(Re-posted in memory of and tribute to the late Brian Mullins)
It would actually be difficult if not impossible quantify the impact the late Sean Nealon and his beloved hostelry had throughout my life. Writing that in the past tense will forever feel strange and heartbreaking. Most obviously, when in reference to the man himself. Without going into the more personal side of things – which were covered extensively in HEROICS AND HEARTACHE and will be again in the autobiography when complete – undoubtedly it’s the simple things about the Brady’s circle one wishes could be reclaimed one more time.
Yes, the pints a few nights a week. More than that though. Much more. Sport was the fulcrum of everything. That and the boss’s fondness – putting it very mildly – for old Westerns. Particularly those featuring a certain Mr Wayne. Which was without a doubt why (a) a liking for same germinated in this seat, and (b) some of ‘The Duke’s finest flicks were a poignant but enjoyable and fitting substitute viewing during the complete dearth of current sport – whether that was necessary or not is a topic for another day – instigated by the dastardly Corona.
Some quotes attributed to the legend born Marion Morrison are of course well known. Where he invited someone to “Go ahead, make my day”. Or, indeed, reminding another hoodlum that” This here town isn’t big enough for the both of us”. Part of the battle plan in this corner with a view to safely negotiatping tht mind-numbing mental strain brought on by seemingly the entire world being in lockdown has been to watch either a movie or some vintage sporting action every night.
It’s very seldom the two join together though. Not for the first time, to their immense credit, the television stations have excelled themselves with both the quantity and quality of sporting action from yesteryear they have put on to keep a soul comforted and an appetite whetted during what at times has felt like a never-ending moratorium on, I won’t say normality because we never know when, the curious phenomenon carrying that name will return, if ever. There’s certainly going to be an amount of adjustment of mindset and routine required.
Whilst attempting to keep things playable, if nowhere near fully fit, in this corner, two films of polar difference were to the forefront of the thought stream here when the incubation period in my head that all productions go through prior to finding their way before your eyes here. True Grit with ‘The Duke’ at his best, and Star Trek where we were informed “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it”.
The latter proclamation would certainly hold true in present circumstances. You are probably wondering not only how two such diverse motions pictures could be comparable but, even more so, how they could be relevant to a GAA article.
Put it this way, the Dublin and Kerry teams of the 1970’s and early ’80’s produced something that was football alright, but not as anyone knew it. Every encounter resembling some of the gun slinging shoot-outs in which the actor formerly known as Morrison revelled.
As part of the journalism course I undertook in Ballyfermot College of Further Education, two weeks work experience in the Rehab Group’s headquarters in Sandymout, Dublin. Except that isn’t strictly accurate. My brief for the fortnight’s duration was to assess several public buildings and tourist attractions for wheelchair accessability.
Temptation was to nominate the day spent in the Guinness Storehouse as the most enjoyed of all the fieldtrips. It certainly was eventful, I’ll give it that, but, in good conscience look past the day spent in the GAA Museum in Croke Park. For, whatever about decades of records and various memorabilia collections therein, it was undoubtedly in the museum store yours truly derived greatest enjoyment. Not only on the day, but since as well.
Many eyebrows were raised when among the products purchased on the day was tbe Decade Of The Dubs video. Having heard so much about the fabled clashes between the age old rivals, the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about for myself couldn’t be passed up.
“Paddy Reilly’s after him, and Georgie Wilson’s after him, everybody’s after him… He’s well and truly looked after now”!MICHEAL O’HEHIR, SEPTEMBER, 1975
TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY
There was one regret from the day at the museum. One which has stayed with me since but will hopefully one day be rectified. A lack of funds with me on the day which precluded the purchase of the Kerry’s Golden Years compilation. It should be pointed out, mind you, that sufficient monetary stability was initially on board. However, when The Best Of ’91 was spotted on my way out the door, there was a Hamilton-esque u-turn executed and the last few units of currency were parted with. Simply because it was an unmissable acquisition. You see, while nearly every pixel of the four matches with Dublin command recall comparable with of Mark ‘The Beast’ Labett, recollections of the rest of that ultimately soul-destroying campaign were as muddled as Fr Jack Hackett’s brain after ingestation of Toilet Duck!
