Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Special day for Roscommon and goalscorer John

 

 

1972 Connacht SF Final

Roscommon 5-8 (23) Mayo 3-10 (19)

 

1972 was a year when several brilliant young players like Harry Keegan, Pat Lindsay,   Mickey Freyne, Jimmy Mannion and Tom Hunt were introduced to the team.

  The Connacht Championship campaign began in Dr. Hyde Park in front of a crowd of 17,000 people against Galway and despite Roscommon having led in that game by 3-8 to 0-7 twelve minutes into the second half, it all  ended in controversy and confusion as Galway clawed their way back to get a draw, 3-9 to 2-12. The referee (Michael Connaughton of Mayo) was man-handled and attacked after the game by furious Roscommon supporters as they felt he had robbed them of what would have been a famous victory.

  I remember being on the Hyde Park pitch after that game as Roscommon supporters vented their fury at the referee. Thankfully he wasn’t seriously injured and Roscommon went on to win the replay on a wet day in Tuam, by 1-8 to 0-7.

  So Roscommon had qualified to meet a star-studded Mayo team in the Connacht final in Castlebar. My father had passed away the summer previously but I was brought to the game with my two younger brothers by my uncle Tom who was home from the USA at that time.

  The tar was bubbling on the road as the Wolsley 16/60 inched its way towards Castlebar for the big game. It was one of the hottest days that I ever remember and the traffic was ‘chronic’ as we got closer to the pitch.

  We were all familiar with the brilliant Adrian O’Sullivan, Dermot Earley, John Kerrane and Gerry Mannion and of course Tom Hunt was from my own club Roscommon Gaels – but we wanted to see all the new lads in action against Mayo. Most of the experts didn’t give Roscommon a chance. Roscommon were playing against a Mayo team that included some of the greatest players ever to play for the Green and Red…men like Ray Prendergast, Johnny Carey, Sean O’Grady, John Morley and Sean Kilbride (father of Senan and Ian) and who was later to go on to play for Roscommon. Could we upset the Mayo applecart and win the Connacht title for  the first time in 10 years?

  Over the following hour and a half we witnessed one of the greatest Connacht finals every played as the teams went at it hammer and tongs in the stifling heat, producing eight goals and eighteen points between them.

  The ‘Lukey Lukey Ices’, minerals and knotted white hankerchiefs on the head were the order of the day as the game began in a heat haze. The sides traded points early on before Mayo’s dangerous corner-forward JJ Cribben pounced for a great goal after 12 minutes –however five minutes later with Mayo leading by 1-5 to 0-2 Dermot Earley’s ’50 was punched into the Mayo net by Mickey Freyne.

  Earley was giving an exhibition at midfield and it was one of his greatest-ever games in the Roscommon jersey. He and Gerry Beirne at midfield ruled the roost against two of the finest players ever to play for Mayo – Sean O’Grady and John Morley – (both of whom were to play for Roscommon Gaels later in their careers).

  However Mayo were getting through the Roscommon defence and Cribbin got in for another goal after 22 minutes but points from Mickey Freyne and John Kelly saw Roscommon cut the lead to three points before the Rossies struck for two goals before half-time.

  Dermot Earley ran at least forty yards with the ball before scoring a spectacular goal five minutes before half-time and then John Kelly added another brilliant Roscommon goal to leave his side 3-6 to 2-6 ahead at the break.

  The second half was even more gripping. Mayo tacked on two early points to reduce the margin to one but a great Mickey Freyne pass found John Kelly in the 8th minute and the Boyle man made no mistake to record Roscommon’s fourth goal.

  However this incredible game had more twists and turns to go yet. After 13 minutes of the second half the flame-haired Willie McGee smashed home a typically opportunist Mayo goal and suddenly there was only one in it again and when Joe Corcoran scored a Mayo point in the 17th minute the sides were level at 4-6 to 3-9.

  But Roscommon were not going to be  denied. In the 21st minute Mel Flanagan  brought the Roscommon supporters to their feet with a brilliant individual goal and finally Mayo’s resistance was broken. Points from Tom Hunt and Jimmy Mannion late in the game saw Roscommon edge out Mayo by four points after a sensational game of football.

  When the final whistle blew thousands of Roscommon people swarmed on to the field to acclaim their heroes and the chairman of the Connacht Council, Dr. Donal Keenan (who was also the chairman of the County Board at the time) presented the Nestor Cup to Adrian O’Sullivan, the brilliant Roscommon centre half-back and captain.

  In all my time following Roscommon all around the country I don’t think any senior provincial victory (with the possible exception of 2001) was celebrated with any more vigour by the GAA fans from the county who on this occasion danced jigs and reels around McHale Park and hooted their car horns non-stop on the journey back to Roscommon.

  It was a day when Dermot Earley showed just what a great footballer he was – but on the 16th July, 1972 every Roscommon player and sub was a hero on a occasion that any of us who were privileged to be there will never forget.

  It was also a day that John Kelly will never forget. The Boyle attacker scored 2-2 but he had a double cause for celebration as his wife Olivia gave birth to their first child that very day in Dublin. John recalled events in an interview with the Roscommon People during the week.

  “It was an eventful day surely. I remember the intense heat and that it was a very high-scoring game. They tell me that it was a great game but when you are playing your cannot really tell because you are trying to concentrate on playing  the best you can” he said.

  “I can remember the second goal I scored that day. Mickey Freyne was taking a free but it went very low and I gathered it and scored. Mickey swears to this day that it was a brilliant  pass! But it was great day for Roscommon as we had not won a Connacht title in ten years”  he said.

  “There were great celebrations afterwards but I didn’t partake as I was brought out to the Breaffy House Hotel by Garda squad car and  rushed to Dublin where my first child (John Junior) was born during the game. He had arrived a few days early! So I missed all the celebrations in Castlebar but I had my own celebrations in Dublin!” he said.

 

Roscommon: Johnny Neill; Harry Keegan, Pat Lindsay, Tom Heneghan; Gerry Mannion, Adrian O’Sullivan (capt.), John Kirrane; Gerry Beirne, Dermot Earley (1-2); Jimmy Mannion (0-1), John Kelly (2-2), Tom Hunt (0-1); Mel Flanagan (1-0), Mickey Freyne (1-2), Jimmy Finnegan. Subs: Mick Fallon for Mannion, J Mannion for Finnegan.

Mayo: JJ Costello; M Begley, R Prendergast, T Kerrane; M Higgins, J Carey, B O’Reilly (0-1); S O’Grady (0-2), J Morley; T Fitzgerald, S Kilbride, D Griffith (0-2); T O’Malley (0-2), W McGee, JJ Cribben (2-0). Subs: F Burns, J Corcoran (0-3).

Referee: F Tierney (Cavan).