Do you remember the time?
Focus on 1985 semi-Final
FEW people can have such enduring memories of the 1985 All-Ireland semi-final meeting of Mayo and Dublin as Billy Fitzpatrick.
Long before Ja Fallon ever had the thought of switching his role from being a selector to a player, Billy Fitz, as he is affectionately known to football people throughout the county, was the prototype.
The genial Garrymore man was on the management panel under the guidance of Liam O’Neill in 1985 when O’Neill persuaded Fitzpatrick to make himself available for selection for the championship. So Billy accepted the challenge and the man who had first played for Mayo in 1965 was back in the Green and Red. His impact was huge, helping Mayo to an All-Ireland semi-final replay against the Leinster champions.
Oh, and I nearly forgot. Billy Fitz was 41 years old at the time.
Speaking to The Mayo News last week he laughed at the memory. “I think I still hold the record for the oldest player to play in Croke Park!” Micky Linden was worrying me a bit a couple of years ago, he kept playing until he was 39 but thankfully he retired so my record is intact!”
So what enticed him to return to the fold? “Well I was training with the lads during the pre-season and I found that I was well up with them fitness wise so there was no problem there. Sean Lowry was in the squad for the first time that year and he was a big influence on me coming back as well. He had a lot of experience from winning the All-Ireland in ‘82 with Offaly, and was a great help to the team. Liam (O‘Neill) asked me would I come back and I decided that I’d give it a go.”
Fitzpatrick recalls the training regime that Mayo underwent that year and believes that it was the key element that almost brought the county to the All-Ireland final twenty-one years ago.
“We trained right through the winter, doing a weights programme that Liam had prepared for us. We would do that two nights a week in the old hat factory on the Newport Road. After that we would train at the running track in St.Mary’s. The preparation was very good.”
DESPITE a shock defeat by Limerick in the Ford Open Draw – a competition similar to the previous year’s Centenary Cup – Fitzpatrick feels that the team were moving in the right direction. “We only started the speed training in April so our work only told later on during the year. “By the time we met Roscommon in the Connacht final we were in top shape and we blew them away in that game. Even in the drawn semi-final we were by far and away much fitter than Dublin. We stormed back at them in the closing stages and they were out on their feet. We really had them on the ropes.
“The fact that John Finn played on with a broken jaw shows how determined we were to win. We probably left it a bit late to come back though. Dublin were leading by five or six points, but we made some good substitutions; they all scored. Had there been another two minutes played in that game we would have won, no question, but unfortunately the referee blew it up quickly.”
One of those scoring subs was Billy himself. He recalls shooting into the legendary and infamous Hill 16. Was it intimidating? “The Hill was full that day but it didn’t bother me. It was like kicking a point in Hollymount as far as I was concerned!
“When a player is thinking fully about a game and is involved in a full-blooded championship game he should be able to cope with the crowd. He shouldn’t notice it at all.”
The replay was three weeks later in front of a crowd of over 64,000 people. Looking back, Billy Fitz’ laments the gap between the two games. “Having such a gap between the games really helped Dublin. They had a chance to work on their fitness and regroup. Had the replay been the week after the drawn game I feel we would have won.”
Mayo lost the replay by eight points following their inability to convert the numerous chances they engineered, and despite Padraic Brogan coming on to score what is generally regarded as one of the greatest goals ever scored in Croke Park. That left it 34 years and counting without Sam.
Billy Fitzpatrick is now well known for his work with Mid West Radio and looks back on that year with fond memories. His inter-county career had previously coincided with a depression in Mayo football and he was delighted to get the chance to play on a winning team.
“I was always very glad I decided to go back and play that year. I had first played with Mayo in 1965 but I didn’t get to play with the county again until 1976. I was in the team until I retired in 1979, but I never managed to win a Connacht medal in that time. I’m still really proud of the Connacht final medal I won in 1985. If you hear any player saying a provincial medal doesn’t mean anything to them they are lying. It means an awful lot.”
LOOKING back on the team that won what was only Mayo’s fourth Connacht crown in thirty summers that year, Fitzpatrick feels it was good enough to have captured an elusive All-Ireland.
“We had a very strong defence, probably the best midfield in the country, and players up front who always get scores. The success of the under 21 team that had won the All-Ireland two years previously was vital too. If you look at it, we had a lot of those players on the 1985 team: Forde, Maughan, Finn, McStay, Brogan and Durcan.
“I suppose Anthony Finnerty was the real character in the dressing room,” added Billy. “He was always joking and getting the lad’s minds off the games. Sean Lowry was a great influence too, especially before the Connacht final that year. He had vast experience of what went into preparing for big games and how to react in games.
“Willie Joe Padden was probably the biggest name in the team at that stage, and he was a great player, but you had TJ Kilgallon beside him who was an exceptional player as well. He was a quiet guy, but he had a great work rate. He had a long, loping stride which meant he could cover a lot of ground. Willie Joe would be able to grab the ball out of the sky, while TJ could carry it forward. It was an ideal partnership.
“Peter Ford was a very good full-back who was always so determined, while in front of him was John Maughan who was always in tip-top shape, and would have played for a long time had he not injured his knee badly. Martin Carney was corner back on that team, having gone back into the corner to cover us early in the year because we were missing one of the defenders. He played so well, we decided to leave him in there. Frank Noone and John Finn were two great half backs as well. All over the pitch we had a very good team. It was good enough to, and deserved to, win an All-Ireland, but it just wasn’t to be.”
SO CLOSE The Mayo team that lost to Dublin in the 1985 All Ireland semi-final replay. Back, left to right: Tom Byrne, Peter Ford, Martin Carney, WJ Padden, Jimmy Bourke, Eugene Lavin, Frank Noone, Padraic Brogan. Front: Kevin McStay, Dermot Flanagan, John Maughan, TJ Kilgallon, Noel Durkin, Eugene McHale, Johnny Monaghan. The team mascot was Tomás Cleary, McHale Road, Castlebar.