Hayden: Kerry scalp in ’78 was ‘mighty’

Roscommon football was on a high as the 1970’s progressed. The Connacht minor title win in 1975 was followed by senior success in the Connacht  Championship in 1977 and 1978 (next week the Connacht Senior Final in 1978 is our featured game) and with the county on a high there was always a good chance that the 1978 U-21 team would do very well. Under the guidance of manager Tom Heneghan, it was a long drawn-out but memorable campaign as Roscommon won their first All-Ireland title since 1966 and to add to the sense of achievement, they defeated the mighty Kerry, who featured six multi All-Ireland senior medal winners and were in the middle of their greatest glory era. The  final which was played before a huge crowd at Dr. Hyde Park, Roscommon. Midfielder Seamus Hayden captained the team to victory on a famous day for Roscommon football. 1978 All-Ireland U-21 Final  Roscommon ………………………………………………………. 1-9 Kerry ………………………………………………………………… 1-8  In the Connacht U-21 Championship in 1978 Roscommon played their first game on the 7th of May, defeating Sligo by 5-7 to 1-4 in Hyde Park. The remarkable thing about that game was that Aidan McHugh scored four goals for Roscommon.   The Connacht Final was played on the 31st July in Ballinasloe and it was a real thriller. Roscommon scored a spectacular goal at the end of the game to win by the narrowest of margins – Roscommon 3-9 (18) Galway 2-11 (17).   The All-Ireland semi-final was played on a day of unpleasant weather at Dr. Hyde Park, Roscommon on 10th September – and Roscommon emerged from a real battle by 0-8 to 0-7, to reach the All-Ireland final.   Disaster struck for Roscommon player Greg McCrann on the week before the semi-final as he was involved in a car accident on the way home from the other semi-final between Kerry and Louth in Drogheda – and a broken collarbone meant that his championship was over.   There were feverish negotiations about where the U-21 final would be played. Roscommon and Kerry senior footballers had also qualified for the Ceannaris Tournament final (which was played betwwen the four All-Ireland senior semi-finalists) so the U-21 final and the senior match would be an ideal double-header – but where would it be played?   Kerry were going for three All-Ireland U-21 titles in a row and Rocommon argued that many of the Kerry players had a lot of experience playing in Croke Park so it would be unfair on the Roscommon players to play the game at headquarters. There was delight in Roscommon circles when Kerry agreed to play both games at Dr. Hyde Park on October 15th, 1978.   Kerry featured six  players on their U-21 team who had already won All-Ireland senior medals and who were to go on to win many more, making them red-hot favourites for the game.   A crowd of over 15,000 people – the vast majority of them Roscommon supporters – gathered in Hyde Park for the double-header and the day got off to  great start when Roscommon won the Ceannaris final by 1-16 to Kerry’s 2-4. The stage was set for the U-21 decider.   The game did not disappoint. It was a thriller and Roscommon team manager Tom Heneghan had his troops ready for the fray. They tore into their much-vaunted opponents from the start and the game, played on a crisp, dry day, kept the big crowd spellbound throughout.   Harry Crowley opened the scoring for Roscommon in the 3rd minute with a point and Tony McManus followed up with another Roscommon point two minutes later.    Kerry corner-forward Mick Spillane scored a good point to open the Kingdom scoring after eight minutes but Gerry Emmett, who was to go to give a ‘Man of the Match’ display at centre half-forward, got his first point of the day after 16 minutes. Mick Finneran was on target with an 18th minute free before the rampant Emmett flashed over another great Roscommon point in the 21st minute.   Gerry Fitzmaurice and Seamus Hayden were running the show at midfield and they totally overshadowed no less a partnership than Jack O’Shea and Seanie Walsh. Up front Emmett was causing havoc and he was aided and abetted by Tony McManus and Harry Crowley.   Further back Peter Dolan was having the game of his life and the highly-rated Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston -who had scored three goals in the All-Ireland senior final against Dublin a few weeks before – was marked out of the game. Des Newton, a newcomer to the team, was also playing very well. But it was a team effort as every Roscommon player did their bit on the day.    