One would presume the aforementioned collection of sporting greatness might still be available in some mediumvor other. It would be a very welcome addition to the archives. Apart from the fact there are always two sides to every story, I’ve never even seen footage of the All Irelands of 1984, ’85 or ’86..
It will be admitted that the Dublin video was one of the best products ever bought. Some noses were put rightly out of joint – at least with the future Mrs Boylan it was only in gest – but the way I looked at it, good sport is not only enjoyed in this seat, but relied upon as a cherished means of keeping the wheels turning. Regardless of what it is or who is involved.
Though it seems scarcely fathomable now, there was a time Dublin football was in the doldrums. Going from 1963 to 1974 without holding Sam Maguire for a winter. Many times over the years, those who were formerly top players have ventured into management and performed abysmally therein. One wouldn’t have to look too hard for examples either.
However, to invoke a bit of horse racing parlance, sometimes an ounce of breeding is worth a tonne of feeding. In other words, occasionally, you can tell from a long way out which ones are going to make it. There were hardly ever better better examples of that in practice than Kevin Heffernan and Mick O’Dwyer.
Both men had stellar careers as players. ‘Heffo’ amassing one All Ireland title, 4 Leinsters and three National Leagues, as well as a staggering 21 county titles with the unstoppable St Vincent’s club. 15 in football and a half dozen in hurling. For his part, O’Dwyer won four All Irelands, 11 provincial accolades and an eye-catching seven National League gongs as well as managing and playing for Waterville in three county title winning teams.
Now, in any other era, what Heffernan achieved whilst in charge of Dublin would surely have guaranteed him sole possession of the title of greatest manager in the history of Gaelic football. Assuming they had crossed swords as players, for all the drastic improvement that was cultivated in the blue corner for the best part of decade, it was again at the hands of the Waterville wizard that most of his best laid plans were thwarted.
However, even though the green and gold held the upper hand in the majority of their jousts, that cannot detract from what the former E.S.B. employee achieved in not only turning the fortunes of the county around at the time but also thereby laying the foundations for the generations which came behind them.
Beginning in 1974, when Paddy Cullen’s rebuffing of Liam Sammon’s spot kick as Sam returned to rest by the Liffey for another winter. General opinion would’ve been that the Metropolitans were set fair for a spell of dominance at the head of the game. In what developed into a bit of a tit-for-tat throughout the rivalry though, when one seemed to have the upper hand, the other pulled a rabbit from a hat.
In 1975, that meant O’Dwyer arriving up with a new, unknown and unfancied team and catching the outgoing kingpins cold. Goals from the late John Egan and Ger O’Driscoll engineered a 2-12 to 0-11 win for the outsiders as the world got its first glimpse of greatness comprising those who would become stellar names for an entire generation.
The game, though, is perhaps mostly recalled for a crunching tackle on Kerry wing forward Mickey Ned O’Sullivan. Which was immortalised by Micheal O’Hehir thus in commentary – “Paddy Reilly’s after him, and Georgie Wilson’s after him, everybody’s after him, he’s well and truly looked after now!”
A year on, in ’76, it was Dublin’s turn to upset the apple cart as a masterful display from Brian Mullins, capped off by one of the most memorable goals seen in an All Ireland Final, when the majestic midfielder, replete with shock of blonde hair, executed a finish, the quality of which many a soccer player would’ve been proud of.
G. O. A. T.?
By that stage, it was becoming apparent that the two teams around whom this offering is based were streets ahead of the footballing world. A point boldly underscored when they produce what many believe to be the greatest exhibition of the old game of all time in the 1977 All Ireland semi final. While it might have some competition for such accreditation in more recent seasons – particularly the 2013 incarnation – there can be no doubting the majesty and frenetic nature of what those gallant gladiators produced on the day. There are certain phrases which get overused to the point of scandal in this business.
