McGuinness, Tommy 'Boiler'
June 15, 2001
Tommy 'Boiler' McGuinness prepares to throw in the ball before the 1978 senior final between Walterstown and Summerhill. Paddy Kavanagh was the referee on the day.
A recent article on one Meath legend Matty (Buller) Rogers, leads inevitably to a follow up on another nicknamed Meath man of roughly the same era Tommy (Boiler) McGuinness. Like Buller, Boiler was a Navan man. Born in 1909 his career with the Meath Senior Team stretched from the late 20s to about 1940, so in fact he was about three or four years behind Rogers but of course that meant their careers went side-by-side for about eight years. It wasn't all similarities however, for while Buller is always remembered as a clever scheming forward admired by one and all, Boiler was big, strong, robust and never too far removed from controversy whether on the pitch or in the meeting room - remembered mainly as a Tough Man. There are one or two gaps in his CV and the men who remember those by-gone days recall that there were varying degrees of clashes with officialdom which caused his omission from time to time - most notably the National Football League success of 1933 when he should have been at the height of his career.
I once heard John Dowling (Offaly) addressing a Meath County Board Dinner in his capacity as Leinster Council Chairman. In mentioning the fact that Offaly hadn't won their first Leinster championship until 1960, he recalled that in his boyhood, his father used to say after Offaly had suffered a championship defeat, "If only we had a few men like Boiler McGuinness of Meath."
The earliest mention I can find of Boiler on a Meath Senior Team is in a challenge or charity match in Autumn of 1929. Meath had won many admirers by holding Kildare (the All-Ireland Champions) to a draw in the '29 Leinster Championship - even though they lost the subsequent replay. Meath had now arrived as a power, so when the '29/'30 National League commenced in October the supporters were already looking forward to the Summer of 1930. Enter the 'Boiler' McGuinness; a 20 year old who looked to have a great future. During the Spring of 1930 he appeared at midfield but by championship time that year he had settled on the '40 where he gave a magnificent display as Meath beat Dublin in Drogheda 3-6 to 1-4.
As already explained in the Rogers article, a major problem arose before the Leinster Final against Kildare when midfielder Fr. Michael McManus was refused permission by his Church Superiors to take part. As a result there were switches. Boiler moved to full forward as Meath held the Lily Whites to a draw but he was back in the half forward line for the replay which Meath lost 2-6 to 1-2. A year later the Royals again met the Lilies - this time in the semi-final - another draw with Boiler at No 10. In the replay he had moved to midfield but defeat was again Meath's lot, on a score 1-5 to 0-5.
For the next few years he alternated between midfield and the '40 with the occasional appearance at full forward. When Dublin beat Meath in the 1933 championship, the Boiler was on the '40 with the Buller on one side of him and Billy Shaw on the other but that year's National League had still not been completed, and when Meath played Mayo in the semi-final and subsequently Cavan in the final in October, the big man from Navan was conspicuous by his absence. Some who claim to remember say it was a dispute with the "Manager" (he wasn't called that in those days), others say he couldn't get off work to train but I doubt that one as the full time training was only for the final and Boiler wasn't playing in the semi-final either. In any event he missed out on the greatest day in Meath's history up to then, when that League title was hard won at the expense of All-Ireland champions Cavan.
Wounds must have been healed pretty quickly as in March 1934 Meath played Galway in Ballinasloe and Boiler was back. When a few months later Dublin beat Meath by two points in Drogheda in the Leinster championship we find him in a new position - full back and for a few years he made this position his own. Rumour has it that opposing forwards didn't venture in near the square unless their journey was absolutely necessary - a sort of Paddy McCormack, Lar Foley and Mick Lyons rolled into one.
In the '37 championship Boiler started off at full back when Westmeath were disposed of in Kells but only came on a sub when Wexford got the better of the Royals in Croke Park. From then until 1939 there is another gap in his CV. He wasn't playing in the '38 league, the '38 championship or the league final of '39 when Mayo beat Meath in Ballina. However on 3 June '39 he made a dramatic return when he starred at full back as Meath beat Laois in Mullingar thus knocking out the side which had won the three previous Leinster championships, the great Laois team of the Delaneys and Tommy Murphy (The Boy Wonder). This was the start of a great run in which Kildare, Wexford and Cavan all fell by the wayside and the Royals were into the All-Ireland final for the first time since 1895 - a gap of 44 years. Matty Gilsenan who captained that team tells me that in the semi-final Boiler was very lucky to last the full hour. The referee was about to order him off following a "clash" with Big Tom O'Reilly. Meath were well ahead and there wasn't much time left so Big Tom in a sporting gesture pleaded with the Ref not to issue marching orders to the Meath full back as it would make him ineligible for the final. The referee heeded Big Tom and the Boiler was spared. He went on to play at full back in the All-Ireland where his immediate Kerry opponent was Dan Spring. Dan later became a TD for North Kerry and his son, Rugby International Dick also became a TD and was of course Leader of the Labour Party and Tanaiste. Indeed on one visit to Navan on political business in the 80s, Dick Spring sought out and spent an hour with the Boiler whose name and reputation he had often heard from his father.
Boiler didn't fare too well on Dan Spring in that final. The records show that the full forward scored both goals as the Kingdom won 2-5 to 2-3, even though goalie Hughie McEnroe maintained to his dying day that the second goal should not have been flagged - the whole ball didn't cross the line - and he had cleared it upfield when the umpire made a late decision to raise the green flag.
