The 1960's - The Dawning of an Era
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.
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.
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.
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.