60 years on. Remembering 1948, game by game

April 01, 2008
As defending champions, and having come off the back of the historic 1947 All Ireland Polo Grounds victory, Cavan set out in 1948 with high expectations of putting successive Sam Maguire victories together. To make this a reality the treacherous football waters of Ulster competition had first to be steered and as has always been the case this was going to be a tough task. The Champions tag rested easy on the shoulders of the 1947 team as they had in abundance players of quality, who had earned their reputations as household names as they showcased the All Ireland arena with grace and skill. It was a golden era in the football fortunes of the Breffni county and 1948 was to prove just one more memorable footnote in the great history of these men. Cavan's preparation for their defence of their championship crown could not have been better and while they lost to Mayo in a pre-season friendly at Breffni Park, the remainder of their season was to build to a crescendo culiminating in a successful defence of their All-Ireland title. Cavan set out to defend their Ulster and All Ireland crowns with an opening Ulster senior football championship game against an emerging Down side. The game which was played at Lurgan came just a week after Cavan had secured a last second draw against Cork in the National Football league final at Croke Park. The gruelling encounter against Cork saw Cavan take the field like war-weary veterans but despite their obvious physical weariness they did however, combine enough fire-power to secure a five point winning margin. Cavan were forced to make three changes to their starting line-up when Tony Tighe, who injured an ankle in the game against Cork the previous Sunday, failed to pass a fitness test. His place at centre field was taken by Kingscourt Star's Victor Sherlock, while Barney Cully's place at full-back (due to late arrival) was well filled by Brian O'Reilly (Mullahoran) and Edwin Carolan (Mullagh) who did not travel was substituted by Terry Sheridan (Killinkere). After restructuring their team Cavan took the field and with Down in rampant form and Cavan showing the signs of fatigue from their exertions in the drawn NFL final, it was no surprise that Down opened the game in high-spirited fashion and went in front after ten minutes. It was only when Down took the lead that Cavan began to show something of their true form, the kind of form that had given them a renowned reputation. Some inspirational saves by Down goalkeepr, O'Hare, deprived Cavan from taking an early lead but it was Cavan's greater experience that was ultimately enough to see the Breffni men start with a successful defence of their titles. In a first half that saw Cavan fail to produce their usual flowing football, they still managed to hold 1-7 to 2-0 half-time lead. A heavy shower of rain just before the interval left conditions quite slippery. Down started the second half with af flourish hitting two points to reducing Cavan's lead to just two. Cavan who were at this point uncharacteristically jittery responded to the promptings from team coach Hughie O'Reilly and with Mick Higgins, Peter Donohoe and Victor Sherlock on top of their game Cavan began slowly began to curb the Down threat and eventually run out winners with five points to spare. Cavan: D. J. Benson, W. Doonan, B. O'Reilly, Patrick Smith, P. J. Duke, J. J. O'Reilly (capt.), S. Deignan, Phil Brady, V. Sherlock, J. J. Cassidy, M. Higgins, T. Sheridan, Joe Stafford, Peter Donohoe, T. P. O'Reilly. Ulster semi-final With home advantage and neighbours Monaghan providing the opposition the large crowd that filled Breffni Park failed to see the expected standard of skillful play from the defending champions but instead witnessed an absorbing contest where the the outcome was in doubt up to the final whistle. Monaghan had been tipped by some as potential winners. They came into this game and while giving away home advantage, had prepared dilligently for this semi-final. A week long intense training programme under the guidance of Garda Paddy Kirwin nearly produced the shock of the year as the young Farney side battled tenaciously for every ball. Indeed their ability to the stay the 'hour' with the might of Breffni was the pulsating beat of this closely fought Ulster senior football championship semi-final. A concerted Monaghan effort early in the second half saw the Farneymen reduce the arrears to three points and many in the ground felt that this might be the upset of the year. Right