What’s Seldom Is Wonderful!

The 1980’s were a bleak time for Roscommon football. The brilliant team of the late 70’s and 1980 were now a distant memory. Star players like Dermot Earley, Pat Lindsay, Tom Heneghan, John O’Connor, Mick Finneran and Seamus Hayden had moved on and there were several new young players on the Roscommon team.
At the beginning of 1986 Mayo were joint favourites to win the All-Ireland senior football title. In 1985 they had been unlucky not to have beaten Dublin in a replayed semi-final and they possessed some of the best players in the country. Players like Peter Ford, Willie Joe Padden, Martin Carney, Kevin McStay, Liam McHale and the prolific Padraig Brogan were the backbone of their team. When Roscommon were drawn to play Mayo in the first round of the Connacht SFC in 1986, they were not given a hope by anyone of beating their neighbours at McHale Park in Castlebar.
However a quite brilliant display from Roscommon and the two McManus brothers – Tony and Eamonn – in particular, helped Roscommon to one of the sweetest wins they had in the Connacht Championship in many years. It was the day that Mayo were dumped out of the championship by a totally unrated Roscommon team.
Mayo 0-12 Roscommon 1-11 (at McHale Park, Castlebar)
If the bookies were doing big GAA business in 1986 then you could have backed Roscommon at 6/1 – maybe even more – in the run-up to this game. Mayo held all the aces. They had a very strong team of very talented players while Roscommon had not won a Connacht title since 1980 and a lot of their players were young and inexperienced.
However what happened on the 15th of June, 1986 on a sweltering day in Castlebar restored many people’s faith in Roscommon football and although the team did not go on to win the Connacht final, it was an experience that stood to many of the players who were to go on to win Connacht titles in the coming years. It was the experienced players on the team, Gay Sheerin, Eamonn and Tony McManus, Harry Keegan and Gerry Fitzmaurice who were all at their brilliant best as Mayo suffered a shock defeat.
It was a searing hot day in Castlebar and the 17,500 crowd were treated to a real hum-dinger of a championship game which began in sensational fashion. Mayo lined out without the injured TJ Kilgallon and Dermot Flanagan but they still had a very strong team on duty. After ninety seconds of play Tony McManus netted what was probably the finest goal he scored in his long and distinguished football career in championship football. Seamus Killoran fielded brilliantly at midfield, he passed to Tom Og O’Brien who spotted Tony Mac free down the centre and after one hop and a solo he unleashed a fantastic shot from twenty yards that almost took the head off Eugene Lavin on its way into the top corner of the Mayo net. It was a fantastic goal and was picked as one of the goals of the year on The Sunday Game in 1986. A minute later Paul Earley rattled over another Roscommon point and corner-forward Adrian Garvey raced through for another Roscommon score in the 7th minute to give the Primrose and Blue a shock five-point lead.
Rattled Mayo gradually got going and points from Jimmy Maughan, Kevin McStay and Padraig Brogan saw them back to within two by the 19th minute. Mayo had plenty of the ball but their wides total was mounting while Roscommon could always manage a score when they attacked, and with the McManus brothers in lethal form, the crowd realised that this was going to be anything but a one-sided affair.
Tony Mac scored another great point on the stroke of half-time and at that stage Roscommon led by 1-5 to 0-4. Mayo were much better in the second half and were unlucky when Liam McHale’s shot came back off a post in the 10th minute. Meanwhile Gay Sheerin made two brilliant saves to deny Padraig Brogan first and then Willie Joe Padden. However, Mayo were playing better and they were chipping away at the Roscommon lead. Willie Joe Padden’s point in the 16th minute brought the margin back to two and Brogan reduced the gap even further with a point from a free two minutes later. Roscommon were struggling at midfield. They introduced Castlerea’s Pat Gaynor and it helped to steady the ship. However after Brogan equalised with 13 minutes to go, the crowd expected that Mayo would go on and win it.
But Roscommon had the bit between their teeth and they pulled two clear again with points from Paul Earley and Adrian Garvey. However Padraig Brogan was the one Mayo player who was excelling. He kicked a mighty 35-metre point in the 27th minute and a converted free from the same player two minutes later levelled the scores. Mayo attacked in search of the winner. Liam McHale kicked a bad wide in the 33rd minute when in front of the posts, and a draw looked odds-on.
However the McManus brothers had other ideas. As the clock ticked past 35 minutes, Tony Mac gained possession almost 60 yards from the Mayo goal and turned and kicked an outrageous point that brought the Roscommon supporters to their feet. There was even more excitement on the kick-out when Eamonn McManus caught the ball and powered over another brilliant point. Then Mickey Kearins blew the final whistle and it was over.
It was a brilliant win for Roscommon and the Primrose and Blue supporters swarmed on to the McHale Park pitch to celebrate with their heroes. I recall heading back to Ballinlough that evening where a brilliant night was had by one and all all in Fitzmaurice’s bar. It was one of the sweetest wins for Roscommon senior footballers in many years.
It’s hard to believe that Roscommon have not beaten Mayo in the senior championship in Castlebar since that famous day. It’s time that gap was bridged!
Roscommon: Gay Sheeran; Gary Wynne, Pat Doorey, Harry Keegan; Paul Hickey, Gerry Fitzmaurice, Danny Murray; Seamus Killoran, Padraig McNeill; Eamonn McManus Junior, Tony McManus (1-3), Eamonn McManus Senior (0-3); Tom Og O’Brien, Paul Earley (0-3), Adrian Garvey (0-3). Subs: Pat Gaynor for Killoran, Seanie McNeill for O’Brien, Anthony McManus for Doorey.
Mayo: Eugene Lavin; Martin Carney, Peter Ford, Jimmy Browne; Frank Noone, PJ McGarry, John Finn; Liam McHale, Willie Joe Padden (0-1); Padraig Brogan (0-8), Jimmy Burke, Noel Durkin (0-1); Tom Reilly, Jimmy Maughan (0-1), Kevin McStay (0-1). Subs: M Fitzmaurice for Maughan, MJ Mullan for McStay, J Lindsay for Noone.
Referee: Mickey Kearins (Sligo).