Nineteen Eighty-Four – The Last Men in Munster


Nineteen Eighty-Four – The Last Men in Munster

The Story of the Tipperary Minor Footballers of 1984

On 4th December 1948, George Orwell sent his masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four to publishers Secker and Warburg for publication. Set in the year 1984 it centers around the protagonist Winston Smith who works in the Ministry of Truth for the privileged elite in the government. Smith is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism where he changes, forges and falsifies old newspaper articles to suit the current party line of the government. In the real year 1984, the Tipperary minor footballers were doing something similar as they smashed tradition and captured the Munster minor title for the first time in 29 years, breaking up the Cork and Kerry duopoly that had existed since then, with Limerick the only other side to interrupt in 1956. It was also the year of the GAA’s centenary and it was appropriate that Tipperary, the county that bore witness to the birth of the Association, should be to the fore when major honours were handed out.

Managed by Galtee Rovers’ Seamus McCarthy this team went on a run that saw them defeat Cork, Clare, Kerry, New York and Roscommon before finally succumbing to Dublin in the All-Ireland final played in Croke Park. The panel started training in January and met twice weekly as McCarthy put them through their paces and built up resolve, determination and confidence within the players to add to their undoubted talents. They played challenge matches against Limerick, Laois and Dublin before finalising the panel. With a lot of ground work being put into developing football in 1983 McCarthy, from the get go, set his sights on winning the All-Ireland and brilliantly prepared the team physically and mentally for the challenge ahead despite so many having to face the prospect of their Leaving Certificate examinations in June.

 

Tipperary 1-9 Cork 1-8

 

“CORK MINORS ARE BEATEN” screamed the headline in the Cork Examiner after Tipperary opened their campaign with a 1-9 to 1-8 over the Rebel County in Clonmel in what was “a well merited win”. “Tipperary played some fine football throughout the first half with their forwards moving smoothly and creating a lot of problems for the Cork defense”. Fethard’s Brian Burke scored Tipperary’s goal from a penalty to help his side to a 1-6 to 1-1 interval lead.

 

“A gallant Tipperary defense held out against tremendous Cork pressure and at the final whistle they [sic] were jubilant scenes”. The un-named journalist described the performances of John Owens, Michael Holland and Richie Quinn as “sterling” while Brian Burke, Gerry Ryan, Jim O’ Meara, Michael Goonan and Tommy Sheehan also came in for special mention. So dominant were the Tipperary backs that only two Cork men managed to get their names onto the scoresheet.

 

Scores: Tipperary T. Sheehan 0-5, B. Burke 1-1, J. O’ Meara 0-3. Cork: P. Harrington 1-5, C O’ Connell 0-3

Tipperary: G. Enright, D. Walsh, R. Quinn, D. Williams. J. Owens, F. Howlin, M. Holland, B. Burke, G. Ryan, M. Goonan, J. O’ Meara, K. Farrelly, S. Brett, A. Crosse, T. Sheehan.

Cork: G. Galvin, D. Creedon, P. Hanley, A. McCarthy, N. Creedon, K. Hyland, B. Duff, P. Hayes, C. O’ Connell, M. Barry, C. O’ Sullivan, A. O’ Sullivan, S O’ Driscoll, A. Barrett, P Harrington.

Referee: L. Shanahan (Limerick)

 

Tipperary 1-10 Clare 1-6

 

Next up was a trip to Limerick to face Clare in the Munster semi-final and it is fair to say that this game was over after only ten minutes of play as Tipperary racked up 1-5 without reply and led 1-8 to 0-1 at half-time. Tommy Sheehan scored the Tipperary goal.

 

Clare played much better in the second period, outscoring Tipperary 0-5 to 0-2, but it was too little too late and Tipperary held on to win by four.