However, describing that contest long ago as a titanic struggle or an epic would almost feel akin to stating sunshine might come in handy if you were trying to rear hay. Mention was made much earlier in this leg of our journey of how there tended, very much, to be a tit-for-tat element to the relationship between the two fantastic troops of warriors. Never was that more evident than on that hot August day.
In the end, it took a late Bernard Brogan goal to eventually break the spirit of the redoubtable men from The Kingdom. For me, though, as much as Mullins was justifiably lauded as one of the pillars of that era, Tony Hanahoe was the outstanding Dublin player of those days. Admittedly, said judgement was, of course, only based on seeing the old games on video. But his continued excellence earmarked him in the opinion of yours truly as the prototype of what a centre forward should be.
Well, to be honest, it would always be my view that there are two different ways of playing the position on the ’40’, either standing and ‘trading’ man-to-man as, for example, Colm O’Rourke and Keith Barr did for the duration of their protracted duel in 1991. Or, my favoured way of utilising the role, having a ‘floater’. In other words, giving the holder of the No. 11 jersey a free role, to, say, pick up possession in their own half and act as a link player up to their own attack.
A prerequisite of which is playing with the head up, having good vision and being able to pick out a good pass. Hanahoe was certainly the epitome of that principal in his day, before, in more recent times, Trevor Giles was a terrific exponent of a similar role – among many others – when Meath were last near the mountain top.
“THE GREATEST FREAK OF ALL TIME”
As has often been said previously, no matter how many times you watch a particular thing, chances are some previously unseen morsel of knowledge will end up imparted to one’s brain. Upon another recent viewing of the fabled ’77 showdown, the most enthralling scintilla picked up was the absolutely immense contribution made by Kevin Moran.
It was largely upon his excellence that Dublin’s eventually staved off the heroic efforts of their great foes. Sadly, we can now only what level of greatness the Good Counsel clubman might have attained had he not been lured across the water by the pound signs.
As it was, in his all too brief bout of stardom in our own game, he illuminated it with attacking flair that was far from the norm with half backs at the time. Mind you, there were definitely similarities between the former Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers player and a certain Mr Geraghty. Who – lest in be forgotten – had a trial with Arsenal in what was either 1994 or 1995.
Moran did, however, seem t have an unfortunate record of high profile sporting mishaps. Two glaring misses with gilt-edged goal opportunities in games against Kerry and being the first player to be sent off in an FA Cup Final in 1985.
Taking into account that green triumphed over blue in 1979, 1984 and 1985 after his departure, having being triumphant in the years preceding with him aboard, you cannot but wonder might he have made the crucial difference to the vanquished battalions. There comes a time, surely, though, when it must simply be conceded that those in the opposite corner are simply a bit ahead. Even if only by inches.
Truth be told, mind you, by the time that era more or less came to an end, Kerry had edged a fair bit ahead. Reason being, I think, that O’Dwyer had unearthed enough fresh talent to compliment what remained of the old guard in order to eek out further successes in 1984, 1985 and 1986. By which time Dublin’s stock had fallen to such levels that Meath had usurped them in the latter of the three years mentioned to claim their first conquest of the province in 16 years.
They went on to get closer to overthrowing the rulers than many did or had done for a very long time. Gut feeling is that they may in fact have pulled it off were it for an incident which was in fact entirely more deserving of O’Hehir’s description than that which received it.
When Meath goalkeeper Mickey McQuillan, corner back Joe Cassells and full back Mick Lyons went for the same ball and only succeeded in getting in each other’s way. Thus leaving Ger Power to roll the ball into an empty net and see the favourites through one of their greatest scares.
At this point, it should be pointed out that the above few paragraphs were included as a means of constructing context for detailing the fortunes of the two great teams after that day of days in ’77. Logic and evidence would corroborate the inclination that the Munster men held the upper hand in the declining years of those decorated combatants engaging in trench warfare.
