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  • Sport

40th anniversary of Galway Minor football team's stunning All-Ireland Final victory over Kerry

Wednesday, 8th December, 2010 11:00am


HERE in Herald Sport a month ago, we paid tribute to the All-Ireland winning Galway Minor football team of 1960, on the Golden Jubilee of the county's second U-18 Championship title; the first was won in 1952, when the team captained by Brian Mahon of Dunmore MacHales defeated Cavan in the All-Ireland final. The Roll of Honour now shows Galway on six titles. The other winning years were 1970, captained by Joe Corcoran, St Michael's; 1976, captained by Gerry Burke, Corofin; 1986, captained by John Joyce (R.I.P.), of the Salthill / Knocknacarra club, and 2007, captained by Paul Conroy, St James's.

So, 2010 is also an anniversary year for the 1970 All-Ireland Minor football champions; indeed we know many of those fine men so well that it's hard to credit it was all of 40 years ago they won the coveted Tom Markham Cup, which incidentally commemorates a Co. Clare G.A.A. man.

The Markham Cup was first presented for the 1940 All-Ireland M.F.C. final (Louth defeated Mayo), but the very popular U-18 competition goes back as far as 1929, when the first winners were Clare, who defeated Longford in the final.

In the 1960s, Mayo won four Connacht M.F.C. titles in a row, 1961/2/3/4, and had a glory year in 1966 when they became All-Ireland champions, while Roscommon won Connacht in 1965 and '67, and Sligo were Connacht champions in 1968. Galway took over in the West the following year — it was a long break, from 1960 to '69 — but that year they lost to Cork in the All-Ireland semi-finals. They would go all the way a year later.

Traditionally, the Minor football season starts with a provincial League competition, and first time out in 1970 the signs were good for Galway: a 1-10 to 0-1 win over Roscommon at Athleague on a Thursday evening in mid-April. Next came a 4-17 to 0-2 rout of Sligo at Tuam Stadium, with the goals scored by Michael Rooney (Cortoon), who hit two; John Tobin (Tuam stars), who would end the year top scorer, and Maurice Burke (Corofin).

The team was already taking shape, with Seán Higgins from Kilkerrin immediately proving himself a top-class goalkeeper; dual star Stephen Cloonan (Athenry) and John Kemple (Tuam Stars) in the corner-back berths; P. J. Burke of Annaghdown and Joe Corcoran from the city club St Michael's in the wing-back positions, and the two powerfully built young Glenamaddy men Alfie Marron and Michael Geraghty at Nos. 3 and 6, respectively; Tom O'Connor (Killanin), Peter Silke (Dunmore MacHales) and the young Cortoon powerhouse Michael Rooney shared the midfield duties, and in the early stages of the campaign the first-choice forwards were Joe Lardner (Annaghdown), Michael Walsh (Oughterard), John Meehan (Kilkerrin-Clonberne), Maurice Burke and John Tobin. Later on, the Garbally, Ballinasloe student Iomar Barrett, from Mountbellew, came on board and added a vita

l spark of energy, and a cutting edge, to the attack.

There was a significantly settled look about the team from Nos. 1 to 7, and their understanding of each other's play was a big factor. There was a lot of physical strength there too, in hard-hitting man-markers such as Cloonan, Marron, Geraghty and Corcoran, while Paddy Joe Burke was a tenacious defender, not a tall man but tough and fearless, and

Kemple was an extrovert type of player; he was a crowd favourite and loved being in the spotlight. His death in the United States at an early age came as a shock, and it was deeply regretted by all who knew and loved him.

Other lads who got game-time in the provincial League were: Fonsie Melia (Menlough), P. O'Malley (Oughterard), Tom Naughton and Tom Walsh (both Annaghdown).

Goalkeeper Seán Higgins was a schoolmate of John Meehan at Curraghmore NS, Kilkerrin and when they went on to secondary school in Glenamaddy they linked up with Alfie Marron and Michael Geraghty. It was a fantastic achievement for one North/East Galway second-level school to give four players to such a brilliant All-Ireland winning team. Interestingly, as Alfie Marron told me this week, their coaches in the Glenamaddy school included the legendary Johnny Geraghty. I also had a telephone chat with Seán Higgins. Seán and Alfie both live in Dublin; they hugely enjoyed the recent re-union of the 1970 Galway Minor team, as did all the group, and for me it was a wonderful pleasure to speak with them again, even if it was only by phone. I put in a similar call to Tom O'Connor, also a great player in that team, and we could have talked all day!

