The Great Jim Smith from Killinkere

February 28, 2005
Tom Shevlin from Roscommon he put the ball in gear and the very first to get it was Jim Smith from Killinkere" - so went the first two lines of one of the many ballads composed in commemoration of the exploits of the Cavan captain and his comrades on their path to Cavan's first All-Ireland Senior Football Championship success in 1933. Jim Smith was born at Gola, Killinkere, 1901 and came from a farming background. In his early years he attended a school in Ballyjamesduff run by the late Mr. Larry Reilly N.T. The boys attending that school played football in a field known as the "plots" and were also allowed out to play handball. Games were organised and it was the proud boast of the late Connie Lynch, Lacken, Ballyjamesduff, a former county player - later prominent referee and GAA supporter, that he was the first person to hand a football jersey to Jim Smith. Jim played his first competitive game for Ballyjamesduff schoolboys against Crosskeys in the Crosskeys pitch. His first junior club was Lurgan. Following his term at Ballyjamesduff Jim entered St. Patrick's College, Cavan. Writing on St. Patrick's College in a programme published on the re-opening of Breffni Park, 1952, "Laudator temporis acti" had this to say: "Hero of Breffni men, at home and abroad for many years, idol of successive generations of students, is tall, dark-haired Jim Smith, one of the most versatile players ever to don a jersey, whose career ran back over twenty years, 1917-38." In Rev. Fr. Dan Gallogly's book "Cavan's Football Story" the author describes Jim Smith as "undoubtedly the greatest footballer of the decade (twenties) - an all-round athlete equally proficient at football, hurling and handball. He combined great physique and determination with elegant fielding and long kicking. He was the hero of Cavan in the twenties and thirties and did an immense amount to fashion Cavan football after his own style." However, it was in hurling that Jim first played for the "Sons of St. Patrick." The game was against a north Monaghan selection, played on 24th June, 1917, at Wattlebridge, Co. Fermanagh, during a school holiday period. Jim cycled from Killinkere to Wattlebridge and cycled home following the game. He played football for Killinkere in Clarke's field. Some years ago a Senior Citizen of that parish related to Jim's son, Gearoid, how had had seen the latter's Dad in action there. On one particular occasion what the man described as a "hucksters shop" had been erected some yards in rear of one of the goal areas. Obviously there was no net in use. Jim bore down on goal, let go a terrific shot which went between the posts, then struck and overturned the stall, scattering its contents in all directions. Later on, Jim joined Virginia Blues, a senior team. He won his first County Senior Football Championship medal playing for Virginia in 1919. By 1920 he had joined the County Senior panel but had erected the ecclesiastical college of All Hallows, Dublin. His joining the Senior Co. panel was to be the launching-pad for his winning of thirteen Ulster Senior Football Championship medals. He captained the winning team in 1925 and played at mid-field alongside the late Hughie Reilly. Records show that in 1924 and 1925 he was attached to the Bailieboro Club, as he was when Breffni Park opened in July, 1923. Earlier, while in Dublin he had managed to play Club Football. He was present in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday, November 1920 when British Forces shot dead Michael Hogan and twelve spectators during a Tipperary/Dublin game. Jim had played for Erin's Hope in a curtain-raiser to the Senior game. Many stories have been told about Jim Smith's leaving of All Hallows, and his name had been coupled with that of Mundy Penderville, Kerry, one-time Archbishop of Perth, Western Australia. The Archbishop's departure from All Hallows is related at Page 207 of Michéal Ó Muircheartaigh's recent autobiography. In regard to Jim Smith my information is that the story was just that - a story. In any case, Jim left All Hallows, later joined an Garda Siochana and was soon promoted to the rank of Sergeant. In 1924 the legendary player was at mid-field for Ireland v England in the International Tailteann Games. In 1928 and 1932 he played for Ireland v America in the same competition. One of his colleagues, the late Larry Stanley (Kildare) received an "All Time Star" award in 1980 and on being interviewed stated that Jim Smith was the greatest footballer he ever saw. In 1925 Jim won his first Dublin County Senior Hurling Championship medal with the famed Garda Hurling Club of the era. Reverting to Cavan teams, Smith was again at midfield with Hughie Reilly when Cavan lost by a point to Kildare in their first All-Ireland Senior Final, 1928. He was unlucky when his team again lost to Kildare in the semi-final at Breffni Park, 1931, but the big breakthrough came in 1933 when Cavan sensationally defeated Kerry's four-in-a-row champions at Breffni Park. In this game Kerry were leading towards the end, but "Jimmy was there with his men at command. In one famous rush they tore down the field, before them Owen Roe and his army would yield." Vincent McGovern's goal gave Cavan victory and Jim Smith (Captain) brought the Sam Maguire Cup to Cavan for the first time when Galway were defeated in the final at Croke Park, September 1933. For the '33 games Jim played at centre half back. In May, 1934 he led Cavan on a tour of America but returned in June of that year and later won the Ulster Championship. Reports of the semi-final v Galway which became known as "The Tuam Fiasco" state that "Cavan were without Jim Smith who was dropped for the game." If this was true it must have been one of the many mysteries provided by various Cavan Selection Committees over the years and one which in the words of the old Catechism "could not be fully comprehended." Came 1935. Jim had reverted to centre full-back. Cavan met Tipperary in the semi-final. I recall following the crowd to the home of Mrs Leddy, Lattagloghan, Upper Lavey, to hear the broadcast. I was then