Most readers will readily recall September 1982 when Kerry were robbed of a deserving five-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles. On reflection, I feel that Kerry should never have been in that position. The Dubs have that honour and only for the coronavirus fallout they would win six-in-a-row (no, I don’t expect any All-Ireland intercounty championship this year).
In recent weeks you will have read in the Killarney Advertiser reports on the All Ireland wins of 1978 and 1979. I argue that it should have ended there. Kerry should never have won the 1980 All-Ireland final against Roscommon. Look back to the semi-final v Offaly where Matt Connor gave the greatest personal scoring display I have ever seen. He scored 2-9 giving Mick Spillane a real roasting, but Offaly still lost 4-15 to 2-10.
The Kerry forwards were so good that they had to keep scoring to make up for leakage at the back.
Matt Connor was a brilliant forward, yet he won just one All-Ireland medal, in 1982. What I admired about him was the way he was able to sort of stroll around the field. He had this languid style – his head was kind of pushed forward a little bit, the shoulders pushed back and he just had this incredible way of kicking the football. Nicknamed ‘Immaculate Matt’ by commentator Micheál O’Hehir, he was on duty as a garda on Christmas Day 1984 and when he was on his way home for his dinner at one o’clock, he crashed the car. He was paralysed and ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I can still recall hearing the chilling account on the six o’clock news. I was a huge admirer of the Walsh Island clubman. What a great personal loss and a loss to us all missing such a talent from the green fields.
Back to 1980. Mick O’Dwyer had a problem facing Roscommon in the final, including the great Dermot Earley, but it wasn’t the big army general that was bugging him. How was he going to shore up the full back line? Michael Finneran was in the corner, top scorer in the run up to the final with an impressive scoreline. He scored 1-8 in the semi-final win over Armagh. He couldn’t put Mick Spillane in there again after the semi-final roasting and there was really no ready-made option of a good tight marker in the subs bench.
Re-think Mick. Go back to Beaufort where the Lynch brothers lived and use the plamás which he had in abundance, along with native cunning and affable roguery. Brendan of the lethal left leg had won three All-Ireland medals and at the age of 25. He was the oldest player on the famous 1975 All-Ireland winning team. He retired in 1976 and was working in England as a doctor in 1980, but Paudie was younger.
Paudie Lynch was the man and Micko took the gamble. It mattered little what the other selectors thought. There was one big problem, though. Paudie hadn’t played one match with Kerry that year and how could you expect him to be up to the pace of an All-Ireland final? But he knew Paudie’s pedigree. He played with him in the 1972 All-Ireland and he must have already won four All-Ireland medals. He starred with Beaufort, Mid Kerry and UCC, and most of all he was versatile. He could easily play at wing or corner back as well as at midfield. He was very quiet, but he was a tight marker, as tough as nails and very competitive. Pick him. He won’t let you down. He didn’t.
I have a clear memory of the final. The weather wasn’t great and Roscommon got off to a flying start. John Jigger O’Connor scored a goal after 36 seconds. My mind shot back to the 1962 All-Ireland, again Kerry v Roscommon, when Brian McMahon scored a goal after 34 seconds, also against Roscommon. That was the record for the fastest goal ever scored in an Al- Ireland final. Does the record still stand? I think so, but I must ask Brian’s brother Eoin next time I meet him.
Roscommon were motoring well after Jigger’s early goal. Was this going to be the day when Dermot Earley, one of the greatest players ever not to win an All-Ireland, would finally win the elusive medal he deserved? It looked ominous for Kerry but scores weren’t coming that quickly for either side. Then of course Páidí Ó Sé cleared a ball off the goal line. How did he stop this certain goal? Was it with his forehead? It matters little, it was a match-winning save and he thundered out having stood in ‘the bearna baoil’. After the match Micko Dwyer congratulated Páidi. His reply was succinct, “Micko, sin an fáth go bhfuil geansaí a cúig ar mo dhrom agam”.
Roscommon resorted to heavy tackling, while Kerry held their head and won 1-9 to 1-6 in a very poor game. Paudie Lynch delivered and held Michael Finneran to a point or two, an amazing achievement and a great stroke pulled by Micko. Jack O’ Shea went on to win the Texaco Player of the Year and Ger Power climbed those hallowed steps of the Hogan Stand collecting The Cannister for Kerry’s 26th title and the three-in-a-row was secure. On to 1981…