Galway-Mayo rivalry

The 1970 Connacht League title should have been decided when

Galway played Mayo at Tuam Stadium in early May, with the sides sharing top of the table, but it finished in a draw: Galway 2-9 Mayo 1-12. The home team's first goal was set up by John Tobin and finished to the net by full-forward Fonsie Melia and the second goal was scored by Peter Silke, from a pass by Maurice Burke. Galway went on to win the replay at Castlebar, 3-13 to 2-6, thanks to two late goals, by Maurice Burke and John Tobin. Interestingly, Tom Naughton played at left full-back in this game; he would be seen at his best as a county forward through the 1970s and as a dynamic, inspirational leader of his club Annaghdown in the '80s, their golden decade, when they won the County S.F.C. three times.

The best of another dynamic young player, Mickey Rooney of Cortoon, wasn't seen by the Galway Minor team until the Championship started, and then he became a colossus. Peter Silke, from Dunmore, was also a key player, at centre half-back in the first Connacht League game, in midfield for the rest of that competition, and in the attack later on in the year. On the evening the provincial League was won, the two other top performers were Tom O'Connor (Killanin) in midfield and scoring ace John Tobin, who hit 1-7 of Galway's 3-13.

FOR the Championship, Galway introduced Iomar Barrett to the full-forward line; he would make his mark in big way later on, in the All-Ireland final drawn game. Against Sligo first time out in the Championship, it was John Tobin's day, with a brilliant display of shooting (3-6, 3-5 from play), in a 4-12 to 1-6 victory. In defence, the two best displays were given by Glenamaddy clubmates Alfie Marron and Michael Geraghty, while up front Tobin's supply line came mainly from his former Tuam C.B.S. team-mate Michael Rooney, covering a lot of ground along the left wing and often helping out at midfield.

The Connacht final at Tuam Stadium on the last Sunday of July was surprisingly one-sided, Galway 2-11 Mayo 1-6, although according to the Tuam Herald report the losers had the best player on the field in Vincent Kelly (Killala) playing in the half-forward line. The game was almost over as a contest inside five minutes, for by then Galway were leading by two goals and a point! From the throw-in, Galway attacked and a long-range drive by Peter Silke went all the way to the net; then Michael Rooney blasted a goal from a pass by Tom O'Connor, and the next score was a pointed free by John Tobin.

Two names in the Mayo line-out would become familiar to Galway football followers: John O'Mahony at right full-back and Con Moynihan at midfield. Ballaghaderreen clubmates, they would both be eligible for the Minor grade again the following year, and they duly won All-Ireland medals in 1971 and All-Ireland U-21 medals in 1974.

Galway's march to Croke Park in 1970 now caught the imagination of the county. This team had a great following, and they were providing marvellous entertainment. I was a young reporter, in my third year working for the Herald in 1970, and our editor Jarlath P. Burke and myself were at all the Minor team's matches. The young Galway men seemed to have it all: they were hard-working and tigerish in defence, high-fielding and creative in midfield, and spectacular in attack: Rooney and Tobin always thought of going for goals rather than settling for easy points, while Joe Lardner, a brilliant footballer, was becoming more and more a key player with every outing; Maurice Burke's skill level was high and he had too much pace for most of his opponents, and two unsung heroes, content to work hard and serve the team, were John Meehan and Michael Walsh.

Waiting for Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park on the second Sunday in August were Leinster champions Dublin; it was the curtain-raiser to Galway vs Meath in the All-Ireland Senior semi-final. The minors scored another brilliant victory, by eleven points, but the seniors were defeated 0-15 to 0-11. The magic of the Three-in-a-Row had worn off. Meath, who had lost to Galway at Croke Park in 1964 (All-Ireland semi-final) and 1966 (All-Ireland final) were champions in 1967 (in succession to Galway) but they lost the 1970 final to Kerry and would not regain the Sam Maguire Cup until 1987. The gap for Galway in the S.F.C. would be 32 years (1966 to 1998).

