1964: Mullingar Shamrocks' first senior football title
May 28, 2004
The past is a foreign country, someone once wrote, where things were done differently. 1964 was the 'foreign country' of the past where the Mullingar Shamrocks club won its first senior football title. By Tom Hunt.
In the forty years since the club's initial senior success, the town of Mullingar, the GAA, the Shamrocks club and the game itself have been fundamentally changed. The 1964 version of the town was small and compacted between the two bridges with Patrick Street and the Ginnell-Springfield areas the only districts that extended outside the central core. The town had avoided much of the emigration that ravaged the country during the 1950s. The population of the town had increased slightly to 5,894 between 1956 and 1961. Mullingar had yet to experience the impact of the rising tide promised by Taoiseach Sean Lemass that was to lift all economic boats. The Tailteann Textile plant on the Longford Road was the sole provider of industrial employment in the town. The Army Barracks and St Loman's Mental Hospital were the chief employers and were important promoters of the GAA in the town. The hospital attracted men from Cavan, Meath, Longford and rural Westmeath for the relatively well remunerated employment it offered and these inevitably included some good footballers. These were augmented by some shrewd recruitments from the town itself. The result was that in the twenty-year period between 1947-67 the St Loman's-Mental Hospital Club was one of the strongest in the county and collected three senior football championships. Army influence was more noticeable in hurling where Denny O'Callaghan continually preached the gospel of 'the national game'.
Showbands were at the heart of social life in Ireland: thousands of young and not so young dancers packed gender segregated ballrooms all over the country each weekend, in an alcoholic drink free environment, to applaud the star showband names and meet the opposite sex. These bands offered Ireland's answer to Elvis, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Jim Reeves and a host of other American country stars. In the mid-1960s an estimated 600 bands criss-crossed the country in their painted wagons, five or six night a week bringing entertainment to the masses. Lenten abstinence from entertainment of the dancehall variety was a peculiarity of the time. The Catholic Church was powerful enough to insist on dancehall closure for this period. Tuesday night was showband night in Mullingar as the Lakeland Ballroom, one of a string of halls owned by the Reynolds Brothers from Longford, showcased the latest showband stars.
Internationally new names and new sounds from 1963 continued to prosper with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones going from strength to strength in 1964. The Beatles released their first film and sold out the Carnegie Hall in New York. Girl singers were also carving out careers. Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and Diana Ross and the Supremes first successes were in 1964. Amidst all the pop and rock the biggest hit of the year was 'I love you because' by Jim Reeves. County final week saw the opening of the Beatles first film 'A Hard Days Night' at the local Hibernian cinema. It was scheduled to run for one week and 'promised to tell the story of 36 hours in the hectic lives of a British beat group'. Mullingar produced its own embryonic showband star. Shamrocks championship success coincided with the first top ten chart entry for a song called The Answer to Everything recorded by Joe Dolan and the Drifters. Unusually for a showband the 'B' side When You Say I Love You was an original written by Tommy Swarbrigg, the young trumpeter in the band. The record spent seven weeks in the charts and Drifter-mania became the Irish version of Beatle-mania. Mick Reynolds and Ben Dolan were the common denominators between the Drifters and Shamrocks. The Drifters bandleader Ben Dolan was once employed in Mick Reynolds's coachbuilder's workshop in Patrick street.
The GAA in 1964 was a conservative and closed organisation. It was long before the era of club-house bars, with merrily ringing tills and big screens, showing the best and brightest of premier league soccer action. It would be another thirty or more years before thousands of enthusiastic young kids would be offloaded, every Saturday morning, at countless GAA grounds around the country for weekly coaching and practice sessions. The idea of a coach, whether of the two-footed or of the four-wheeled variety was unheard of. Coaching was discouraged and when the great Down footballer, Joe Lennon launched his coaching crusade in 1964 with the publication of his book 'Coaching Gaelic Football for Champions' his ideas were opposed by the association's authorities. The core values of the Association were enshrined in the infamous rule 27. Anyone less than forty-years of age would find it difficult to understand this rule that prevented members of the GAA from playing or supporting the designated 'foreign games' of cricket, soccer, hockey or rugby. GAA clubs were prevented from promoting foreign dances and GAA members were not allowed attend dances organised by club's of the banned sports. The practical implication of this was to prevent cash starved clubs from cashing in on the showband craze. In 1963 the great Waterford hurler Tom Cheasty was a noted victim of this rule when he was suspended following the classic National Hurling League home final between Tipperary and Waterford. Tom had attended a dance in Waterford's Olympia Ballroom organised to raise funds for a local soccer club. Cheasty received a six-month suspension for his 'crime' and so missed the league final proper against New York and did not receive his National League medal until thirty-three years later in 1996.