Scorers Tipperary: T. Sheehan 1-3, J O’ Meara 0-5, K. Farrelly 0-1, J. Hackett 0-1 Clare: J. Ruane 0-3, J. Nugent 0-1, C O’ Donoghue 0-1, B O’ Doherty 0-1

Tipperary: J Enright, D Walsh, R Quirke, D Williams, J Owens, F Howlin, M Holland, B Burke, G Ryan, M. Goonan, J O Meara, K Farrelly, J Hackett, A Crosse, T Sheehan Sub C McGarahan for Goonan

Clare: J Garrihy, D Moloney, R Lyne, F Barry, C Crowe, M Ruane, J O Dea, S Carey, T Egan, M Roche, JJ Ruane, J Nugent, C O Donoghue, T Finnucan, B O Doherty Subs E Conway for J O Dea, D O Keeffe for J Nugent

Tipperary 2-3 Kerry 0-8

And so, it was onto Killarney to face the hosts in the Munster final in sweltering heat and it was Brian Burke who grabbed the headlines in the Irish Independent with “Brian Burke Snatches Title for Talented Tipperary”.

 

But things did not go according to plan in the opening eleven minutes as the Kingdom raced into a four-point lead and it looked as if it was going to be another case of a false dawn for Tipperary. But Seamus McCarthy, who had been training the team since January, had instilled an inner belief within the team which sustained them over the hour and brought Munster glory. In fact, things could have been a lot worse for Tipperary early on as goalkeeper Ger Enright made a superb save from PJ Gaire, coming off his goal-line to block the low shot. In fact, this save finished in third place in the RTÉ ‘Saves of the Year’ for 1984.

Tipperary had kicked six wides before opening their account when Brian Burke’s sideline kick deceived everyone and ended up in the Kerry net for a much needed and well deserved break. Throughout the opening period Burke, along with his mid-field partner Jerry Ryan, John Owens and Michael Holland in defense, Jim O Meara, Tom Sheehan, Anthony Crosse, Michael Goonan and Kevin Farrelly pressed the home side hard and “forced the Kerry defense to make some frantic interceptions”. Jim O Meara added another point to leave it 0-5 to 1-1 at the break.

Kearns (Kerry) and Burke exchanged scores before Burke collected a Kerry kick out and fed Anthony Crosse who rounded the Kerry net-minder before blasting the ball home, via the upright, from a difficult angle and sent Tipperary into the lead for the very first time, a lead they would refuse to surrender. It gave the team the belief that they could win and every player ran himself into the ground and fought tooth and nail in an effort to hold on. Burke added a third Tipperary point and Kerry piled on the pressure to rescue this game. Enright again made a great save to deny Kerry before Cork’s Donal O’ Connor blew the final whistle to spark wild scenes of celebrations and Frank Howlin (Cahir) became the first Tipperary minor football captain in 29 years to accept the Munster trophy.

“Each and everyone of the 16 players on view were heroes in the eyes of the small contingent of Tipperary supporters but followers of Kerry and Cork joined in to give them a warm reception in their lap of honour following their hard-earned success” according to Tom O Riordan in the Irish Independent.  John Guiton in the Tipperary Yearbook of 1985 noted that “we became estatic – as captain Frank Howlin led his men on a lap of honour round the stadium and even our keen but friendly rivals the Cork supporters raised their banners to salute the heroes on such an historic occasion”.

The Nenagh Guardian were lavish in their praise of this fine young team and their “dogged determination” “despite unrelenting pressure from Kerry in the last few minutes”. “What makes this victory more satisfying is the fact that the Premier side managed to oust the Kingdom County in their home sod and with the huge Kerry crowd in their favour”.

Michael Holland

The Nenagh Guardian went on to award Kiladangan man Michael Holland their “Guardian Player of the Week”. It should be noted that his club were due to play Silvermines in a minor match the following night after the Munster final and Holland, rather than celebrate his magnificent success and much to his credit, showed up in Puckane to play the game.

Tipperary: G. Enright, D. Walsh, R. Quirke, D. Williams, J. Owens, F. Howlin, M. Holland, B. Burke, D. Ryan, M. Goonan, J. O’ Meara, K. Farrelly, J. Hackett, A. Crosse, T. Sheehan. Subs D. Pyke for Hackett.

