1968 Kerry and Longford - A Thrilling Encounter

July 25th, 2006
by Weeshie Fogarty

There is undoubtely a certain amount of unease around the county in relation to the form being shown by our boys in the championship to date. Next Sundays match against Longford is the centre of attention and I can assure followers that events in the lead up to the last and only meeting of these two counties in the championship in 1968 were far far more depressing than any feelings of trepidation this week. So instead of joining in with the rest of the hurlers on the ditch and telling the selectors what should and should not be done and how the game should be played and who should be on the starting fifteen etc. etc. lets go back in time and examine the events of the middle sixties. In particular 1968 when Kerry and Longford met in that years All Ireland semi final.

It is I believe fair to say that the football scene in relation to our county side was in turmoil and the followers of the green and gold were experiencing some of the worst displays ever given by a Kerry team. Down had beaten us in 1960 and '61. Dr Eamon o Sullivan came back and guided the county to victory over Roscommon in 1962; (it proved to be the last of his eight victories as Kerry trainer). However things were to go drastically down hill for the next five years. Galway beat us in two finals and a semi-final during the following three years and in 1966 and '67 Cork beat their old rivals in the Munster finals.

The period coincided with the retirement of some of the greatest players the game has ever seen. Johnny Culloty, Mick o Dwyer, Mick o Connell and Seamus Murphy had all departed the scene, (they were still playing club and county championship football) and it was impossible to fill their boots. Being on the goalkeeping circuit myself during that period I have vivid memories of the merry-go–round of goalkeepers being played in an effort to replace Johnny. Peter Hanley, (Kenmare), Josie o Brien, (Kerins o Rahillys), Seamus Fitzgerald, (An Gaeltaght), Eamon o Donoghue, RIP. (Ballylongford), and Teddy Bowler, (Glenbeigh/Glenbeigh), were all tested between the sticks at one time or another.

Indeed things were in such disarray during these black years for Kerry football that the selectors at the time were chopping and changing to such an extent that Teddy Bowler was in goal for the 1966 final and the following year he was full back. One of the great fielders of the ball Teddy was an outstanding defender. Then in 1967 the late great Eamon o Donoghue a forward of great poise and a gentleman was selected in goal for the Munster final and what drama we witnessed that day as rain swept across the old Athletic grounds and turned the field into a quagmire. Two minutes remaining, Kerry trailing by a point. They are awarded a free some twenty five yards from the posts and about half way between the goal and the side line. We then saw one of the most bizarre substitutions for many a long day. The Kerry selectors decided to bring Eamon o Donoghue out from goal to corner forward to kick the free which would decide The Kingdome fate. John "Thorny" o Shea was called ashore and they replaced Eamon in goals by Josie o Brien.

Now with a dry ball it would not have offered much of a problem for Eamon but "the lump of soap" which was handed to him was a completely different kettle of fish even for a sweet free kicker like Eamon. And lets forget that it was the old pig skin football which would become as heavy as lead when it soaked in the water. The suspense was killing as he moved up to take the kick and although he had the height and distance the ball curled around the far post and Kerry had failed by a matter of mere inches to snatch a draw. Teddy Bowler at full back was Kerry's man of the match. Cork won that '67 Munster final eight points to seven.

My own club man Jackie Lyne was appointed trainer early in 1968. He had trained us, (The Legion) to win the o Donoghue Cup the previous year. His only training experience up to that. Kerry beat Cork in a classic Munster final 1-21 to 3-8 and Longford won their one and only Leinster final beating Laois 3-9 to 1-4. They were the talk of the country as one would expect. So it was a first ever championship meeting between Kerry and Longford and what an enthralling encounter they provided for 35,000 spectators, as Kerry prevailed at the end on the score 2-13 to 2-11.

One scribe summed it up beautifully. Kerry and Longford held us spellbound in Croke Park yesterday. This was football of the highest order; played hard, honestly and with dare devil abandon, particularly in a spellbinding second half. It was rip roaring stuff of sheer grandeur. There was almost reckless dedication and courageous vigor; there was football elegantly skilled in concept and execution.

All the finest arts and crafts of the game were splendidly demonstrated, eager fielding, safe catching, high fielding, intelligent kicking and constructive movement that dove tailed into an over all wonderful pattern of play. Yes indeed and my own memories of that historic clash are of a superb match. Where to day would you read such gushing praise of two teams, very rarely? This was the football many people yearn for to day. The game has changed beyond all recognition and not all for the best unfortunately. .

