WITH no live GAA for the foreseeable future it’s time to delve into the archives and who better to do that when the subject is Kildare GAA than RICHARD COMMINS. You might know him better by his Twitter handle, @kildaregaa365, and he has created the website www.kildaregaa365.com. It’s a wonderful resource of results, line ups, scorers and stats through the history of Kildare GAA. This week Richard starts a three part series looking back on 1965 U21 All-Ireland winning team.
To say Kildare football was in the doldrums entering 1965 is a bit like saying the country is undergoing some turbulence right now.
The seniors had not reached a Leinster Final since the 1956 win over Wexford and that itself was the first title since 1935. The glory days of the 1920’s were well and truly behind us.
That 1956 win was to be the only oasis in a 63-year provincial desert that stretched all the way to 1998. Bryan Murphy and all that. At senior level at least.
When the GAA introduced an under-21 championship in 1964 to help bridge the gap between minor and senior football, not all counties took it seriously and Kildare’s disorganised efforts at club level in the grade didn’t augur well.
The 1963 championship went unfinished and it was 1971 before we had our first club champions. Devoy’s, a combination from Sallins and Kill, defeated Moorefield to take the title.
Our record at minor level in the run up to 1965 didn’t inspire confidence either. You’d expect some direct form line with the 1962 minors but that team lost a poor semi-final to Meath.
The 1963 minors conceded four goals in defeat to Louth and it was a similar story the following year when going down to Offaly in the semi-final by 4-9 to 2-8 at the penultimate stage.
Our first effort at under-21 level in 1964 saw Shay Cash (Sarsfields) and Pat Dunney (Raheens) prominent in an easy win over Wicklow, but Dublin were eight points the better team as Kildare made a tame exit.
In 1965 the County Board pulled a strong management team together, led by Jim Clarke (Ballymore) who was supported by Seán Cribben (Clane), Oliver O’Reilly (Caragh), Pat Dunney (Milltown), Seán Duffy (Monasterevin) and Tom Moore (Rheban) and over the course of six championship matches that year a new generation of talent was born. The Class of ’65.
The turnover from the 1962 minors was significant with only Dunney, Cash, Pat Nally (Carbury), Seán Reilly (Raheens) and Jack Donnelly (Ellistown) going on to play any part in the under-21 campaign.
The selectors picked a clutch of younger players such as Carbury’s Ollie Crinnigan, full back on the 1964 minors who switched to goalie for the 1965 campaigns at both underage grades and also broke into the senior side for that summer’s championship.
Clubmate Pat Mangan was another from that minor team who made the step up and after Mick Buckley (Sarsfields), Joe Cullen (Ellistown) and Pat Harmon (Castledermot) had been tried as Donnelly’s midfield partner in the first three games, Mangan was moved back from the half-forward line to take over for the Leinster Final. There he stayed.
As is often the case at underage level, the selectors shuffled the decks quite a lot in the early Leinster games.
Jim Coffey and Vincent Malone of Raheens occupied numbers 2 and 3 for the first two games against Meath and Dublin but Shay Cash, previously seen largely as a forward, replaced Malone for the Leinster Semi Final against Wexford, and Denis Wynne of Grange eventually won the right full slot.
Joe McTeague (poetically hailing from Ballyteague) occupied the left full position all through the campaign, as did Reilly and Nally who were 5 and 6. Johnny Miller (Grange) came on as sub in the first game and made the number 7 position his own from that moment on.
It was the forward line that excited the Kildare following most, though. Dunney was the fulcrum at centre-forward, captain to boot, and the leader of the side. Donnelly was the free-taking sharp-shooter but the selectors had plenty of scoring options beside those two.
Tommy Carew, like Dunney was a noted hurler, possibly a better player with stick and ball, and the Clane man only came onto the side as a substitute in the Leinster semi-final. He started from that point on and scored in every game.
Similarly, Carbury’s Kevin Kelly missed out on the first two games but a goal and a point in the semi-final against Wexford cemented the talented player’s place from there on.
The most fluid line was probably the full-forward line with various combinations of Tom Walsh (Straffan), Phil Noons (Ellistown), Tom Keogh (Sarsfields), Mick Mullen (Raheens) and Nicky Behan (Allenwood) playing key roles at different times, although Dunney, Cash and Raheens’ Mick Mullen started there in the opening game against Wicklow.
It was a long campaign, with six games spread over six months from April to October.
Kildare were underdogs going into their opening game against Meath in Maynooth, and when they made poor use of a gale force wind in the opening half it looked like another short campaign ahead. Kildare turned around only two points clear.
With Nally holding the defence together at centre-back, ably assisted by Reilly, Kildare repelled any Meath attacks with relative ease and at the other end Walsh and substitute Noons scored the all-important goals to propel the Lilies to a nine-point win. Dunney was considered man-of-the-match by the Nationalist.
