Harps The Early Years
Harps Gaelic Football Club first took to the playing fields of Auckland in the late winter of 1986. The club had come to life in much the same way as most football clubs come to life, a few friends a few casual comments and a few beers. The common school of thought amongst the guys was that the local competition would benefit from having an extra team in it and it would be an exciting challenge to take on. The three men involved, Michael O’Malley. Danny White and Paul Graham, Ar dheis de go raibh a anam, were already playing for other teams and would obviously have to part ways with their former team mates. However an early proviso they set themselves was that this club would not be formed to the detriment of any existing club. They would only ask players who got very little game time with their clubs or who were new to town. There were also a few men who had very little previous football experience persuaded to join to make up the numbers. Football in Auckland then was thirteen a side and finally a bare thirteen had been rounded up for the first game of the season. By and large we had stuck to the rules we had drawn up for ourselves with Brendan McLoughlin and Paddy Fahy being the only guys who played regularly for anyone else joining. A huge bonus was picking up a very valuable addition in a “fresh of the boat” Noel Quinlivan. We convened a few meetings with the by now wider crew, usually on a Saturday afternoon in the Gables Pub in Herne Bay where the now well known Harps name was decided upon. Colours were also confirmed and Danny White very kindly sponsored our first strip, a set of dark blue touch rugby jerseys.
1986 First Harps Team
Back Row L to R , Brendan McLoughlin, Frank Whooley, Ron Bredesen, Mickey Rodgers, Paul Graham, Gerry Roper, Noel Quinlivan,
Front Row L to R Paddy Fahy, Emmett McAteer, Gerry Denney, Danny White, Michael O’Malley, Ciaran
That first season went far better than we ever expected. We caused a few upsets by beating very handy Celtic and Gaels sides as huge outsiders in league games. Due to the unexpected way these games were going both of these matches got a little testy. I guess it was what the new team needed. It stiffened our resolve and we found ourselves going into a match at Grey Lynn Park on a lovely Wednesday evening against Roskill Rangers (now Marist) for the league title. At the final whistle we thought it was draw but after a recheck by the ref it turned out we had been beaten by a point. Despite our brief disappointment we soon got over it and reflected upon what had been a good year. The last game of the season saw the first contribution of All Stars to an Auckland selection.
To fund the club through its formative years the GAA had given Harps permission to run the bar on Sundays and take the proceeds. The bar in those days was the boot of someone’s car consisting of a big plastic bin, two bags of ice, twelve or fourteen dozen cans of beer and a bottle or two of lemonade. We sold the beer for two dollars a can so there were healthy profits to be made. Another club mission statement then was to never bring home a full can of beer so this policy led on a few occasions to struggling to find cans at the bottom of the icy water in the dark. This rule did not apply to the lemonade. But just like today the craic was always good and everyone got their chance to give their own version of that days games. Sometimes one would wonder if we had all watched the same matches. We finished the season up with a little barbeque prize giving at Brendan McLoughlin’s house where we handed out a few prizes. The end of season barbeque has grown into a Harps tradition and we have had some very memorable ones since. That year also saw Auckland travel to Adelaide with Harps players in their ranks for the first time.
The second year differed slightly from the first in as much as there were changes in personnel and the element of surprise was gone preventing the boys from mounting a competitive challenge for the league. Some men had given it away and Danny White had left for Australia. We recruited some young players in the form of Stephen and Connor Bass and Gerard Heffernan who were just starting out on their long, and as it turned out, very successful football journeys. This was great for us for two reasons. First being it brought GAA stalwarts, Danny Bass, Ar dheis de go raibh a anam and Frank Heffernan, into the Harps ranks and secondly it created a youth policy. The lads were still at school and had a lot of friends who were only too happy to play for the club. This was to bear its first fruit the following year when against expectations, a mix of younger lads and more experienced footballers won the first championship final played in Auckland.
A great game at Cox’s Creek on Sunday the 6th November 1988 saw Harps defeat the more experienced Gaels team. Memories from the Harps perspective that day included the scoring of four goals, Ger Heffernan two, Michael O’Malley one and Andrew Wilkinson with a long range cracker. Three of these were in the first half and Gaels came back in the second half. Non stop battling from Noel Quinlivan in midfield and resolute defence in typical Brendan McLoughlin fashion helped immensely to keep us in front until the final whistle. This was all the more satisfying for Harps because the trophy had been donated by Brendan himself and was named the Harp Cup. It was also around this time that Brendan had donated a kit bag for the team. He had tired of bringing the strip to matches in plastic bags and thought the club deserved a better image. One day while dropping off rubbish at the tip he spotted a blue suitcase and decided that would do the job (The colour particularly impressed him). That suitcase was at every game with Harps for many years and is talked of very fondly by all who remember it. It was no ordinary suitcase in that it could hold two footballs as well as the kit and will go down as a club icon.
