GAA – Match Classics

With their fourth Connacht senior football title in a row already in the bag, Roscommon footballers were desperate to make the breakthrough into the All-Ireland final and The Rossies were many people’s dark horses to take the All-Ireland title in 1980. The All-Ireland semi-final saw Roscommon drawn to play the Ulster champions Armagh who had beaten Roscommon in a replay in the semi-final three years earlier. The 1980 semi-final was played on a sunny Sunday, 10th of August in Croke Park and it attracted a crowd of 36,814. It was one of the most exciting All-Ireland semi-finals ever to be played in the old stadium. Between them, the sides scored five goals and thirty-one points in what was a truly fantastic game. It also featured a massive comeback by Roscommon who at one stage in the first half were seven points behind. The Roscommon captain in 1980 was brilliant St. Faithleachs wing-back Danny Murray and here he recalls one of the best days in many decades for Roscommon football.  1980 All-Ireland SF semi-final Roscommon ………………………………………………………….. 2-20 Armagh ………………………………………………………………….. 3-11 It’s hard to know where to start describing this incredible game of football except to say that any neutrals present would have been spellbound by the entertainment on view as fortunes swung one way, then the other, for the entire 70 minutes. There were incredible goals and points, errors, brilliant play  and bravery beyond the call of duty as these two teams battled it out for a place in the All-Ireland senior football final final against Kerry or Offaly.   The weather was hot and sunny as referee Seamus Aldridge set the game in motion and the action was hot and heavy from the first whistle. The play swung from end to end. Roscommon played reasonably well in the first half but defensive mistakes ensured that Armagh took the initiative and they looked to have built a winning lead by half-time.   Joe Kernan and Colm McKinstry were on top at midfield early in the game and Armagh corner-forward Martin Murphy shot home an opportunist goal after 12 minutes. However the Roscommon attack were using what little ball they were getting to great advantage and by the 25th minute they had reduced the margin to a point, 1-5 to 0-7, with Mick Finneran, John O’Connor and Tony McManus to the fore.   However five minutes before the break disaster struck for Roscommon when a harmless looking Jimmy Smyth shot from 30 metres slipped through Gay Sheeran’s hands and into the net and by half-time Armagh had gone into a handsome 2-6 to 0-7 lead.   I remember Armagh coming on to the field after the half-time break that day and I also remember their players waiting around for ages as there was no sign of Roscommon. Referee Seamus Aldridge blew his whistle several times and waved his arms about as Roscommon delayed their re-appearance.   However whatever team manager Tom Heneghan said to his players at half-time certainly worked as Roscommon put in an awesome display of attacking football, scoring 2-13 in that remaining 35 minutes and shooting only one wide in the process.   Roscommon set about reducing the Armagh lead in scintillating fashion with four great points from play from Tony Mac, Mick Finneran (2) and John O’Gara. Then Roscommon were hit with an injury blow as Seamus Hayden had to retire after 8 minutes with a leg injury. However his replacement Marty McDermott played brilliantly when he was introduced and he and Dermot Earley wrestled the midfield domination from the Armagh men.   Armagh kicked two unanswered points to forge ahead again but Roscommon were not to be denied. Mick Finneran and Dermot Earley pointed and then Tony McManus struck home a brilliant goal to level the scores at 1-12 to 2-9. ‘Jigger’ O’Connor kicked a massive 50-metre point from play and as the end of the match came into sight Roscommon led by 1-14 to 2-10.   However the drama was not over. Peter Loughran’s long 40-metre kick somehow ended up in the Roscommon net and suddenly Armagh were back in the game with 12 minutes to go. But Roscommon were determined to get to that All-Ireland final. Captain Danny Murray burst up the field and kicked an inspirational point that had the massive Roscommon crowd on their feet.   Mick Finneran ran in along the end-line at the Hill 16 end and scored a fantastic goal and points from Tony Mac and Finneran set seal on a famous victory.    It was an exhillarating end to a fantastic game of football. Shortly afterwards Seamus Aldridge blew the final whistle and it was all over and Roscommon were in their first All-Ireland senior final since 1962.   Roscommon fans danced in the stands and wore massive smiles as they eventually made their way to their cars, buses and trains. They had just seen their heroes play the best second half of football produced by any Roscommon team for decades, and the big question now was: can The Rossies win a long-awaited All-Ireland senior title? Roscommon had qualified for the All-Ireland final and they did it in style, playing brilliant football to get there.   Danny Murray remembers that famous win against Armagh very well. ‘It was one of the best, if not the best game of football that I have ever been involved in. We show the video even still in the clubhouse after all these years and it was a great game surely’ he told me this week.   ‘We were seven points down at one stage in the first half and we came back to win it. It was interesting to note that we were seven points up in 1977 and we were beaten in a replay by Armagh’ Danny said.   ‘We had a great team that time and everyone contributed. I remember getting a point in the second half of that game. I was knocked to the ground after making a solo run but I retained possession and I got up to get the point.    ‘We played fantastic football in the second half that day and I don’t think that we ever played as well in any other game as we did that day. It was such a pity that we did not win the All-Ireland because that was a great Roscommon team. It’s a pity that we have never got that close since then’ he concluded.  Roscommon: Gay Sheeran; Harry Keegan, Pat Lindsay, Gerry Connellan; Danny Murray (capt., 0-1), Tom Donnellan, Gerry Fitzmaurice; Dermot Earley (0-3), Seamus Hayden; John O’Connor (0-4), John O’Gara (0-1), Aidan Dooley (0-1); Michael Finneran (1-8), Tony McManus (1-2), Eamonn McManus. Subs: Michael Dolphin for Eamonn McManus, Marty McDermott for Hayden. Armagh: Brian McAlinden; Dennis Stevenston, Jim McKerr, Kevin Rafferty; Brain Canavan (0-2), Jim McCorry, Joey Donnelly; Joe Kernan (0-2), Colm McKinstry; Paddy Moriarty (0-1), Jimmy Smyth (1-0), Fran McMahon; Martin Murphy (1-0), Brian Hughes (0-1), Peter Loughran (1-4). Subs Sean Devlin, Noel Marley (0-1), Hank Kernan.  Referee: Seamus Aldridge (Kildare).  Note: In the other semi-final Kerry beat Offaly by 4-14 to 4-10 in another classic game that saw Matt Connor score 2-9 for Offaly. After two fantastic semi-finals, there was huge expectation for the final between Roscommon and Kerry but as we all know now the game was a huge disappointment as Kerry beat Roscommon by 1-9 to 1-6 in a dour struggle. It was to signal the end of a glorious era for Roscommon football and it was to be 10 years before Roscommon even won another Connacht senior title.