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
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
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
Referee: F Tierney (Cavan).