Despite such feelings, there was evidence, too, that at least a few nuts on the wheels of the Kingdom’s wagon were beginning to thread. It took a while mind you. After what happened in ’77, wasn’t it nearly obvious there was going to be a backlash gift wrapped in green and gold the following year.
It’s doubtful even those who bequeathed the ruthless retribution expected it to be as damaging as it turned out. Especially after the hat-trick chasing Dubs opened up a 0-06 to 0-01 early on. Thereafter, they brought about something which had surely never happened previously or afterwards – Paddy Cullen having to empty his onion bag on a handful of occasions on the one day. The most famous and pivotal of which was what O’Hehir would famously describe as “The greatest freak of all time”.
It hardly was. Kevin Foley ending up inches from John O’Leary on July 6th 1991 would’ve been far more deserving of such accreditation. Anyway, the moment that has been enshrined in Irish sporting folklore came about after Kildare referee Seamus Aldridge awarded Kerry a free that was dubious at best. If I was Cullen, the case would’ve been contested vehemently too.
That however could or should not take from Mikey Sheehy’s ingenuity in taking advantage of the custodian straying into open waters. Yet, it would be hard not to accept Con Houlihan’s scripting of events – done, you suspect, with more than a smidgeon of sympathy for he who ended up tangled up in his own nets – as follows: “Paddy dashed back to his goal like a woman smells a cake on fire”.
It says something about that status which Sheehy’s strike has attained over the years that the fact Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston bagged a hat-trick on the same day is almost forgotten about. There are those who would try to dilute the value of some of what Liston produced owing to the fact that, at the time, players were permitted to handpass and/or throw the ball to the net. While there’s no doubt having that in his armory gave the big man from Beale an advantage over most of his opponents, to pigeon-hole it as the only string to the great man’s bow would me wholly unjust.
In preparing for this piece, I watched as many of the old games including both Kerry and Dublin as footage of could be located. It turned on to be a very informative exercise. Mostly because, though this might appear strange ‘Bomber’ appeared to get better with age. As that era of Kerry greatness was coming to end, how football was being played was evolving. Meaning that, to some extent at least, the bearded one had to change his gameplan in order to roll with the times.
To his immense credit, he managed to do so highly effectively too. From what could be gleaned from my video research, for the last triumvirate of triumphs he seemed to drift out the pitch much more and be involved in general play much more than might perhaps have been the case when O’Dwyer’s troops were at their most invincible.
THE WHEEL NUTS ON THE WAGON BEGAN TO LOOSEN
In between the two bouts of brilliance produced by arguably the greatest collective ever to play the game, there had been signs that the wheel nuts on the runaway wagon had began to loosen. With the greatest of due respect to Offaly, the prospect of anybody other than Dublin troubling the serially successful seemed as remote as the beautiful Tory Island on a wet and windy winter’s night.
Until, that is, a star was not so much born as unearthed. One which, in a football sense, illuminated the horizon for a tragically brief moment in time. A star carved from the rock of and honed on the sod of another island, that of Walsh in the Faithful County. To watch Matt Connor in action, even on tape, even now, is to not only marvel at what he was – possibly the most gifted individual to ever caress an O’Neill’s Size 5 – and pine for what he may have gone on to be and for God knows how long.
His relentless, if ultimately vain, hunting down of the prized kill in the 1980 All Ireland semi final will eternally rank in the pantheon of awesome individual displays ever to grace the old field in Drumcondra. That Offaly outfit were far from a lone ranger brigade, mind you. In Martin Furlong and Stephen Darby and Richie and Tomas Connor and Kevin Kilmurray and Johnny Mooney they boasted performers of comparable quality to anybody in the opposing corner.
