July 24, 1992
The "Master" of Tuam and Galway
Sean Purcell of the Terrible Twins fame meets his old friend Jack Mahon
He is known in his native Tuam as "The Master". Earlier this summer, his great friend Tommy Varden launched a campaign to have a suitable memorial to Ireland's greatest ever footballer in his native town. I do hope this suggestion is listened to. But physical memorials aren't necessary, for the memory of his greatness over 30 years ago hasn't dimmed ONE whit. As recently as 1984 when the Sunday Independent launched their Team of the Century selected by readers by personal choice, the Tuam maestro won more votes for the vital centre half forward position than any player for any other position. It was Ireland's salute to the greatest of them all.
Sean was a Leaving Certificate student in St. Jarlath's College, Tuam when I arrived there as a first year in 1945. From the word go, I grew to appreciate this marvellous player of all the skills whose style was perfect. He was always a shy, unassuming person but we became friends quickly and NO student in the college appreciated more his great displays in the interprovincial Colleges Final of 1946 and the Hogan Cup Finals of '46 and '47, both against St. Patrick's College, Armagh the latter one won by the Tuam College when players like Iggy Jones, Jim and Eddie Devlin, Purcell, Peter Solon and Mick Flanagan set the scene in Croke Park for future more important occasions.
50th Connacht Final
This will be my 50th Connacht Final. Sean as been at even more. Sunday after Sunday you'll find Sean at a game. We meet in all sorts of places at game after game. Sean was at the Dublin versus Louth game last Sunday week. The previous night I met him at the Leitrim versus Galway under 21 game in the Tuam Stadium he knows so well. When I told him I was going to the Ulster Final in Clones, he said he couldn't miss the Tuam Stars versus Salthill quarter final SFC clash and getting him talking on Connacht Finals wasn't difficult. "My first was in the old St. Coman's Park in Roscommon known as 'The Lough'. It must have been 1939. There was a marvellous crowd at the game. They encroached on to the field and the game was stopped while the field was cleared. No violence, just too big a crowd. I remember Bobby Beggs sitting down on the grass quite relaxed, being offered a bottle of stout by a supporter and enjoying it. Mayo won that one. It is all a bit hazy now but Frank, my brother and I cycled to Roscommon in 1943 where Roscommon won against Galway and though we'd never get back to Tuam. In 1944 I played minor and Frank Stockwell was in goal.
"Peter Solon, Vincent McHale and Stephen White (later of Louth) played for us that day. Galway won the senior title versus Mayo with the Sullivan brothers Tom and Dinny in great form. Tom was a hell of a footballer."
"The 1946 replay between Mayo and Roscommon. The drawn game at Ballinasloe had been a bad tempered one and I remember the two teams standing together for a photograph for the replay. Never saw that happen since. Henry Kenny was at the end of his days. He was beautiful to watch - those fine catches and so stylish. Then came my first Connacht Final in 1948. I loved playing in 'The Lough' on a sunny summer's day. When the grass was cut the old silverweed on top was like a carpet, lovely to kick the ball off. Tom Sullivan was at his best then - a might man."
Memories of Connacht Finals
"The first time I finished on the winning team was in '54 in Tuam versus Sligo. Sligo felt they were done out of a goal that day. I wouldn't subscribe to that. All those games in '56 were great. Have a special memory of the '56 game in Sligo versus Sligo. Nace O'Dowd took a 50 for Sligo. You (Jack Mahon) caught it, cleared it to me behind O'Dowd, a few solos and over the bar. After the game Tony Sheridan of the Imperial Hotel allowed me to phone my old friend Paddy Hughes in New York with the result. They are all great dogs and games to remember. The broken crossbar final we lost to Roscommon in 1962 and O'Malley's brilliant last quarter I'll never forget."
Top Connacht men I met
"Gerry O'Malley, Padhraic Carney, Nace O'Dowd, Tom Langan and Packy McGarty, of course.
Gerry O'Malley - a footballer all the way. Very difficult to beat and very angular. Great pair of hands - and an absolute gentleman.
Padhraic Carney - didn't play too often on him. Very strong, built close to the ground, great hips, well able to use himself, powerful, fast, great kick.
Nace O'Dowd - very powerful and a sportsman too. Lovely to play with for Connacht.
Packy McGarty - roamed the field up and down. Indefatigable. Great to play with in a Connacht half forward line. You couldn't tire him.
Tom Langan - I'll never forget meeting Tom Langan the night of their hammering us in Tuam in th e'51 final. I was going into Seapoint. He was a quiet man but he pulled me aside and said 'Seaneen, don't worry. It may seem blue for you tonight, but your day will come. I played in six Connacht Finals before I won one. You'll win many a one yet. I'll never forget that advice from him."
The standard of refereeing bothers him a lot. He laments all the pulling and dragging. "It's hand out all the time, catching the jersey, catching anything. Frees every minute. The personal foul rule is not observed or administered. I'm reluctant to criticise, never having done any myself. It's a pity more footballers don't take it up after retiring. Johnny Geraghty was excellent but he became unpopular for being so good. For a time referees were letting everything go and you could get killed in the interest of letting the game flow. It's all a bit of a mess. Possession football isn't helping either, certainly overdoing it. Paddy Collins was a great referee. We'd need more like him. It was a great pity that when the personal foul rule was first applied one of the first sent to the line, John O'Keeffe - a perfect gentleman - turned the country against it. We should keep it up."
This year's final
"Roscommon to win again. I have marvellous respect for Tony McManus - a terrific player - I hope he goes on to win an All-Ireland. A great sportsman too. I admire big Liam McHale also. He hasn't got the hang of it this year yet. Must be hard to change from one game to another in mid year. When he hits it he is great. The way he zoomed in to collect the breaking ball and goal versus Galway in Tuam was sheer class."
So ended my interview with my great friend and old comrade. I'm sure we will meet as usual at the game.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
24th July 1992
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