All roads on the peninsula led to the Shoreline Hotel, Donabate, for the much-anticipated celebration of Portrane Hockey Club’s Centenary earlier this month.In what was the centrepiece weekend of its celebrations, Portrane celebrated with their annual golf classic on the Friday in Donabate Golf Club, followed by the club’s awards night and then the marquee event, the Gala Ball on Saturday evening with 200 guests joining Master of Ceremonies RTE’s Darragh Maloney.
The theme of the Centenary Ball was “Remembering our Past and building for an exciting future”.
Portrane Hockey Club, also at different times from the past would be remembered as St Ita’s hockey club, are immensely proud to have reached its 100th year and can still claim to be North Dublin’s oldest and most successful hockey club.
Portrane are now based at the Centre of Donabate village beside Donabate Community College but, for much of its 100 year history, it was based at the magnificent sportsgrounds in St Ita’s hospital known locally affectionately as “The Park”.
Names synonymous with the club in its formation years are still in the club to this day: the Nevilles and the Byrnes who down through the generations became legendary players of Portrane but none more so than the late great Paddy Neville.
A true gentleman who was a gifted sportsman, he went on to become one of Portrane’s greatest ever players and also went to represent Ireland at senior level, playing centre forward.
Paddy’s brother John was also a gifted player and the famous Neville Cup that is played in Leinster on St Stephen’s Day is named after the brothers.
Portrane’s glory years were undoubtedly the 1950s, winning the Leinster Senior Cup on three occasions – 1951, 52 and 55 – and were beaten finalists in 54, 58 and 59.
In that period, they also won the Leinster Senior League Division 1 title in 1952 and were runners up on four occasions during that glorious period.
The only cup that has alluded Portrane in its 100 years is the Irish Senior Cup although they did win the Irish Challenge Cup in 2011, defeating Kilkenny.
Silverware has been elusive for Portrane in recent decades and their last most famous win was in 1964 winning the Leinster Senior Cup 1-0 vs Avoca under the captaincy of Dick Neville, another brother of Paddy and John.
A highlight of the Centenary celebrations was the recognition of three surviving members of that famous 1964 team, Willie Goodwin, James Neville – a legendary figure of Portrane – and Paschal “Percy” Henchy, the current club chairman who has represented the club in every capacity since his first game in 1958.
In 1959, Paschal was one of the youngest ever players to play in a Mills Cup final, where at 14 years of age, he came out on the wrong side of a 4-2 defeat to Three Rock Rovers; Portrane’s two goals scored by Dick Neville.
Other great players to play for Portrane down through the decades and go on to represent Leinster and the Irish national team at some level were brilliant goalkeeper Sean Ryan, Andy Byrne, a prolific centre forward at a time when the club were struggling to compete for leagues and cups.
In the 1990s, great young players emerged in the club, most notably the McCann brothers and Devin Donnelly who would later go on to full international level.
Portrane remained a senior hockey club right up until the early 90s but the introduction of new Astro turf pitches meant the club had to move to Dublin Airport and it was only in 2014 that the club eventually came back to its new home in Donabate.
Apart from the Irish Challenge Cup in 2011, success has been few and far between; one big day was the capturing of the Neville Davin Cup in 2004 versus Weston, a brilliant goalkeeping display from the late Tommy O’Sullivan and a winning goal from a really young Chris Neville who is now Portrane’s men’s senior captain in 2019.
Developments in recent years have massively brought the club forward the opening of their new home and the water base pitch in 2014 led to a surge in membership.
This has led to the reformation of the ladies section with two ladies teams now in place and they will soon have three teams in the Leinster hockey leagues.
The highlight so far of 2019 was Portrane Ladies first ever Leinster Ladies Cup final victory, a hard-fought 2-0 win against Mullingar with Jenny Farrell lifting the trophy.
As the club builds on the strong foundations if its formative years, new families are taking on the baton as the population on the peninsula grows; the Pattersons, the Van Dreumels, McCarthys, Elmigers, Shoebridges, Moynihans and Farrells to name a few.
This new blood has injected massive energy into the club, providing great impetus with the move to the water-based pitch in the centre of Donabate and with the rejuvenation of what is now a thriving juvenile section.
The numbers speak for themselves; underneath the adult teams, they have 260 playing at underage level.
This is a wonderful testament to the hard work put in by the executive of the club, most notably their Club Development Officer Adrian Henchy, but also to the many volunteers who give selflessly of their time to coach kids quite literally in hail, rain and snow.
They are also indebted to the fantastic skills coaching provided by Mukhtar Ahmed and Imran Khan and what they bring to training sessions embellishes the entire program to an extremely high level.
With the mixture of old and new, which will be added to as the population grows in the coming years, the next century promises to be as successful.