Shamrocks 1964 senior championship success, although not totally unexpected within the club, came off the back of an un-distinguished senior debut season. The junior title was eventually won in 1962 after three county final defeats in the late 1950s. At the time a club winning the junior championship could expect to be realistic contenders for the senior title the following season. Shamrocks waited almost twelve months for their first senior championship game before losing by 2-6 to 1-4 to St Mary's, Rochfortbridge on 1 September 1963. The players at the AGM held in March 1964 were subjected to the usual heavy criticism for their perceived reluctance to train. The meeting elected some new officers. The outgoing chairman, Jimmy Bennett, Labour party activist and proprietor of the Oval Bar was returned as chairman. Pat McCormack whose playing career was prematurely ended in 1963 was elected secretary. A broken leg, received in a pre-match kick around at the Mental Hospital grounds hospitalised Pat for six months who narrowly escaped death when a tetanus infection set in. After that injury Pat's GAA career was confined to administration and refereeing. The secretary and chairman along with Mick Reynolds were the appointed selectors and Jimmy O'Dowd was appointed captain.
Shamrocks began their championship campaign with a comfortable win over Maryland, winning by 0-14 to 0-10 on 12 July 1964. Shamrocks looked to be in serious trouble at halftime as they trailed by 0-10 to 0-7 in a half totally dominated by Maryland and by Tommy Dolan in particular who played havoc with the Shamrocks defence. Only a succession of very bad wides saved Shamrocks from a repeat dose of their 1963 experience. The Shamrocks back-room team made the necessary half-time repairs. The most important change was the direct switch made between Paddy Cole and Frank Connaughton that brought the latter to centre-back from where he totally dominated Tommy Dolan. Paddy Cole controlled centre-field and so successful were the half-time reconstructions that Maryland was held scoreless in the second half. Shamrocks tagged on seven points to finish convincing 0-10 to 0-7 winners. The Shamrocks line out in this game was Tony Caulfield, Gerry Galvin, Brendan McNamara, Kevin Higgins; Frank Connaughton, Paddy Cole, Tommie Reeves; Mick Lynch (0-2) and Sean Magee (0-2); Des Newman (0-1), Jimmy O'Dowd (0-2), Colm Connaughton (0-5); Tony McCormick (0-2), Tony Mulderry and Terry O'Dowd.
The Shamrock club qualified for its first senior final with a hard earned 3-6 to 3-4 victory over Rosemount who had qualified for the semi-final by defeating the reigning county champions St. Loman's. According to the Westmeath Examiner 'Shamrocks played a neat fast brand of football but whatever Rosemount may have lacked in finesse and they lacked very little, they made up for in experience and determination'. The whirlwind start by Shamrocks, in which they led by 2-1 to 0-1 after ten minutes, ultimately proved decisive for despite their best efforts Rosemount never succeeded in wiping out the initial lead.
Ten minutes from the end to possibility of an abandoned game presented itself. An injury to a Rosemount player precipitated a pitch invasion as spectators ran on to the playing arena. Shamrock players of the day remember an ugly vicious confrontation in which the invading Rosemount men were beaten back by the Ballynacargy officials. It was the day of the official opening of the Ballynacargy dressing rooms and nobody was going to be allowed spoil that party.