Their reward was a trip to Croke Park to face Dublin and while football was going through a lean spell in the capital, any time you score five goals against the Metropolitans is a feather in a young player’s cap.
Kildare won by 5-6 to 2-10 and there was no fluke about it. Despite playing second fiddle at midfield, their forwards took their goal chances superbly, Dunney’s 21-yard rocket before half-time proving particularly critical.
That moved their lead out to six points and it had gone out to ten before Kildare seemed to fade. But they had enough in the tank and defended superbly to restrict Dublin mainly to placed balls. Miller outclassed a series of opponents and didn’t put a foot wrong while McTeague and Reilly also impressed.
Up front, Dunney was marked tightly but still managed 1-2 while despite giving away plenty in the physical stakes, Allenwood’s Behan notched two goals through clever movement, as did Keogh after replacing the tiring Walsh.
Kildare were now installed as Leinster favourites ahead of a semi-final with Wexford, all the more remarkable considering their entire team would be underage again the following year.
The Wexford game in Newbridge was a real slog, and the Nationalist was unimpressed with Kildare’s 2-13 to 2-9 victory, describing the team as the least likely of the four Kildare teams to reach a provincial final that year to win out. Poor call.
Playing with another strong wind, Kildare were comfortably ahead at the break (2-9 to 0-3) having seemingly put the game to bed with 1-5 in the ten minutes preceding half-time.
Kildare were still struggling to find a partner for Donnelly at midfield, though, and Wexford took advantage of their dominance in that sector to over-whelm Kildare in the first 20 minutes after the break. At one point the Slaneysiders had reduced the gap to four points.
Kildare introduced Carew for the first time as a sub and his two points helped to settle the ship with Kildare holding the gap at four to qualify for the final.
The half-back line had struggled on this occasion with both Nally and Miller struggling to contain their opponents. Thankfully McTeague and Cash were excellent behind them.
In attack, Kildare scored some nice points but were inconsistent, with Kelly scoring a fine goal in the opening half but fading thereafter and Dunney shifting between wing and full-forward.
Kildare were deemed to have had too many passengers and would have to raise their game considerably against Offaly in the final.
A huge crowd was in Newbridge for the Leinster Final on the first day of August, and Tommy O’Hanlon in the Nationalist described a thrill-packed game that would put any doubts about the under-21 grade to bed.
With the wind, Kildare settled slowly but a superb point from Noons and then an opportunist goal from Walsh (rescuing a wayward cross and then rounding two defenders to score) helped the home team to a 1-7 to 0-4 interval lead.
Offaly took a grip on midfield and, despite stout defending, fired over five points to bring it down to a one-point game midway through the second half. Kildare hearts must have sunk with Offaly looking likely winners.
Dunney, though, soloed along the end line to score a point just when it was needed and Kildare took control again to go five clear.
There was drama near the end as Crinnigan dived at the feet of Offaly’s Kennedy to make what was regarded as one of the finest saves ever seen in Newbridge. The netminder was knocked out in the process.
There was no one hero for Kildare, although Dunney was classy as ever. Crinnigan the same. Donnelly covered acres of ground and scored six placed balls (he averaged almost six points per game for the campaign).
Carew opened up the right side and Noons had his best game of the season, scoring three points.
At the back Wynne had an auspicious debut in a strong line and Nally and Miller were back to their best form in the half-back line.
In the All Ireland Semi Final, Kildare would meet Down, the “Cocks o’ the North” as they were regarded, still basking in the glory of their two Sam Maguire wins earlier in the decade.
Kildare travelled to Newcastle and tore them to shreds. Dunney and Walsh set up Carew for an eighth minute goal and by half-time they were ahead 1-6 to 0-0.
Further goals after the break arrived for Walsh and then a clever palmed effort from Behan and Kildare were home and dry. They eventually had twelve points to spare (3-9 to 1-3).
Kildare had already qualified for the All Ireland Junior “Home” final and ten of the under-21 players lined out against Galway. It was a major disappointment, though, with Galway running out easy 1-15 to 2-4 victors.
The team almost selected itself for the under-21 final, although Walsh recovered from an ankle injury that kept him out of the junior game and started ahead of Keogh. Behan occupied the other corner forward position.
On the 3rd of October in Croke Park, 15,000 supporters saw a high-quality final against Cork. They also saw a fit and mobile Kildare outfit run out decisive and impressive champions.
Kildare’s forwards played an intricate game that pulled and dragged their opponents around the pitch and the Rebels visibly tired as Kildare hit for home in the second half.
Despite a magnificent midfield performance from Donnelly and Mangan, Cork had edged the first half territorially.
Donnelly deceived Billy Morgan in the Cork goal with a lobbed goal to give Kildare early impetus but by half-time the Munster champions were two points ahead, with O’Keeffe goaling.
