The echo of the call issued by Michael Cusack and his co-founders of the GAA in 1884 did not reach Clones until 1886. Then as at other times since, the men of the ancient town of St. Tierney, ever conscious of their Gaelic heritage rallied and a branch, as clubs were then called was formed under the guidance of Mr Peter McAvinney, butter merchant, Mr Charles McKenna Butter buyer and Mr Edmund Maguire, The Diamond, Clones. Like most Ulster teams of the period the Clones team took the name ‘Red Hands of Ulster’ and were known by that name until 1913.
First opponents were Currin Sons of St Patrick in 1887, in Noble’s field, it ended in a draw. The climax of this period was reached in December 1889 when the Clones Red Hands travelled to Armagh City to take on the far-famed Armagh Harps, a team of all Ireland class and calibre. Before a tremendous crowd and amid intense excitement, Clones defeated the Harps by a few points and thus crowned 3 years of glorious achievement. This match was the last game of any consequence on record, and was the beginning of the end of the Red Hands. Despite their achievements all was not well in Clones GAA world. Canon O’Neill, after whom O’Neill Park is named, was anti- GAA and in1889, he urged parishioners to drop the football. In 1895 Bishop Owens condemned the GAA. Their objections seemed to centre on the playing of games on Sunday and on the fear of secret societies. The so called Parnell split had a severe effect not only on the GAA in Clones but also in Monaghan and the country in general. The Parnellite split disorganised the Red Hands completely and although efforts were made to keep the game going, the games became excuses for trails of strengths and faction fights between the opposing parties. In the end, owing to a clerical ban on such games The Red Hands were wound up and the GAA in Clones entered into its longest and greatest period of depression.
It would appear to have been 1905 or early 1906 before the GAA in Clones was reorganised. A meeting of ‘Gaels of Clones’ was convened in the Largy school and the meeting was large, enthusiastic and representative. Mr Henry Murphy, solicitor was elected President, Owen Conlon and Thomas McElroy vice-presidents, and Alex O’Neill N.T. secretary. A subscription list was opened in aid of the club and the townspeople rose to the occasion and gave generously. Henry Murphy negotiated with Mr Dunwoody, Dromard, and procured for the club a splendid playing pitch.
By 1909 football in north Monaghan was not in a healthy state but as the Souvenir Programme stated “the torch was kept alight in Clones. Clones Lámh Dearg have their eyes on the North Monaghan Cup and with that object in view will are gradually getting into better shape, and this despite the handicap of soccerism” Clones and Monaghan Harps played a Junior game which Clones won “Clones were easily the better team and showed traces of combination and cohesion in their play. Monaghan goalkeeper was a failure, if he and some others of the team had stopped smoking cigarettes while the game was in progress they might have given a decent account of themselves.”
In 1910 Junior matches were taking place and a North Monaghan Junior League was started. There was an age limit for the Juniors approaching today’s minor football. The Junior team, apparently to distinguish itself for the Seniors, adopted the name St Tierneys and through time this name was used by the Senior team.
In 1912 General Eoin O’Duffy appeared on the scene. “He had no official connection with Clones St Tiernach’s still his whole hearted zeal and enthuasiam, his amazing organizing ability and his self sacrifice were a source of inspiration. At this time Eoin O’Duffy was secretary of the Ulster Council GAA. His name and that of Clones will forever be associated, and even during his last few days when his health was despaired of , he with the zeal of a missionary interested himself in Clones new Gaelic Football Park. In July 1944 he stopped over in Clones to view for himself the spacious football park which the club had only secured for itself that year” (Souvenir Programme).
