A Day We Will Never Forget

It was one of the greatest days in the proud history of Roscommon football and it is hard to believe that it is all of 40 years since it happened. It was a day when Roscommon not only won a major All Ireland title but it was done at Dr Hyde Park in front of thousands of Roscommon people and it was Kerry, the aristocrats of Gaelic Football who were the vanquished on a day that those of us who were lucky enough to have been there, will never forget.
It was a magical time for Roscommon football. The seniors were in the middle of a four-in-a-row of Connacht titles. A time when playing Mayo and Galway (and anyone else for that matter) held no fears for The Rossies. Under the guidance of Tom Heneghan Roscommon’s U-21’s put the disappointment of losing the Connacht final to Leitrim in 1977 behind them with a thrilling championship campaign culminating with that dramatic win against the mighty Kingdom in the decider. It is also amazing to note that the Connacht final, All Ireland semi-final and final were all won by a solitary point.
Forty years later the lads who brought such glory and honour to Roscommon are still the best of friends. Indeed when they meet up, (which is regularly) the bond which they first generated as part of that great team still exists and is plain for all to see. The banter and fun they have together is an indication of the friendship that was generated by their time together in this special group of players.
Recently I sat down with four of that 1978 team to look back on the year, the matches they played and to share their memories of a really year and a special occassion. Seamus Hayden was captain on the day and played midfield alongside Gerry Fitzmaurice (who scored a great goal in the final). Tony McManus went on to become a Roscommon football legend and was a star with UCD and Roscommon even at that stage. Gerry Emmett has probably not been mentioned as much as others on that team but he was a fantastic player with a great football brain. He was ‘man of the match’ in that final and scored four points from play in the biggest game of his life.
There was plenty of banter and craic as the lads looked back on that campaign. Roscommon started with an easy win against Sligo, then they beat Galway in the Connacht final, Down in the All Ireland semi-final and Kerry in the final.

T Mc- Tony McManus, GE- Gerry Emmett, SH- Seamus Hayden, GF- Gerry Fitzmaurice

The disappointment of losing to Leitrim in 1977 was motivation for Roscommon when they started their campaign in 1978. That was the starting point for our chat.

SH: We had a very good team in ’77. Jigger (O’Connor), Danny Murray, Martin Dolphin and Gay Sheeran were also on that team along with the rest of us.
GF: We probably had a better team in ’77 than we had in ‘78
SH: You have to go back to 1975 really because we won the minor Connacht championship that year that year and most of us were on the U-21 team in 1976. But it was badly organised that year and then in ’77 Tom (Heneghan) came in and he got it going.
TMc: We were very disappointed in 1977, we didn’t think Leitrim were as good as they actually were. They gave Kerry a real run in the All Ireland semi-final after they won Connacht so they were good. Mickey Martin was their well-known player and they had a great centre-half back in Frank Hoolahan.
GE: We didn’t give them enough respect to be honest.
T Mc: I remember we had chances to win that game but we didn’t take them.
SH: We started training much earlier in 1978. Well, some of us started training earlier. We had a few big shot students on the team (laughs) – Tony was playing for UCD at the time and had special status.
TMc: I missed the first game in the championship against Sligo. I had exams and Tom Heneghan allowed me to stay in Dublin. Actually Aidan McHugh was picked in my place and he scored four goals against Sligo and he kept his place after that. (Roscommon beat Sligo by 5-7 to 1-4 in Castlerea in the first round)
GF: McHugh was mighty that day, he scored some great goals.
The competition was drawn out that time, with the first round in May and the Connacht final in July. The Connacht final (against Galway in Ballinasloe) was a real helter-skelter game that went down to the very last seconds. Roscommon won it by 3-9 to 2-11.
GE: We were awful lucky that day. Tony completely mis-hit a penalty and it deceived their goalie and barely got over the line (more laughs). We were six points down at one stage that day.
T Mc: I didn’t miss hit it. The ‘keeper went and I just rolled it in! I was playing midfield that day by the way.
GE: You must have been picking the team yourself!
TMc: The game was in injury time and we were three points down and the penalty drew the sides level. Harry Crowley kicked a mighty point from way out the field to win it then.
GF: Harry could do that. He was a great footballer. It was a great win and to beat Galway on their home ground was even better. I didn’t play well that day myself but it was a great game of football.
Roscommon were in the All Ireland semi-final now. They were to play against Down and the Munster and All Ireland champions Kerry were to play against the Leinster champions Louth. Roscommon won the toss for venue for the semi-final and it was played on a very wet and windy day in August of 1978.
SH: We played Louth in a challenge game up in Dundalk before the All Ireland semi-final and on the way home Greg McCrann was injured in a car accident. He broke his arm and that put him out of the team for the semi-final and Des Newton came in for him.
GF: Indeed I remember that challenge game. We had a few pints on the way home. Sure the final wasn’t for a few months so we were all right!
TMc: Some of ye had!
GE: I was married at the time so I was gone home!
GE: The day of the semi-final was a very bad day of weather and I remember Micheal O’Callaghan (the county chairman at the time) saying to us afterwards that it was “a good job ye won that game with all the chances ye missed”
T Mc: It was a very low scoring game in awful conditions (Roscommon won by 0-8 to 0-7) and I remember that Michael Finneran had a great game that day (he scored 0-4).
GE: I remember that Down had a very good goalkeeper that went on to play senior after that for a good few years (Pat Donnan) But it was a relief to get out of it with a win.
SH: It wasn’t a good game. It was a terrible day of weather. There was a lot of pulling and dragging but it was a good one to win. We were through to the final and we were playing Kerry.

