January 22, 1993
TJ Kilgallon and Pat Forde as Sligo management
by Liam Horan
The curios an inter county player gathers, and cherishes, from his career are more diverse than people may imagine - TJ Kilgallon of Mayo has put his recent, overdue All Star award into the mental cabinet which also holds his five Connacht senior medals, one All-Ireland minor success, one Hogan Cup, two Sigerson Cups and wait for it, one All American medal!
That transatlantic success came in 1987, when Mayo were knocked out of the Connacht Championship in the final by Galway. TJ played midfield for the Chicago club John McBrides, and 13 Mayo men featured on both sides in the final. "That was a great win. Football in America was, and still is, very competitive and to win an All-American medal was a superb achievement", recalls TJ.
The Balla man was a popular selection for the midfield position alongside Anthony Molloy in the current All Stars team. Since 1980 TJ has been a constant member of the Mayo senior panel, and some of his deeds will endure long after his career has ended.
There was his equalising point against Dublin in the 1985 All-Ireland semi final. The Mayo comeback was left until late in the game, and one expects Dublin to win even when watching the video at the remove of eight years. Finally, TJ takes a pass on the burst through the defence and that familiar loping stride brings him into a shooting position. The shot dips at the last moment and almost slips in for a goal over John O'Leary's head, but in the end Mayo are delighted with the point to bring the game to a replay, which Dublin win comfortably.
There is also his display against Meath in the 1988 All-Ireland semi final when, despite a serious facial injury sustained in an accidental clash with Dermot Flanagan, he fields immaculately and distributes with customary subtlety. Mayo lose again, and the case for an All Star for Kilgallon goes unheard.
TJ has the distinction of being a member of the last class to enroll into first year at the now defunct Sacred Heart College, Ballinafad, just a few miles from his home. The school closed and most of his classmates moved to St Colman's College, Claremorris, as did TJ.
The impetus which the influx of students from the catchment areas of Mayo Gaels and Balla gave to football in St Colman's cannot be overstated, and TJ featured in a Connacht Junior A success. In 1977, despite being only a 15 year old, TJ figured at left half forward on a promising St Colman's senior team.
A draw ensued between Colman's and St Jarlath's College, Tuam in the Connacht final and TJ suffered the first injury-related setback of his career when he picked up a knock in training for the replay. His place was taken by Andrew McNicholas and TJ was forced to sit it out as Coleman's marched out of Connacht and onto All-Ireland glory. The thrilling victories over St Jarlath's, St Brendans of Killarney and Carmelite College, Moate were all achieved by the narrowest of margins. The first ever Hogan Cup win by a day school was not designed to ease cardiac trouble in south Mayo!
In 1978, TJ was appointed captain, but St Jarlaths bounced back to beat them in the Connacht Final and, as many people predicted, they went on to win the All-Ireland final. The sporting year held more joy for TJ though, as he played at midfield on the Mayo minor team which won the All-Ireland title.
In 1979, the 17 year old commenced studies in University College, Galway and this opened another exciting chapter in his burgeoning football career. Tony Regan, the former Roscommon star, was consumed by a desire to see UCG reach the top of the Sigerson Cup ladder, and the willing young men included in their number such likely lads as Gay McManus, Seamus McHugh, Kieran O'Malley (goal scoring hero of the 1978 minor triumph), Tomas Tierney, Anthony Finnerty and Sean Luskin.
Many of these players featured on the UCG wins of 1980 and 1981 but TJ's ill luck as a captain was illustrated in 1982 when they lost the decider to a Greg Blaney inspired Queen's University, Belfast team. Incidentally, the influence of St Colmans College on football at that time is reflected in the fact that four successive UCG teams were captained by past pupils of the Claremorris school - Joe Cuddy, Padraig Monaghan, Gay McManus and TJ Kilgallon.
TJ graduated - as everyone expected - onto the Mayo senior team in 1980, but was only a sub in 1981 when the team won the first Connacht senior in 12 years. "I was studying for my degree that year and was unable to concentrate on training as much as I would have liked. The victory over Galway in 1981 was a great occasion," says TJ.
When Mayo next emerged from the province in 1985m Kilgallon was an established member of the team. So much so, in fact, that when Henry Gavin was not picked for the replay of the All-Ireland semi final against Dublin, the Mayo selectors chose TJ as captain for the day.
But the good ship Mayo was knocked off course again in 1986 when half a dozen injuries - some of which only came to light in the hours before the match - resulted in a depleted Mayo team taking the field against Roscommon in the semi final of the Connacht championship. Tom Og O'Brien, Tony McManus and friends set about knocking the highly-rated Connacht champions off their perch, and TJ was one of the injured sextet who watched agonisingly from the sideline.
Galway pulled a similar stunt a year later when they won the Connacht final by eight points to seven. TJ's involvement at midfield came to an end at half time when he had to go off with an injury, and again there was the frustration of watching this promising May team fail to fulfil it's potential.
In 1988, they finally put it together a bit better. They overcame Roscommon in the Connacht Final at Dr Hyde Park and in the subsequent semi final returned from being write offs with 20 minutes with an exciting comeback which didn't deflect Meath from their chosen path. This was possibly TJ's finest hour, and it was only on the following Tuesday when the local paper, The Western People, hit the streets that people realised the horror of the injury sustained in the collision with Flanagan. Western People photographer Henry Wills, one of the country's most eagle-eyed cameramen, got in close as Dr Frank Davey stitched Kilgallon over the eye as he lay prostrate on the Croke Park sideline. Despite the obvious discomfort of such a gash, Kilgallon returned to the fray and played better than ever.
TJ was at centre half back in the 1989 All-Ireland final, but it was not a memorable occasion for him. He struggled to contain Larry Tompkins who ran riot in the opening quarter. For the remainder of the game, Tompkins was much quieter, but Kilgallon never got on top of his game.
"I was injured again for the 1990 first round game against Galway when we were beaten. That was another big disappointment. It's terrible being on the sideline at any time, but particularly when the team is losing," he states.
The 1991 Connacht Final draw and replay against Roscommon saw Kilgallon in the thick of the action again. In the first game, he was brilliant in an impressive first half showing by Mayo, but when Roscommon bounced back in the second half, the pace of the game was remarkable. The replay also saw Roscommon employ effective midfield tactics, and this was probably the finest year for the Roscommon midfield pairing of John Newton and Seamus Killoran.
Newton and Killoran were to find Kilgallon unbeatable in the 1992 decider. This was Kilgallon's final, and he stalked the McHale Park stage with confidence and authority. Perhaps the burden of carrying the county's hopes into Croke Park proved too much for he found Brian Murray and Anthony Molloy a formidable pairing.
"An All Star award is a major consolation, but there's no doubting that I would love to win an All-Ireland medal most of all. I place great value on my five Connacht medals too.
"This year I intend to give it one mighty lash. It could be the last chance for a lot of us. We are enjoying working under Jack O'Shea and the results have been going well for us so far."
Mayo's newest All Star has spent 13 years in the Mayo jerseys, but he's still only 31. The prospect of an advanced run in the league excites him, but only if it can lead to the ultimate prize next September.
Taken from Hogan Stand
22nd January 1993
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