THE hope and optimism of the 60’s gave way to the harsh realities of life at senior in the 70’s for Kildare’s heroes of 1965 as RICHARD COMMINS (@kildaregaa365) brings the concluding part of his three part series looking back at the Class of ‘65.
1970- “Flattered Too Often and Deceived Every Time”
KILDARE’S team for 1969/70 was still young and optimistic, despite not yet getting over the line in Leinster. A strong National League performance saw only one defeat (to Roscommon) but that was avenged in a play off with Pat Dunney grabbing 1-5. Kildare won through to a rematch with Down in the semi-final two years on from their final showdown.
Kildare won the midfield battle in awful conditions with Pat Mangan and Jack Donnelly on top. But Despite Dunney’s goal inside a minute, Down were resolute defensively and too slick in attack, winning 1-11 to 2-3.
Wicklow were not expected to put up much of a challenge in the Leinster opener. To shake things up a completely new half-forward line was introduced – Bernie Geraghty, Eamon O’Donoghue and Tom Fitzgerald. O’Donoghue would go on to manage the team having had huge success as a player with UCD under Eugene McGee’s coaching.
The Nationalist seemed to be losing patience with the Golden Boys. Their view – unsupported by results it has to be said as the foregoing illustrates – was that Kildare could be considered seriously for the Championship “if they adopt the proper attitude – and a few players who will remain nameless for the moment (ouch!) – play 60 minutes football and not in spasms.”
Wicklow were duly dispatched “without unduly exerting themselves” according to the Evening Herald, by 5-8 to 1-8 with Dunney helping himself to two goals. The Irish Independent remarked that the “lack of interest of the players matched the impact the occasion evinced by the small and unenthusiastic attendance”. Let’s move swiftly on then.
Kildare struggled but eventually shook off Wexford with five points to spare in the Quarter Final.
On then to a semi-final meeting with Meath. The Nationalist optimistically saw us as favourites with Mangan and Donnelly “vastly superior” and that Kildare on paper “completely out-gun their rivals” while acknowledging at least that “Kildare can play football not expected of juniors”.
In the event they should perhaps have fielded the juniors. It was a close enough encounter and when an otherwise quiet Donnelly raised a green flag with a speculative effort from long range, Kildare edged 1-8 to 0-9 ahead and looked well set. But Meath, out in the cold since winning the All Ireland three years before, coasted through to the final whistle with four unanswered points. Kildare had crashed and burned again.
“Spiritless Lily-Whites Crash Against Meath” roared the Nationalist before going on to suggest they “may throw their hats at ever winning a senior championship”. They had “flattered too often and deceived every time”.
Six years after 1965 the landscape of Leinster football had developed into something of a two-horse affair. In those pre-Heffo days, the capital city was a GAA wasteland with the Dubs not having won Leinster since 1965. Meanwhile, Kildare’s 1965 crop was starting to whither on the vine.
Meath had dethroned Offaly in a high-scoring final the previous summer and those two looked most likely to dominate the early ‘70s.
Kildare finished mid-table in an eight-team league grouping but picked up the 1968 (!) O’Byrne Cup in January 1971 with victory over Westmeath.
The Championship paired them with underdogs Louth in Croke Park. Only a late Kevin Kelly point dragged Kildare level and maintained their interest in the championship.
Louth couldn’t reach the same heights in the replay and the Lilies emerged three-point winners to set up a tilt at holders Meath in the semi-final.
The mood in the county was pessimistic enough even before Donnelly was involved in a car crash that ruled him out for the remainder of the season. The Nationalist didn’t tend to put a tooth in it in those days and they didn’t hold out much hope: “The forwards, even with Jack at no. 11 were pathetic enough, but what are we to expect now?”.
Even with Dunney selected at midfield and Donnelly out, with the benefit of hindsight the Nationalist may have been a bit unfair. With names like Carew, Kelly, Mullen and Walsh the forward line wasn’t exactly lightweight.
Then, as now, we were described as Ireland’s most unpredictable team, and somehow a transformed team took to the field against Meath and mesmerised the Leinster champions.
Kildare struck three body blows to the Meath net in the opening period. Peter Archbold of St. Laurence’s punched the opening goal. After Carew, having an outstanding game at full forward, flicked one off the crossbar Tommy Walsh was on hand to finish to the net. Before half-time Walsh added his second after Carew soloed through the middle and laid off to the Straffan man at the perfect time.
In the 55th minute, O’Donoghue hopped one from distance into the Meath net while Monasterevin’s Bob Harrison was distracting Meath goalie Sean McCormack.
Meath plundered two goals of their own but their attack was well stifled by a hard-tackling Kildare defence with full back Patsy Kelly of Allenwood outstanding. We’ll gloss over the Irish Press’s mention of a “great deal of rugby tackling” by Kildare.
To be fair to Meath they battled to the end but with Ollie Crinnigan and Kelly inspired Kildare held on to win 4-8 to 2-12.
Kildare faced Offaly in the final, a repeat of the decider of two years before.
Hugh Campion, the County vice-chairman, declared that “Kildare’s mental approach appears to be good. Most of the team realises that this is the last chance to win a Leinster”. Looking back, it seems a little premature to be writing off lads of 25/26 and has echoes in current attitudes to the 2013 under-21 team.
Midfield was the problem area for the Lilywhites, according to Campion. On this occasion Dunney was moved back into no.11 with Archbold now partnering O’Donoghue in midfield.
