Achill Rovers Formation
By the end of the 1985/86 season Achill soccer began to reverse in fortune. Both Achill United & Achill Eagles were struggling in the First Division and finding it difficult to field full sides. At a meeting in the Slievemore Hotel on the 21st April 1986 it was decided to amalgamate the two clubs.
Achill United held their last meeting in McHughs on May 3rd while the Eagles held their final meeting in the Atlantic. During the following weeks Achill Rovers came into existence.
Achill Rover’s quickly found success when in it's first season as a newly formed club, it took the 1986/87 First Division title under the management of Johnny Lee and gained promotion to the Premier Division. However over the following seasons, Achill Rovers felt the effects of a high level of emigration which weakened teams, eventually falling back to the Second Division by the end of the 1990 season.
The year 1990 proved to be the low ebb as well as a turning point for Achill Rovers. A policy of delevoping soccer at youth level was undertaken and proved to be the foundation for success over the following years.
Achill Rovers in the 1990s
During the 90s, Achill Rovers players were regulary representing Mayo teams at all levels. Eighteen of the 1998 squad had played for Mayo at some level.
Michael John Fadian captained a Connaught team and Fergal Kilbane was capped for the Republic of Ireland at under 15 level. Two former Achill Rovers players; Michael and Aiden Heaney were capped by England at schoolboy level. Aiden latter played professional football under Frank Stapleton at the New England Revolution in Major League Soccer in the U.S. In 1995 an Achill Rovers youth team participated in an international schoolboys tournament in Scotland.
The seeds sown back in 1990 began to bear fruit by 1993 when Achill claimed the Second Division title and won promotion back to the First Divison. A memorable season was completed when the U18s reached the final of the FAI Mayo/Roscommon Cup. Although Rovers lost that final 6-2 to Cloonfad Utd, reaching this level of competition was a major achievement for the club and showed how far in had come in a short while. It also highlighted how the youth development policy was going to play a significant role in the club's future.
Achill Rovers Mayo Division 2 League Champions 1993
1994 saw the Under 16s reach the quarter final of the Schoolboys FAI Cup competition losing out 4-2 to St Paul's of Artane.
In 1995, the Junior side won promotion back to the Mayo Premier League and claimed the 1995 Gill Cup. Meanwhile at U18s level the club was continuing to build sucessfully, picking up the runners up medals in the Quigley Cup Final of that same year.
In 1996 penalty shootouts figured prominantly for Achill Rovers. Firstly the club won the U17 Connaught Cup Final against Charlestown Athletic. After a nervous 0-0 draw, Rovers eventually claimed the trophy in a 2-1 penalty shootout with Colm Gallagher the Rovers goalkeeper becoming the hero by saving three Charlestown penalties.
Meanwhile in the Quigley Cup of that same season, the U18s went one better on their previous runners up medal by defeating Straide & Foxford 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the final.
Achill Rovers were now on a roll. Success continued into 1997 at U18s with a season double; League Championship title and a successful defence of the Quigley Cup.
However the major prize just eluded the club with the Juniors slipping up on the final day of the season to end up as runners up in the Mayo Premier League.
Mayo Premier League 1998
Achill Rovers Juniors went into the 1998 Mayo Premier League season knowing that the golden prize was there to be taken. There were to be some twists and turns and the season will be remembered as one of the most competitive and closely fought contests in years. It was to be one hopefully which Achill would eventually come out on top.
Achill began the season away to Lacken Utd drawing 3-3. Ciaran Gallagher getting two goals. In the first home game Ciaran claimed 4 goals in a 6-0 victory over Claremorris. The opposition of that day although soundly defeated, would nearly cause heartache again for Rovers later in the season.
Over the next thirteen fixtures managers PF Gallagher & P English literally drove Achill Rovers to pick up a further 23 points winning 6 and drawing 7. PF would regulary pick up squad players working in Limerick to get them to the game and drive them back to Limerick in the evening.
Consistency was putting Achill Rovers in contention for the title, as points were being dropped all round and no team was putting daylight between themselves and their competitors. Achill were in amongst the leading pack, showing a determined spirit. This revealed itself in the home fixture fightback against the mighty Castlebar Celtic when after going 2-0 down as well as down to ten men, Rovers picked themselves up and took all three points by defeating the opposition 3-2.
With the finish line to the season in sight, Achill went away to Claremorris who they had trounced earlier that season. However Rovers unbeaten run and title aspirations were dealt a severe blow as the side suffered their first defeat of the season losing 3-2. With two games to go the pressure was now on Rovers to hold off the challenge from Ballyheane and the demons of the previous season's last day capitulation. Steady nerves and belief in the impossible dream were now required.
Rovers went into the last game of the 1998 season in pole position after beating Lacken Utd at home 5-1. However Achill still had to secure all three reminaing points to claim the title in a home fixture against Urlar United. Ballyheane were waiting for another slip up and Erris Utd were still in a position to force a playoff against Achill Rovers should results go their way.
