Down’s Sam Maguire Cup Could Have Come Sooner

DOWN’S first conquest of the Sam Maguire Cup could have come more than a decade earlier, according to Senator Maurice Hayes, former County Secretary, member of the Patten Commission on the R.U.C., and an architect of the Mourne county’s historic victory in 1960.

He stated: “I have always argued that the triumph of 1960 was based on the efforts of the footballers of the 40’s, and could have been achieved earlier. The success of the 1946 side, in winning the All-Ireland Junior Championship, was not capitalised on.

A romantic gesture of faith led to the county junior team being fielded against senior sides from other counties. A more hard-headed approach would have blended the best of the junior side with seniors like John McClorey, Barney Carr, Jackie Short, Mickey Small and Brian Denvir. Such a combination had the potential of an All-Ireland Senior Championship.

“For a few years, the County Board had a fixation about the junior team, keeping talented players off the senior side, in order not to disqualify them from the Junior Championship. A breakthrough came in 1959, with the decision to sacrifice a talented Junior squad in the interest of winning an Ulster, or maybe an All-Ireland Senior Championship title,” Senator Hayes added.

“However, 1946 remains a bulwark of achievement in the history of Down football, - a milestone which would not have been reached but for the efforts of the Clonduff players, who formed the backbone of the squad. How fitting that, when an All-Ireland senior title was achieved, the Sam Maguire Cup was carried home by one of Down’s most stylish and gifted players, Kevin Mussen.”

As the victors were carried shoulder-high by jubilant fans at Croke Park, and later through the tumultuous streets of Newry, where the All-Ireland champions had their training headquarters under player-manager, Gerry Brown, each member of the squad was hailed as a hero.

Those who put the Mourne county on the G.A.A. map were: Emmett McGivern (Warrenpoint), Paddy O’Hagan and Andy Murnin (Clonduff), Harry Downey (Rathfriland), Gerry Brown (Newry), Eamonn Grant (Clonduff), Noel McCarthy (Loughinisland), Gerry Carr, captain (Warrenpoint), Des Downey (Rathfriland), Gerry Doherty (Ballykinlar), Joe Haughian (Ballymartin), Tom, Henry and Paddy Brown, Jimmy Heaney (Derralecka), Dan Kennedy and Kevin O’Hare (Glenn), Malachy Short (Newry), Aidan Carr (Warrenpoint), Barry Shields (Saul) and Pat Rodgers (Castlewellan).

However, when the County Board was organising a Jubilee Dinner at Newry’s Canal Court Hotel, in the presence of President Mary McAleese, in 2000, only members of Sam Maguire Cup-wining squads were invited. Survivors of the 1946 All-Ireland Junior Championship side were excluded.

Paddy O’Hagan from Clonduff said: “It would have been nice to be honoured. There are only a half-dozen of us left. All we ever got was a wee reception at Newcastle, to mark the 50th anniversary of our victory.” And Jimmy Heaney from Newry pointed out that there had been “as much excitement and rejoicing at our achievement as there was, 14 years later, when the Sam Maguire Cup came to the Mourne county.

“We were the pioneers, who put Down on the G.A.A. map. The dinner we got in 1996 was small beer, compared to the massive receptions and banquets, as well as trips to America, accorded to the teams of the 60’s,” added Jimmy Heaney. He reported having later played on county senior teams, along with Kevin Mussen, Jarlath Carey, P.J. McElroy and Kieran Denvir, who were in the 1960 Down squad.

As a result of the criticism, published in the `Newry Democrat`, an invitation to the Jubilee Banquet was belatedly issued to the survivors of 1946.

Jimmy Heaney recalled the “bedlam” at Croke Park, where Newry’s Thomas Davis Pipe Band had the honour of leading both teams in the pre-match parade. After their triumph, the Down squad was received by the Taoiseach, Eamon De Valera, - who had stood for election in South Down, and been arrested in Newry!

The newly-crowned champions then went to the Mansion House, where the Down and Kerry players received their All-Ireland senior and junior championship medals from the President of the G.A.A, Liam O Luanaigh. Finally, the Mourne squad were guests-of-honour at a banquet, organised by the Downmen’s Association in Dublin, headed by chairman Eamonn Quinn, Frank McAteer and Joseph Fitzpatrick.

The chairman expressed his “pleasure at being able to welcome a Down team to Dublin as All-Ireland champions. Since the G.A.A. was founded, Down has been striving to bring home All-Ireland honours. Many a time our hopes have been dashed. I know that this victory by Down will bind us ever closer to our motherland.”

And the chairman of the Co Board, George Tinnelly stated: “This is the first time in the history of Down that anyone from this county has been given the privilege of proposing a toast to the All-Ireland champions. I hope it will not be the last.” George Tinnelly was also chairman in 1960 and `61!

Incidentally, the services of Meath maestro, Peter McDermott, were recruited, in 1946, just as they would be in 1960 by the senior county management, when the Down squad was preparing to meet Offaly in the All-Ireland Semi-final Re-play, and with equal success. Based at the old St Colman’s Hall at Castle Street in Newry, the squad trained at the Abbey grounds. The management team also included Fr Esler, Bobby Langan, Owen McManus and Mick McMahon.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008