Remember Mayo’s titans
THE perception of Mayo as a leading football county does not square with a rather meagre haul of three senior All-Ireland titles.
It should have been a lot more because the county has produced splendid teams down the years. However, for many and varied reasons – not least, sheer bad luck – the trophy count has not reflected the quality of the football which has invariably been first-class. Indeed, right up to the present day one can expect tremendous style and dash from Mayo teams in any grade whether in victory or defeat.
Six record-breaking National League crowns in the 1930s was to prove the detonator that lifted Mayo football out of the doldrums and when the first All-Ireland was achieved in 1936 it should have heralded the start of a brand new dawn.
Remarkably, that didn’t happen and a span of 14 years would elapse before the team of Paddy Prendergast, Padraic Carney, Tom Langan, Peter Solan, Seán Mulderrig, Seán Flanagan and others rekindled the old spirit with two All-Ireland wins, 1950 and ’51. In the interim the wearers of the green and red have slipped back again although never far from the top.
Mayo’s arrival on to the national stage as a serious power in football had its roots in the 1930s, the most productive decade in the county’s rich history. In the period 1929 to 1939, eight Connacht senior titles, six successive National Leagues, one senior All-Ireland (1936), a junior All-Ireland in 1933 and the county’s first minor All-Ireland in 1935 were won.
That they were a coming force is backed up by the fact that eight Mayo men figured on the Connacht team that won its first Railway Cup in 1934 and three years later that statistic was increased to ten.
In the 1935 All-Ireland senior semi-final at Croke Park, Kildare beat them by 2-6 to 0-7 but even in defeat Mayo had formed the nucleus of a fine side, bringing together for the first time the majestic midfield pairing of Henry Kenny (father of the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny) and Patsy Flannelly which was to give them the platform to attain the highest honours.
The following year everything fell into place. Having overcome Galway in the provincial final after a replay, 2-7 to 1-4, Mayo beat Kerry by 1-5 to 0-7 in the semi-final at Roscommon town, no mean achievement even if the Kingdom were in transition around that time.
Greater glory was to follow at Croke Park on Sept. 27, 1936 when Laois fell by 4-11 to 0-5 in a one-sided final before an attendance of 50,168. It may have been a bloodless victory but that did not diminish the achievement one iota. Laois had beaten the great Kildare team of that period in the Leinster final prior to overcoming an equally respected Cavan outfit on their way to the final and these were formidable credentials but for unknown reasons the O’Moores never did themselves justice. They trailed by nine points at half-time and were a thoroughly demoralised and broken outfit long before the final whistle.
Why Laois failed so dismally can never be satisfactorily explained. One theory is that over-training by an army officer from the Curragh left the team stiff and out of sorts. “It certainly wasn’t our true form”, maintained Bill Delaney – one of four brothers on the team – “and we proved that by our displays against the great Kerry team in 1937 and ’38”.
After winning their first All-Ireland title, Mayo embarked on a six-week tour of the United States prior to the commencement of the following year’s championship. This major interruption may have contributed to their failure to retain their crown because it has been said that Mayo were a better team in 1937 but Cavan stopped them at the semi-final stage in Mullingar after the pitch was invaded twice in the closing stages.
In the fashion of the time the Mayo panel went into collective training for what was to be an historic first All-Ireland victory. A panel of 22 players was based in Redmond’s of Spencer Street, Castlebar with Garda Dick Hearn appointed trainer. The best of grub was made available through the generosity of Molly Redmond whose speciality was fillet steak, a rare delicacy in those far-off days.
Paddy Moclair who won nine senior county medals (five with Castlebar and four with Ballina), led the 1936 destruction of Laois when scoring an early point. Fast end to end play during the opening minutes gave no indication of the rout that was to follow. The turning point came after 12 minutes as the Western People reported:
“When Paddy Munnelly fisted a Mayo cross to the net following a sparkling point by Moclair it started a procession of scores that put the Western title-seekers firmly on top of the Gaelic world and added an imperishable page to GAA history”.
Another Mayo goal followed almost immediately, Josie Munnelly’s shot from close range going in off the upright, and this signalled the beginning of the end for Laois. Even long before half-time the sluice gates had been prized open.
Faced with a huge deficit (2-5 to 0-2), Laois needed an early goal after the interval if they were to make a game of it but Tom Bourke pulled off a great save from Tom Keogh who was clean through on goal. That save inspired the Westerners who strolled to the easiest of victories. Bourke in goal, Seamus O’Malley, “Purty” Kelly, Patsy Flannelly, Henry Kenny, Peter Laffey, Paddy Moclair and Josie Munnelly (top scorer with 2-3) were acclaimed the heroes of the hour.
The Mayo team togged out in Barry’s Hotel and according to a contemporary report, “indescribable scenes were witnessed when the winning team, flushed with victory, came trooping in after the game. The players were subjected to a seemingly endless orgy of backslapping and handshaking. Bemused and happy they found their way to their rooms where they quickly changed”.
Later that evening the new All-Ireland champions were entertained to a sumptuous dinner in the hotel dining-room that comprised bacon and cabbage with Moy salmon as an alternative main course.
In a subsequent interview, the Mayo full-back Paddy Quinn who died in 1985, recalled the events of that great day. Then as now the fervour of the Mayo supporters knew no bounds:
“A forest of green and red flags greeted us and a deafening roar, ‘Come on Mayo’ drove us on to victory. The supporters came from all parts. They were there from Breaffy, from Errew, from Ballyheane, from Derrywash, from Mountgordon, from Burren and from every village round about”.
A torchlight procession through the streets of Castlebar was the prelude to unprecedented merrymaking when the Sam Maguire Cup was accorded an ecstatic homecoming. “We were feted and feasted until the early hours” recalled the stonewall full-back.
Just before the gathering broke up, George Ormsby, a noted prankster and a stalwart of the winning team, was heard to shout out. “Three cheers for Molly Redomond’s fillets”.
The teams that contested the 1936 All-Ireland final were:
Mayo: Tom Bourke (goal); Jim (Tot) McGowan, Paddy Quinn, Patrick (Purty) Kelly; Tommy Regan, Seamus O’Malley (captain), George Ormsby; Patsy Flannelly, Henry Kenny; Jackie Carney, Tommy Grier, Peter Laffey; Josie Munnelly, Paddy Moclair, Paddy Munnelly.
Laois: Tom Delaney (goal); Joe Brennan, Tom Delaney, Tim O’Brien; Paddy Swayne, Joe McDonald (captain), Danny Walsh; Chris Delaney, Bill Delaney; Danny Douglas, Mick Delaney, Jack Delaney; Jim Keating, Tom Keogh, John O’Reilly.
Referee: Jerry McCarthy (Kerry).
A MOMENT IN TIME Mayo captain Sean Flanagan (RIP, right of centre) is surrounded by well-wishers moments after accepting the Sam Maguire Cup after winning the 1950 All-Ireland Final.
NOT MEN BUT GIANTS The Mayo team are pictured prior to the 1951 All-Ireland Final win over Meath at Croke Park.