In 1913 the club changed its name from Lámh Dearg to the old and honoured name, St Tiarnach and it is by that name the club has been known since except for a brief period in the nineteen thirties when it was known as the Gaels. Mr A O’Neill resigned as club secretary and the position was filled by Mr Edward Treanor, N.T. General O’Duffy presented a cup for competition among Senior clubs “and this provided the perfect incentive for the young men of Clones to perfect themselves in all phases of the game and get possession of the O’Duffy Cup”. In 1916 the Monaghan Junior Championship Final and the O’Duffy Cup final were played between Clones and Castleblayney in Clones. It was “one of the best matches played in St Tierney’s ground in 1916. I have not seen a match in the Senior League which approached that of last Sunday”
“In 1917, Clones St Tiernach’s were cock of the walk in north Monaghan and participated in three of the greatest and most stirring club games ever played in Monaghan. They played ‘Blaney Faughs in the Final of the Republican Prisoners Dependents Fund tournament. The first two games were drawn and it took a third game to decide the issue. The crowd for the third game reached Ulster Final proportions and there was a hardly a Clones man who could beg, borrow or steal a bicycle, a trap, or even the humble ass and cart, but was there to cheer his heroes on to victory or whatever fate was in store for them. With ten minutes to go Clones led the far-famed Faughs by two points when Clones captain Standish O’Grady came off injured. In the consequent disorganization and dismay the shrewd Faughs asserted their supremacy and emerged victorious by one point from a free in the last minute of the game” Souvenir Programme.
In 1918 the British government issued a proclamation that permits must be obtained to hold hurling or football games. The G.A.A. ignored it and Owen Duffy and Dan Hogan from Clones were arrested before a game between Cavan and Armagh. Both were imprisoned and in retaliation the G.A.A. played games in every parish in Ireland on August 6th 1918. This is called Gaelic Sunday. “On Gaelic Sunday a game between Clones and Smithboro at Lisnaroe. The field was prepared in the usual way and the police force was greatly augmented for the occasion. A lorry load of soldiers was even drafted into the town to help the police. The stage was set for a great display of force but four o’clock came and no spectators turned up. Four thirty arrived and the whole squad of police hurried back to the Diamond only to meet the Clones team cycling in full football outfits after having played a match in Murray’s field!
Between 1913 -1921 many Clones men were honoured by being selected to play for the county team. The palyers were, Standish O’Grady, Paddy Cosgrove Ed Bishop, Tommy Quigley, Jimmy Murphy, Joe Kiely, Dan Hogan, all who helped Monaghan win the Ulster Championship in 1917 and 1921. In 1920 the Cavan County Committee passed a vote of sympathy to Dan Hogan, Monaghan County Captain on the death of his brother who was shot in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday. However by 1926 Clones played Castleblayney in the Senior County Final and lost. G.A.A. affairs in Clones were deteriorating. The team failed to travel to Scotstown because there were no funds. Clones were warned that if they did not fulfill fixtures they would be suspended.
“In 1929 interest in the Clones team waned so badly that M Gibbons had to be taken from the sideline to keep goals for the team in Monaghan when they team played the Harps in the final of the Toal Cup. Charlie Murray was the only supporter they had to cheer them on to victory on this auspicious occasion. The winning of the Toal Cup was last major appearance of Clones in any important competition for the next ten years”.
The football depression was over by 1938. There was a lot of football activity that year. Two Clones players P McGrane and A Lynn helped Monaghan win the Ulster Championship that year. “For some reason or another the St Tiernach’s Club changed its name to the Gaels 1938. A youthful crowd in the town ever critical of age and experience, decided to form a new club to be called the Harps. However it was the earnest wish of all interested in G.A.A in the Clones that the two clubs unite. After many futile meetings held between the two committees, a basis for agreement was reached, on February 5th 1939, the St Tiernach’s Club was resurrected from the ashes. It was not long before the St Tiernach’s name again earned for itself the respect it once held on the playing fields of Monaghan.Clones played Truagh in the championship final “The game was played in Carrickmacross and all Clones was agog with excitement at the prospect of the old St Tiernach’s colours, blue and white, being again borne in victory in a championship final. The team justified the confidence placed in them and thus carried home the first official County Championship.