January 01, 2001
Dessie Barry Longford
The biggest name in Longford football during the 1980s and 1990s, Dessie Barry was a forward who would have got his place on any county team during his prime.
Unquestionably the biggest name in Longford football during the 1980s and 1990s was Dessie Barry. One of the country's top forwards while in his prime, Barry's greatest claim to fame was his achievement in representing Ireland in the International Rules series in 1990.
Now manager of his beloved Longford Slashers, Barry was an outstanding forward, equipped with a deadly left foot. Unfortunately, his 18 years of sterling service to Longford yielded little in terms of silverware.
Barry's inter-county career spanned from 1982 to 2000. During the mid-1980s, Longford won promotion from Division 4 and Division 3 of the National League in consecutive seasons but the championship breakthrough they so desperately sought proved elusive.
"We were a decent league team back then but we never really got going in the championship," Barry laments.
"We had good solid players like Mickey O'Hara, John McCormack and Philip Kiernan but we probably lacked the strength in depth that is necessary to win a Leinster championship. Longford has a very small pick and that has always been a problem."
In 1984, the blue and golds defeated Wexford in their championship opener before going on to face Offaly at Pearse Park. Having captured the All-Ireland title two years earlier, the Faithfuls were hot favourites but Longford produced an odds-defying display and were only denied victory by a late Offaly comeback. The replay, which took place in Croke Park, resulted in an Offaly win and Longford were left to rue a missed opportunity.
The following year, Wexford exacted revenge on Longford when they triumphed at Pearse Park. According to Dessie, that defeat was a bitterly disappointing pill to swallow as hopes had been high for an extended championship run.
"In both '84 and '85, we surrendered big leads to Offaly and Wexford which was very disappointing. Had we won either of those games, we might have gone on to reach a Leinster final. We just didn't seem to be able to repeat our league form in the championship," he recalls.
The midlanders put together another decent championship run in 1988, beating both Westmeath and Wicklow at home en route to a Leinster semi-final clash with Dublin at Mullingar. But the Dubs proved too much of a step-up in class for what was then an ageing Longford team.
By and large, the 1990s were disappointing for Longford. They slipped back into the lower echelons of the league and went all of seven years without winning a championship match. Lean times indeed.
"We struggled to make any sort of headway," the flame-haired attacker says.
"From the team of the mid-1980s, there was only myself and Frank McNamee left and it was a real transition period for Longford. We got into a bit of a rut and it was hard to get out of it."
The new All-Ireland 'B' championship proved the springboard for the historic provincial championship successes of Clare and Leitrim but it didn't benefit Longford in the same way. The blue and golds reached All-Ireland 'B' finals in 1991 and '96 but were beaten by Clare and Fermanagh (after a replay) respectively.
Dessie played under six different managers during his career as a Longford senior - John Murphy, Brendan Hackett, Dessie Dolan, Tom Donohue, Eamon Coleman and Michael McCormack. Despite the county's lack of success, he consistently produced top class displays, the most memorable of which was against Louth in the 1991 Leinster championship.
Barry may have played for one of the so-called weaker counties, but his talents didn't go unnoticed to those outside Longford. Between 1988 and 1990, he was selected on successive Railway Cup teams, picking up a winners' medal in the first year when Leinster defeated Ulster. Among his team-mates in that success were Liam Harnan and Brian Stafford (Meath) and Mick Kennedy and Ciaran Duff (Dublin).
In 1990, the ultimate honour was bestowed on Dessie when he was chosen by Irish manager Eugene McGee to represent his country in the International Rules series in Australia. Ireland won the series 2-1 and Barry says it was an experience he will never forget.
"It was an unbelievable trip. There was a wonderful feeling of unity among the players which I don't think you'd have if you were playing Australia at home."
Barry also received All-Star nominations in 1988, '89 and '90 but, alas, a place on the All-Star team eluded him.
"I would be telling a lie if I was to say that I wasn't disappointed not to get an award. Obviously, it's a great honour to be chosen among the top 45 players in the country but I was nominated three times and went home empty-handed each time.
"Having said that, there were some terrific corner forwards playing at that time and the competition was always going to be fierce."
In contrast to his inter-county career, Dessie enjoyed tremendous success at club level. He was just 17 when he garnered his first county senior championship medal with Longford Slashers. He savoured further senior championship successes in 1980, '89, '90, '91 and '94. In the latter three years, the Slashers also captured league titles.
A sports all-rounder, Barry juggled his gaelic football career with that of soccer for many years. He played left full back for Longford Town on numerous occasions in the League of Ireland and also figured on the team which lost to Derry City in the FAI Cup semi-final in 1988.
"During the winter months, I put the same effort into soccer as I would with gaelic during the summer months. Longford Town weren't as well organised back then as they are now but we were still capable of putting it up to the big boys and we came desperately close to reaching the FAI Cup final in 1988."
Dessie brought the curtain down on his football career in 2001 and this year he agreed to manage the Longford Slashers senior team. The Slashers aren't the force they were but Barry is doing everything in his power to revive their fortunes.
"I'm finding the management side of things to be completely different to playing. There is a huge amount of organising involved and you also have that added bit of pressure on you.
"At the moment, we're rebuilding the Slashers team. The club has won the last two county minor championships and some of those younger lads are already starting to filter through. We still have a long way to go to catch up on the likes of Fr Manning Gaels but we're doing our best to try and close the gap," he concludes.
Most Read Stories