TJ Kilgallon reflects on some memorable tussles with Roscommon
Down memory lane
TWENTY years ago next Thursday, a late point by Liam McHale looked to have given Mayo victory in the 1991 Connacht final at McHale Park, Castlebar. Then Roscommon were awarded a free 60 yards from the opposing goal.
“Three Roscommon players went to take the kick until eventually Mattie Reilly called out young Derek Duggan from the corner to have a go,” Pádraig Burns wrote in this newspaper. “And what a go he had.” The 19-year-old student’s magnificent effort forced a replay, which Roscommon won, and less than two months later, John O’Mahony had resigned as Mayo manager.
“It looked an impossible kick,” Mayo midfielder TJ Kilgallon reflected in conversation last week. “It was so far out. I suppose with time, it has got longer and longer! It’s probably 120 yards at this stage! It was a fabulous kick.”
Mayo were “disappointed” to have drawn 0-14 apiece, the Balla man recalled, “because we thought we were the better team on the day”. But although only a point separated the sides in the replay at Hyde Park, and Anthony Finnerty got the only goal, Kilgallon had “no qualms” about the outcome. “They had more possession than us throughout the game and ... they were the better team in the replay. They deserved to win.”
By 1991, John O’Mahony was “starting to rebuild” his team and players like Colm McManamon, Anthony McGarry, Peter Butler, Tony Morley and Paul McStay came onto the scene. Easy victories over London and Galway set up a clash with the Shannonsiders. The replay turned out to be O’Mahony’s last in charge before he resigned in early September.
“We all know what happened,” says Kilgallon. “John asked for his own selectors at the end of that campaign, and that didn’t happen, so he stepped down. When you look back on it now, it’s crazy to think …. now managers come in with their back-room team totally in place. You have to have it ready before you go for interview ... A simple request was not granted. He [O’Mahony] was led to believe, as far as I know, that it was going to happen. And then ... it didn’t.”
Ones that got away
REMARKABLY, that game was the third of five Connacht final meetings between the sides in six years – and the only one of those which Mayo lost.
Kilgallon, who also faced the Rossies in provincial deciders in 1980 and 1985, remains good friends with the likes of Seamus Hayden and Tony McManus.
The 1985 victory was particularly sweet. Mayo had lost three Connacht finals in a row – all to Galway. Seán Lowry and Noel Durkin scored goals on a day best remembered as Dermot Earley’s last game. But Kilgallon regrets that Mayo didn’t “follow through” on the breakthrough the following year.
“Till the day I die, I will swear that the best Mayo teams that I played on were the years ’86 and ’87,” he told The Mayo News. “There was certainly enough quality in that team to have won All-Irelands in those years.”
Yet they didn’t even win a Connacht title, losing the 1986 semi-final to Roscommon and the 1987 final to Galway. While noting they were hampered by injuries – Kilgallon himself, Mark Butler, John Maughan and Dermot Flanagan were all victims – he has a blunt explanation for their lack of success – “Just non-deliverance on the day”.
There was “a breakthrough of sorts” in 1988, when Tom Reilly’s goal in Hyde Park gave Mayo their first title under John O’Mahony, and “a bigger breakthrough” in 1989. Having drawn in McHale Park, they won a “famous” replay in the Hyde, where Jimmy Burke’s ‘pushover try’ set up a meeting with Tyrone which resulted in Mayo’s first All-Ireland final appearance since 1951.
Hopes were high that Mayo were on the cusp of landing the big one. But they lost to Galway in 1990, a game Kilgallon missed through injury. “That time there was no qualifiers, no back door. If you were gone, you had a lonely summer,” he explains.
Life after Johnno
THE players were “very disappointed” by John O’Mahony’s departure the following year, says Kilgallon – “especially when there wasn’t a queue up for the position”.
Four people were nominated for the post – O’Mahony, Patrick Francis Gallagher (Achill), Joe Corcoran (Ardnaree) and John Maughan, who didn’t allow his name go forward and stuck with Clare. The other three were interviewed, but the job ultimately went to Brian McDonald.
“A Connacht title was won, and won very convincingly, in Castlebar,” says Kilgallon, recalling that the 1992 decider will be best remembered for Enon Gavin breaking the crossbar. “The semi-final display against Donegal was not good.”
McDonald’s tenure ended in controversy – “There wasn’t good harmony there, I suppose, between the two sides,” says Kilgallon. “The players … felt that they were being looked down on and not treated like adults … As a general group, then, we decided to try and do something about it. And we all know what happened then.”
The so-called ‘Brian McDonald affair’ ended with the Dubliner’s replacement by Jack O’Shea, who brought Kilgallon on as a sub for what would be the schoolteacher’s last provincial decider. Few who were in the Hyde will disagree with his assessment that the 1993 Connacht final was “probably the poorest … of all time”, but Ray Dempsey’s goal clinched another Nestor Cup. An “almighty embarrassing hammering” from Cork brought down the curtain on Kilgallon’s long inter-county career.
“Of all the different counties I’ve met over the years, I suppose I still remain closest ... with the Roscommon lads,” he concluded. “There was never any real incidents in any of the games – I don’t remember any sort of nastiness at any stage. There was more of a tension there between us and Galway, even though a lot of us would have been in college together in the early ’80s. Between ourselves and Roscommon, there was fair rivalry but there was always respect.”