Boiler continued to play after the All-Ireland. He was still at full back for some national league matches and when Meath reached the '40 league final only to lose by a goal to Galway he was at full forward, with Skryne man Matt O'Toole at full back. However in the 1940 championship his only appearance was as a substitute against Dublin in the Leinster semifinal. He replaced the injured Matt Gilsenan and, according to Matt, played very well. Incidentally the same Matt says his injury came as a result of a bad "belt" from Brendan Quinn - a man who in later years was the Dublin Coach/Manager. Although Meath went on to reach the All-Ireland semi-final where again Galway had the upperhand on them, Boiler was not selected and his intercounty career had come to an end.
On the Railway Cup scene, Boiler was a member of the successful Leinster team in 1932 and 1935, as a half forward on the first occasion and as full back in the latter. The Leinster team which won the Railway Cup in 1935 beating Munster 2-9 to 0-7 was;
Johnny McDonnell, (Dublin); Eddie Boyle (Louth), Tommy (Boiler) McGuinness (Meath), Jim Byrne (Kildare); Peter Watters (Kildare), Bobby Beggs (Dublin), Paddy Cavanagh (Dublin); Bill Delaney (Laois), Jimmy Coyle (Louth); George Comerford (Dublin), Billy Shaw (Meath), Jack Delaney (Laois); Danny Douglas (Laois), Tony Donnelly (Meath), Paddy Byrne (Kildare).
Amongst the subs were Meath's Paddy Brown (goal) and Dick Cassidy
On the club scene Boiler had an amazing career winning senior championships with three different clubs in football, playing in a losing final with a fourth and picking up a few hurling championships along the way.
The Gaels were the big club in Navan in the 20s and 30s. They won nine senior titles between 1924 and 1938. Boiler was too young for the first three but was part of the other six in '29, '30,'33, '34, '35 and '38. For some reason they went out of existence at that stage and Boiler threw in his lot with Kilmessan in 1939 where he had already won a couple of hurling championships. A star-studded team with Joe Loughran and the Donnellys to the forefront won the championships so Boiler now had medals with two clubs and also joined a small band of players with hurling and football medals in the one year.
Kilmessan ran into difficulties in 1941 when Joe Loughran was suspended following a tough match with Duleek. They found it difficult to put a team on the field for the semi-final, were thrashed by Skryne and the club then concentrated on hurling only. Joe Loughran and Tony Donnelly went to Donaghmore - the Red Donnelly went back to Skryne where he had played originally and the Boiler also lined out for Skryne in 1942. I'm told by Micéal O'Brien who was just out of minor ranks at the time that Boiler wasn't playing when Skryne met Donaghmore early in the campaign but he was at full forward when the same teams met in the final which Donaghmore won. The great Paddy O'Brien who was only 17 at the time was at top-of-the-right in that final. The next few years in Navan saw the era of the Parnells. Boiler was by now a veteran but still going strong. The Parnells reached two finals, in 1944 and 1946.
In 1944 it took three matches to decide the Skryne versus Parnells final, all in December, with Skryne eventually coming out on top just a few days before Santa Claus arrived. Boiler at 35 was on the way out and playing at left corner forward. The Meath Chronicle reporter of the time was of the opinion that "McGuinness was too slow" and would be better suited to a "central position". However he did score points in each of the three games and he was still there two years later when Parnells won the title by defeating North Meath in Kells. Once again it was December and apparently the weather and playing conditions were atrocious. The reporter on this occasion hailed Boiler (together with North Meath's Victor Sherlock) as "Man of the Match" scoring two points and being the architect behind both goals as they won 2-5 to 3-1.
Having won the championship, the Parnells seemed to go downhill very quickly and by 1948 had gone out of existence. Some suggest that they got into financial difficulties, others say that Boiler who was the "chief" selector was picking newcomers to the town including army men to the exclusion of locals. In any event a new club, O'Mahonys, was founded in late 1948 and went on to become one of the leading clubs in the whole country (and still are). Boiler however doesn't seem to have been involved with O'Mahonys at all in the early years and it is only in the late 60s/early 70s that his name comes to the fore. He was Vice-Chairman from 1973 to 1975 and Chairman 1976-1977. Thereafter he was Hon. President until his death in 1987.
At County Board level, the records show that he was Vice Chairman of the Board in 1947, a year in which Meath won the Leinster Championship. He was a selector on a few occasions and in '49 was actually elected to the Selection Committee in his absence and subsequently withdrew, again I believe under rather controversial circumstances. As a result he missed out on being on the "inside track" on the big day in September - Meath's first All-Ireland. Nonetheless he is to be seen in some versions of the official Team Photograph on the day while neither Chairman, Secretary or any of the Selectors are anywhere to be seen - there always seems to have been that little bit of controversy where Boiler was concerned.
In private life Boiler carried on a plumbing business. In the early 60s he suffered a severe personal blow when his eldest son Sean was fatally injured in a traffic accident. Boiler died in 1987 aged 78 and is buried in St Mary's Cemetery Navan. The GAA turned out in huge numbers at his funeral as another of those great Meath legends passed on. The nickname still survives and no doubt will continue to survive in the new century.
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