James Laffey’s outstanding book is a treat for anyone with an interest in either county
AFTER last Sunday’s National League clash in Salthill, the question on everyone’s lips is: ‘Will Galway beat Mayo in the Connacht championship on May 13?’
It’s a question that has echoed down the generations and in his latest book, James Laffey charts the fascinating rivalry between the two counties in the 1960s.
The bare facts may not hint at much of a rivalry — Galway won three All-Irelands and six Connacht titles in the decade while all Mayo managed was two Connacht championships.
But the rivalry remained fierce due to the proximity of the counties, and the huge social links between Galway and Mayo.
History is frequently written by the winners and at times there was a gulf between the counties in the 1960s. But, as Laffey notes, when the rivalry was at its height in 1966 and 1967, whoever won the derby was fancied to go all the way to All-Ireland glory.
Galway won in 1966 and completed the three-in-a-row. Mayo finally got their first Connacht title of the decade the following year but fell disappointingly to Meath.
But the book is about so much more than football.
The tag line to ‘Will Galway beat Mayo? is ‘How a 1960s’ GAA rivalry reawakened the west’.
The GAA is said to be the beating heart of rural Ireland and in his book Laffey examines the symbiosis between the GAA and its society.
To understand the players and the two teams, the former Mayo News journalist explored their personal backgrounds, where they came from and how life was in the 1960s from a social, political, economic and cultural perspective.
He goes back into the 1950s and the aftermath of Mayo’s back to back All-Irelands to set the scene for the years in which the stars of the 1960s grew up. For those of us from a younger generation, it is a fascinating insight into an age before our time.
For people of that generation, it is sure to transport them right back to their youth.
Laffey must have interviewed over 50 people for the book, along with exhaustive research work, in order to give such a full and fascinating picture of football and life in general 50 and 60 years ago.
We hear of the development of Bord na Mona’s facility in Bellacorrick, which helped many from Erris and north Mayo avoid having to take the emigration ship, to the Tynagh Mines in Galway, which became Ireland’s own Klondike.
Sadly, like Corrib in Erris this century, Tynagh Mines was an example of a country giving away its natural resources far too easily to private interests.
We grasp the power of religion with tales of countless footballers denied a chance to play in All-Ireland minor finals due to being in the seminary in Maynooth.
The politics of the era is best told through the prism of Mick Donnellan, father of three in a row stars John and Pat, and grandfather of Michael and John from more recent years.
His Clann na Tamhlann party really challenged Fianna Fail and Fine Gael for a time, but it wasn’t sustained. Mick died tragically in the stands at half-time in the 1964 All-Ireland Final. His son John was captain and would lift the Sam Maguire Cup after the match.
Everyone around the presentation area knew Mick Donnellan was dead except for his son, the victorious captain, who was told when Galway got back into their dressing room.
Eamon Walsh from Charlestown tells us about the dancehall and showband era – and how their family business went toe to toe with the omnipresent Catholic Church in the 1950s. A brave move back then.
Laffey examines the depopulation of both counties. Some of the most moving passages relate to the evacuation of the island of Inishark, an island just off Inishboffin.
The reluctance of the man known as the father of Inishark, Thomas Lacey, to leave is evocatively described by Laffey. One line from The Mirror at the time of the evacuation, Thursday, October 20, 1960, sums up the sad affair. It was, they wrote, ‘the perfect day for the death of an island’. In an age of rural depopulation, it is a timely tale.
Plenty of cooks, no head chef
IT’S very apparent from reading the book that had Mayo the same management and county board as Galway, there is little doubt Mayo would have won at least one All-Ireland in the 1960s.
But Mayo did not have one man in charge like John ‘Tull’ Dunne, the brains behind Galway’s success. Instead an unwieldy selection committee saw local interest trump county interest. Furthermore, Mayo were left with too many county board officers who either did not have the vision or the capability to reach for the stars.
Consider the story of Dan O’Neill, a Mayo player who transferred to Louth after the county board argued over some expenses for his travels home to Mayo from Louth where he was living and working.
O’Neill won an All-Ireland with Louth in 1957 but having moved back to Mayo, wanted to play once more for his native county. Whilst O’Neill was parked in Newport, Larry McGovern, a leading county board officer, sat into his car and told him he would never play for Mayo again. Infuriating.
Consider, too, the story of Joe Corcoran. Considered by many of his contemporaries to be the outstanding Mayo footballer of his generation, Corcoran was, until 2012, the highest Mayo scorer in history.
Yet many county board officers distrusted Corcoran and this stupidity reached its nadir when Corcoran incredibly was omitted from the Mayo squad to travel to the USA in 1963.
No such issues in Galway. Pat Sheridan from Balla (father of Maurice) tells a fascinating story. He was banned for playing illegally in the USA. No one from Mayo pushed for a more lenient ban. Unable to line out for UCG in the Sigerson Cup, Sheridan asked Tull Dunne for assistance.
The Galway man pushed Sheridan’s case with Central Council and got the Mayo man off.
Tales like that will frustrate Mayo readers but if there’s one common ground throughout Laffey’s excellent book, it is the need for lessons to be learned not just in relation to football, but on a wider social and political level.
Because it’s very apparent from reading the book that the more things change, the more they stay the same.