October 22, 1993
Down Sporting Heroes?
They do not come much bigger than Mayobridge Star Tom O'Hare
On September 22nd 1968, Down won their third All-Ireland Senior football title when they defeated Kerry in the decider on a scoreline of 2-12 to 1-13, having already overcome Galway at the semi final stage five weeks earlier by 2-10 to 2-8. One of the heroes of that Down side from 25 years ago was Mayobridge man Tom O'Hare. Starting the game in the left corner back position, Tom was switched to centre half back after fifteen minutes to curtail the advances of rampant Kerry pivot man and captain Pat Griffin who was running the Down defence ragged. O'Hare did a good marking job on Griffin and even found time to move upfield and kick two priceless points from frees as the Down men collected their third All-Ireland title of the 60's. It is not surprising to learn that time has somewhat dulled Tom's memories of the big occasion - but one vivid memory from that September day sticks out in his mind to this very day. "I remember when the final whistle went a crowd of spectators jumped on my back and nearly killed me!", he recalls humourously. The achievement of the Down team of '68 was hammered before this year's All-Ireland final and the special commemorative occasion brought the memories rushing back for Tom and his team-mates. "It was a lovely day and it was very enjoyable", he says. "As usual All-Ireland final day was a great occasion which was greatly enhanced by Derry winning. I felt that the best team definitely won on the day". Yet another subscriber to the idea that Ulster football has never been healthier.
Not many players who start the All-Ireland final at corner back can claim to have scored two points - and with Down finally winning by only two point those scores couldn't have been more decisive. Down's normal free taker Paddy Doherty had taken one long free which dropped short when Tom decided to take on the responsibility for any further long frees. His first attempt split the posts, his second missed, and his third went over . and the rest, as they say, is history. To this day many people in Down will tell you that, even without taking the two points into consideration, Tom's contribution to Down's third All-Ireland victory was all important. The switch from corner back to centre back to cover Kerry danger man Pat Griffin was a gamble which paid off. If Down were ever going to leave Croke Park with Sam Maguire it was vital that Griffin be kept quiet. For most of the game O'Hare had the unenviable task of watching him and he passed the test with flying colour. The Mayobridge man's intercounty debut was just a distant memory at that stage.
When Tom first pulled on the Red and Black jersey it was a bizarre occasion. "It was a sort of traumatic experience", he recalls. "I played Minor in 1960 and a couple of years later, just after Down had won the All-Ireland, I was brought into the Senior panel. Down were playing the rest of Ulster and I went to the game and the manager handed me the number eleven jersey because James McCartan was injured. When I saw the jersey I thought he had made a mistake and I handled it back to him!", Tom mightn't have been ready but he pulled on the county shirt that day and never looked back. He played exceptionally well in his Senior debut and was a model of consistency for his county over the next decade or so. As well as playing for the Senior team, Tom also performed for the county Minors, Under 21's and Junior, and during his playing days he picked up quite a healthy collection of medals. In '68 Down did the clean sweep, winning both Championship and League. To go with those two prestigious medals Tom also picked up an Ulster Minor medal in 1960, six Ulster titles, three Railway Cup medals and a number of Dr. McKenna Cup honours. After years of performing in the Down jersey with distinction Tom's intercounty playing days came to a close in 1973. One of the last games he played in was the 1973 Ulster final. The opposition was provided by Tyrone and Down were beaten on a scoreline of 3-13 to 1-11. The Mayobridge man was marking Frank McGuigan that day and looking back he concedes that the O'Neill county legend gave him something of a "roasting" that day.
Throughout his playing career Tom O'Hare always managed to stay relatively injury free. The worst injury he picked up was during the 1966 All-Ireland semi final defeat against Meath. "I was going for the ball and Marty O'Sullivan ran into me", he recalls. That particular injury kept the Down man out of action for almost six months. But he bounced back and two years later was in Croke Park collecting his All-Ireland winners medal. There was no way the man often described as the Franz Beckenbour of Gaelic football was going to retire from the game without making his mark - and collecting at least one All-Ireland medal. A real leader on the field of play. O'Hare always used the ball well and he was, without doubt, one of the top players of his era. A member of the Mayobridge club - the first G.A.A. club to be established in Down -Tom spent a couple of years playing for Clonduff in Hilltown when Mayobridge were out of action. Tom represented the club for a total of thirty years, first playing Underage as a fresh-faced thirteen year old. "I first played for the Senior team when I was fifteen and my last game was a reserve Junior final about seven years ago". He explains. "I won a Division 4 and Division Three medals and a Junior Championship until after I retired. I won a Senior League medal with Clonduff though".
It's a long time now since Tom O'Hare played for Down but his exploits in the red and black jersey will never be forgotten in the northern county. And the legacy, as they say, continues -his nephew, Shane McMahon has broken into the Senior county team and lined out for Down's 1993/'94 Church and General National League opener against Donegal. Manager, Peter McGrath is obviously intent to bring in some new blood in an attempt to inject hunger back into his side and reach the same dizzy heights they reached three seasons ago and young McMahon no doubt features in his re-structuring plans. Another nephew of Tom's, Paul O'Hare, played a few League matches for Down in early '91 and as it turned out he would have won an All-Ireland medal had he stuck at it! He no longer plays but Tom remains involved with the Mayobridge club in a big way. He is one of their trustees and he also trains the Under 14 side -to great effect! The Mayobridge Senior team are putting together a good run in the League this year and looked hot favourites to finish top of the pile as we went to press. Married to local Hilltown girl Eileen, Tom is father to six children - Cathy, Padraig, John, Tomas, Bridgeen and Joseph.
Since winning the 1991 All-Ireland Championship Down football has been on something of a low. They didn't even manage to kick off their '93/'94 League campaign in winning fashion. What has gone wrong with Down football since that glorious September day of just over three years ago? Tom O'Hare has his own theory. "They were celebrating too much for a start. The rest of the counties in Ulster wouldn't be that much stronger. There's not a hell of a lot between the top four teams here. To be honest, we were lucky to beat Derry in 1991. At the moment it would be very tight in Ulster Between Donegal, Derry, Down, Tyrone and even Armagh are looking strong. All-Irelands aren't won at this time of year but the manager had to introduce new blood. He has done it and now we're going to have to be patient", explains the Mayobridge man.
What Tom feels is working against the Down team is their lack of big players. "One thing I would find fault with is that there isn't enough physical presence in the team while there are a lot of big mobile men in the Derry and Dublin teams", he observes, years of involvement with the G.A.A. has provided Tom O'Hare with many great friends. Amongst his many close friends would be John Keenan who won three All-Ireland medals with the great Galway three in a row team and Brendan Doyle who used to play club football for Clonduff. For any soccer fans reading. Tom tells us that he is an avid Manchester United supporter and he feels that the Republic of Ireland team "won't have it easy in Belfast". At the end of the day though Tom O'Hare's forte and main area of excellence always was, is and always will be Gaelic football. And aren't the good folk of Down glad of it!
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
22nd Oct 1993
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