The disaster that followed was unprecedented as “pathetic” Kildare went down to a fourteen-point defeat, battered into submission by a thoroughly superior Offaly side long before the finish.
The midfield struggle was predicted (Hugh Hyland and veteran Mick Carolan were both drafted in to try to rescue the situation but to no avail). But we had no answer to Offaly’s dominance in every position.
After Murt Connor slapped the ball into the net out of Crinnigan’s hands the game was a one-sided farce, common enough now but unusual for a Leinster final in those days.
Crinnigan denied at least two Offaly goals but Connor added a second as the neighbours sailed into the sunset.
Kildare’s attack was described as “pitiful”, in contrast to that expansive display against Meath. Dunney was struggling with a groin injury but the other five had no such excuse. It took 38 minutes for us to score and that came from substitute Hyland.
Kildare’s misery was complete with Patsy Kelly seeing the line along with Jody Gunning after a “dust-up”.
The Nationalist printed a picture of a dejected Joe Doyle, hands on knees in abject despair at the end of the game. It could easily have been his cousin Harry’s son Johnny after that harrowing defeat to Down 39 years later.
1972 – Offaly Once More
A new-look team was picked for the opening NFL game in Waterford. Joe McTeague was back after three years but the 1965 influence was waning. With Dunney injured, Crinnigan, Mangan and Carew were the only other representatives of that side in the team that crawled back from the Déise with only a draw to show for their efforts.
Kevin Kelly later came back in and he and Carew led the scoring charts as Kildare had an up and down campaign, narrowly avoiding relegation. Defeat to Galway on a remarkable 4-16 to 0-5 scoreline in Tuam showed the hill Kildare had to climb to be competitive for the championship.
To this day that remains the heaviest defeat Kildare have suffered in the League and the Lilywhites were described as “looking like a bunch of lost sheep”.
Despite another O’Byrne Cup triumph (beating Louth in the 1970 final), confidence was low heading into the championship.
Eight of the ’65 crew togged out for the opener against Laois and in a topsy turvy game with quite some needle Mangan and Dunney were prominent in a seven-point win.
For the semi-final with an unheralded Dublin, the team had an even more familiar look to it with Donnelly returning from his injuries, though doubts persisted about his fitness. Phil Noons came into a forward line now made up entirely of members of the class of ’65: Carew, Dunney and Donnelly outside and Noons, Mullen and Kelly inside.
The reports on the match in Navan in front of 13,500 highlight how the landscape of Leinster football has changed utterly in the intervening 48 years. There was said to be “little jubilation, rather intense trepidation about the outcome of the forthcoming clash” as Kildare won 0-16 to 3-5 to qualify for a second successive final with the All-Ireland champions Offaly.
The Nationalist described Dublin as a “poverty-stricken bunch, forced to recall veterans to make up a team, with many more on the bench”.
This paper was not optimistic heading into the final. Dunney was off-form they said, Donnelly had not regained match-fitness and Mangan “had sat down on the job too often”. The team’s tenacity was questioned rather than their ability and that question could define the entire era it seems. Or Kildare football for much of the last ninety years perhaps.
Tellingly, some players spoken to in advance of the final had viewed the game with trepidation and it seems clear there was an inferiority complex when faced with their neighbours.
Kildare failed to apply the foot to Offaly’s throat with a decent supply of possession in the first half. Their lack of zeal, inaccurate passing and shooting and an absence of conviction or authority let them down and contributed to another handsome Offaly victory (1-18 to 2-8).
The team didn’t lie down in quite the same manner as the year before but the forward division had failed once more when the chips were down. It was their fourth Leinster final defeat in seven years.
Six successive league defeats followed as Kildare were relegated and the last real collective stand of the group came against old rivals Offaly, now double All Ireland champions, in the Leinster Semi-Final in 1973. Mangan was now player-manager.
A superb Kevin Kelly goal gave Kildare a first-half lead and Offaly’s back line looked unusually shaky. But the champions blew Kildare away after the interval, the crucial score coming when Sean Cooney lobbed a ball in that Denis Dalton seemed to have under control, but he allowed it to skip past him and Crinnigan was caught unawares. Offaly ran out 1-15 to 2-6 winners.
By the time Kildare reached another final two years later only six of the gang were involved – Crinnigan, Mangan, Dunney, Carew, Donnelly and McTeague. Dublin were now “Heffo’s Army”, the reigning All Ireland Champions, and Kildare suffered another final humiliation, losing 3-13 to 0-8. It was McTeague’s last appearance in white while Donnelly played one more game that Autumn.
Then there were four. A youthful Kildare side built from minor and under-21 All Ireland finalists of 1973 and 1976 combined with the four veterans to propel us to the 1978 final but again Dublin squashed our hopes on a miserable rain-sodden afternoon (1-17 to 1-6).
Dunney and Mangan soldiered on for one more year while Carew and Crinnigan made it into a third decade with the senior team, before bringing down the curtain on their careers against Offaly in 1980.
The Under-21’s of 1965 have rightly gained legendary status in Kildare football. That is only right, as they provided an oasis of success in a vast desert of underperformance. That they were unable to replicate that success on senior playing fields is neither unusual nor anything to be ashamed of. The mental fatigue from losing Leinster Finals eventually overwhelmed them.
Those collective failures should not diminish the brilliant individual careers of the likes of Crinnigan (our first All-Star), dual stars Dunney and Carew, sharpshooters Donnelly and Kelly, or Carbury stalwart Mangan. Their career stats stand for themselves and their place in the annals of Kildare football history is assured.