Tom Bridgeman got Kerry’s second point in the 25th minute but Emmett grabbed his third point in the 29th minute to leave Roscommon ahead by 0-6 to 0-2 at the break.   Roscommon began the second half well and Tony McManus was on target with a great point after only two minutes. Kerry were under pressure and points from Spillane and a Bridgeman free did reduce the gap but Emmett restored the lead with the point of the game aftre 15 minutes.   However Kerry then enjoyed their best spell and two quick points from Bridgemen (free) and Dennis Higgins (the only Kerry forward to score from play) narrowed the gap to two points, making it 0-8 to 0-6 by the 18th minute.   The came a vital score for Roscommon with ten minutes to go. Sub Aidan Dooley made good progress down the centre before passing to Seamus Hayden, who spotted Gerry Fitzmaurice thundering towards the Kerry goal. Hayden’s pass was a good one and Fitzmaurice almost burst the Kerry net with a brilliant goal. Roscommon supporters went wild as they sensed a famous win was now very possible. Two minutes later Harry Crowley left Roscommmon leading by 1-9 to 0-6 with 8 minutes left.   Seanie Walsh was on target with a Kerry free in the 26th minute and with three minutes left Jack O’Shea punched a Kerry goal after a good pass from Dennis Higgins. Suddenly there was only two points in it. Roscommon had dominated the game but were now hanging on. Mick Spillane did get a point in injury-time but Roscommon had done enough and they had won the All-Ireland title against all the odds.   The scenes at the final whistle will remain with this writer forever and were only surpassed in Ennis in 2006. Thousands of delirious Roscommon followers swarmed on to the field to greet their heroes. The Clarke Cup was presented to the Roscommon captain Seamus Hayden by the President of the Ulster Council, who was standing in for the absent GAA President. It was a fantastic game, a brilliant victory – an All-Ireland football title for Roscommon and a win against Kerry in the final too!   ‘Captain Fantastic’ himself Seamus Hayden recalls that day with pride. ‘It was a mighty win. Kerry were going for three in a row and it was a great boost to be able to play them on our own home pitch. I remember that our manager Tom Heneghan was playing for the Roscommon seniors that day. He came into the dressing room before the game when the senior game was over and there was a massive atmosphere there’ Seamus said this week.   ‘We knew that Kerry had some fantastic players but we were confident that we could catch them on the hop. I think that they (Kerry) may have been a bit over-confident. They thought they only had to turn up to win but we were ready for them’ he said.    ‘They (Roscommon) were a mighty bunch of lads and they were brilliant all that year. Every single one of them contributed to that All-Ireland win and a lot of the lads went on to play at senior level for Roscommon. However even the lads that didn’t play senior were great guys.    ‘We had a reunion a few years ago and every one of the lads, bar one, were there and that man just couldn’t come. They came from all over the world to be there. That’s a measure of the kind of lads they are’ he said.   ‘Peter Dolan had a magnificent game on ‘The Bomber’ at full-back. Seamus Tighe was also another great player. Gerry Emmett was the star of the attack that day and of course we had Tony Mac and ‘Speedy’ Finneran. It was a great team’ he said.   ‘The celebrations were fantastic. We went into the Royal Hotel for the night after the game. It was great to be at home. Everyone knew exactly where they were going, not like the aftermath of a game in Dublin or elsewhere. The following night we went on a tour of the county with the cup.    ‘There was a great atmosphere in the county. We had beaten the great Kerry in an All-Ireland final. It was a great feeling and to win it on our own pitch was even better. A magic day and a great honour for me to be the captain of the team’ Seamus concluded. Roscommon: Brendan Kenny; Des Newton, Peter Dolan, Seamus Tighe; Gerry Connellan, Richie O’Beirne, Eddie Egan; Seamus Hayden (capt.), Gerry Fitzmaurice (1-0); Michael Finneran (0-1), Gerry Emmett (0-4), Coman Reynolds; Aidan McHugh, Harry Crowley (0-2), Tony McManus (0-2). Sub:  Aidan Dooley for McHugh. Kerry: C Nelligan; M Keane, V O’Connor, M Spillane (0-3); G Lynch, J Mulvihill, G Casey; J O’Shea (1-0), S Walsh (0-1); T Bridgeman (0-3), D Higgins (0-1), JL McGelligot; P Foley, E Liston, P Sheehan. Sub: D Coffey for Sheehan. Referee: Seamus Murray (Monaghan).