To this day it is still a wonder of modern day Gaelic Football that Roscommon convinced Kerry that it would be a good idea for them to come to Dr Hyde Park to play the All Ireland final. There was a senior football competition on at that time called The Ceannarus Tournament involving the four All Ireland semi-finalists, and Roscommon were due to play against Kerry in the final of that competition. Even the four players I spoke to are still not entirely sure of how Roscommon got a home venue for that final but they are all agreed that the wily old Chairman at the time Micheal O Callaghan was involved!!

SH: Micheal O’Callaghan swung it in our favour. Kerry were going for three (U-21) titles in a row and they thought they had to only turn up to win.
GF: They (Kerry) had won the All Ireland senior title and had hammered Dublin in the final and they had six or seven of that team on the U-21 team as well. I met Pat Spillane a few times over the years since and he always gives out all roads about the Kerry County Board and why they agreed to play that final in Roscommon. But I’m convinced that it was Micheal O’Callaghan that did it. He told them how great they were and that it would be nice for them to come up to Roscommon. They swallowed it Thank God.
SH: We trained really hard for the final. We certainly took it very seriously.
T Mc: It was very intense (the training). I remember marking Seamus Tighe in training and we nearly came to blows several times. I remember he said to me It’s all right for you, you are sure of your place. I said back to him the way you are playing you are sure of your place too!
GE: Tom Heneghan was a great one for instilling confidence into his players. No one was giving us a chance but at training he was top class at driving us on. He was way before his time as a coach. He had super ideas
GF: I was disappointed that the game was fixed for Hyde Park because I wanted us to play the final in Croke Park. But I got used to the idea as the game was coming closer.
SH: There was a huge crowd there the day of the final and a serious atmosphere. It was a very attractive programme with the Kerry seniors there as well. It was Kerry’s first game after winning the All Ireland against Dublin. The Ceannarus match was first and I remember that Tom Heneghan played the first half of that match and he came off at half-time. The seniors winning the first game was a good boost for us.
T Mc: What I remember most about that match was that Gerry Emmett scored four points from play. Incredible to be honest (more laughs)
GE: I was under pressure that day surely as I knew that Tony (Mac) wasn’t playing that well so I knew that I would have to carry him! Look, Fitzy (Gerry) got a goal that day and after that I knew that we were not going to lose that game!
SH: It was a very tough game all through. Peter Dolan had a great game at full-back on ‘The Bomber’ Liston. But everyone was so highly motivated that day. It was a great opportunity to play against these guys who had just won a senior All Ireland title.
GF: We didn’t really talk much about them in the build-up (the Kerry players) really. It never really registered that they were as good as they were and we just went out and took them on to be honest. The goal came mid-way through the second half and I can’t remember much about it. It was into the town goal is all I can remember about it.
GE: It was a great win for sure and it didn’t really matter who played well as long as we won it. I was marking a fellow called Mulvihill .
T Mc: He never played for Kerry after that!
GE: I never played for Roscommon after that!
GF: They had seven or eight lads with All Ireland senior medals so it was a mighty achievement.
T Mc: It was a very tight game. It was touch and go right to the end. We were four points up and they got a goal late on.
GF: I remember that we thought we had the goal line covered and there was a small space in the top corner and Jack O’Shea found it. It was a great goal.
T Mc: We had a strong wind with us in the first half and we were 0-6 to 0-2 up at half-time but the second half was very close.
SH: I remember that Jack O’Shea made a great run for that goal. I looked over at the side line at Tom Heneghan and he gave me a stare that I’ll never forget. I said to myself, I better not let that happen again!
SH: It was such an honour to be the captain. The presentation was a bit of a blur but there were huge crowds around. We went to the Royal Hotel for a meal after the match. I remember that myself and Tom Heneghan went out to see Mick Mullen’s (Mick Mullen was the kit man) son in Ballybride outside Roscommon Town. The lad was sick in bed and we brought to cup out to him. We didn’t tour the county that night, we stayed in the town but we went on a tour the following day.
GE: The one major regret that I have was that I didn’t go down to Ballyfarnon on that Monday night. We got as far as Strokestown and I got no further. I wasn’t much of a drinker but we got stuck in Strokestown and it wasn’t the first time or indeed the last to get stuck there! But I genuinely regret not going down to Ballyfarnon that night.
GE: We didn’t realise at the time just how big a deal it was to win that All Ireland it’s only as time goes by that we realised that it was such a big thing for people in the county.
T Mc: Roscommon football was on the crest of a wave that time. We had two Connacht senior titles won. Things were going really well.
SH: Sure we were only young and we thought this could happen every year. We kind of took it for granted at the time. But it’s interesting to meet the Kerry lads to this day. They still give out about losing that game and that’s despite all the medals they won over the years.
GF: Sure look at Pat Spillane. He wasn’t even playing that day and he is still giving out about losing it. They were going for three in a row at U-21 level that year.
GE: There were some great footballers on our team. Harry Crowley was as strong as a bull and a great player. Coman Reynolds who emigrated to Australia was a very classy player too. Richie O’Beirne from Strokestown and Eddie Egan from Castlerea. Gerry Connellan too. So determined and with a great attitude.
SH: When you get older you appreciate it more because you realise that an All-Ireland is so hard to win.
T Mc: We felt that in 1975 we let ourselves down in the All Ireland (minor) semi-final against Kerry (when Roscommon were well beaten) and that hurt us. There were much the same teams in 1978 in the U-21 so it was great to beat them. It was redemption for us in a way.
SH: We played pure shite that day(1975) it was a very good minor team and we just didn’t play on the day. We strolled through Connacht but we were very poor against Kerry.
T Mc: Jimmy Murray was over that minor team and he was very disappointed at how it turned out. When we won the U-21 we went out to Knockcroghery to see him with the cup the following day. He was thrilled.
GE: The fact that we won that All Ireland together has meant that we have been close since as friends. No matter where we meet, and it might not be for a few years, there is still a great bond there between the lads.
T Mc: I remember travelling up and down to Dublin with Seamus Tighe and Gerry Connellan that year when we were training. Gerry would be asleep the minute we got into the car but there were great memories.
SH: I agree with Gerry (Emmett) we have built up a great bond with all the lads over the years.
TMc: But a lot of our success was down to Tom Heneghan. As a coach he was in a different league.
GF: He had a hatred of the opposition. As players he would make you hate the sight of the opposition. He would bring out real passion and will to win in every player. I remember a friend of mine was on the Galway panel in the 1970’s and he was marking Tom Heneghan in a league game in Castlerea. He never played for Galway again such was his experience on the day. He was a fearsome defender. But he was a great Roscommon man and a coach before his time.
T Mc: He was really thorough as a manger. He had routines worked out with regard to free-kicks and kick outs and he was a big believer in having the half-forward playing out the field with a big gap in front of the full-forward line. He was a great manager. In fact if you talk to many people in the modern era there is a criticism that Roscommon are not ruthless enough when it comes to the crunch. Tom Heneghan was certainly ruthless.
SH: With the senior team when Dermot (Earley) was taking a free if he put the ball down with his right hand it would go to the right corner or the left it would go to the left corner and if he left it down with both hands it would go down the middle. In those years the Roscommon defence was feared all over the country. Lads like Harry Keegan, Pat Lindsay, Gerry Connellan, and Heneghan himself were teak tough and mighty players. But to win that U-21 All Ireland was such a great honour and great to look back on a special day and especially with friends.