While I am on the subject of the game to day a former all time great player remarked to me lately in a long deep conversation of Gaelic football. "The association has improved so dramatically in all areas from my time, as good as any sporting body in the world, except in the game of football it self. The most important area of all, sadly it has deteriorated so much that it simply not Gaelic football any more but a form of swarming basketball". I believe the man is correct.

So this was the game we watched thirty eight years ago as Kerry advanced to meet Down in the final. Kerry led at the short whistle 2-7 to 0-6, Pat Griffin the man of the match, (Longford tried four different men on him) and Dom o Donnell getting the goals. Longford turned in a scintilling second half display. Kerry added two quick points on the re start to go nine points up but then came the Longford fight back. They were magnificent. Tom Mulvihill goaled from close in, Jackie Devine blasted home a penalty and with eight minutes to go they were dramatically ahead. Kerry responded in great style. The brilliant Mick o Connell pulling them down from the clouds set up Mick o Dwyer and Din Joe Crowley for points. Eighteen year old rising star Brendan Lynch lofted over two magnificent points and the Kingdom survived. It might have been a completely different story however if the recalled to goal Johnny Culloty had not saved brilliantly from Jackie Devine at the railway goal when he dived full length to keep out a bullet low down from Jackie Devine lat in the hour. It was dramatic stuff indeed. Wonderful memories.

The story of Kerry football is littered with great stories and '68 provided its own. Kerry Past played the Kerry Present in a trial early in February in Tralee and the result was the talk of the county. The past? beat the present 2-13 to 3-8. Mick o Connell, Mick o Dwyer and Seamus Murphy had retired but following this trial Jackie Lyne persuaded them to return to the county panel. Of all the trials played in this county it is safe to declare that this one literally changed the face of Kerry football. The greats returned and Kerry won two more All Irelands and four national Leagues all because this trial was held. It was bad news for Longford of course because together with the trial Johnny Culloty returned the Monday before the game when Jackie Lyne and Tadge Crowley persuaded him to play against Longford. He trained with the team for just one night.

That winning Kerry team was;
Johnny Culloty, Seamus Murphy, Paud o Donoghue, Seanie Burrows, Denis o Sullivan, Mike o Shea, Donie o Sullivan, Mick o Connell, (0-1), Mick Fleming, Brendan Lynch, (0-4, Pat Griffin, Cap. (1-4), Eamon o Donoghue, (0-1), Dom o Donnell, (1-0), D J Crowley, (0-2) Mick o Dwyer, (0-1)
Subs that played, Declan Lovett, Pat Moynihan. Tom Prendergast was injured and cried off the team.

For the record those two teams that played that famous trial in February 1968.. A real who's who of Kerry football The past won 2-13 to 3-8. Over two thousand attended.

The Past:  Johnny Culloty, Pa Kerins, Joe Joe Barrett, Sean Og Sheehy, Mickey Walsh, Pat Moynihan, Colm Callaghan, Mick o Connell,(1-0), Brian Sheehy, Bernie o Callaghan, (0-1), Mick o Dwyer,(1-8), Derry o Shea,(0-1), Tom Long, Niall Sheehy, John "Thorny" o Shea. (0-3).

The Present:  Liam Higgins, Derry Crowley, Paud o Donoghue, Seanie Burrows, Tom Prendergast, Declan Lovett, Pat Ahern, Mick Fleming, John Bunyan, John Saunders, (0-2), Pat Griffin, (0-1), Paudie Finnegan, Eamon o Donoghue, (1-0), Donie o Sullivan,(1-5), Tim Kelleher, (1-0).     
And what of next Saturdays game. Well two weeks ago here I expressed reservations in relation to our form and said that there were lingering doubts about our chances in beating Cork in that re-play. Kieran Donnaghy loss was huge and too many players were just off form. I expect a confident Kerry win this time around, Colm Cooper is I believe running back to his best and scores will come from him. Every one has learned greatly from the two Cork matches. I believe the selectors will bring in fresh faces, and legs, from the men on the bench. This Kerry team is far from finished and it's a small thing that would not get the attack free wheeling and jelling once again.

The players and management deserve all our backing. Supporter must come out in force and get behind the boys. Their commitment is as great if not greater that any Kerry side I have followed in the last fifty years. One step away from their second home, Croke Park. I am confident of a much improved performance;  Jack o Conner, Pat Flanagan, Johnny Culloty and Ger o Keeffe have no notion of giving up All Ireland ambitions. We wish them well in their quest.

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