Last Saturday was a special occasion for the Limerick Desmond League and for one man in particular, namely Mike Hanley. There was a very big crowd present in Clounreask at 6pm when the League headquarters was named Mick Hanley Park, in honour of the man who was Chairman for 37 consecutive years from 1975 to 2012.
The unveiling of the plaque on the front wall of the dressing-rooms was performed by John Delaney, Executive Vice-president of the FAI. The ceremony was conducted with great aplomb by League Chairman Joe Hogan, while Delaney, Minister Patrick O’Donovan TD and Dan Neville TD also spoke.
All four paid fulsome tribute to Hanley for the magnificent work he did in running the League for so many years and for being the driving force behind the purchase and development of the League headquarters.
After the unveiling, there was a function for invited guests in Rathkeale House Hotel. A delicious meal was followed by a question and answer session conducted by Mike Aherne of Live 95. The assembled guests listened intently as Aherne put probing questions to Delaney and then Hanley.
Delaney answered with great honesty and thoroughness and all his answers were very well-received, people appreciating his presence at a time when he was in the media spotlight. Hanley spent a significant portion of this time ensuring that the guests were aware of the high esteem in which he held Delaney and the job he did as CEO.
Hanley also spoke about the tremendous honour that was being bestowed upon him. Typical of the man, he said that whatever he has achieved for the League couldn’t have been done without the invaluable help of great Committee men, past and present. Hanley thanked his wife Nora and all his family for their support down through the years. He also thanked Joe Hogan and his sub-committee for their excellent organisation of the whole event.
Presentations were made by the League and the Limerick Desmond League branch of the Referees Society and all in all the whole night was very enjoyable. Virtually every club was represented and it was great to see the presence of so many people who have made their mark in the League in the past, either as players as administrators.
All present were in full agreement that Hanley was fully deserving of this honour, which was originally proposed to the League by Rathkeale FC last year. The following is a brief summary of Hanley’s outstanding contribution to soccer in the Limerick Desmond League and beyond.
JOINING THE LEAGUE
Hanley was present at the meeting when the Desmond League was founded in 1956, though he didn’t become part of the first Committee. He joined the Committee a decade later, taking on the arduous positions of Fixtures Secretary and Registrar before being elected Chairman for the first time in 1973. His first term as Chairman was brief, lasting only one season, which was in marked contrast to what happened when he was elected to the top job for a second time in 1975. He couldn’t have known it at the time but he was to serve 37 consecutive years, never being opposed at any AGM since, which says a lot about the high regard in which he has always been held by the clubs. Since stepping down as Chairman in 2012, he has served as Vice-chairman, first to Chris Purcell and now to Joe Hogan.
PROGRESSION OF THE LEAGUE
During his years as Chairman, Hanley oversaw a huge growth in the League. In the early years, the League included teams from East Limerick and clubs from Kerry such as Tralee Dynamos and Listowel Celtic. Early in his term, it was decided that it would be best if the East teams played in the Limerick District League and boundaries between East and West were defined which have been respected ever since.
There was a noticeable growth in the number of teams during the Charlton era of the late 80s-early 90s. There has continued to be a steady increase in the number clubs, with the result that Limerick Desmond is now the 4th biggest league in Munster, behind Cork AUL, Limerick District and Waterford.
Hanley is proud of the fact that the facilities of the clubs in the Limerick Desmond League are a match for any in the country, with most clubs either owning their ground or having long-term leases. Dressing-rooms are the norm, which is in marked contrast to togging out on the side of the road in the early years. Hanley believes that the Sports Capital Grants from the National Lottery has played a huge role in the development of facilities and, in this regard, he is thankful to the various Governments that have allocated the grants and to the FAI, particularly to the current Chief Executive, John Delaney, who has proven to a great friend of grassroots soccer.
In line with the facilities around the league, which now include a number of all-weather training pitches, the standard of play has also improved, as exemplified by Broadford United reaching the semi-finals of the Munster Youths Cup this season and Munster Junior Cup semi-finals two seasons ago, along with Abbeyfeale United winning the Munster League Champions Trophy two seasons ago.
The development of the League has been helped to a large extent by the exponential growth of the Limerick Desmond Schoolboys/ Girls League and Hanley always ensured that both Leagues have co-operated to the fullest possible extent. Hanley cites the Limerick Desmond Ladies League and the over-35s League as other examples of the vibrancy of soccer in West Limerick.
Hanley regards the growth of the League to the fourth largest in Munster as one of the highlights of his time in office. Other landmarks include the purchase and development of the headquarters at Clounreask and winning the Oscar Traynor Inter-league Trophy in 2008.
Before purchasing Clounreask, the League played Cup Finals and inter-league matches at various club grounds, which was an unsatisfactory situation. Hanley and his committee recognised the need for a headquarters and went about securing one, putting emphasis on finding a location near a centre of population. A ten and a half acre site on the outskirts of Askeaton was identified and, after much debate, it was purchased. Steady improvements have been made since the initial development and it is now a venue of which Hanley and the League can be rightly proud. As was the case with club grounds, development was greatly facilitated by National Lottery grants and the support of John Delaney and the FAI.
Clounreask was the venue when Limerick Desmond won the Oscar Traynor Trophy on the 31st of May 2008 by beating Limerick District in the Final in a penalty shoot-out after a scoreless draw. Hanley’s proudest moment of all came at the end of the game when he presented the trophy to Limerick Desmond captain, John Kelliher, in his role as President of the FAI Junior Council.
FAI AND MUNSTER
Hanley had just been elected President of the FAI Junior Council two weeks earlier and he went on to hold the position for the statutory two years. It is testimony to the standing in which Hanley is held by his peers that he was elected to the highest administrative office in junior soccer in Ireland, just reward for the sterling service he has given to the FAI since he joined the Junior Council in 1984 as a representative of the Munster Football Association. Elected to the MFA in 1980, he was Chairman of that body from 1990 to 1992. He still serves on the MFA and the FAI Junior Council, as well as the FAI Senior Council, which he joined in 1995. As if all that isn’t enough, Hanley has served as Head of Delegation for the international teams from u-17s to u-21s and he is a Match Delegate for the FAI for League of Ireland matches. Hanley’s excellence as an administrator was recognised to the fullest possible extent when he was elected a few years ago to the FAI Board of Directors.