The All Ireland U-21 Football Final was played at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday 15th October 1978 in front of a crowd of 12,000 people. Roscommon won by 1-9 to 1-8.The Roscommon team in the final was: Brendan Kenny (Elphin); Des Newton (Shannon Gaels), Peter Dolan (Roscommon Gaels) Seamus Tighe (St Barry’s); Gerry Connellan (Kilmore), Richard O’Beirne (Strokestown), Eddie Egan (Castlerea St Kevin’s); Seamus Hayden (Roscommon Gaels) capt, Gerry Fitzmaurice (Michael Glavey’s) (1-0); Michael Finneran (Western Gaels) (0-2), Gerry Emmett (St Ronan’s) (0-4), Coman Reynolds (Elphin); Aidan McHugh (Strokestown), Harry Crowley (Oran)(0-2), Tony McManus( Clann na nGael)(0-2). Subs: M Dolphin (Padraig Pearses), M Murray ( St Dominic’s), K Murray ( Western Gaels), E ennett ( St Barry’s), J Costelloe (Roscommon Gaels), j Lambert ( St Croan’s), G Collins ( Shannon Gaels), L McDonnell (Michael Glavey’s), L Tiernan ( Elphin), G Watson ( St Dominic’s) A Dooley (Padraig Pearses).

(From The Roscommon People Plus magazine)