A strong half-back line is a key element of any successful side and this was the day that Shamrocks unveiled the line that was to continue in place until the successful county final of 1966. Relatively small men, all three were excellent footballers and their speed and mobility allowed them to inter-change to carry out man marking jobs when the occasion required. Their football skills allowed them to deliver fast and accurate passes to their half-forward line another factor that contributed to the Shamrocks success. Frankie Connaughton, fresh from captaining Westmeath to a rare Leinster minor football title in 1963 filled the centre position for the county semi-final and final. Frankie was Westmeath's top scorer in that 1963 Leinster and All-Ireland campaign and scored 4-13 in the seven games played. Right-half back Kevin Higgins was another product of the Westmeath minor side of 1963 and the goalkeeper who had a sensational game in the All-Ireland final against Kerry. Kevin became the first Shamrocks player to gain inter-provincial honours and the first Westmeath man to play in goal for Leinster in 1968 when he played in the Railway Cup semi-final against Munster in 1968. A goalkeeper of the stature of Martin Furlong was required to replace Higgins when injury prevented the Shamrocks man from lining out in the final. Davy Nolan who filled the left half-back position was one of the great Westmeath dual players of the era and regularly lined out for Westmeath senior hurling and football teams. The semi-final was a comeback game for Davy from a serious knee injury that had sidelined him for most of 1963. It was the ability of this line to curb the efforts of the Rosemount half-forward line of George Kane, Kevin Kelly and Jerry Kane that proved decisive. The mid-field positions were also sorted during this game when Paddy Cole and team-captain Jimmy O'Dowd established a formidable partnership.
Paddy Cole was quite simply one of the all-time greats of Westmeath football. He played senior football for the county for twelve years despite the fact that he never played under-age football for Westmeath. Paddy played much of his inter-county football at corner-back it was his performances at mid-field that powered the Shamrocks machine where his high fielding, quality distribution, brilliant football brain and outstanding leadership qualities were instrumental to the Shamrocks success story. His partner Jimmy O'Dowd loved to roam the pitch and it was this mobility that brought an added dimension to the Shamrocks play and gave the club a vital edge in many a close encounter, as Jimmy popped up in scoring positions not normally associated with midfielders. The semi-final winning team was Tony Caulfield; Brendan McNamara, Gerry Galvin, Sean Mullen; Kevin Higgins, Frank Connaughton, Davy Nolan; Jimmy O'Dowd (1-3) and Paddy Cole; Sean Magee (0-1), Colm Connaughton (1-2), and Mick Lynch; Tony McCormack, Tony Mulderry (1-0) and Dessie Newman. In many ways this game was the making of the team. On the day the players had maintained their composure, withstood the physical challenge presented by Rosemount and emerged with a mental toughness that was to prove decisive in the final.
The county final pairing of 20 September was a novel one. A Mullingar town club side had last played in a senior football final in 1944 when Kinnegad defeated Mullingar after Tom Lynch had missed a last-minute penalty. Rochfortbridge according to the Westmeath Examiner preview could justly be described as the home of Westmeath football. It was 'an area whose allegiance to the GAA dates back to the Association's cradle days'. The St Mary's club was founded in 1950 and the 1964 final was their fourth successive final appearance and their ninth final appearance in the fifteen year's since the club's foundation. Despite the fact that only three of these final appearances were winning ones St Mary's were hot favourites prior to the 1964 final.
The Shamrocks committee achieved a significant victory before a ball was kicked. Ned Reilly from St Loman's was initially selected to referee the final. Ned liked football that was hard, tough and uncompromising and refereed accordingly. Shamrocks felt that this style of refereeing would diminish their prospect of victory and objected. As a result Jimmy Hatton from Wicklow, one of the top referees in the country at the time was appointed to referee the game.
Shamrocks made a number of enforced changes for the final. Regular full-forward Tony Mulderry was a clerical student and had returned to the seminary and was replaced by John Daly at corner-forward with Mick Lynch moving form wing-forward to the full-forward post. Dessie Newman moved out form the corner to fill Mick Lynch's position. An injury to Gerry Galvin a regular in the full-back line gave Dan O'Dowd a starting place at left-corner back. Dan was also part of the Westmeath 1963 minor winning panel and played an outstanding game in the county final. Completing the line was Sean Mullen, at this stage the veteran of the team and an outstanding corner back noted for his toughness and ability to tight mark an opponent. Like many of his colleagues, Sean was an outstanding dual player and was associated with all the adult championship winning teams of Pearses and Shamrocks in the 1950s and 1960s. Sean Mullen's winning run began in 1952 when he played on the first Pearses title winning team when Glenidan were beaten in the junior hurling final by 5-8 to 3-3. Sean was still a panellist in the 1966 football final and only received his winners medal for that occasion at the recent commemorative dinner dance. Mid-field and the half-back line was settled from the semi-final. Sean Magee and Colm Connaughton were regulars in the half-forward line. Sean Magee although small in stature was a very good fielder and a great distributor of the ball. Colm Connaughton's first love was hurling but he was also a quality football half-forward and was the leading scorer in the 1964 championship campaign. Des Newman joined them in the half-forward line for the final. Dessie was a survivor of the Shamrocks county champion minor side of 1957. This was a team that travelled out to Killucan by train to win a tournament for which the first prize was a set of football stockings! Des Newman's county final came to a shuddering halt after five-minutes of the first half when a late tackle sidelined him for the remainder of the half. Terry O'Dowd replaced Newman. In the forty years since Terry has immersed himself in all aspects of GAA activity and nobody has worked harder at promoting the interests of the Shamrocks club. Numerous under-age teams and players spanning the generations have benefited from Terry's coaching.
