Review of Plassey's Gaels

June 11th, 2013
by Weeshie Fogarty

I never cease to be amazed at the continuous nonstop publication of GAA books and other such literature which constantly come to hand as die hard volunteers carry out labors of love attempting to document the various stages of history in their club, county or school.  Being involved in the media brings me in contact with some remarkable people who literally devoted years of their spare time collecting, researching and recording the history of their beloved club or county. One such person who I interviewed last week is Dr John o Callaghan; he has previously published books on twentieth-century Irish history. He is a graduate of University of Limerick and is a member of Na Piarsaig GAA Club, Limerick.  Now he has just launched a fascinating history of the GAA at NIHE, NCPE, Thomand College and the University of Limerick, 1972-2012 entitled Plassey's Gaels.

Passion and history unite in this account of Gaelic games at the University of Limerick and its predecessors on the Plassey campus, the National College of Physical Education, Thomand College of Education and the National Institute of Higher Education. Of course like all GAA books a Kerry reader will first explore the index for any Kerry participation and of course in 99% of publications such as this a Kerry man will surface.  For example just check the names under M, and there you have it, Paddy and Johnny Mulvihill, two well known North Kerry football names. Now the following account from the book will I am sure resonate with older readers especial as we all trained in outlandish places in the so called "good old days" when modern high class facilities were just a figment of the imagination.

Paddy Mulvihill was at one time the coach of the University football team. They trained in an area known as the "mudpatch" which was notorious for its atrocious surface and also Maguire's field was another infamous training area which has been described down through the years by users as a "swamp", a "bog", a "drain" and other less complimentary terms. Our own Dara o Cinneide describes colorfully and vividly in the book how for UL footballers in the mid nineties the Mudpatch was the focal point of activity, "a field of dreams". "Training sessions were primitive and brutal. They were also frequent and often frenzied. So dire were the conditions one wonders to day how the whole thing didn't just fall asunder. But holding the whole show together was through sheer force of personality was that mad hoor Paddy Mulvihill".

Paddy passionately believed that only the Mudpatch with its all- year–round glue like traction could provide, namely the building of stamina and a unique team spirit. The North Kerry man insisted on all runs taking place in reverse and would charge at the players, shouting, "there is no such thing as a hamstring".  Despite all this Dara o Cinneide looks back at these sessions with fondness ¨the Mudpatch was hell but it was the best education I got in my seven years in Limerick". Just like the Mulvihill hamstring yarn there are abundant delightful stories interspersed throughout the one hundred and eighty pages of this beautifully glossy publication. Jimmy Deenihan recalls a game against St Kieran's in the Limerick semi-final in 1975. It was only a couple of weeks before the All Ireland semi-final between Kerry and Dublin but Fran Rider, Pat Spillane and Deenihan played. Could you imagine this happening to day? The students were hated in Limerick and every possible obstacle was placed in their way to pre vent them from winning the county championship. As regards the St Kieran's game trainor Dave Weldrick pulls no punches as he recalles. "It wasn't a match, it was an ambush" while Dublin star Fran rider described it as "the dirtiest game ... a filthy match ... savage".  Mick Spillane another Kerry star of the side was struck by umbrellas while taking a side line ball. "He vanished in to the crowd and re-emerged about a minute afterwards" according to Dennihan. Ryder's memory was, "this big hand came out from the crowd, pulls Spillane in, hits him a few boxes and throws him back out".

But for me one of the great sections of the book recalls the momentous year of 1978 when Thomand won the All Ireland Club Championship. They defeated Croom in the county final in 1977and the following year on their passage to All Ireland glory they took part in an epic feast of magical, memorable football as they defeated Austin Stacks, but it took four matches to separate the sides in the Munster semi-final. I have vivid memories of these games. It was Gaelic football at its beautiful, stunning best, a contest that probed the character of every single player who was fortunate to participate in those unforgettable four games.  Stacks had the greatest ever side in their illustrious history. Mickey Sheehy, Denny Long, Ger power, Ger o Keeffe, John o Keeffe, John L McElligott, some of the greatest components of the game we have ever seen, and yet Thomand triumphed at the end.

The first game played in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick ended in a draw, 2-6 each. The three re-plays and extra times took place in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and Thomand won the decisive fourth game on January 22nd 1978, 3-8 to 2-5. The author brings you behind the scenes of this unforgettable four game odyssey as trainor Dave Weldrick plotted and planned the student's victory. If anyone tells me that the football to day is far better with all its swarming, hand passing, blanket defenses, yellow and red cards and much more which has made the modern game so unattractive to many is far better than what we experienced in the seventies then let me refer them back to those memorable games of 1978. Plassey's Gales can take its place along the shelves with other great GAA books and it has recorded history in a colorful and memorable way. Packed with a multitude of stunning photographs as always Collins Press of Cork has done a superb job. As well as the Spillane brothers two more Kerrymen John o Connell and Ger Dillon were involved in this historic club All Ireland success.

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