September 10, 1993
Seamus Leydon - A vital part of Galway's great three-in-a row side of the Mid 60's
Dunmore Dynamo was the scourge of all right half backs up and down the county for a decade
Connacht football may not be hitting the high spots these days but there was time when teams from the West were to be feared by the rest of the country. Like the great Galway three-in-a-row team of the 1960's which included flying wing forward Seamus Leydon from the great Dunmore club.
That side was the last from the province to win the All-Ireland Championship and while Galway, Roscommon and Mayo have all reached finals since then, they would never compare to the Galway men of 1964-'66. "It surely was a great team and they were great times", says Seamus. "It was the last great Galway team. Unfortunately the team since then were only mediocre, even those who played in All-Ireland finals". In those days, the competition in Connacht was very stiff and any county that wanted to get out of the province faced a tough battle before they reached the All-Ireland semi-final. "The standard in Connacht was very good then and we had some very close shaves. One year we crept through against Mayo thanks to a last minute point ". In Seamus' time they took those three All-Ireland titles, beating Kerry in the finals of '64 and '65 and Meath in the 1966 decider. He played at left half forward on each of those occasions.
The groundwork for Seamus' outstanding career was laid from an early stage. He attended that great footballing college, St. Jarlath's of Tuam, the home of so much football tradition. In that time Fr. Kavanagh was in charge of the teams and was greatly admired by all who went through his capable hands. "He was absolutely brilliant. He was way ahead of his time and used to place a lot of emphasis on skill as well as fitness". In 1960, the Dunmore man helped St. Jarlath's to an All-Ireland colleges Championship, when they beat St. Colman's of Newry in the semi final and then defeated St. Finian's of Mullingar by three points in the decider. That year Leydon was also in the Galway Minor team which convincingly won the All-Ireland title, winning the Connacht final against Roscommon by 20 points and then overwhelming Cork in the All-Ireland final, 4-9 to 1-5. "I was Minor as well in 1959 but we were beaten in the All-Ireland semi final. We were a very young team the so it gave us that bit of experience for the following year". Those Minor teams featured eight of the three-in-row team altogether. Pat Donnellan. John Keenan, Cyril Dunne were on the '59 side and Johnny Geraghty, Enda Colleran, Sean Cleary, Seamus himself and Noel Tierney were on both teams.
They soon came through onto the Senior panel and formed the backbone of the three-in-a-row side. Seamus himself played a few games for Galway in 1961 and became a Championship regular the following year. His first Connacht Senior medal came in '63 when Galway hammered Leitrim by 14 points in the final. They then accounted for Kerry in the All-Ireland semi final by four points. "We met Dublin in the 1963 All-Ireland final and they beat us but we had a few great tussles with them after that in the League". The big breakthrough came the next year when Kerry were toppled by the Connacht champions in the final, with Seamus marking Denis O'Sullivan, one of many formidable wing backs he came up against in his time. While he was a forward, Seamus wasn't one of the more prolific scorers on the team. "I didn't score an awful lot. Our scoring man was Cyril Dunne. He was our free taker and he was very good at it. The half backs would be getting a few points as well - they were real attacking backs. We had a team where the six forwards, two midfielders and a few of the backs could score. That was one of the keys to our success. A fellow could have an off day but the others would make up for it". For any team in any sport to be successful, Galway panel didn't lack. "We got on very well together and there was great fun. That was very important. There was incredible comraderie among the players and I feel that was a major part our success".
Further success was to follow for the tribesmen when Enda Colleran captained them to another victory over Kerry in the '65 final and a six point win in the decider against Meath the following September. Since that time, Galway have been in four more All-Ireland finals without winning any of them and Seamus featured in the 1971 final when Offaly beat them by three points. At the moment in the 90's Galway haven't been setting the football world alight with any spectacular triumphs and seem to have fallen victim to the malaise which many claim has crept into football in the western province. Naturally enough, Seamus is saddened by the lack of glory coming to his native county. "The current set up is disappointing to say the least. I don't envy Bosco McDermott but if any one can do something with them, he can".
The Dunmore man himself quit the intercounty scene in 1972 when his job with Cantrell and Cochrane forced him to move to Cork to take up a position as regional manager for Munster. After having won six or seven Galway Championships with Dunmore ("we had an incredible club time") he started playing for Nemo Rangers in Cork who, at that time, didn't enjoy the same reputation nationally as they do now as one of the best club footballing sides in Ireland. "Nemo were just developing at the time but since then they have transformed the football scene in Cork. I have no doubt that they are the main influence on the success of the Cork team. If there's a better club in the county I've to see them". Since that time Nemo Rangers have won several All-Ireland Club Championships but Seamus' only final came in 1975 when they were beaten by two points by a very strong U.C.D. side.
The Sales Director with Cantrell and Cochrane attributes much of Nemo's success to the work of Billy Morgan and Frank Cogan, among others. He believes that they have been approaching football and coaching in the correct manner, starting the young people off in the right way. "Nemo put huge effort into their youth policy. A lot of the teams nowadays are as fit as fiddles but they have no skill. If you miss your skills at youth level you won't get them back afterwards". Seamus feels that underage teams are being forced to play competitively at too young an age, instead of being taught the basics of football. "The young people are playing competitions at the age of 8, 9, 10 or 11 which I think is madness. That's where the skills are being lost. When I was playing our first competition was at Under 14 level but fellows now are burnt out before that. You have to try and get fit but you need the skill as well. I have seen youth football in the last few years and it's pathetic - they don't know how to use the ball".
The Dublin-based Dunmore man believes that this could have a lot to do with the downturn in the fortunes of Connacht football in recent years. "I just have a suspicion that they're not giving the youth what they need. Another thing that I think is wrong with football in Galway is that the traditional teams in the North of the county are gone weak. I think that's for a combination of reasons. It could have something to do with population loss but then you see Donegal winning an All-Ireland so what can you say?". Many people think that the decline in G.A.A. standards in some parts of Ireland is due to the growing influence of other sports such as soccer and rugby on the young people, sports which weren't really popular in the 50's and 60's. Seamus doesn't agree. "There's huge competition from other sports in some areas, like Cork City, but I think the competition is a great thing. The young people are there for the taking and if the G.A.A. doesn't get them someone else will. They will play anything if they are catered for". He picks out Cork as an example of where the youth are treated properly and also Offaly who came to the fore in both hurling and football in the 70's and 80's because of their young players, and likewise Derry who have always had very good underage teams.
Besides the quality of football among the teams, Seamus Leydon has seen other changes in the game, not all for the good. "Our game was a bit more direct. The one big problem today is all the stoppages in a 70 minute match, it's just too much. Maybe they should try the Australian system where when a guy is tackled he gets rid of it. They should try something similar for a while. You would then have a very fast game and attractive game". These days Seamus doesn't get a chance to see many games involving his native Galway, or even Cork who he also admires and is tipping for All-Ireland. "I'd have to go for Cork and I would be cheering for them but if Derry win no one would begrudge it or them". His work as a Sales Director with Cantrell and Cochrane took him to Dublin to live some years ago and keeps him busy but he gets in time for some golf, "to relax" as he says himself. He certainly deserves some relaxation after a busy and triumphant career with the last great Galway team.
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine.
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