According to the Westmeath Examiner report the final produced football of a disappointing standard but 'in other ways the game had plenty to offer and the closeness of the scoring in the final quarter more than made up for anything that was lacking by way of top class football'. Rochfortbridge played with the advantage of a strong wind in the first-half but failed to score. Two Colm Connaughton points gave Shamrocks a 0-2 to 0-0 interval lead and with wind advantage to come the Mullingar side seemed well on their way to their first county title. Mick Lynch and Sean Magee added points in the thirteenth and fifteenth minutes respectively to ease Shamrocks into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead. Any complacency Shamrocks might have been experiencing was quickly dispatched over the next five minutes when a John Joe Hyland point and John Bradley goal put St Mary's ahead by a point. St Mary's were rampant at this stage but Tony McCormack was the next to put his name on the scorecard when his long-range point equalised for Shamrocks. Five minutes from the end the score stood at 1-2 to 0-5. A John Joe Hyland pointed free restored the lead to St Mary's with three minutes remaining. This was a score that seemed to energise Shamrocks. In a two minute spell Sean Magee equalised, Mick Lynch kicked the lead point and a second long range effort from Tony McCormack ensured the Flanagan Cup was festooned with Shamrocks for the first time. According to ' Aindreas O' 'the final whistle was the signal for Cusack Park to erupt into a sea of green and white and not I think since the Sunday Mickey Scanlon's last second point against Kildare gave Westmeath victory in the O'Byrne Cup have such scenes of joy and enthusiasm been witnessed in Cusack Park after a football game'. The champion Shamrock team complete with the Flanagan Cup were taken on a victory parade around the town on the back of a lorry and later joined the St Mary's men at the Midland Hotel, Mount Street for the post-final celebratory meal, at the time provided by the county board.
The county final lineout of both teams were as follows: Mullingar Shamrocks: Tony Caulfield; Sean Mullen, Brendan McNamara, Dan O'Dowd; Kevin Higgins, Frankie Connaughton, Davy Nolan; Jimmy O'Dowd and Paddy Cole; Colm Connaughton (0-2), Sean Magee (0-2), Des Newman (Terry O'Dowd); Tony McCormack (0-2), Mick Lynch (0-2), John Daly (Des Newman).
St. Mary's (Rochfortbridge): Paddy O'Brien; Seamus Berry, Paud Arthur, Tommy Kelly; Bernie Bradley, Jim Fallon, Colm Gavin; Fintan Costello(0-1) and Jackie O'Brien; John Joe Hyland (0-2), John Bradley (1-0), Robert Bagnall; Brendan Arthur, Miko Whelehan and Joe O'Brien.
A month later Westmeath defeated Carlow by 1-9 to 1-5 to win the O'Byrne Cup for the second time and the Westmeath selection included Shamrock players Kevin Higgins and Frankie Connaughton with Paddy Cole, Jimmy O'Dowd and Tony Caulfield amongst the substitutes. For Shamrocks there was still some unfinished football business to be attended. In December 1964 six members of the senior championship winning team completed the senior-under-21 double when Shamrocks defeated Athlone by 2-7 to 1-4 in the under-21 final. Shamrocks lined out J Lennon; John Mulvihill, Brendan McNamara, Gerry Galvin; Brian Gaye, Kevin Higgins, Ollie Mulvey; Paddy Cole and Michael Quinn; Colm Connaughton, John Daly, Tony Keegan; Maurice Savage, L Woods and Terry O'Dowd in the final. Many of those who weren't involved in the 1964 senior side were to play crucial roles in the winning of the 1966 senior championship. Final closure on the 1964 season didn't happen until May 1965 when the senior league-championship double was completed with a league final victory against Athlone on a 2-11 to 2-6 score-line.
