Arkle Spurred Mournemen Past The Winning Post
(Part 2)

In the O’Hare homestead at St Anne’s Park in Mayobridge is a board of medals, - the Celtic Cross of the All-Ireland Championship; National Football League and Railway Cup medals, etc. And of course he was chosen on the `Down Team of the Millennium.`

Tom commented: “There is no reason why Down can’t have a good team all the time. Look at the number of excellent schools in the county, - the Abbey CBS, St Colman’s College; St Mark’s at Warrenpoint; Castlewellan and Downpatrick.”

As Peter Makem, a former Armagh team-manager stated: “For Tom O’Hare, Gaelic football was the natural fulfilment of instinct and ability. Combining great strength and superb athleticism, his quest for the ultimate physical challenge has been fulfilled by our national game.”

When captain Joe Lennon had to retire through injury, Larry Powell was thrown in at the deep-end, during that 1968 All-Ireland Final against Kerry. He had to share the midfield role with Colm McAlarney in mastering Mick O’Connell. Larry had captained a St Colman’s College side, which won the MacRory Cup, including Ray Morgan, present manager of the Violet Hill college side, and Paddy O’Hanlon, later MP for South Armagh, playwright and barrister.

Few husband and wife teams could boast of having won All-Ireland titles at three different sports. But Larry Powell and his wife Bernarde gained top awards at Gaelic football, golf and camogie. Son of South Armagh parents, Larry founded the successful Frontier Meats enterprise, where his friend, ex-International goalie Pat Jennings, has been involved in PR work.

Past captain of Warrenpoint Golf Club, the entrepreneur directed a film on the life of Irish artist, Roderick O’Connor, in association with Rowan Hand Productions. It was received with acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival. The narration was by Andrew Sachs, - Manuel of `Fawlty Towers.` Larry was also Co-ordinator of the International Fashion Show in the Town Hall, as part of the `Newry 850’ celebrations.

Though dogged by injury, Larry Powell had been involved in every match, during the Championship of 1968. But the selectors decided not to gamble on his fitness for the All-Ireland Final; so he sat on the bench at the start. Still vivid in his memory is the brilliant goal by Sean O’Neill, whose razor-sharp reflexes snatched the ball on the rebound from the upright, and sent it- rocket-like to the net.

Then came the moment when Larry was sent into the fray, to replace captain Joe Lennon. And he contributed in no small way to the re-conquest of the Sam Maguire Cup. But that pinnacle of triumph also spelled the demise of his football career, finally hanging up his boots at the early age of 24 years.

Team-manager Gerry Brown had a distinguished sporting career, - PT Instructor in the Irish Army, player/coach with the Down squad, which won the All-Ireland Junior Championship in 1946; Warden of the Newry Bosco Club; founder of Newry Mitchels GFC; manager of Tyrone in the mid 50’s, and Sportsmaster at the Abbey Grammar School.

Though the Mourne side made history by winning the county’s first All-Ireland title in 1946, they were not the first team in red and black to play at Croke Park. That distinction belongs to the squad, who contested the All-Ireland Junior Championship Semi-final, precisely 70 years ago. Indeed, a minor hurling team representing Down played on that sacred sward, three years earlier. Composed of Abbey C.B.S. pupils, they wore the school colours of red, black and amber.

In the 1930’s, the best footballers were selected for the Junior Championship. And in 1934, Down opened their campaign with an impressive margin of victory over Antrim. Next match was against Armagh at Bessbrook, the home side winning by 1-9 to 2-2. However, Down lodged an objection about an illegal player, the game was re-played and the Mournemen won by 1-3 to 1-2.

The Ulster semi-final was against Cavan at Ballymartin, home ground of Paddy Fitzpatrick, Thomas Franklin and Tom O’Hare. Though the Breffni side scored three quick goals, Down gradually fought back, until Terry McCormack put Tom O’Hare through for the winning goal. Venue for the Ulster Final was Bundoran; the men in red and black were beaten but appealed, got a replay at Newry and won.

Tremendous excitement marked the build-up to the All-Ireland Semi-final, to be played at Croke Park as the curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland Senior Final between Dublin and Galway. Special buses and trains, as well as a convoy of bicycles transported thousands of Down fans to that historic occasion.

But, overcome by the ordeal of playing before 40,000 spectators, and on the vast pitch of Croke Park, the northerners did not perform to their potential, with Louth winning by 4-11 to 0-9. The Down squad consisted of Jimmy Green, Eddie Cole, Paddy Fitzpatrick, Tommy Franklin, Hugh Lennon, George Mussen, Jim Burns, Terry McCormack and Paddy Small, along with subs, - Pat Gribben, Jim Fitzsimons, Pat O’Neill, Phil Gunne, Peter McKenna and Sean McNamara.

Captain George Mussen of Clonduff was the uncle of Kevin Mussen, who held the same position on another historic Down squad, which brought the Sam Maguire Cup over the border for the first time in 1960. GAA historian, Sheila McAnulty reported that, in those days, team-captains had more power and authority than today. They took control of the teams, gave instructions on free-taking, and made the necessary switches.

And she stated: “In the difficult conditions of the `hungry 30’s` that Down side made history by playing at Croke Park. Teams of later generations would play there, and have more success. But the first time is always unique, and belonged to the men of 1934.”

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008