Which is why their rattling of the Kerry bones, literal and metaphoric, maybe shouldn’t have shouldn’t have been that much of a shock at all. It was magical Matt, however, everyone – probably even on the banks of the River Maine was transfixed me. His eventual tally of 2-9 may well have been overtaken as one of the biggest tallies ever harvested on Jones’s Road, but, given its context, its significance would be hard to surpass.
Remember, this was a Kerry team who, the previous season, had put 3-13 on Dublin. Including 2-6 from Sheehy. Looking back on it now, that penultimate hurdle classic may have been the first indication of a shifting of the sands.
Roscommon could very easily have stormed the palace in 1980. Having made a terrific start, it can only be assumed they panicked and became like the rabbit on the roadside. Sensing even a morsel of a threat looming, the proven winners did what proven winners always do, snuffed it out with clinical efficiency.
Any inclinations that the door to The Kingdom may be ajar seemed to be summarily slammed shut when the perennial title holders had far less difficulty in negotiating a passage past Eugene McGee’s spirited side. In hindsight, on the flip side, the fact that those of the tricolour kit had emerged from the province for a second consecutive term should have served as an indicator they were of a different ilk to others who had attempted to challenge to duopoly but faded to obscurity as fast as they broken through.
Hans Christian Anderson would have struggled to come up with a fairytale scenario to properly depict what transpired next. With Dublin out of the picture at the time, 1982 saw Kerry and Offaly on a collision course for the third year in a row. That surely constituted a whole new rivalry. Nobody, not even the most ardently faithful midlander could’ve foreseen the seminal moment in Irish history – and not just sporting – it would become.
No team is unbeatable. Even the current Dublin crop will eventually be toppled. The euphoria and aura around Micko and his players ensured it was nearly a given that things would get wild and whirling as they stood on the brink sporting immortality, bidding to hold onto Sam for a fifth winter in a row.
That, of course, spawned the type of hysteria more associated with events like the visit of J. F. K. or The Beatles being in Dublin. Up to and including t-shirts with ‘Five-In-A-Row’ emblazoned on them being on sale BEFORE the match. Then there was the song, isn’t there always one? The chorus of which went “Five in a row, five in a row, it’s hard to believe we’ve done five in a row”.
Ambush fuel? You better believe it. Not that it appeared there was anything seismic afoot for 99.9% of the Final. McGee had been with Offaly long enough, and O’Dwyer et al should’ve been forewarned enough to know that their by then familiar foes wouldn’t capitulate almost dutifully as many had done in the past.
They did, however, engage in what O’Hehir famously described as “Dithering and dawdling” as time evaporated faster than the falling rain is at present. What was also notable, in appearance at least, was that O’Dwyer’s dynamic forces retreated and tried to hold what they had.
Count has been lost of the number of times teams sat back on a lead and end up getting swallowed up quicker than a curry in front of yours truly! But this was Kerry, right? Surely they wouldn’t fall into such a trap? Again, prophetic old words come to mind, “Those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad”. For wasn’t almost cruel to have the game’s greatest ever team – up to that point – within inches of putting themselves on a different stratosphere only to see the dream deflated quicker than a balloon at a 21st.
Yet, there is a necessity also to acknowledge a trait which seems to permeate all Offaly – an unwillingness to give in when the odds appear stacked against them – see the 1994 hurling final for references. Belief in such attributes will only get you so far though. Being able to translate belief into positive delivery is a different kettle of fish altogether.
With your rear end hovering within a light breeze of the bacon slicer is hardly the time to put such theories to the test. Perhaps, mind you, there is always something in a name. There may be a reason they were dubbed the Faithful County. On that fateful day long ago, they may have been the only ones anywhere who gave them a prayer on the day.
In keeping with such a line of thought, the “High, lobbing, dropping ball” Liam Currams essayed toward the Railway End goal could claim to be the first Hail Mary shot” unleashed on a football field. If it was as such, either the great lady herself or her young lad must have looked favourably upon the talented dual player and his colleagues. Seconds later, Seamus Darby blasted home a goal that should not only be recalled for it’s historic significance but also the quality of the strike. A strike not only worthy of winning any match but also altering the course of history. Thus, the chorus of the song was amended to “Christ we were close to five in a row”.