The senior championship win of 1964 was significant in that it represented a turning point in the fortunes of football in the town. Prior to this victory football was the poor relation of hurling. The Pearse's club was the stronger of the town's two GAA clubs and had evolved from one that had a strong army influence to one whose teams were dominated by home produced hurlers. Commdt. Denny O'Callaghan was a tireless promoter of hurling in the 1950s and Pearse's emerged from the junior ranks in 1958. Hurling progressed with a Feis Cup success in 1959 and climaxed in 1962 when a first senior title success was achieved with a one point win over Raharney. The football final win meant that Paddy Cole, Sean Mullen, Davy Nolan, Colm Connaughton and Jimmy O'Dowd had won county senior hurling and football medals on the field of play, a rare feat for a Mullingar GAA clubman. Sean Mulderry played in the hurling final and was a substitute in the football final whilst Frankie Connaughton and Dan O'Dowd were panellists in the hurling final. Tom Gunn and Matty Mullen were successful St Loman's and Pearse's dual players.
The Shamrocks 1964 county champion side was a composite one composed of graduates of the 1960 and 1961 county minor champions, nine of the junior championship winning team of 1962 and five men whose career paths brought Mullingar residency at the time. Tony Caulfield was a commercial traveller from Granard who lived in Mullingar. This was an era when the goalkeeper's role at the kick out usually involved placing the ball for a full-back or corner-back to toe poke the ball as far as possible up the field. Agile and a brilliant shot-stopper, Tony took his own kick outs and could kick the ball huge distances. He regularly hit midfield with his kicks where Paddy Cole's high fielding ability was activated. Full back Brendan McNamara was a native of Mayo and Gerry Galvin, who played corner-back in all games up to the final, was a Kerry native. Both were bank officials at the time and were very good footballers who also brought strength and size to what was probably the smallest set of backs ever to win a Westmeath senior football title. Gerry Galvin also played a role in training the team and supported the efforts of Mick Reynolds and Pat McCormack. Another who brought strength and power to the side was Mick Lynch from Kilkee, county Clare and a teacher at St Mary's CBS national school. Mick played at centre-field, wing-forward and full-forward in the 1964 campaign and it was from the latter position that he kicked two vital points in the final, including the all important lead point with less than sixty seconds remaining. Tony McCormack, who scored two vital points in the final minutes of the final from the right-corner forward position, was a county council official from the Three Jolly Pigeons.
The bulk of the Mullingar players came from opposite ends of the town and would never have played together except when representing Shamrocks. The three O'Dowds and Kevin Higgins were from the Springfield-Ginnell area. St Bridget's Terrace provided the Connaughtons, Davy Nolan and Sean Magee. Disposable income, part-time jobs, pub culture were non-existent in1964.. Young men created their own entertainment and for the boys of Springfield and St Bridget's much of their time was spent kicking football and playing hurling in the green areas nearby. It was in these small areas that skills were developed and honed and players acquired an understanding of each others play that no amount of coaching could hope to achieve. This was where the teamwork that distinguished the Shamrocks team of 1964 and 1966 developed. Lynch's field and the Camp Field were also pressed into service by the boys from St Bridget's Terrace where they were often joined in the games by Paddy Cole. The organisation of the town leagues provided an opportunity to test these skills in a locally organised competitive environment.
The 1964 and 1966 panellists were guests of honour at the recent Shamrocks annual dinner dance where they were presented with special commemorative Genesis pieces. The atmosphere in the Bloomfield House Hotel lobby before the dinner and the joy experienced by former team-mates as they were re-united was indicative of the fact that the Shamrocks men of 1964 and 1966 were a very special group.
Facts and Figures of the 1964 Campaign
The County Final
Goals Points Wides Frees 50's
Shamrocks 0 8 9 24 3
St. Mary's 1 3 9 25 2
Shamrock Scorers in 1964 Championship
Colm Connaughton 1 9
Jimmy O'Dowd 1 5
Sean Magee 0 5
Mick Lynch 0 4
Tony McCormack 0 4
Tony Mulderry 1 0
Des Newman 0 1
TOTAL 3 28
Most Read Stories