That championship of 1988 gave the newest club great encouragement and more young New Zealand players were recruited with a few decent Irish players. 1989 was a long wet winter season at Dunkirk Road in Panmure and Harps did not feature among the honours at the end of it. To be fair though it was character building and made everyone appreciate it all the more when the season went back to the spring/ summer the following year. In 1990 Harps came back with a vengeance winning another championship against a very good Celtic team at Henderson Park (Celtic had already won the league before the championship began). It was another very satisfying season culminating in a massive number of Harps players being selected for the All Star selection. (Thirteen springs to mind).
1991 saw a very strong competition at Mt Roskill but in the end Harps prevailed in a very hard fought championship final and back to back championships were Harps men’s for the first and only time to date. This time the opponents in the final were St Pats. St Pats had fielded a very strong team all season and had just beaten Harps in a closely fought league. Harps went into the final underdogs again. However they just saw ourselves as one of two teams in the final and had confidence in each other. The young contingent were not schoolboys anymore and the experience had increased with Colm Bufeeni and Garrett O’ Brien both ex St Vincent’s and in Colm’s case, successful Dublin minor, joining. Garrett came from solid GAA stock with his father being the well known GAA correspondent, Peadar O’Brien. Other notable points from those teams were Aaron Kriletcih joined in 1990 followed the next season by Ian Malone. Both of them played very good target men to a wily three quarter line and bagged themselves a load of goals at full forward. Noel Quinlivan had perfected the art of man marking with implied menace if the opposition got too much ball and was often given very difficult assignments. The team fielded three sets of brothers, Connor and Stephen Bass, Gerard and Adrian (Abo) Heffernan and the three O’Malley’s, Michael, Brendan and Ciaran. Brendan McLoughlin had made a hugely successful transition from player to manager and little did the boys realise then the asset to the club he would be in that role for the next umpteen years. If the high points of that era of Harps was the winning of championships against very good teams then the low point was that the GAA had finally cottoned on to how much we were making out of the bar so that came to an end in 1991. The club put up a little bit of a protest as one would expect them too but it was conceded amongst themselves that they had a good run of it while it lasted. Harps time as custodians of The GAA bar had come to an end.
1991 Championship Winners
Back L-R: Connor Bass, Greg Bird, Aaron Kriletich, Stephen Bass, Scott McKay, Andrew Wilkinson, Cliff Law, Ian Malone, Noel Quinlivan, Brendan O’Malley, Gary Carter, Jeremy Conn
Front: Stu Davidson, Neil Porter, Ger Heffernan, Michael O’Malley, Garret O’Brien, Colm Bufeeni, Larry Cullerton, Brendan McLaughlin
That year Connor Bass and a few friends approached the committee and let them know that they would like to leave and reform Papatoetoe (Danny Bass, Ar dheis de go raibha anam, and Frank Heffernan’s old club). They were asked to leave it one more year so another attempt to try and secure a league could be made. The boys graciously agreed. Well that following season Harps did not win the league and did not win the championship either. Other clubs had stepped up to put their mark on things, so the club wished Connor and the boys well with their new mission. It was, after all the way Harps had started too. It would be wrong to say it did not weaken Harps and at one stage in those early to mid nineties the club came close to losing their identity and were about to amalgamate with St Pat’s who were also struggling for numbers . However that Harps stalwart Brendan McLoughlin decided that was not the way to go and everyone would just have to dig deep and find new players. The club owes him a great deal of thanks for his leadership in those times. Harps did rally and find new players including some ex St Pat’s stars Gerry Quinn, Aidan Redmond and John Reid who were very welcome.
However, even acquiring these men did not lead to immediate success. The club was going into the longest period in its short history without a trophy. Indeed a period that is still the longest in Harps record. There was however a couple of opportunities to celebrate for a few players and for the rest to celebrate with them as part along with mentor Brendan McLoughlin were all with the victorious Auckland team who reigned supreme on the 27th September 1992 in Adelaide. Auckland’s first ever Australasian championship brought great joy to the Auckland scene and it definitely lifted some clubs more than others. Harps battled away but only had one other
reason to celebrate. It was during this time that Harps had their first official Auckland player of the year (the trophy having first being introduced around 1990) Chris McGovern of county Derry won it in 1994 making it another significant milestone for the club. It was a very popular win.