twelve years old. Leddy's had one of the few radio sets in our parish. Tipp led by one point 0-8 to 0-7 coming into injury time. Commentator, the late Eamon de Barra said "Cavan have a fifty. Jim Smith is coming up to take it. Backs and forwards on their tip-toes. He kicks it - a goal!" and so Cavan had reached another final v Kildare. Newspaper reports told us Hughie Reilly (then Captain) had punched the ball to the net. A Lavey resident said afterwards - "It came in so straight, sure Hughie had nothing to do only salute it as it passed." A great display against Kildare in which our hero excelled at full-back brought the second All-Ireland to Breffni. In May, 1936 Cavan went on another USA tour and won the Bill Dolan Cup. Thousands attended a welcoming reception in Cavan town on the team's return. At the reception Jim Smith announced his retirement from football. Cavan lost to Laois in the semi-final of that year. 1937 dawned. One of the Ulster Championship fixtures v Donegal was fixed for Breffni Park. Rumours spread that Jim Smith would make a return. Now fourteen, I determined to get to that game. Having left my pedal bicycle out the Dublin Road at Paddy Reilly's shop I made my way into the Park, went up alongside the wire enclosure and spoke to my brother through the wire, then returned to the rear of the entrance goal. Then I heard a tremendous cheer, looked towards the dressing-rooms as everyone else did and saw the unmistakeable figure of Jim Smith emerging with the other players. As the game got underway I watched his every move, his sure fielding, his lengthy clearances, his well placed kickouts, and he certainly did not require a Golf Tee or any other tee to raise the ball from the ground. Monaghan were beaten in the Ulster Final and my next memory is of my late father and several others cycling to Mullingar for the semi-final v Mayo. Cavan won by a late rally but my father said they were helped by Jim Smith's marking of the late Paddy Moclair, Mayo's famed full-forward. In September I listened to the thrilling All-Ireland final v Kerry in the home of TJ & Mrs Smith, Garryowen, Lavey. Jim Smith once again gave an outstanding performance at full-back. Canon Hamilton (Commentator) gave result as a win for Cavan by one point. All teenagers in the house were dispatched to collect empty tar barrels from nearby road-works plus whins and other materials for a bonfire, and then a message came to tell us that the last Cavan point was disallowed and the match ended in a draw. Kerry won the replay on October 17th. In the first half Jim Smith was injured and carried off following a clash with Miko Doyle, Kerry full-forward. In his report the referee, Michael Hennessy (Clare & Dublin) said "Jim Smith was carried off bleeding from the mouth and nose, but I did not see how it happened." So ended a great footballing career and it was a pity that it came in such circumstances. The only trophy which had eluded Jim was a Railway Cup medal but Ulster did not win the Railway Cup until 1942. Many years later the "Sunday Press" carried a front page photograph of Jim Smith and Miko Doyle shaking hands in Dublin's O'Connell Street. Sergeant Smith spent his first years of service in the Garda Depot but later served in various stations such as Holyford, Co Wicklow, Kells and Crossakiel, Co Meath, Emyvale, Co Monaghan and in the fifties retired at Tarmonbarry, close to the Roscommon/Longford border. He then secured a clerical position with the Department of Agriculture, Dublin. While stationed in Co. Meath Jim met and married Annie Elizabeth (Nancy) McEntee of Newmarket Street, Kells. The couple had two sons - Jim (Jnr) and Gearóid. Jim (Snr) died in July 1970 and his wife died in January 1994. Jim (Jnr) (Sligo) played football for St. Patrick's College, Cavan as did Gearóid, in 1951 and 1952 both won McRory Cup medals and Jim was full-back on Ulster Colleges Inter-Provincial team. Both played for Cavan Minors in 1952 and 1953. Jim returned to Cavan on several occasions to play for Killinkere and also had a number of outings with the County Senior team. When he and his namesake, another Jimmy Smith from Killinkere, were not retained on the county panel it became a further one of the mysteries previously mentioned. Gearóid transferred to Meath and was part of the Meath Senior panel which defeated Kerry in the All-Ireland final of 1954. I had the pleasure of getting to know Jim Smith (Jnr) in the seventies and even though his name was not mentioned in newspapers or elsewhere I was aware of the valuable assistance he gave to Barrins Murphy when the latter was preparing the Sligo team which won the Connacht title in 1975 after a forty-seven year lapse. Gearóid (Dublin and Virginia) continued his GAA activities with Kilmacud Crokes. A cousin of Jim and Gearóid, nephew of the illustrious Jim, is currently the active Chairman of my first club, Lavey, Co Cavan and named "Seamus Smith". Only once had I the privilege and pleasure of meeting the famed Cavan idol-Jim Smith (Snr). I attended a meeting in Barry's Hotel, Dublin, called to organise a welcome for Cavan Minors who were due to take part in the All-Ireland minor final of 1959. I was in conversation with another Killinkere great - the late Joe Stafford - when Jim Smith came in and sat beside us. Joe introduced me to Jim and the latter recounted to me his schooldays in Ballyjamesduff with my late uncle, John V McManus, how they had continued their friendship through the years, and he was sincerely sorry when he heard of my uncles (Garda Inspector) death the previous year (1958). Today at Beagh, Killinkere, near the old Protestant Rectory is situated a splendid GAA Park and Sports Complex dedicated to the memory of Jim Smith. Guím solas na bhFlaitheas ar na daoine atá luaite sa phíosa seo agus atá anois imighe uainn ar shlí na Fírinne. Tá súil agam go dtabharfaidh gaiscí Shéamuis, a chomrádaithe, agus na h-imreoirí eile a chuaigh rompu óige an lae inniú agus na glúinte le teacht spreagadh chunéachta ionas go mbeidh an Sam Maguire is oidhreacht acú le feicéal i gCo an Chabháin arís.

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