from the throw-in Cavan failed to get into their stride as Monaghan fought, harried and employed a tight-marking strategy that did not allow Cavan much time on the ball. With Monaghan displaying a never-say-die attitude, Cavan did not break their resistence until the game entered the final quarter. It took a superbly struck and well placed forty yards free from Victor Sherlock which landed dangerously into the Monaghan square which was pounced upon by Tony Tighe who finished it to the back of the Farneymen's net. This proved to be the turning point of this tightly and evenly fought semi-final. For all Monaghan's eager endeavour it was the old experience of the Cavan team that eventually held sway as the champions never lost their focus while under pressure, eventually running out winners by 1-9 to 0-7. Cavan were forced to make a number of changes from their original selection for this semi-final. Fullback, Brian O'Reilly was unable to travel and his place reverted to Barney Cully. Joe Stafford was unfit to play due to an injury sustained in a football game in Dublin earlier that week. John Joe Cassidy was moved to right-corner forward. These enforced substitutions saw a reshuffle in the Cavan lineout with P. J. Duke moving to centre-field to partner Phil Brady, while Victor Sherlock came off the bench to lineout at left-half back. After intensive treatment on his injured ankle, Tony Tighe made his return to team in the three-quarter line. Once again Peter Donohoe proved an invaluable asset to Cavan and thorn in the side of the opposition as he accounted for six of the Cavan points (five from frees) with John Joe O'Reilly, John Joe Cassidy and Mick Higgins tagging on the other points for Cavan while Tony Tighe got the only goal of the game. The Cavan midfield duo of P. J. Duke and Phil Brady held the upperhand for most of this intriguing semi-final clash and provided the Cavan attack with a plentiful supply of ball. Des Benson kept a clean-sheet for Cavan as did his second-half replacement Val Gannon. The Cavan defence proved solid with Paddy Smith in superb form while Cully and Doonan looked unbeatable. Cavan's halfback line of Deignan, O'Reilly and Sherlock were flawless. Team: Des Benson, Willie Doonan, Barney Cully, Paddy Smith, Victor Sherlock, John Joe O'Reilly, Simon Deignan, P. J. Duke, Phil Brady, Tony Tighe, Mick Higgins, Edwin Carolan, John Joe Cassidy, Peter Donohoe, T. P. O'Reilly. Crowd A crowd of 13,500 filled Breffni Park with gate receipts of £715. An extra 200 temporary sideline seats had to be provided on the day. This was the biggest gate receipts at Breffni since the 1933 Cavan v Kerry semi-final which attracted a crowd of 19,500 with gate receipts of £963. Ulster final: Cavan outplay fancied Antrim Antrim arrived at this Ulster championship senior football final with a reputation as a new, innovative footballing force and carried the tag of favourites. Antrim had spent a considerable amount of time in training and were hotly tipped as the team most likely to dethrone the champions. While they may have come with expectations, it was the Breffnimen who displayed a greater sense of purpose, belief, and the firepower to end the threat of the would be champions. Cavan romped home easy winners on the day 2-12 to 2-4 in front of a packed Clones stadium where 32,000 spectators turned up for this eagerly awaited final between these two sides. Gate receipts of £2,125 ensured a financial windfall for the Ulster Council and once again showed the drawing power of the Breffni men. Many GAA pundits felt that this was the year that the Saffrons were to blossom but a clinical and impressive Cavan display right from the start snuffed out any threat that the Antrim side tried to conjure up. After having put in an impressive display on a 'slippery' sod in the final the previous year, many felt that given suitable dry conditions that the Breffni men would be able to match their fast powerful game. It was obvious from the start that Cavan had done their homework on this Antrim side and with an iron grasp did not allow Antrim anytime to express their fast-flowing game. Having come to Ulster final day in the past with a casual manner, Cavan displayed none of this old character as right from the throw-in they showed a determination and commitment that was to overwhelm Antrim. Cavan led from the throw-in when John Joe Cassidy pointed just after three minutes and held a three point half-time lead 1-6 to 1-3. This lead could have been greater but a goal from Joe Stafford who had latched unto a pass