The great achievements of the Auckland GAA at the 1997 Australasian games in Wellington are well documented elsewhere. Harps GFC of 1997 were represented on the successful Auckland Senior team by
Michael O’Malley (Player/Coach), Gerry Quinn, Speedy Mulvey, Paul Phelan, Seamus Brennan, Aidan Redmond, John Reid and Eoin Burke. The side was man managed by Brendan McLoughlin. Conor Bass and Ger Heffernan, who both played on previous Harps teams, were now stalwarts of Papatoetoe GFC.
In 1997 Harps won their inaugural league title in Albany. The league was decided in extra time against Papatoetoe. In addition to those players that went to Wellington, the team that day was bolstered by George
Smith, Stu Mair, Con Kelleher, Aaron Kriletich and Noel Quinlivan.
The team of 1998 had been strengthened with the arrival of Martin Conlon, Seamus Coleman, John Flavin (Newcastle West), Ian Malone, Seamus Maher and Mick O’Gorman. The league was secured for a second successive season but we would again bow out of the Championship by the slimmest of margins. It is often recalled that the championship of 1998 was not lost on the field to Marist but in the Claddagh only a “few”
Championship alluded Harps again in 1999. The team suffered defeat for the second consecutive year to Marist after extra time in Mt Roskill. We would have to make do with a share of the League title with Marist for our
efforts. The ever reliable Doire Reid and Darren Jardine joined the ranks in 1999. Team dinners at Angus Steak House, pre-final breakfasts at Meola Road, barbeques at Ellerslie’s New Year’s Day races and “quiet” parties at
Blockhouse Bay were highlights of the late 90’s.
2000 Championship Winners
L-R: Brendan McLoughlin, Paul Phelan, Aaron Kriletich, Eamon Hallissey, Ken O’Shea, Mick Whitty, Con
Kelleher, Seamus Brennan, Michael O’Malley, Aidan Redmond, Noel Quinlivan, Martin Conlon, Sligo Jim
Despite disappointments in previous years, Harps finally regained the Harp Cup at Western Springs in 2000 by beating Marist Rangers in the final. The team had a settled look and featured Paul Phelan, Aidan Redmond, John Reid, Aaron Kriletich, Martin Conlon, Con Kelleher, Seamus Brennan, Doire Reid, Noel Quinlivan and the Hallissey brothers. Mike Reilly had rejoined the club after a six year absence. The management continued under the stewardship of Brendan McLoughlin and player coach Michael O’Malley. The championship win of 2000 also marked the arrival to Auckland of Mick “The Hammer” Whitty.
2001 marked the untimely passing of former Harps player Seamus Maher from Thurles, Co Tipperary. Ar dheis de go raibh a anam. Barry Brennan joined the club for a single year in 2001 and marked his short stay with a league title. The season of 2002 however would prove to be unsuccessful as Harps recorded their first year without silverware since 1997. JJ Doyle would also play his last football in New Zealand, this time in the “Sky” blue jersey. Notably 2002 also saw the formation of the ladies team, another great milestone in the clubs history.
The following year would turn out to be the greatest in the clubs history so far. In 2003 Marist Rangers were comfortably beaten in the Championship final and the league title was also added to the trophy cabinet. Harps went on to secure the “treble” by beating the Auckland “All Star” team. The team was captained by Paul Phelan and included the Blarney four of Kevin Collins, David O’Leary, John McDonnell and Mick Whitty, as well as Aidan Conlon and Kerry Dave Fitzmaurice.
2003 Treble Winners
Back L to R: Daragh O’Grady, Michael O’Malley, Barry Balfe, Tom McGraty, Kevin Collins, Gerry Quinn, Seamus Brennan, Noel Quinlivan, Darren Jardine, Mick Whitty, Martin Conlon, Liam Hallissey, John Reid, John McDonald
Front Row L to R David O’Leary, Doire Reid, Dave Fitzmaurice, Kevin Harrington, Aidan Conlon, Paul Phelan (c), Paul O’Connor, Jack Walsh, Aaron Kriletich, Eamon Hallissey
The years since 2003 have seen Harps less than dominant in the league. During this time however we have had many notable players, who may not have tasted victory but represented the club with distinction. Players such as Daragh O’Grady, Colm Donnelly, Ned Shoer, Mick Reilly, Ian Towey and Martin Smith all spring to mind.
The recent years have not been without success. Whether it is in Kerry, Galway, Dublin, Down or Auckland, Championship football is all that matters. Harps have a proud history of raising their game when the Championship comes around.
