and their passion, commitment and enthusiasm laid the foundation for the blue and white of Durham GFC.
We thank them for their vision and dedication. Our progress from such humble beginnings twenty years ago is testament to their leadership. Tonight we look back in appreciation to these founding members and reflect fondly on our progress thus far.
The future is bright for the Blue and White.
(Excerpts from The History of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Canada Author John O’Flynn)
Some would take the opinion that this is indeed where or how the club started. For it was here, in 1990, where a core group of Irish immigrants currently involved in other clubs in the city saw the potential in their own sons to make the bones of a solid minor team to compete in the Toronto Minor League. They reached out to other families in Durham looking for players and so came the first team to play as Durham Robert Emmets.
The Durham minor team enjoyed a major share of positive events in its first year. In March 1991, twenty players attended the Skydome Games in Toronto where Mike Ensor, Aidan Laverty, Darren Farmer and Brendan O’Hara were selected as ball boys for this occasion. They capped off a great 1991 season by winning the minor championship.
Championship medals were presented to the minor at the victory banquet of May 1992 by none other that TV presenter, newspaper columnist and footballer supreme, Kerry’s Pat Spillane. It was a night to remember and a tremendous thrill for Gaels, both young and old.
In June 1991, at the invitation of Kerry’s Michael Keane, (Chairman of the New York Minor Board and present day
Steering Committee member of the Continental Youth Championships) the team participated in a tournament in the
Catskill Mountains, New York against New York Celtic and Rockland Hibernians. They acquitted themselves (adequately) playing against much more experienced opposition but it was a brilliant weekend for the team and supporters alike. Needless to say there are some stories that remain untold!
In 1992 Brian Healy was awarded the minor player of the year for Toronto with Darren Farmer picking up honors in the U-14 category. Darren would keep on improving his game and in 1995 was rewarded with the minor player of the year award.
Several minors have represented Canada in International Tournaments in Ireland including Brian Healy, Darren Farmer, Barry Farmer, George Curry Jr., John O’Donoghue, Mark Kerr, Brian Kelly and Mike Ensor.
There is no doubt that the evolution from this successful minor program played and continues to play a major role in the success and backbone of the present day Durham Emmet’s senior team. Players like Brian Healy and Mark Kerr, still show the same determination even though the years may have taken their toll.
In 1990, Eddie Mangan became the club’s first president and directed the entrance of a senior team which initially had home games played at Dennis O’Connor High School in Ajax. A lot was asked of older players who were coaxed out of retirement and along with some of the promising minors helped launch the clubs arrival to the football scene in Toronto. The first challenge games was played in Dunbarton High School in Pickering against a vastly experienced Clan Na Gael team and let’s just say that they learned a thing or two that day.
But Durham learned from their defeats and with the infusion of a few players from Ireland, combined with the developing minor players things began to change. In 1992 the first trophy won was the McKenna Cup over a gallant St. Pat’s team by a one point margin.
The year 1993 saw the emergence of Durham to the next level. The club had its best year winning the Senior Championship, the Senior League, the League Cup, the Montreal 9-A-Side Tournament and the Brampton Owen Nolan Tournament. It would be another ten years before the club would get their next title winning the Senior League in 2003. Two years later in 2005 another Senior Championship was achieved by defeating St. Mike’s by two points in a very entertaining final. The team was well coached by the man from West Cork, Bernie Dullea and another interesting fact was that four of the “minors” who played on the 1993 championship team also made a major contribution in 2005: Brian Kelly, Barry Farmer, Mark Kerr and Brian Healy.
Additional league titles came Durham’s way in 2007, 2008 & 2009. Despite having contested five finals in the Powerscreen 7’s International Tournament, the club has yet to come up on the winning side, having to play runner up each time to the visiting teams from Ireland. On a brighter note the club did capture two “Gold Watch” victories in the junior section winning over the Cayman Islands in 1999 and St.Mike’s in 2004.
The past few years have seen the retirement of many of the original minor team. The club have been fortunate however with the willingness of many of these individuals to take on administrative roles within the club. The team is now relying on a new tide of immigration and the fruition of the youth program to provide a core group of players upon which the club will continue to build and compete.
In 1992, with the Gaelic football now firmly in place among the Durham community, the club expanded further with the formation of a ladies’ team under the guidance of Nuala McNamara (Dublin). Local recruitment in the Durham area began and saw fellow Irishwomen like Karen Lynch (Dublin), Pamela Doyle (Dublin), Caroline Thompson (Dublin), Pauline Gilsenan (Monaghan), Janet Brown (Dublin) join the team. Some fresh faced Irish/Canadian teenagers like Colleen McNamara, Louise Sheridan and Erin Horgan helped boost the numbers creating the core of the first ever ladies team in the blue and white.
