Seán Moran: Echoing down the decades – the GAA 50 years ago this week

Some familiar concerns and other coincidences from May 1969

Maybe unsurprisingly in an organisation of such tradition and repetitive routine, the GAA sometimes finds history echoing coincidentally down the decades.

Former Kerry county secretary Tony O’Keeffe once said that the county always seemed to be there in the big years.

He meant reaching All-Ireland finals at landmark stages: the 1984 GAA Centenary, 1937 when the original Cusack Stand opened, the first live RTÉ broadcast in 1962, the millennium year of 2000, when the Croke Park rebuild was completed (either 2002 with the new Hogan Stand or 2004 when the Northern End was finished).

Cork pulled a big one out of the hat 19 years ago by winning the All-Ireland football/hurling double exactly 100 years after becoming the first of only two counties to do so (Tipp in 1900, the other).

We came into 2019, aware that it might be a very historic year for football with Dublin on the cusp of a fifth successive All-Ireland.

Again there are coincidences. It is 100 years since the first attempt at five-in-a-row came to nothing when Wexford lost in the Leinster semi-final. In hurling, it's the centenary of Cork bridging the biggest gap between All-Ireland titles, 1903-1919, and this year they're marking the second-longest wait of 14 years and counting.

Fifty years ago this week, we get a snapshot of an association on the cusp of a defining decade and the era of Dublin and Kerry, who were involved in controversy over a trip to New York.

At the end of May 1969, Kerry were mulling over travelling to the US to take on New York in the league final against the hosts to take place in June. It was fairly chaotic with the county having to choose dates, taking into account members of the panel with college exams. Eventually it went ahead after the county board left it up to the team.

They decide to travel but with dire warnings in their ears. Paddy Downey wrote in these pages that the board's "democratic decision to refer the question to the players could turn out to be a double-edged boomerang".

He expanded that if they were to lose their Munster title, "they will be accused of selfishly choosing an American trip before the county's honour on the championship field".

As it turned out, Kerry won the league, Munster and All-Ireland titles. The disruption caused – the Munster football final was put back a week – must have prompted a rethink because the inclusion of New York in the league final, a regular practice in the 1950s and 60s, was discontinued and has happened only once since.

If Kerry were already in the limelight although they would feature only a couple of the all-conquering team to come, Dublin were resolutely in the shadows. In mid-June they would lose a Leinster semi-final against Kildare, described in the match report as potentially “a title-winning team in the moulding”.

Verbally abused

In another echo of the past, the match was refereed by the late Brendan Hayden of the well-known Carlow football family – who died last week and for whom there was a minute's silence at the weekend double bill in Portlaoise.

The Clare hurlers' draw with Cork earlier in May 1969 was in the news this week 50 years ago with the former's county chair John Hanly and Cork wing back Con Roche getting 12-month suspensions each for incidents at the match.

Hanly came on to the field and verbally abused referee Tommy Foran from Tipperary. In those days before live broadcasting, Clare captain Jimmy Cullinane had to be asked to identify the official in question and was reluctant to do so but later, Hanly accompanied him back on to the field and gave his name to the referee.

Roche but for whom, according to reports, Cork would not have survived the drawn match, got involved with supporters in trying to attack Foran, who was whisked to safety by Gardaí in attendance.

It was customary in those days for referees to officiate at replays as well but after his experience the first day, Foran asked to be relieved of that duty and Limerick’s Seán O’Connor, who would take charge of Cork’s defeat by Kilkenny in that year’s All-Ireland final, was appointed.

Last weekend, Sligo manager Paul Taylor after a grim year on the field, losing all matches, scored highly at the ballot box, getting returned for Fianna Fáil and securing the biggest vote on the incoming council. Such ventures didn't always end well.

Fifty years ago today, one of Taylor's most distinguished predecessors in the Sligo attack, Mickey Kearins, left New York where he had travelled with the Connacht footballers, announcing that he had to get back for the Fianna Fáil nomination convention in advance of the 1969 general election.

He told this newspaper that he had only heard by telegram about the dissolution of the Dáil while in the US and regretted having to leave before the scheduled match.

“But,” he said “the players and selectors knew the choice I would make if an election were called for June. Let us say now that football has had to take a back seat.”

Unfortunately for Kearins, his enthusiasm didn’t impress the convention power brokers but he may have been able to take some comfort in the shooting star selected ahead of him.

“The Sligo town man favoured by Mr Blaney, Mr Gallagher and the Fianna Fáil establishment,” ran this paper’s report “was Mr Raymond MacSharry, a 30-year-old haulage contractor.”

MacSharry rose to become minister for finance and an EEC Commissioner. His son Marc currently represents Sligo in the Dáil. But Mickey Kearins went on to win a Connacht medal and inclusion in the first All Stars football team in 1971.