Kerry: J. O Leary, P. Coughlan, C. Murphy, T. Galway, S. Stack, S O’ Sullivan, J. Walsh, J. Galway, J. Galvin, P.J. Gaire, M. Gaire, M. Kerins, T. Brosnan, E. Moynihan, L. Canty, K. Rice. Subs D. Keane for O’ Leary (injured), C. Sugrue for Brosnan and M. Downey for Galvin.

Referee: D. O’ Connor (Cork).

 

Tipperary 2-15 New York 2-5

Next up was a rather unusual clash in Clonmel when New York made their way across the pond to face the home side in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Not surprisingly this turned out to be a rather one-sided encounter with Tipperary winning by ten-points.

 

Indeed, the gap could have been a lot wider but for, as the Nenagh Guardian reported, “the frivolous play of the forwards who wasted many a scoring chance” while New York goalkeeper, John McHugh, made three memorable saves however the match was over as a contest by half-time with Tipperary leading 1-8 to 0-2. The players were in “top-shape” thanks to the “extremely hard” training they had done all year and once again “Brian Burke excelled, while in defense there was Trojan work from John Owens, Richard Quirke, David Walsh, Michael Holland and goalkeeper Ger Enright”.

 

“Even-though New York presented a poor challenge they did have some excellent displays especially from Owen McCorry, Anthony Burke and Terry Connaughton”.

Tipperary: G. Enright, D. Walsh, R. Quirke, P. Williams, J. Owens, F. Howlin, M. Holland, B. Burke (0-5), G. Ryan, M. Goonan, J. O’ Meara (1-2), D. Pyke (0-3), T. Sheehan (0-4), A. Crosse, J. Hackett (1-1). Subs. S. Brett for Crosse.

New York: J McHugh, P. O’ Brien, M. McHugh, B. O’ Sullivan, J. O’ Donnell, M. Holmes, J. Chambers, I. Horan, A. Burke, O. McCorry (1-1), T. O’ Dwyer (1-0), M. McCarthy (0-1), G. Riordan, T. Connaughton (0-3), K. Hynes. Sub. J. McCormack for Burke.

Referee. Pat Lyons (Limerick).

 

 

Tipperary 2-12
Roscommon 1-1

On the same day that John Treacy was writing himself into the history books at the Los Angeles Olympics by winning the silver medal in the marathon and becoming the first Irish runner since Ronnie Delaney (1956) to win a medal of any kind the Tipperary minors travelled to Croke Park for the first time in 29 years and faced Connacht champions Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final and maintained their remarkable record of never having lost at this stage of the competition.

They outclassed their opponents from the throw-in with Brian Burke and Gerry Ryan controlling the middle of the park and both worked tremendously hard through-out the sixty minutes although it took time for Tipperary to make their superiority count on the scoreboard.

Within the opening ten minutes Tipperary missed several chances from frees and play and forced Roscommon goalkeeper, Paul Staunton, into making two fine saves. They held a two-point lead by the 23rd minute when Padraig Brennan found himself clean through with only Ger Enright to beat but the Cahir man made an astonishing save to keep the Westerners at bay. This fright sparked the Premier into action and quick-fire points from Tom Sheehan, Jim O’ Meara and Declan Pyke ensured a 0-5 to 0-0 lead at the break. The Irish Press reported that “an additional five points would not have flattered them”.

Not long after the second half began Anthony Crosse banged in Tipp’s first goal after great work from Tom Sheehan and Jim O’ Meara and the game was as good as over. Three minutes later Tipperary scored another 1-1. Jim O’ Meara pointed and from the kick out Crosse turned provider setting up Sheehan for the goal.

Patrons began to wonder if Roscommon would even get their name onto the scoresheet and on 41 minutes Padraig Brennan scored a goal which was quickly followed by a Vincent Glennon point. After that the Tipperary forwards found their scoring boots and kicked over six unanswered points to leave it 2-12 to 1-1 at the full-time whistle and Tipperary had qualified for their first All-Ireland final since 1955.