On Sunday 25th October 1998 a crowd of arround 4000 gathered at the Currane Community Sports Field for the final Achill Rovers game of an eventful 1998 season. Cars stretched back as far as the eye could see and people packed both sides of the pitch. Willie "the Shoe" McNeely checked his mike for the live Mid West Radio commentary. The rain had stayed away and the playing surface was in good condition. The scene was set for Achill Rovers history to be made.
The side that took to the field against Urlar United that day were Colm Gallagher, John P Keane, Dan Fadian, Mark Corrigan, Fintan Conaghan, Declan O'Malley, Vincent John Gallagher, Ray McNamarra, Michael Denis McNamarra, Alan English and Fergal Kilbane. On the bench were Des Murphy, Kevin Fallon and Martin McGing.
Within five minutes of the kick off, a precision free kick from Mark Corrigan had given Rovers the lead. Three minutes later Ray McNamarra took advantage of confusion within the opposition defence to drive a low shot past the Urlar keeper. Even at 2-0 up, Achill Rovers did not have the game their own way and Urlar managed to take a grip up until half time.
However within a minute of the restart, a corner from the right was met at the near post by Michael Denis McNamarra who nudged it into the net with his head. Achill could now relax. The centre forward Alan English completed the historic day by scoring a fourth & fifth for Achill and to stamp the seal on a title winning performance.
Achill Rovers were Premier League Champions. They had finally reached the summit of Mayo League football and could sit back and enjoy the view from the top.
Achill Rovers Mayo Premier League Champions 1998
1998 was a memorable year, the greatest in Achill footballing history. The capture of the Mayo Premiership represented the end of many years of heartbreak and disappointment and was a success for everybody involved in the club; from the committee, junior management, club volunteers, sponsors and managers at underage level through to the players themselves and especially those youth players who kept the season going when seniors were unavailable.
The season's sucess was completed with a double for the club when Achill U18s again won the Quigley Cup. This time they punished Charlestown Athletic for nearly upsetting the Junior's season and ran out 1-0 winners to retain the trophy for a second time and an historic three in a row in the competition.
Just to put the cherry on the cake of that eventful season, Noel Cooney was named Mayo Premier League Player of the Year.
Achill Rovers in the new millenium
The 1999 season promised continued success for Achill Rovers, however the formation of the Mayo Super League perversly saw the Premier League title holders barred from participating. Super League rules required clubs to meet certain criteria on home grounds and facilities. Investigation in to the use of the back pitch at Milebush was turned down even though another club was later allowed use. Therefore Achill Rovers , the top team in the County of Mayo was relegated from the Super League without a ball being kicked.
This was a major setback for the club and it took another three years for Achill Rovers to get back to the top table by winning promotion. However by this time many of the title winning side of '98 had drifted away from the game such was their personal sense of injustice of not being allowed to play Super League football.
Noel Cooney captained the Achill Rovers Junior side to another double in 2002; by winning the Mayo Premier League Title for the second time in the clubs history and Tuohy Cup competition of 2002.
On top of that success Noel himself was named as Premier League Player of the Year for a second time, Michael D McNamara recieved the Young Player of the Year award and Achill Rovers was named Mayo Team of the Year.
The under 12s under the stewardship of Jim Wiley & J J Cafferkey, followed the Juniors lead that season by being crowned Division 2 Champions of 2002 losing only once in their league while the U16s under Eddie & Christy Gallagher like the U12s were beaten only once on their way to a Division 2 title.
Achill Rovers Mayo Premier League Champions 2002 / Tuohy Cup Winners 2002
Since 2002 the dizzy heights have fallen away slightly at the Junior level but the future was still looking bright. The Achill Rovers club crest was given a makeover in 2003 by Louise Gallagher of Cashel. The U17s captured the Connaught Shield in 2005 while Achill Rovers are turning out sucessful squads at U12 level having claimed Divison 2 in 2007 and the Division 4a title in 2009. In both seasons Rovers defeated the biggest clubs in the league without losing a single game. The 2009 U18s show promise which bolds well for a Rovers having a succesful Junior team in the next few seasons.
Achill Rovers Mayo U12 Division 2 Champions 2007
The Future for Achill Rovers
Today Achill Rovers is neither challenging as it should nor is it a club in free fall. The club can boast committed management, faithful support and most importantly, a wealth of players at all levels who enjoy the "beautiful game".
In partnership with the FAI at Abbotstown and Mayo League at Milebush, the club is constantly working on taking onboard new ideas, upskilling coaching techniques and playing it's role in developing Association Football on Achill Island at all levels for both boys and girls.
Part of this committment to the future includes a long term plan to bring Rovers facilities in line with other clubs in Mayo as well as promoting fitness & health issues for both local children and adults. Club philosophy is to play a central role at the heart of the Achill community one which the Dooniver Ashleam and Dooega players of half a century ago would be proud of.
The history of Achill Rovers is just begining..... here's to a bright and successful future.