Two years later, with the lure of a shorter commute to training and a vibrant social scene more Durham residents joined the team. Julie Hughes (Dublin), Elaine Mealiffe, June McAlarey and Majella McConville (Tyrone) left their current Toronto club The Irish Canadian to join Durham GFC. Shortly after that, the Scarborough contingent of the Irish Canadians also joined the Durham ranks. Ciara McNaughton and Denise Breau brought along friends Audrey Egan and Patricia Clarke and helped create a solid foundation for the ladies team.
The team was bustling with a core of athletic, competitive and enthusiastic players eager to keep improving the team. Their continuous recruitment paid huge dividends in 1996. It was at this point that Erinn Lynch, Sarah Gowdy, Perry Quinton, Sarah Oliver, Deanna Adams, Sam Williams and Kristine LaMonday joined the team. This massive injection of youth, along with the experienced existing players saw 1996 become the most successful season ever for the ladies team. In that year they had a clean sweep of all competitions, taking the league, championship and 7’s titles. This was major turning point in Durham and Toronto Ladies Football with the new kids on the block putting their mark on the Toronto Ladies league.
For the next 10 years the Durham ladies continued to enjoy tremendous success. From 1996 to 2004 the ladies team won 19 different titles. During this era outstanding players such as Kristen Lynch, Ally Fox, Ashley and Abbie Visser, Judith McGarrigle, Trish Shaw, Shannon Savage, Julie Mroczkowski and Heather Woodard entered the fold. While immigration was still low Steff Fitzpartick (Dublin) and Sandra Ramsbottom (Laois) joined the club for an extended summer holiday helping the team to victory.
Come the late 2000’s, the team started to age, players got married, started families and surrendered to injuries. These were the leanest years in our story, and a similar story that was being played out in the whole Toronto Ladies League. However, somehow, the core group of Elaine Mealiffe, Sarah Gowdy, Heather Woodard, Erinn Lynch, Ally Fox, Ashley Visser and newest/only Irish addition Lorraine White (Louth) were always willing to go the extra mile to ensure the team survived. Thanks also to some good work by the club in youth development the ladies team had a few players promoted from the minor program. There were still a few new fresh faces in the friend/family pool to still draw upon and a few more were often convinced to re-evaluate their retirement for the odd game. We were also starting to see the beginnings of the recent emigration wave with a return of Irish girls coming over for the summer again. This methodology is what sustained us until 2011 at which point we began another chapter.
Immigration was now the strongest we’ve seen since the 80’s. Also evident was the obvious rise in popularity of women’s football in Ireland. Never before had the club been contacted by so many Irish girls coming over looking to play. Enter Tracey Lyng (Cavan), Maria Flanagan (Offaly), Deirdre Murphy (Cork) and Caroline Murphy (Wexford). In the 2011 season the team was a fantastic combination of veterans, youth, Canadians and Irish. Compared to the previous teams, where much of the momentum was gained from playing together for so long, the team of 2011 showcased what the combination of experience, determination, athletics and positive team play can achieve. 2011 saw the return of silverware for the girls as they won their 5th Championship title. Just like the team of 1996, underdogs against the reigning champions, they grinded out a one point victory over St. Mikes. 2012 saw a fantastic injection of fresh new enthusiastic players. For the first time since the inception of the 7 sanction rule, the ladies team filled all 7 spots. The arrival of Julie Kelly (Wexford), Marie McDonald (Wexford), Susan Lynch (Cavan), Dearbhla Mackin (Louth), Laura Bowens (Meath), Laura Dunne (Kildare) and Sinead McHugh (Kildare) helped the ladies continue their winning ways in 2012 as they captured the League Cup.
2013 saw the 25th anniversary of the Ladies League in Toronto and it was exciting to see our own history seems to be coming full circle. The team remained relatively unchanged and self-sustainable with only two new sanction spots filled. This continuity, plus the addition of Ashling O’Donnell (Waterford) and Diane O’Brien (Dublin) in the forward lines reaped even more rewards in 2013. The girls won both the league and championship titles and the team were more ambitious and competitive than ever.
In 2014 history was made as it was the first time Durham had entered two teams, both a Junior and Senior. With the experience of the established players and the energy of the new players Durham ladies won both the Senior and the Junior Championship finals. A historic day for the club!
As a club, we are stronger now than we were when we started. Amazing friendships and bonds have been created thanks to the connections made. Memories shared and parts we’ve all played in each other’s stories, both on and off the field, will be things that stay with us long after our playing days. We have ridden the highs and weathered the storms and the future looks excellent for the club. Ladies football in the city and indeed in our club is uniquely Irish Canadian. It’s truly at its best when both cultures come together, share commonalities and differences and always have a great time along the way.
Lets see what 2015 has to offer!