Liz Howard

Martin Quinn, Brendan Cummins and Liz Howard

Liz Howard, the Tipperary PRO, reported in The Guardian that this is “a fine team, eager, fit and strong and very well prepared” and that the Kerry supporters, there to cheer on their team in the senior match, “were totally behind” Tipperary. In fact, both the Tipperary minors and Kerry seniors had stayed in The Grand Hotel, Malahide the night before “with players and mentors mingling. Jack O’ Shea, as usual, was the player who was centre of attention. Jacko is very popular and has a grand way with him”. Liz herself, a big follower of the Friends of Tipperary Football Facebook page, got caught out at the game wondering who were the vocal fans cheering on the Premier with the Ulster accents. Eventually curiosity got the better of her and she introduced herself only to discover that they were John Owen’s parents, originally from Newry but based in Clonmel.

 

For the table quiz enthusiasts, this match is noteworthy as it was the very first time that a Tipperary football team played on live television with RTÉ broadcasting proceedings.

 

Tipperary: G. Enright, D. Walsh, R. Quirke, D. Williams, J. Owens, F. Howlin, M. Holland, B. Burke, G. Ryan (0-1), M. Goonan (0-1), J. O’ Meara (0-4), D. Pyke (0-1), T. Sheehan (1-4), A. Crosse (1-1), J. Hackett

Roscommon: P. Staunton, M. Lawless, J. Dowd, D. Rock, J. Connaughton, S. Conacur, A. Smith, E. Durney, A. Luby, V. Glennon (0-1), B. Flynn, P. Quinn, P. Brennan (1-0), P. Daly, T. Deehan, Subs: A. White for Deehan, P. Cuddy for Luby, B. Coughlan for Lawless

Referee: M. Greenan (Cavan)

 

 

Tipperary 0-4

Dublin 1-9

 

And so, it was a repeat of the 1955 decider as Tipperary faced Dublin in the All-Ireland final and the golden jubilee of their previous success at this stage in 1934 and unfortunately for the Premier the men from the capital were once again victorious.

Following their victory in the semi-final the panel were given a well-deserved two week break from training and then they played a Castleisland District team in a challenge with team captain Frank Howlin “receiving a beautiful plaque presented by the local club” according to the Tipperary Yearbook 1985.

Many had hoped that in the centenary year of the GAA that Tipperary would bring this All-Ireland title back to Thurles but sadly it was not to be as Dublin were comprehensive victors but as Donal Keenan in the Irish Independent rightly pointed out, “it is very difficult for players of such tender years to compete for the first time in front of over 60,000 people, so performance does suffer”.

Tipperary had been guilty of missed opportunities in-front of goal in earlier games but had gotten away with it but this time Dublin were not as forgiving. Keenan, in his match report, praised both teams stating that “neither side lacked in commitment or in determination. If the frills were missing there was plenty of raw courage to substitute” but “Tipperary failed once again in this championship to transfer the amount of possession in attack onto the scoreboard. On their path to the final this weakness did not deter them, but against the unyielding Dublin defense which provided few gifts this was to be their downfall”.

Kevin Farrelly

Templemore’s Kevin Farrelly was a talented sprinter and held Munster and All-Ireland titles in athletics and naturally enough speed was one of his greatest assets on the GAA field however he wasn’t a noted scorer. Early in the game he made a trademark burst through the Dublin defense and his brothers Noel and Paul were standing facing him in the terrace as he bore down on goal. “Pass it, will you pass it” they roared in unison. We don’t know if Kevin could hear their advice, but if he did he choose to ignore them, kicked a fine effort that split the posts and became the first Tipperary footballer since 1955 to score in an All-Ireland final in Croke Park. While the result didn’t go Kevin’s way he was quickly cheered up after the match with the news that his sister-in-law Breda had just given birth to his nephew, baby Aidan, that same day.

Brian Burke and Jim Stynes

Two of the giants of Gaelic football clashed at mid-field that day, Tipperary’s Brian Burke and Dublin’s Jim Stynes. Stynes went on to become a legend at Australian Rules Football and in 2003 he was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. Burke, a native of Chicago, moved to Fethard and became immersed with the club and Gaelic football. A winner of five senior county championships, he later represented Ireland in 1990 in the International Rules Series. Both men “fought a personal duel which made intriguing viewing, but served to nullify their effectiveness”.