from Peter Donohoe was disallowed. Antrim started the second-half in lively fashion but with the Cavan defence proving to be in superb form Antrim were stiffled time and again as they tried to mount any serious challenge to the Breffnimen. Indeed it was only glimpses of Antrim that shone on the day and it was not evident until midway through the second half when Cavan held a three point lead, Antrim for the first time in this final broke swiftly and found the back of the Cavan net to level the scores. Their joy was short-lived and any hope of a comeback and upset was squarely put to rest when up stepped Peter Donohoe to redress the balance with a point to put the champions back in front. A Mick Higgins point and another from a Peter Donohoe free put the champions three up. At this stage it was all Cavan and with the crowd funnelling out of the grounds, Peter Donohoe capped a magnificent performance when he rounded his marker to fire home an unstoppable shot past the halpless Antrim goalkeeper, Flack, to set Cavan back on the road to Croke Park. Cavan scorers: Peter Donohoe 1-4, Edwin Carolan, 1-1, Mick Higgins 0-2, John Joe Cassidy 0-2, Simon Deignan, Victor Sherlock, Tony Tighe 0-1 each. Cavan: Des Benson, Willie Doonan, Brian O'Reilly, Paddy Smith, John Joe O'Reilly (capt), Simon Deignan, P. J. Duke, Phil Brady, Tony Tighe, John Joe Cassidy, Mick Higgins, Victor Sherlock, Joe Stafford, Peter Donohoe, Edwin Carolan. Subs T. P. O'Reilly, J. Wilson, V. Gannon, Owen Roe McGovern, T. Sheridan. All Ireland semi-final v Louth With Cavan having successfully retained their Ulster crown, the All Ireland champions now set about to defend their All Ireland crown and were drawn to face new boys on the block, Leinster champions, Louth. The semi-final clash against Louth was dogged by a gale force wind which meant that it was going to be a game of 'two-halves'. Cavan won the toss and took full advantage of the breeze. With Victor Sherlock and Phil Brady dominating at midfield, Cavan's forwards had a plentiful supply of ball which they put to good use. With the Louth defence under severe pressure throughout this entire first half, Cavan had what proved to be a commanding lead of 1-10 to 0-1 at half-time. Indeed many felt that Cavan should have a greater tally for the amount of possession they had during this period. On the resumption of the second half, Louth with the strong wind and winter sun at their backs fought back with almost devastating effect. A four goal tally reduced Cavan's commanding lead down to the narrowest of margins and as the game entered the final stages just a single point separated the sides. It was at this point that the champions showed just why they were a force in Gaelic football. Cavan's geater experience and team-work began to shine through and once again it was the coolness of Cavan's big full-forward Peter Donohoe that finally put an end to the hopes of the men from the "Wee County' as he slotted over two points to give Cavan a winning margin of 1-14 to 4-2. While Cavan deserved to win this final, many people at the time were concerned about the defence after conceding four goals. An attendance of over just over 51,000 were treated to a a pulsating struggle in the second half as Louth clawed their way back into contention. However it was the greater experience and coolness while under pressure that saw the champions overcome the Louth challenge. Cavan's marksmen on the day were: Peter Donohoe (0-8, seven frees), Mick Higgins (0-5, one free), Tony Tighe (1-0), Edwin Carolan (0-1). Cavan: Des Benson, Willie Doonan, Brian O'Reilly, Paddy Smith, P. J. Duke, J. J. O'Reilly, Simon Deignan, Phil Brady, Victor Sherlock, Tony Tighe, M. Higgins, J. J. Cassidy, Joe Stafford, Peter Donohoe, Edwin Carolan. Subs: T. P. O'Reilly, Barney Cully, Owen Roe McGovern, John Wilson, Terry Sheridan, Vincent Gannon. All Ireland Final v Mayo The pairing of Cavan and Mayo for the 1948 final brought these two great counties together for the first time in an All Ireland final. While Cavan were defending champions and frequest visitors to Croke Park, Mayo had not graced the famous sod at this level for twelve years, their last appearance back in 1936. Mayo travelled to Croke Park for this final with a young inexperienced team to face a Cavan team who were now at their peak. Over 74,000 people turned up for this game with a expected further 20,000 being turned away as the gates were closed. With rain having fallen during the morning and a strong wind blowing straight down Croke Park, conditions were not