The trailblazing All Star tourists who beat Kerry 50 years ago

A trip to San Francisco in 1971 paved the way for the All Star trips of the last 50 years

It’s something of a hidden history but before the golden jubilee of the All Stars is celebrated at the end of this year, this week marks the 50th anniversary of the prototype All Stars tour.

Looking back, the event appears curious but in its conception and execution it laid down the template for the official awards scheme trips, which followed later that year.

GAA general secretary Seán Ó Síocháin announced in January 1971 that the association had accepted an invitation for All-Ireland football champions Kerry to play an All Star team in California the following March.

The sponsoring body was the United Irish Societies of San Francisco and the purpose was to “promote Gaelic football”. The match pairing was requested by the organisers, who stipulated the counties that should be represented in the invitation team.


They were to be Meath, as All-Ireland finalists, with three players plus two each from Cavan, Cork, Donegal, Down, Galway and Mayo. Not alone was the team highly specified but there was a request that Seán O'Neill, the most decorated player travelling with three All-Ireland medals for Down should captain the side.

“That was a reflection of the counties who were well represented in the area,” O’Neill recalls. “Down people had a big presence in San Francisco.”

Tourism budget

There was also a good reason for the GAA to be so quiescent about arrangements. It wasn’t going to cost Central Council anything more than the price of the jerseys plus a couple of trophies. Even promotion of the event would be paid for by the city authorities, out of their tourism budget.

Costs were kept down by billeting players with local families rather than in hotels but overall it cost in the region of $20,000.

Players from the same county were generally accommodated together.

“Bridie McFadden was from Donegal,” says Brian McEniff, who together with Declan O’Carroll represented the county. “She married there and they had a pub. We stayed with them. I remember their house. They had a German shepherd and a husky and you’d have to open the door slightly so they could get a sniff of you before you went in.”

Departure was on March 18th and for nine of the All Stars it was a busy couple of days, as they had played in the Railway Cup final, won by Ulster against Connacht and which saw a star turn from O'Neill, who according to Paddy Downey in these pages had "never played a more tactically-superb game for county or province".

No-one had been busier than McEniff, however, whose business detained him the day before.

"I had played some soccer in Cork (as 'John Rooney' in the days of the Ban)," he says, "and when Finn Harps came into the League of Ireland in 1969 I rang up John Crowley, the all-powerful secretary of Cork Hibs and told him about my business and they always stayed in the hotel after that."

The previous weekend, Harps and Hibs had drawn 2-2 in the FAI Cup and had to replay that week in Ballybofey.

“It was fixed for Patrick’s Day, the same day as the Railway Cup,” McEniff continues, “and John Crowley rang me and said I’ll bring a busload of supporters up for that. So I had to be there to meet them, which meant staying on and not travelling to Dublin until the morning of the match, which wasn’t great preparation.”


Anyway they all headed for California the next day. O’Neill remembers his host, who was a fellow county man.

"It was a very enjoyable trip and it came out of nowhere. Kevin Downey was one of the main organisers - one of 'The Fighting Downeys of Rathfriland'! - and Colm McAlarney and I stayed in his house.

“He was the chief fund raiser and a successful businessman there with a bar and nightclub. I was with him when he used to walk into Haight-Ashbury and wherever there was a shop with an Irish name on top, he’d go straight in and tell them there’s an Irish team over and we’re looking for support. Can we put you down for a few hundred dollars - or more usually, we’ll put you down for a few hundred dollars!”

There were two matches played, on successive Sundays in Balboa Stadium, a local soccer venue.

“We won first game quite by a big score,” says McEniff, “so we thought we were fit to take it very easy for the second. Kerry trained hard after getting their beating and won the second game but we won overall on aggregate.”

Both he and O’Neill would travel again as official All Star award winners in the first season of the new scheme that began the following December but they share positive memories of the very first trip.

“It was no mean feat,” says O’Neill, “for a gather-up of players to beat the All-Ireland champions.”

The first travelling All Stars, named this weekend 50 years ago were: Billy Morgan (Cork); John Carey (Mayo), Jack Quinn (Meath), Andy McCabe (Cavan); Brian McEniff, John Morley (Mayo), Pat Reynolds (Meath); Bernie O'Neill (Cork), Ray Carolan (Cavan); Liam Sammon (Galway), Colm McAlarney (Down), Jimmy Duggan (Galway); Tony Brennan (Meath), Seán O'Neill (Down), Declan O'Carroll (Donegal).