 

Tipperary: G. Enright, D. Walsh, R. Quirke, D. Williams, J. Owens, F. Howlin, M. Holland, B. Burke, G. Ryan, M. Goonan, J. O’ Meara (0-1), K. Farrelly (0-1), T. Sheehan (0-1), A. Crosse (0-1), S. Brett. Subs: J. Hackett for Brett, D Pyke for Farrelly

Dublin: Martin Broderick, Greg Walsh, John Barry, Ciaran Walsh, Albert Martin, John Power, Bob McKeon, Jim Stynes, Paul Clarke (0-3), David de Lappe (0-2), Aidan McClean, James Fahy, Niall Clancy (1-2), Michael Crowley (0-2), Conor Crowley. Subs: P Daly for Walsh, D. Whelan for McClean.

Referee: S Mullaney (Roscommon)

Seamus McCarthy

Bansha’s Seamus McCarthy has a long association with Tipperary football and his role here must not be understated. Having guided the team to the previous year’s Munster final where they lost to Cork a confidence grew among the panel that they could achieve success. Aided by Tom Lonergan (Kilsheelan), Mick Darcy (Borrisokane), Ned Sheehan (Fethard) and Hugh Kennedy (Arravale Rovers) they left no stone unturned in their quest for glory. The panel themselves obviously deserve special mention, not only for their footballing ability and having the courage to beat Kerry in their home patch in front of thousands of their supporters but also “for their remarkable character and great sense of manliness – both on and off the field, and in victory and defeat. They were a credit to Tipperary” (John Guiton, Tipperary Yearbook, 1985). Liz Howard, in the same publication, boasted that “they were an impressive bunch, disciplined and obviously proud to wear the county jersey. There was a great sense of unity and friendship among the group and a sense of fun. Their captain Frank Howlin was another inspiring captain and a great ambassador for Tipperary.” She went onto praise manager Seamus McCarthy: “the rapport he had with the lads was ideal. They respected him, he respected them. He was a hard but fair taskmaster, interested in developing skill and character side by side. Seamus was honoured as Talbot Manager of the Month and Tipperary Person of the Year”.

 

Frank Howlin

Recently Cahir published their history in a book entitled Memories and Achievements. 124 Years of the GAA in Cahir. This fine publication is an excellent example to clubs everywhere on how to record their history and captain Frank Howlin penned a beautiful article about this particular team.

He spoke about “the honour of captaining the Tipperary minor football team” and the evolution of the side since 1982 when they were “on the wrong end of a hammering” from Cork. The team were “embarrassed by the result and promised ourselves that we would do everything we could to prevent this from happening again”. After a much-improved performance against Cork in 1983 the team entered 1984 full of confidence.

 

His admiration for Seamus McCarthy is clear to see… “At every training session Seamus spoke to us in a calm and matter of fact manner telling us how good we were, how fit we were, how strong we were and that there was no team better prepared than us”.

The self-belief in the team was evident when he mentioned that “when the final whistle went and we had won, I think the only people who weren’t surprised were the players and support team”.

 

While the team lost, they had won the hearts and minds of the Premier and despite the loss to Dublin the public turned out in force to welcome them home. “We were stunned at the amount of people who came out to welcome us back…. the warmth of the crowds soon made us realise just how much it meant to people to have a Tipperary football team taking part on the biggest day in the football calendar”.

We will leave the final words to Peter Gleeson from the Guardian: “For the first time since 1955 a minor team from the Premier County appeared in what is arguably the most prestigious final ever held on a GAA pitch. The intense training, the spirit, tenacity and determination to be in that contest earned the youngsters the privilege of defeating football giants such as Cork, Kerry and Roscommon. Surely, there is not one man in all of Tipperary that can stand up and fault them now for a feat that may never again be accomplished by a Tipperary side until the next century of the Association comes around”.