The Westmeath senior football team prior to their memorable demolition of Dublin in the O’Byrne Cup in Cusack Park on January 19, 1969:
Back row, left to right: Mick Carley, Seamus Mulligan, Mick Murphy, Paddy Moran RIP, Tommy Dolan (sub), Christy Corroon, TJ Finneran, John Noel Galvin.
Front row: l to r: Dom Murtagh, Carthage Conlon, Georgie Keane, Mickey Fagan RIP, Paddy Buckley, Pat Bradley, Eddie Dunne, Dessie Dolan.
Photograph courtesy of Lynn Publications
“I would not write off the tenth-choice Dublin team at the moment!”
So said a good friend of mine and regular reader of my weekly ramblings (the descriptions are not linked – hopefully!) in a text reply to this comment of mine last week: “Meath, happy as I am to say it, are in the doldrums, but they will surely beat a third-string Dublin team in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final.” (Memo to self, New Year’s resolution to ‘be nice to Meath’ has been broken less than a fortnight into 2019!)
As it transpired, Dublin ‘C’ did beat Meath ‘almost A’, albeit on penalties, and it is Westmeath ‘A/B’s turn to travel to Parnell Park on Friday evening to try and win silverware which has eluded us for over three decades.
When queried as to my stand-out Westmeath football memory of all-time, many people are surprised when I plump for June 28, 2015 and THAT 3-19 to 2-18 first-ever senior championship victory against the Royal County, even surpassing the 2004 Leinster title. (I suspect that fellow-scribes in the Croke Park press box THAT day will not be surprised by my reply or, indeed, the affable GAA steward Padraig Flannery who almost called security when I performed what former county chairman Sean Sheridan described as my celebratory ‘Indian war dance’ after Conor Lane blew that melodic final whistle!)
However, Friday’s upcoming game immediately brings back memories of what I have always named as my favourite display of quality football by the men in maroon and white. Ironically, it happened 50 years ago as of next weekend, when a powerful Westmeath side (managed/trained by Dublin’s All-Ireland winning coach six years earlier, Brendan Quinn) destroyed the men in sky blue in Cusack Park.
And if you don’t believe me, have a read of salient aspects of Mitchel Cogley’s report the following day in the Irish Independent:
“With some tightening up in defence, the Westmeath team which trounced Dublin by 4-14 to 3-7 in yesterday’s O’Byrne Cup 1968 quarter-final replay at Mullingar could very well be a force to be reckoned with in the various campaigns ahead.
“Making all due allowances for the mediocrity of the opposition provided by a most disappointing Dublin team, Westmeath’s midfield and attack put on a display of forceful and constructive football which made light of the difficult ground conditions, following a week of heavy rain and, as a team, were worth a lot more than their generous ten points margin of victory. Dublin would have lost more heavily but for the brilliance of their goalkeeper Paddy Cullen, and the never-say-die earnestness of Gerry Davey and Paddy Markham.”
And Mick Dunne in the Irish Press: “It was not only the press box comforts provided by Westmeath county secretary Paddy Flanagan that made this O’Byrne Cup replay so enjoyable in Mullingar yesterday. There was a rousingly intense contest, plenty of excellent football, remarkably heroic goalkeeping, as well as some magnificent scores when Westmeath decisively defeated Dublin.”
A quick phone call to scorer-in-chief Paddy Buckley yesterday recalled the Maryland maestro being denied a hat-trick when he ‘scored’ a third goal but it was disallowed (Paddy instantly recalled that Leo McCormack from Ballymahon was the referee) as the ‘scorer’ had collected the ball in the square and duly ‘scored’, but the rule at the time demanded that the collecting player retreat from the square before scoring. Indeed, Paddy recalls being abused by a colleague for not passing! The team lineout hereunder might enable readers to guess the abuser!
The hair still rises on the back of my neck (the only hirsute part of my body left!) when I think of the majestic football played by the home team that day, to the utter delight of this 12-year-old fanatic. The details follows:
Westmeath: P Buckley 2-5 (0-5f), P Bradley and G Keane 1-1 each, P Moran 0-3, M Fagan 0-2, M Carley and D Murtagh (‘50’) 0-1 each.
Dublin: S Foley 2-1, P Delaney 0-4 (3f), D Bollard 1-0, S McShane and S Yeates 0-1 each.
Westmeath: Carthage Conlon; TJ Finneran, John Noel Galvin, Christy Corroon; Seamus Mulligan, Mick Murphy, Eddie Dunne; Mick Carley, Dom Murtagh; Paddy Moran, Mickey Fagan, Paddy Buckley; Dessie Dolan, Pat Bradley, Georgie Keane.
Dublin: Paddy Cullen; Leo Hickey, Brendan Donoghue, Paddy Markham; Eugene Davey, Bill Casey, Gerry Davey; Shay Donnelly, Stephen Yeates; Jimmy Keaveney, Mickey Whelan, Donal Bollard; Sean Foley, Sean McShane, Paddy Delaney. Sub: Mick Kelleher for Donoghue.
And the ‘Our Boys’ reference in my headline? Our Boys was a boys’ magazine published monthly by the Irish Christian Brothers and many of us bought the very PC publication.
Readers of my vintage will concur that the latter scary men in their black soutanes were not to be messed with (the term ‘slappers’ has an entirely different meaning these days!) and so my laughing out loud was kept well away from the ‘Brudders’ when I read a focus article on the aforementioned Paddy Cullen around the time of the 1969 demolition. Cullen made more outstanding saves that day a half-century ago than David de Gea did last Sunday for Manchester Utd against Spurs!
The usual ‘steak and chips’ response for a ‘favourite food’ question was all fine and dandy, but the long-serving net-minder’s ‘sporting ambition’ reply to ‘win an All-Ireland medal with Dublin’ seemed utterly far-fetched in those days when only a handful of die-hards followed the far-from-glamorous Dubs. Indeed, one such gentleman, my partner’s uncle Dermot Smyth, kindly fleshed out some surnames of lesser-known Metropolitan players from the 1969 team above. Cullen, of course, had the last laugh, garnering three Celtic Crosses in 1974, 1976 and 1977.
My sporting ambition still remains to see my beloved Westmeath win one!