THE TIMES THEY WERE A-CHANGING
The emotional turmoil the build up to and fallout from the 1982 All Ireland Final was bound to have had an impact on the Kerry team. Both teams actually. Offaly’s fortunes went into a decline from which – with the exception of 1997 – they have never escaped. In contrast, while Kerry’s elimination from the 1983 Championship would have been an earthquake to the football world, they bounced back immediately thereafter to string another three titles together. The last hurrah for the golden era.
Or that version thereof at least. With Kerry out of the equation, it may have seemed an inevitability that Dublin would replace them in the box seat – which they did – but only after Heffernan’s side took their time sidestepping a Meath team showing the first signs that the times they were a changing under a certain Mr Boylan!
For all that, what turned out to be Heffernan’s final All Ireland success will certainly never be forgotten, even leaving aside the the sentimental aspect of it, after it was achieved by what became known as ‘The 12 Apostles’. Owing to the fact Antrim referee John Gough dismissed Ray Hazeley, Brian Mullins and Kieran Duff – along with Tomas Tierney of Galway – before Barney Rock’s speculative shot morphed into the goal which ended up being the pivotal score in what was the veteran manager’s last major triumph. On the day, the victors were captained by wing back Tommy Drumm, who is a cousin of my father.
Kerry, perhaps unsurprisingly, bounced right back in 1984. Wasn’t it only fitting that not only did the big two end up in the final in the Association’s Centenary year, but, the county with the most victory garlands adorning their headquarters picked up another such decoration.
Reference was made earlier to the fact that very little was known about O’Dwyer’s last three triumphs with his native county. Until, that is, one delved into YouTube on a bit of a treasure hunt. Which revealed, from this sitpoint at least, it was possibly the worst performance produced by a combination in the two shades of blue in a decider. Something underpinned by the fact that they actually only had two scorers, with Barney Rock accounting for all but one of their scores.
Throughout the most glorious stanzas of the age old rivalry between the two remarkable teams, it was probably the case that whoever held the upper hand in the long running stand-off between Brian Mullins and Jack O’Shea enabled their tribe to hold sway over not only each other but the entirety of the game.
If the above principal does carry credence, the only way to summarise the 1985 clash – which was to be their last in a Final for 26 years – would be opining that on the day in question it was very much a game of two halves. The big plumber being absolutely majestic in the first half. Which enabled him and his colleagues build up a nine point cushion at the change of ends.
If the riposte from Dublin was staged as a valedictory salvo from a retiring gunslinger, it transpired to be a very valiant one as two goals from one Joe McNally – who was Dublin’s answer to the ‘Bomber’ ensured that the scoreline reflected sympathetically on those in the losing corner. Which was only fair considering the mammoth contribution to what was an unforgettable and highly influential period in football’s history.
In the opposiing corner, Kerry got one more bucket from the well out of their greatest ever collection of big names. What was left of them, that is, after fair chunks of both Kerry and Dublin regiments had stood down from active service in 1979.
A few, like Pat Spillane, Jacko, Mikey Sheehy and ‘Bomber’ did play on for several years after ’86, but, in truth their triumph over Tyrone was not only the end of an era for the game’s most decorated combatants, but for the old pursuit itself as well.
Researching for this outing has been one of the most informative, enjoyable tasks ever undertaken in this seat. Also one of the most poignant though. The Righteous Brothers were wrong, time doesn’t go by slowly. It waits for no man. The Chairman of the board above has already summoned ‘Heffo’ and Anton O’Toole into one corner, ‘The Horse’ Kennelly, Paidi and John Egan into the one opposite. A referee is still being sought and tickets will go on sale shortly!
They, their contributions to Irish history – sporting and otherwise – nor those of their peers will ever be forgotten.