On Saturday night, 19th January, Pearse Óg celebrate the stellar career of Gerard Houlahan, arguably one of the best footballers to represent the club, especially in modern times.
Gerard, brought up and raised by his parents Joe and Maura along with his brother Paul and his sisters Karen and Shauna in Drumbreda in the heartland of Harps G.F.C. could easily have joined our neighbours. In fact, all his friends in those early days went to play for them, maybe his father Joe (R.I.P), a former Ógs goalkeeper had a big say in that.
After attending St Patricks P.S. Gerard went to the C.B.S. Grammar School where he excelled, winning medals in all competitions culminating in the MacLarnon Cup and All Ireland “B” successes.
Joining Pearse Ógs was to bring more silverware as incredibly at the age of 16 in 1981 he won five County Championship medals, U16, U18 and U21 with his beloved Pearse Óg and U16 and U18 with Cuchulainn Hurling Club. A truly remarkable achievement in one year.
He went on to win two more County Minor Championship medals to join Tony Donnelly, Ronan Bradley, Sean Óg O Callaghan, Adrian Trainor and Donal Powell (R.I.P) in being the first 3 in a row winners in the club. For good measure he also added another four U21 Championship medals, making that 5 in total; some underage career!
Amazingly his senior club journey began even earlier as he recalls doing stand-in goalkeeper in a senior league game in Maghery in 1980, the day of the big row! Do you recall it? During his playing career Pearse Óg won two senior league titles and a Centenary Cup, defeating Sarsfields in the final in Davitt Park. These were great years and celebrations as our first Senior Championship success came in 1985 when we defeated our neighbours Armagh Harps, and followed up with further successes against Killeavy in 1988 and then again in 1992 when Sarsfields were defeated.
Competing in the Ulster Club Football Championship was special and in particular 1988 when we reached the final. For many fans the semi-final win over Lavey in their own back garden was the day the youthful Hoully showed he was the man. When the Lavey men pushed him ungainly into their dugout trying to intimidate him, he manfully responded with a performance befitting a future All Star; leadership, courage, conviction and panache. Ironically after giving such a marvellous individual performance in a superb team performance that defied all the odds, he was denied the opportunity of playing in the Ulster Club Final and fulfilling a must cherished dream with his team mates when he broke his leg playing for Armagh against Monaghan the week previous. There is no doubt that Houllys' absence was sorely missed as we lost out on a scoreline of 0-08 to 0-03, beaten by the much revered Burren club in County Down.
In 1986 and 1987 Hoully also represented U.U. Jordanstown being on the two Sigerson Cup winning sides and was awarded player of the tournament in 1986.
Gerard began his county career as a minor goalkeeper in 1980 and progressed to the seniors in 1983 which continued until 2000. During this period he won 2 Ulster SFC medals and represented Ulster in the Railway Cup winning medals in 1993 and 1994. Besides this he was selected to play for Ulster in the Compromise Rules v Australia in Omagh in 1987.
1993 was the pinnacle year of his stellar football career as he was selected as an All Star, our club first, a great honour for himself, his family and our club. Some of the great memories of those days were Gerard’s ‘GOAL’ celebrations particularly when he tried to scale the fence behind the goals in Healy Park, Omagh, and when his father Joe could be heard shouting, “Come on our boy,” and when the newly formed Armagh Supporters Club, (of which Joe was a prominent member) would chant Hoully, Hoully and the echo reverberated around the many grounds across the province and the rest of the country. For those with very good memories you may recall in 1993 Armagh played 6 Ulster Championships games before exiting to Donegal after another replay at the semi-final stage but Hoully’s contribution in an ulta-competitive Ulster Championship, that included the previous reigning and current All Ireland champions, clearly left an indelible imprint on the mind of those with the responsibility of making the final selections and was an unforgettable season for him. To win an All Star Award and not feature in the provincial final that year speaks volumes of the man we are honouring by inducting him into the Club Hall of Fame.
Amongst Gerard’s cherished memories are playing for his club in those three Senior Football Championship wins, the friendship and the banter with the likes of Pat Molloy (R.I.P), Maurice Cullen and John O'Kane(senior), great characters and also remembering the significant contribution of Brother Ennis to the club.
Some of his personal idols were from the great Kerry 4 in a row teams especially Pat Spillane, and whilst coming up against Meath teams, his personal battles against the mighty Martin O'Connell stand out.
His playing days over, Gerard quickly turned to coaching within the county at Minor level in 2000 winning an Ulster Minor League. The club were also very much to the fore and he was a mentor with the senior team in 2007 which were defeated by Crossmaglen Rangers in the county final.
Married to Deirdre, her father John also being a former Ógs keeper, and with sons Odhran and Kyran, and daughter Caleigh starting to show an interest, Gerard’s interest was rekindled and he has been heavily involved in coaching at underage level the last number of years endeavouring to resurrect the Glory Days he experienced with his beloved club. In 2018 he was persuaded to coach our Senior Reserves and the benefits of this additional high quality coaching plus the esteem with which he is held throughout the club no doubt were inspirational factors in the success enjoyed by the Senior Reserves winning the Reserve Championship Shield last year.
There is no doubt that our Hall of Fame recipient for 2018 is a man that words cannot always do justice to; he is a role model to all within this great club of ours and also the wider Armagh Community; our first All Star Award winner and a shining example to all, the one and only Gerard Houlahan.