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The 1960's - The Dawning of an Era

Sligo All StarsThe history of Sligo All Stars basketball team started in the early 1960's. American Tom O'Brien relocated to the Sligo area and was soon approached by Father "Ricky" Devine to coach a team at Summerhill College. That meeting led to Sligo's first basketball success when, in 1962, Summerhill won the Connacht Colleges Championship in both the senior and junior grades.

In 1962, there were two actually basketball teams in Sligo: Our Lady of Lourdes Boys Club and Sligo Collegians. However, it was the Boys Club team that would actually dominate the scene and also featured most of the players that would eventually make up the first Sligo All Stars squad.

One of the earliest basketball stars in Sligo was Joe Palmer, who was selected to the Irish Under 15 squad in 1963, a sign of the great things to come for Sligo basketball. In the early days, games were generally limited to a handful of friendly matches as there weren't too many basketball clubs in the West of Ireland. The major competitions for players were as members of the Sligo County and Connacht teams in the All-Ireland and Provincial championships. A few even made it to the Irish national teams.

Tom O'Brien played for the Boys Club, now gone, which was located in O'Connell Street in the heart of Sligo. Under Tom's leadership, the Sligo and Connacht teams enjoyed some good successes, but were still a long way from challenging teams like the US Navy in Derry or the Leinster teams including the Dublin County team. The main Boys Club players in those days included Joe Palmer, John McGowan, Tony O'Hara, Robert Burns, Jim Eccles and Brian "Boots" McHugh. The Sligo minor team enjoyed great success, winning the Connacht Championship in both 1964 and 1965.

Summerhill College played an important role in the success of Sligo basketball and eventually the All Stars club as the source for many of the team's best players, a tradition that would continue for many years.

A New Day In Sligo Basketball

On September 30th, 1965 a small article appeared in the Sligo Champion newspaper, inviting players to come to the Gilhooly Hall to join a newly formed basketball club. Although un-named in the article, the team was Sligo All Stars. The club had actually been formed at a meeting at Tom O'Brien's house earlier in the month.  

Success was slow coming to the fledgling club and Sligo basketball. Shortly after the club's formation Connacht (represented mainly by All Star players) was trounced by both Leinster and Munster in the Interprovincial championships held in Athlone. Ulster eventually won the competition, beating Leinster by forty points in the final.  Most "home" games were played in the Gilhooly Hall and for the most part, All Stars, Sligo County and Connacht teams were drawn from the same of pool of players.

However, the news was not all bad for Sligo basketball. In December, two All Stars were selected to Ireland's Under 20 squad: Joe Palmer and Jim Eccles. The Irish side finished third behind England and Scotland, beaten Wales by a score of 68 to 37.

In early 1966, All Star players made up the Sligo Minor team (pictured above) that won the Connacht Championship for the third year running. Three members of this team - Joe Palmer, John McGowan, and Tony O'Hara, would form the nucleus of the All Stars squad that would soon dominate the sport in the West of Ireland. The team came of age when it won the 1968 Connacht Senior title.

The same year (1966), the Juvenile team, which was made up of Summerhill College players, beat Mayo to also win the Connacht prize, but failed against Westmeath in the All Ireland semi-finals. Pictured at left is the Sligo Juvenile side that won the Connacht title. Standing left to right: Tom O'Brien (coach), Brian McHugh, John O'Donnell and Declan Foley (team manager). Front row: K. Conway, Tony O'Hara (captain) and G. Crystal. Click on the photo to see a full size version.

In 1966, Brendan "Stan" Burns joined the Sligo All Stars and became the first Sligo player to be selected to the senior Irish squad. In January 1967, Joe Palmer became the first All Star to be awarded a Sligo Sports Star Award for basketball (click on the photo at right for full size image). Also receiving an award the same year was David Pugh, long time star of Sligo Rovers soccer who had previously played basketball for both All Stars and Summerhill.  

 

 

 


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