Memories of Crokes and Legion in the 1961 ODonoghue Cup Final

December 10th, 2013
by Weeshie Fogarty

It's difficult to believe but when The Crokes and Legion line up for the throw in at next Sundays o Donoghue Cup final in Fitzgeralds Stadium it will be the very first time since 1961 these Killarney town rivals have met at this stage of the competition. Yes an astonishing fifty two years since the black and amber have faced the green and white to decide who will lift the famous old trophy first played for in 1954 and won then by The Legion. However it's long road that has no turning and for those of us who were playing that day away back in 1961 it's a surreal experience to peer back through the mists of time and see the massive changes, for better or for indeed for worse that have taken place not alone in both clubs but in our town and life in general.

As a then 17 year old I had played on defeated teams by The Crokes in the finals of 1958-59-60 and 1961 was going to be another heartbreaking loss as one of my close friends of the time and still is today Crokes captain Jackie Looney had the honour of lifting the o Donoghue Cup. There was just one point between the sides as Crokes registered their sixth win in-a-row on a score 2-9 to 2-8.  I had played in goal for the previous three finals, but was now operating on the forty. Johnny Healy our mid fielder and I goaled in the first half while Eamon o Donoghue the winners full forward found the net at the other end. Eamon (RIP) was a neighbor and friend and one of the great Kerry snooker and billiard players and also represented Kerry in basketball.

Centre back for the winners that day and my direct opponent was the late Michael o Connor from the Ross Road, Killarney and he would go on to achieve great things in the Association becoming Munster Council Chairman and much more. Full back for my club that day and trainor of our team also gone to his eternal reward was another renowned Gael. Gerald o Sullivan from Ballycasheen, Killarney. Gerald was one of the great Kerry players, and was on the Kerry team from 1946-56 wining his All Ireland medal in that famous Jubilee final of 1953, sixty years ago this year. He was one of the best fielders of a ball I have ever seen. He was a member of the Kerry panel in the Polo grounds New York for that historic 1946 All Ireland final, his brother Teddy played center field that day and an amazing direct link sees Gerald's exemplary son Michael a member of The Legion panel next Sunday.

Great names, memorable games of that era remain etched in the memory. Donie Sheehan was the Croke trainor of that time while two of my great boyhood friends Con o Mara and Con Clifford played a huge part in their clubs O Donoghue Cup winning run back then with Liam Murphy, Paddy "Bomber 'o Shea, his brother Murt, Johnny Hurley, and Patsy Moynihan. Among my team mates were Louis Nolan, Noel o Connor, Mick Sullivan, Dan o Keeffe who won an All Ireland basketball medal with Kerry, their first in 1957, Jimmy Redpath who played championship football and hurling with Kerry and Jimmy o Mahoney. The referee of the final that year was James o Donoghue, (RIP), also chairman of the board and grandfather to our present Legion star forward James o Donoghue who last week was named as Munster footballer of the year. A richly deserved honour for this unassuming young man. .

It was an exciting period in history. 1961 was a different time, a different age. John F Kennedy became President of America, The Beatles made their first appearance in the Liverpool Caravan Club; Floyd Patterson knocked out the Swede Ingermar Johansson in the sixth round to become heavyweight champion of the world. Burl Ives was top of the Christmas charts with his rendering of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and if you were thinking of going dancing that Sunday night of the o Donoghue Cup final in the now demolished Killarney New Town Hall you would dance the night away to maybe, The Capitol, The Miami, The Blue Aces or The Royal Showband. Patsy Cline, Elvis, Danny Williams, Frankie Vaughan and Del Shannon were top of the pops and Radio Luxembourg was our favourite station. April 1961 saw Yuri Gagarin become the first human to orbit the earth and we had our first glimpse of the wonders of television when Telefis Eireann was launched.

The old pig skin football was in full use and would become like a ton weight on a wet day and following heavy rain the goal mouths in Fitzgeralds Stadium became swamp like and the terrace there was of grass steps and not a crash barrier to be seen. Health and safety was for the birds.  We togged out in the Glebe Hotel and walked up to the Stadium. Weigh training was unheard of and it was years later the Maxi McCarthy and Angus o Donoghue (1982) opened the first gyms in Killarney.

The following year 1962 both clubs again qualified for the final but the game was decided in the board room. Crokes had a player chosen to play for Kerry, they looked to have the game deferred, The Legion claimed the notice was too short and refused the application. It went to the county board then to the Munster Council who upheld the county board's decision in favor of a replay which The Legion refused and Crokes were awarded the game. 

My sixth attempt to win the coveted medal was again frustrated in 1964. I had transferred to St Finans my new place of work, helped them to the final but Crokes were again too good, we lost 2-5 to 0-4. Perseverance is a great thing and I finally reached the Holy Grail winning that medal in 1967 as we beat Rathmore in a cracker, 1-11 to 2-4. So who will triumph next Sunday? All the smart money will be on the holders going for an amazing 8-in-a-row wins. But for me to see over fifty townies togged out in Fitzgeralds Stadium in this 59th o Donoghue Cup final represents all that is great and good where the GAA is concerned in our beautiful town. My heart is well and truly with my club, I would be a complete hypocrite if I said otherwise but this is really great Croke team one of the best have seen in the last 60 years.

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