Cavan Legend Mick Higgins Dies

February 2nd, 2010
by Weeshie Fogarty

Last week the historic 1947 All Ireland Polo Grounds Football final re-visited my life within the space of two days in the most remarkable and amazing way. Most people will be familiar with the game and the fact that it was the only All Ireland final played in America. Not alone that but it is the only final played outside this country. One of the secrets of Kerry football is the deep and highly knowledgeable debates and discussions that take place in the pubs and meeting places of this county. It is on the high stool that you will learn great and exciting things about Kerry, its football and its history.

And so it was last Wednesday when I paid a customary visit to one of the great GAA debating public houses of this county. Jimmy Brien's of College St Killarney. Here as in many other hostelries of similar nature you are guaranteed to meet and fall into conversation with others who you will quickly discover generally know far more about Kerry football and its history than yourself.  He introduced himself as Jack Kennedy and as he uttered his first words it was as plain as day that he was American born, or as they say "he was a yank". "My father was John Kennedy from just outside Dingle town and he immigrated to America as a very young boy and as with most Kerryman football was his great passion" he told me. Our conversation centered on his memories of his late father and also in our company was another great Kerry GAA activists Pat Golden the landlord of the famous Caitins Pub down in Kells.

Then the conversation drifted on to the Polo grounds final in 1947 and Jack recounted the following story. "My dear late mother was from Cavan, from Ballyjamesduff, and when we learned that Kerry were to play Cavan in that final you could sense the tension beginning to build up in our home. We lived in Boston and my father as a young man played football there with one of the local teams, he was also great friends with John Joe Sheehy".  Jack then showed us a beautiful gold medal that he had hanging from a silver chain around his neck. Suitable inscribed and presented from the Gaels of Boston to John Kennedy in thanks for his magnificent contribution to the GAA in Boston. "When my dad died I took possession of this medal" he told us "and treasure greatly. On the day before the All Ireland final my father dressed up in his best suit, shirt and tie and headed for New York.  Days later he returned and the fact that Kerry had lost and my mother being a Cavan women went down very poorly. There was no word spoken in the house and they slept for ninthly days in separate beds. The Polo grounds final was very nearly the cause of their marriage breaking up". A remarkable story indeed.

And then the following day I received word that the legendary Mick Higgins had died. Mick Higgins was Cavan's 1952 All Ireland winning captain. He was 87 year old. Mick was also a member of the Cavan side which made history by winning that Polo grounds final in 1947 and sadly had been the only surviving member of the team that started at the Polo Grounds. Born in New York, he returned to his mothers native town of Kilnaleck Cavan when he was five years old and went on to play for the club before moving to Mountnugent with whom he won a Cavan senior County title in 1946. In 1948 Mick helped the Breffni County to retain their All Ireland title when they defeated Mayo in the final. The following year Cavan were denied three-in-a-row when they fell to Meath in Croke Park. Cavan have not appeared in another All Ireland final since 1952 when Mick Higgins captained to the Sam Maguire Cup.

I had the great honor of spending some time with this Cavan legend on two occasions. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of that unique 1947 occasion the GAA hosted another meeting of the two sides in Downing Stadium New York in 1997. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threw in the ball and we saw another memorable display from the great Maurice Fitzgerald as Kerry won that National League game. Kerry was managed by Paidi o Se and Martin McHugh was in charge of Cavan. At a lavish reception following the match the late Liam Higgins and I both there on behalf of Radio Kerry spend a memorable and never to be forgotten few hours in the company of Mick, his team mates John Wilson and Tony Tighe together with Kerry legends Denny Lyne, Dan Kavanagh, Eddie Dowling, Batt Garvey, Eddie Walsh and Mick Finucane.  Some years later I travelled to Dublin at the invitation of Jimmy McGee and his sports writing colleges to attend a final get together of the surviving members of this historic final. Once again it was a wonderful occasion and even poignant as I watched these old adversaries embrace and swat stories of bygone days.

Late in the evening I sat in a quite corner and chatted to Mick and his memories of the great day in 1947 were crystal clear in his mind. "We travelled by plane "he recalled "and surprisingly Kerry opted to go by boat and this gave us a clear advantage of extra training. It was a boiling hot day and it got even more roasting as the game went on" he continued in his soft voice."Kerry took the sensible option of wearing white jockey-type caps as protection against the blazing sun and they raced into a commanding eight point lead. Then Eddie Dowling went off injured, PJ Duke went to wing back for us, John Joe Reilly began to dominate and as we were the younger, faster side we went on for a great victory". I put it to him that Kerry had two goals disallowed and his honest answer said it all. "If they had been allowed Kerry would have been the All Ireland championships, but that's sport". Then he concluded by adding, it was a great experience but, funnily, the Polo Grounds hadn't nearly the same atmosphere even though there was around 35,000 people at the game and who knows maybe we wouldn't have won the Sam Maguire if the final had been played in Croke Park?". As I bad him farewell never to se him again I asked this exemplary Cavan gentleman what he would like to be remembered for he replied, "that I never hit anyone, I played a clean game, and I was never put off.

All members of the great Cavan team have now answered that final whistle. Four members of the Kerry side thankfully are still with us. Frank o Keeffe, Mick Finucane, Eddie Dowling and Gus Cremin. Surly some body or authority will bring these four great men together for one last time. A little function, a few final photographs for the archives and a word of thanks for their contribution to the Secret of Kerry.

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