In 1970, Meath defeated a Galway starting XV of Gabriel Mitchell (Dunmore MacHales); Enda, Noel and Brendan Colleran (Mountbellew / Moylough); Miko Feerick (Milltown), Liam O'Neill (St Grellan's, Ballinasloe), Colie McDonagh (Fr Griffin's); Pat Donnellan (Dunmore MacHales), Willie Joyce (Killererin); Cyril Dunne (Ballinasloe), Joe McLoughlin (Maigh Cuilinn), Jimmy Duggan (Corofin); Liam Sammon (Fr Griffin's), John Keenan (Dunmore MacHales), Tommy Keenan, captain (Dunmore MacHales).

In The Herald, this was how I started my

A mighty Kerry team in the making

On the back page of The Herald in the final week of September 1970, we confidently tipped the young Galway men to go all the way, even though the Kingdom were now striving for an All-Ireland Minor/Senior double. In hindsight, it was naïve to be so confident about it, but we could not have known then that the Kerry team who failed to beat Galway in the Minor final on Sunday, Sept. 27th was backboned by seven players who would go on to All-Ireland glory, and legendary status, at senior level: Paudie O'Mahony, Jimmy Deenihan, Mickey Ned O'Sullivan, Ger O'Keeffe, Paud Lynch, Ger Power and John Egan.

From 1975 on, those seven Kerry footballers would win a total of 27 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship medals between them.

THE 1970 Minor final went to a replay. First time out, it finished Galway 1-8 Kerry 2-5, our goal by Iomar Barrett; the Kerry goals were scored by Chris O'Connell and Ger O'Keeffe.

With so much talent on both sides, this match should have been a classic but it didn't hit top gear until the closing stages. It was, of course, a tense occasion for young players; it must have been a huge test of their nerves to play in front of a 71,775 crowd.

For Galway, the backs were heroic; John Kemple and Michael Geraghty were outstanding, and goalkeeper Seán Higgins made several brilliant saves, most notably from Kerry centre-forward P. B. Brosnan. At the other end of the field John Tobin was very closely marked but still played a key role, and Mickey Rooney changed the game when he was switched to midfield, where Paud Lynch and John Long were great players for Kerry. But Galway had the player who really stole the show, when the need for something special was greatest, Iomar Barrett, who hit a late 1-1 to save the day.

The replay, a month later, was a classic. At the end of a duel to the death, Galway triumphed on a 1-11 to 1-10 scoreline. Peter Silke shot a sensational last-gasp winning point from play, off his less favoured left side, from a pass by Maurice Burke. Early in the game, Burke and Tobin set up a goal for Joe Lardner. Joe, who also scored three points, was Man of the Match; Michael Rooney gave yet another lionhearted display, and Alfie Marron was the outstanding defender on the field.

Jarlath Burke's Herald report paid a glowing tribute to the two teams: "Magnificent minors from Galway and Kerry made Gaelic football sparkle in the October drizzle at Croke Park, where they mastered dismal conditions to make this replay not merely the highlight of the Minor Championship but the greatest Minor final for many years.

"And it was a tremendously exciting finish to a razor-edge game that started at a breakneck pace, slowed down a little, and then accelerated almost to the limit of endurance. These lads gave everything they had in a battle royal for the All-Ireland crown."

Forty years later, Maurice Burke — to his great credit — organised the first formal re-union of that victorious panel; it took place last Saturday week at Park House, Galway city. The late John Kemple was fondly remembered in all the talk; Michael Rooney and one of the subs, Seán Hynes of Athenry, could not be there as they are abroad, but the rest were there, and delighted to meet up again, led by their inspirational captain in that memorable year of 1970, Joe Corcoran.

For the record, the Minor team of 1970 had a 12-strong team of selectors: John "Tull" Dunne (manager), Brendan Nestor, Pa Burke, Tom Cunningham (trainer), Joe Sweeney, Philip Joyce, Cathal Furey, Luke Hehir, Lal Fallon, Tom Fitzgerald, Patsy Geraghty, Paddy Taylor. Sadly, most of them have gone to their eternal reward.

Finally, it should be remembered too, that many of the 1970 minors played for the U-21s when Galway, captained by Joe Waldron (Milltown), defeated Kerry in the 1972 All-Ireland U-21 final,

2-6 to 0-7.

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