The Harps team of 2006 is notable for its efforts in turning a miserable league campaign into a Championship triumph. Whilst the team had lost stalwarts such as Paul Phelan, Aidan Redmond and John Reid, it gained many players of great determination and dedication. It was these qualities that saw the team come from behind in both the semi final against Celtic and again in the final against Gaels.
The 2006 championship winning team was well served by debutants Oisin Lynch, Andy Lehan, Andy Goff, Enda “Bull” Healy, Colin Knape, Ronan Kelly, Conor Lynch, John Flavin (Cork), Jason Purcell, Aidan Kerrigan, Patch O’Callaghan, Niall O’Grady, Cahal O’Donnell, Conor Lynch and Bomber Walsh. The experience was provided by Martin Conlon, Aaron Krilatich, Doire Reid, Feilim Gormley, Darren Jardine and Seamus Brennan. The victory was made all the sweeter as the Harp Cup was presented to the winning team by Kevin Harrington, our very own departing Auckland GAA President.
2006 Championship Winners
Back L-R: Noel Quinlivan, Kevin Harrington, Jamie McKenzie, Finbar Boyle, Mark South, Paul Ryan, Daniel Hynds, Tom Boyle, Jason Purcel, Seamus Brennan (c), Andy Goff, Ronan Kelly, Mickey McStay, Aaron Krilatich, Michael O’Malley, Darren Mitchel, Tim Collins, Niall O’Grady, Sean Warne
Front: Cathal O’Donnell, Enda Healy, Aidan Kerrigan, Feilim Gormley, John Flavin, Conal Knipe, Oisin Lynch, Dan Crowley, Martin Conlon, Andy Lehane, Doire Reid, Shane Walsh, Liam Kylie
2007 saw the return of Paddy Fahy to the fold as manager. Michael O’Malley as coach was now ably assisted by Martin Conlon. There would be no silverware in the cabinet in 2007 but the playing staff would be strengthened by the arrival of Pat O’Sullivan. Colm Donnelly would standout in a tough season. Unfortunately 2007 would also mark the departure of Feilim Gormley back to Ballygawley, Co, Tyrone.
Harps captured the signings of Niall Martin and Liam O’Keefe in the off season. We may not have won the 2008 Championship but Harps will be fondly remembered by the club for their efforts. The team took Gaels, in the semi final, to extra time on two occasions before losing by the narrowest of margins. By this stage Sean Quinlivan had established himself in the starting fifteen and at the same time making the Quinlivan name synonymous with the Harps Club. Rohan De Silva also joined the ranks.
Harps were again competitive in 2009 but failed to deliver on any trophies. 2009 marked the end of Harps longest serving player with the departure of Aaron Krilatich, to Australia. Aaron had served Harps since 1990. The ‘new’ blood in town included Dave “Sarge” O’Driscoll, Evan O’Driscoll, Declan Brennan & Shane Gorman.
2010 marked the passing of one of Harps founding members with the sad loss of Paul Graham from Co. Tyrone. Ar dheis de go raibh a anam.
Harps league campaign of 2010 started in the same vain as recent seasons. We had plenty of commitment at training but little success on the field. In addition to established members such as Pat O’Sullivan, Sean Quinlivan, Rohan De Silva, Sarge, Doire Reid, Darren Jardine, Seamus Brennan, Liam O’Keefe, Brendan Keogh, Liam Hallissey and Niall Hartigan, the team was strengthened by new arrivals in Jonny Togher, Martin McDonald, Nicky Ward, Tadgh O’Conor, Donal Buckley, Rob Hughes & Aaron Geogehan.
By the time championship arrived the team had been strengthened in the forwards by Jerry Murphy and Micky Owens, both from Co. Down. Player/Manager Martin Conlon would also dust off the boots in a more than memorable championship run.
In the preliminary round Harps squared off against St Pats and followed this with an entertaining semi final victory over our old foes Celtic. Those two victories set Harps up for a Championship final on St Patrick’s weekend.
In an enthralling final against Marist Rangers, Harps as “under dogs” would prevail in extra time by a single point from the boot of Jonny Togher. The final score was 1-11 to 1-10. There were many notable performances on the day and not least by Pat O’Sullivan, Nicky Ward and Jerry Murphy.
The Harp Cup would be in its rightful place for the Harps GAC 25th anniversary celebrations in 2011.