favourable for good football. The game as a spectacle failed to live up to expectations but a pulsating finish ensured that the large crowd were kept on the edge of their seats. Too many fouls punctuated the play with the refereee awarding fifty two frees for the hour. Cavan produced the only real highlights of the first half three superbly struck goals in a one-sided affair. Cavan opened the scoring with a pointed free from Peter Donohoe. Donohoe was again on target with another free and had Cavan two points up just after four minutes of play. With play fragmented Cavan failed to register another score until the twenty-third minute when in a wonderful spell of Cavan magic, the Breffni men blasted three magnificent goals past the haplass Mayo keeper Byrne. The first goal came after a wonderful move when John Joe Cassidy laid off to the in-rushing Tony Tighe who beat the Mayo keeper from close range. Another superb hand-passing move involving Deignan, Tighe, Carolan and Stafford found Tighe who once again slotted home Cavan's second goal. The agony for Mayo was to continue as the in-form Tighe set-up Victor Sherlock who stroked home Cavan's third goal just on the half-time mark. Cavan took a 3-2 to 0-0 half-time lead. Tighe who had caused continuous problems for the Mayo defence in the first half found himself being man marked by the tenacious John Ford in an attempt to curb the Breffni ascendancy. Cavan suffered a severe setback shortly after the restart of this final when they lost their inspirational captain and centre-half back, John Joe O'Reilly. Simon Deignan moved to the centre with Owen Roe McGovern coming off the bench. While Cavan were reshuffling their side, Mayo took full advantage of Cavan's problems and registered a point from Sean Mulderrig and a goal from Peter Sloan. The mark of true champions was the response of the blue and whites as Peter Donohoe fired over a point while Mick Higgins netted Cavan's fourth goal. Victor Sherlock added another point to the Cavan tally which gave them a twelve points margin. With such an advantagous lead, it looked curtains for the westerners but no-one in the grounds could have anticipated what was about to happen. The Mayo pair of Carney and Mongey began to exert more control at midfield and with a better supply of ball now going into their forwards Mayo began to expose gaps in the Cavan defense. Tom Acton began the revival with two goals and when Tom Langan was pulled down as he bore down on the Cavan goals, up stepped Carney to cooly convert the resultant penalty. Now with eleven minutes left to play, Cavan's twelve point lead was now down to three and with Cavan visibly under pressure, Mayo drew level when Carney, Mulderrig and Mongey all pointed to leave the scores at 4-4 each. This setback seemed to be the wake-up call for the Breffni men and once again the revival was sparked when Peter Donohoe slotted over a fourteen yards free. The drama was not quite complete as Mayo were awarded a free inside the Cavan half and with time running out it was expected by all in the grounds that Carney would send over to equalise. A determined and quick thinking Mick Higgins had other ideas and was not in any mood to surrender Cavan's crown easily as he rushed Carney's free blocking down the kick and thus ending any hope of a Mayo comeback. To this day, Higgins charge down is still a topic of controversy as to whether he was too near the dead ball or did he move too near when it was being kicked. While many felt Mayo could have earned a draw most would say that the best team won. Cavan refused to panic when under pressure and registered 1-2 against the strong wind in the second half. Cavan scorers: Tony Tighe (2-0), Victor Sherlock (1-1), Mick Higgins (1-0), Peter Donohoe (0-4). Cavan: J. D. Benson, Willie Doonan, B. O'Reilly, P. Smith, P. J. Duke, John Joe O'Reilly, Simon Deignan, P. Brady, V. Sherlock, T. Tighe, M. Higgins, J. J. Cassidy, Joe Stafford, Peter Donohoe, Edwin Carolan. League and Championship Double Cavan who earlier in the year drew with Cork in the National Football League final made no mistake in the replay which took place in October. Cavan produced a display of top quality football with the forwards in particularly fine form. The final score of 5-9 to 2-8 was indicative of just how dominant Cavan were in this league final. Cavan were only the second team in the history of the GAA at that time to complete a league and championship double. The other team was Mayo who did so in 1937.

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