The all-important score, a second goal from Donnelly, came early in the second half. Donnelly’s free was deflected by a defender to the net. Kildare wouldn’t look back.
Apart from a Philpott free, Cork wouldn’t score again and Kildare ran out clear seven-point winners (2-11 to 1-7), a crowd invasion signalling the county’s first football All-Ireland for 37 years. Of course, they weren’t to know it would be 53 years to the next one!
Kildare had stars all over the field. With Dunney not at his very best (although he produced some wonderful touches), Carew was the leader of the attack in a career-defining performance.
The full back line of Wynne, “Quinner” Cash and McTeague were exceptional and Reilly gave his most consistent performance of the season when it was needed most.
Kildare were serenaded by the Narraghmore Pipe Band when they arrived back to Naas for a reception that night.
It had been a remarkable year that put Kildare football back on the map. Expectations had been raised though. Scarcely had such a talented group come through at one time in Kildare, and it would be interesting to see how they coped with those expectations.
Remarkably, 16 of the 24 players who saw action in that campaign would go on to play NFL or Championship for the seniors. Two more played O’Byrne Cup.
Indeed, four of them, Crinnigan, Mangan, Dunney and Carew went on to rack up over 100 competitive appearances each at a time when teams played fewer league games than today and had no backdoor in the championship.
Carew and Crinnigan brought the curtain down on their careers in the 1980 championship loss to Offaly while Dunney and Mangan bowed out a year earlier against Meath.
Dunney, Carew, Kelly and Donnelly still rank among the top sharpshooters the county has ever seen. In the period since 1965 only Johnny Doyle (648 points) has outscored Donnelly (354), Dunney (291) and Carew (240) on the top scorer lists, while Kelly also makes it into the top ten on 175.
Indeed, Donnelly has the best points per game record of any Kildare player in that period with 4.21, ahead of Larry Tompkins on 4.15 and Doyle on 4.08.
We’ll follow their story in Part II next week…
Kildare’s Run to the Title 1965
18 April 1965 (Maynooth)
Kildare 2-9 Meath 1-3
Kildare: O.Crinnigan; J.Coffey, V.Malone, J.McTeague; S.O’Reilly, P.Nally, G.Smith; J.Donnelly (0-5), M.Buckley; T.Walsh (1-0), P.Mangan (0-1), M.Mannion (0-1); P.Dunney (0-1), M.Mullen (0-1), S.Cash Subs: P.Noons (1-0, for Cash), J.Miller (for Smith).
6 June 1965 (Croke Park)
Kildare 5-6 Dublin 2-10
Kildare: O.Crinnigan; J.Coffey, V.Malone, J.McTeague; S.O’Reilly, P.Nally, J.Miller; J.Donnelly (0-4), P.Harmon; T.Walsh, P.Mangan, P.Dunney (1-2); T.Keogh (2-0), P.Noons, N.Behan (2-0).
4 July 1965 (Newbridge)
Kildare 2-13 Wexford 2-9
Kildare: O.Crinnigan; J.Coffey, S.Cash, J.McTeague; S.O’Reilly, P.Nally, J.Miller; J.Donnelly (0-5), J.Cullen; P.Dunney (0-1), P.Mangan (0-2), K.Kelly (1-1); T.Keogh, P.Noons (0-1), N.Behan Sub: T.Carew (0-2, for Cullen).
1 August 1965 (Newbridge)
Kildare 1-11 Offaly 0-10
Kildare: O.Crinnigan; D.Wynne, S.Cash, J.McTeague; S.O’Reilly, P.Nally, J.Miller; J.Donnelly (0-6), P.Mangan; T.Carew (0-1), P.Dunney (0-1), K.Kelly; T.Keogh, P.Noons (0-3), T.Walsh (1-0) Sub: N.Behan (for Kelly), P.Harmon (for Keogh).
All-Ireland Semi Final
29 August 1965 (Newcastle)
Kildare 3-9 Down 1-3
Kildare: O.Crinnigan; D.Wynne, S.Cash, J.McTeague; S.O’Reilly, P.Nally, J.Miller; J.Donnelly (0-6), P.Mangan; T.Carew (1-0), P.Dunney (0-1), K.Kelly; T.Walsh (1-1), P.Noons, N.Behan (1-1) Sub: P.Harmon (for Walsh).
3 October 1965 (Croke Park)
Kildare 2-11 Cork 1-7
Kildare: O.Crinnigan; D.Wynne, S.Cash, J.McTeague; S.O’Reilly, P.Nally, J.Miller; J.Donnelly (2-3), P.Mangan; T.Carew (0-2), P.Dunney (0-3), K.Kelly (0-2); T.Walsh, P.Noons, N.Behan Sub: T.Keogh (0-1, for Behan), P.Harmon (for Nally).