2010 Championship Winners
Back L-R: Noel Quinlivan, Sean Quinlivan, Gerry Murphy, Kevin Collins, Niall Hartigan, Jonathan Togher, Brendan Keogh, Pat O’Sullivan, Seamus Brennan, Adrian McDonagh, Michael O’Malley, Rob Hughes, Tim Hurley
Front: Paddy Fay, Doire Reid, Martin Conlon, Michael Owens, Liam O’Keefe, Nicky Ward, Aaron Geoghegan, David O’Driscoll, Liam Hallissey, Martin McDonald, Mark Murtagh, Tadgh O’Connor, Darren Jardine (c), Donal Buckley
In the 2010 season, the overall Auckland GAA timetable was changed, with the championship actually concluding the weekend before St Patricks Day in 2011. Harps had a dismal league, losing all games up to the last round of the league, where we had a narrow win over St Pat’s. The league was won that year by an all conquering Marist Rangers team. Harps then played St Pat’s in the quarter final of championship, and came away with a win, which started to built a bit of belief. In the semi final, we defeated our main rivals Celtic, while Marist defeated Gaels, setting up a final between the league champions, and the team that had basically finished bottom of the league. The game was played in front of a huge crowd on a glorious summers day (about 30-32 degrees). The game was keenly contested, with the lead changing hands multiple times. There was a big break in play in the second half with a Marist player suffering a severe head knock. The game ended up being a draw, with Marist hitting the equalizing point. The game went to extra time, which also ended in a draw, and Harps finally came out on top by one point (winning score by Jonny Togher), after two extra times, to claim the championship.
The following season, with the large influx of Irish people into NZ following the recession, only 6 of the previous years team were still starting. Harps drew with Celtic in the first round of the league, and then went on a great run, winning every remaining game in the league, and then going on to beat St Pats and Celtic again in the championship Quarters and semis, before playing Marist again in the final. Amazingly enough, yet again, in sweltering conditions, the game finished in a draw, with Harps coming out on top, yet again, by a point after extra time, to complete a double, and go through the season unbeaten.
In the 2012-2013 season, the league started well, with victories over all teams in the first round of the league, and bringing the score up to 20 games in a row without a loss. Then we hit some stumbling blocks. Defeat by a large margin to Celtic, followed up two weeks later by defeat to Marist.
Things weren’t going well in the camp, and in the end, we placed second in the league behind a determined Marist Rangers. However, Harps are always hard to beat in championship, and a heavy defeat of Gaels in the semi, was followed up by a final against Celtic, who had beaten Marist and St Pats on their way to the final, and who were favourites going into the game. The final was a tight affair, with Celtic starting well, before Harps pulled them back, and took the lead, which they never relinquished, winning by 2 points in the end. It was typical championship fare though, with Celtic camped on the Harps goalmouth at the end of the game looking for a winning goal
Some other brief notes –
- The 20 games unbeaten is an Auckland GAA record.
- In our last 6 games against Marist Rangers, who are our main rivals for silverware here, the scores were as follows: 1 pt win for Harps, 1 pt win for Harps, 3 pts win for Harps, 1 pt win for Harps, 1 pt win for Harps, 1 pt win for Marist, meaning only an average of 1 pt between the teams in those games.
- In the 2011-2012 season, we celebrated our 25thanniversary, making us one of the longest established clubs in Auckland. The anniversary celebrations were held in a function room at the home of the All Blacks, Eden Park, with the MC being Bernie McCahill, All Black world cup winner in 1987, and long time Auckland GAA player, coach, and supporter. I’ve attached a photo above of the big screen in the stadium from that night.
- In the 3 years, we’ve had players from 18 different counties involved, as well as Australians, New Zealanders, and Canadians.
- In the 2012-2013 season, our Ladies also won the league, meaning both teams had silverware.
Back L-R: ?, Liam O’Keeffe, Peter Shorten, Mark carew, Martin McDonald.
Front L-R: Aidan treacy, Niall Daly, Noel Quinlivan, ? , Neil O’Loughlin
Harps Men 2015/16 – Championship Winners
Back L-R: Jonah Armstrong, Donal O’Sullivan, ?, Dane Fitzpatrick, Aaron Geoghegan, ?, Peter Shorten, Ger Connor, Neil O’Loughlin, Darren O’Shea, Mark Carew, Jason Lynch.
Front L-R: Tommy Shanagher, Paddy Raftice, Eoin O’Brien, Martin McDonald, Aidan Treacy, Brendan Carton, Mick Crowley, Stephen Pearson.
Back L-R: Aidan Treacy, Mark Carew, Stephen Pearson, Aidan Hickey, Rory Griffin, Brendan Carton, Steve Gillman, Tommy Shanagher, Noel Quinlivan.
Front L-R: Thomas Doyle, Paddy Raftice, Neil O’Loughlin, Michael O’Donnell, Martin McDonald, Darren O’Shea.