The Classics Revisited

Finnegan recalls dramatic ’74 League Final climax  In 1973/74 the Roscommon County GAA Board appointed its first official senior football team manager, Sean Young from Boyle. Roscommon qualified for the National Football League final in 1974. Their opponents were Kerry, who had in their ranks many players who went on to win several All-Ireland senior football medals in the following years. One of the stars of that Roscommon team was Castlerea St. Kevins’ attacker Jimmy  Finnegan who remembers that pulsating game in Croke Park well, as he recalled with Seamus Duke….. 1974 NFL Final (drawn game)  Roscommon 0-9      Kerry 1-6 Following on from their heroics in winning the Connacht Senior Football Championship in 1972 there was a new impetus about the Roscommon senior football team in the early 1970’s.   Even though the Rossies did not win the Connacht Championship in 1973 there were several very accomplished young footballers emerging in the county to add to the ones who had tasted glory in 1972.    In a very good league campaign through late 1973 and early 1974 Roscommon emerged to contest the semi-finals where they met fellow Connacht men and the Mickey Kerins-inspired Sligo in Croke Park.   Roscommon’s senior footballers were now under a new team manager which was a new departure in the county and the first-ever official Roscommon  team manager was Boyle-based Derryman Sean Young.   That semi-final was a high-quality and well-contested game which ended level at 0-12 each.  The replay was played in McHale Park in Castlebar before an attendance of over 20,000 people and on that occasion Roscommon proved too good for their neighbours and won by 0-16 to 0-10 to reach the league final where they would play gaelic football’s aristocrats, Kerry, in Croke Park on the 12th of May, 1974.   It was a foul day weather-wise with heavy, persistent rain faling throughout the whole game. I went to the game on the train on a Roscommon Gaels trip and I remember being in the Hogan Stand.   There was a surprisingly small crowd at that game (12,541) but there was at least 10,000 Roscommon supporters there and they made a massive noise on the day. Kerry had very few supporters at the game as Kerry followers are notorious for ignoring anything other than the biggest championship games.   The terrible weather meant that fancy football was at a premium on the day and the old cliché of defences being on top was entirely appropriate.   The Roscommon defence in particular tied up the much-vaunted Kerry forward-line with a brilliant display. Man of the match was full-back Pat Lindsay, who caught and cleared ball after ball.    Roscommon started the better team but Kerry got on top in the second quarter and with Mike Sheehy  and Paudie Lynch doing well for them, they led Roscommon by 0-4 to 0-2 at half-time.   However Roscommon came out in the second half a changed outfit and they tore into the Kingdom. Dermot Earley and John O’Gara were on top at midfield and the Roscommon forwards began to motor.    Mickey Freyne was everywhere as Roscommon took the game to The Kingdom. Jimmy Finnegan, Tom Heneghan (at full-forward!), Dermot Earley and Michael McNamara were all prominent as Roscommon built up a 0-8 to 0-4 lead after 23 minutes.    It was looking good for Roscommon to clinch their first-ever league title as they completely dominated the play, and against the odds-on favourites too! Kerry got two points to bring the margin back to two but when Finnegan made it 0-9 to 0-6 for Roscommon going into the final minute it looked like it was going to be Rocommon’s day.    I remember standing out on the sideline on the Hogan Stand side of the field with hundreds of Roscommon supporters as we prepared to ‘invade’ the field and salute our heroes. It was only a few seconds to League glory – and against the mighty Kingdom in Croke Park!   Then out of the blue Kerry struck in the final seconds. Mickey O’Sullivan made his way down the Hogan Stand side of the field and he delivered a high, hopeful ‘Hail Mary’ ball in towards the Roscommon goalmouth. Several players rose for the ball but the man who rose highest was Kerry full-forward John Egan who fisted the ball to the Roscommon net.   I remember the ground going almost silent except for a few Kerry cheers as the ball nestled in the Roscommon net. The ball was kicked out quickly and I recall Jimmy Finnegan catching the ball but immediately Patsy Devlin (the referee) blew the final whistle and the game had ended in a draw.   I folded up my flag and climbed back over the wire to leave Croke Park. We would be back. We would do it the next day surely. It was not to be unfortunately as two weeks later Kerry exacted full revenge to take the title on a scoreline of 0-14 to 0-8.   However on that first rainy day many Roscommon footballers came of age. The defence in particular was fantastic. Pat Lindsay had probably his best-ever game for Roscommon that day and some of his fielding had to be seen to be believed. All the other defenders payed their part too. Dave Watson,  Tony Regan, Gerry Mannion, Harry Keegan and captain John Kirrane were all in brilliant form as they kept out the Kerry attack.   Padraig Whyte was ever-dependable in the goalkeeper’s position and could not be blamed for the only ball that passed him. At midfield Dermot Earley and young John O’Gara ruled the roost all through while up front Roscommon did very well. John Kelly, Mickey Freyne (in a roving role) and Michael McNamara did well and inside, Jimmy Finnegan, Tom Heneghan (in a new position at full-forward!) and Tom Donnellan played their part too,  as did subs Jimmy Mannion and Hughie Griffin.   Ace Roscommon and Castlerea St. Kevins attacker Jimmy Finnegan fondly remembers that day and the lead-up to the game.    ‘Sean Young was brought in as Roscommon’s first-ever official team manager and he was an  excellent coach. He had played midfield for Derry and he had great ideas and was brilliant tactically. On the day of that drawn league final he played Mickey Freyne in a free role that was totally new in gaelic football – and it worked a treat too’ he said.    ‘We progressed after winning the Connacht title in ’72 and it was ironic that it was Kerry and ourselves that played in the final Cardinal Cushing Games in New York in 1973 – and that was a great bonding experience for us and for  Kerry too.   ‘We had a great league campaign and I remember the two games against a very good Sligo team in the semi-final, particularly the replay which drew a huge crowd to Castlebar’ he said.    ‘The final was played in a very wet day in Croke Park and the whole Roscommon team played so well that day. We probably dropped our guard late in the second half when the winning post was in view and we let Kerry in for a killer goal. It’s probably because Roscommon were not used to closing out these big games when they were winning’ Jimmy observed.    ‘We didn’t know it then but our chance had gone and I remember sitting in Croke Park the day of the replay watching Dublin play in the curtain-raiser in the Leinster Championship. They went on to win the All-Ireland that very year which was also ironic. However I think that the Roscommon football revival started with that team of 1972-73 and ’74 and we were a match for any team in the country that time. It was, a great time to be involved’ he said.   Jimmy Finnegan was one of Roscommon’s most prolific attackers at that time and he went to to play for Roscommon and Castlerea for many years after that. He has been involved with Roscommon teams – minor, U-21 and senior – for the past three decades since his retirement as a player.  Final score: Roscommon 1-6  Kerry 0-9. Roscommon: Padraig Whyte; Harry Keegan, Pat Lindsay, Gerry Mannion; Tony Regan, Dave Watson, John Kirrane (capt.); Mickey Freyne, John O’Gara; John Kelly, Dermot Earley, Michael McNamara; Jimmy Finnegan, Tom Heneghan, Tom Donnellan. Subs: Hughie Griffin and Jimmy Mannion. Kerry: Paudie O’Mahoney; Donie O’Sullivan, Paud O’Donoghue, Derry Crowley; Ger Power, Paudie Lynch, Ger O’Keeffe; John Long, John O’Keeffe; Pat Spillane, Mickey O’Sullivan, Jackie Walsh; Mike Sheehy, John Egan, Seamus Fitzgerald. Subs: Eamonn O’Donoghue and Paidi O’Se.  Referee: Patsy Devlin (Tyrone).