THE events of fifty years ago this year in the Munster football final will never be forgotten.
Kerry football had reached an all time low during the early and middle sixties. The county had suffered humiliating defeats in the championship during that decade going under to Down, Galway and Cork twice. In 1962 an All Ireland win over a very poor Roscommon had proved a false dawn. That game of poor standard was notable for two reasons. Firstly Sean Óg Sheehy had followed in the footsteps of his father John Joe in captaining his county to victory. A unique occurrence.
And secondly the fastest goal ever scored in an All ireland final, which still to this day was recorded after just thirty two seconds when Garry McMahon fisted to the Canal End goal following a long free by Mick O'Connell. A wonderful composer and singer of Kerry football ballads I became great friends with Garry before he sadly died still a young man and he loved telling the story of his yearly visit to the All ireland final.
"As the referee throws in the ball," he'd recall. "I'd look at the minute hand on my watch and when it passes the thirty two second mark I will turn to those seated along side me and remark, my record is safe for another year."
Garry was a huge loss to his family and all who knew him. One of those people who would brighten up your darkest day.
The Munster final of that year was memorable for all the wrong reasons and I will go as far as to say that it was one of the most physical and dirty inter county games I have ever seen. The old Cork Athletic Grounds was a fairly intimidating place and that day – July 15 – I was standing on the old grassy embankment. On the far side was the very dilapidated stand with its galvanised rusting roof.
The game itself was an easy victory for Kerry as they strolled to a 4-8 to 0-4 win. It was The Kingdom's fifth Munster crown in succession and was notably for the fact that Mick O'Connell scored his one and only championship goal for his county. It came late in the second half, when he solo-ed in from the wing and hit an angled shot high to the Cork net. He added a point from the kick out to finish with 1-4 to his credit.
Mick O'Connell was one of the greatest footballers the game has ever seen. In a magnificent career from 1956 to 1973 he made fifty six championship appearances for his county scoring 1-121 points. In league football he donned the green and gold seventy three times and registered 1-131 points. He played in sixteen Munster finals, being on the winning side twelve times. Mick played in ten All Ireland finals and won five Celtic Crosses.
While that 1962 final was noticeable for O'Connell's only championship goal it was, however, well overshadowed by some very unsavoury incidents both on and off the field. I have never before or since seen such naked aggression by fans as I saw that day. The game itself was very physical from the word go and there were numerous off the ball incidents behind the referee's back.
Punches were being constantly thrown by some players and elbows were flying in the tackles. Referee Moss Colbert of Limerick had a near impossible task on hands as he attempted to keep the game under control.
Then Cork star Eric Ryan was injured in a heavy collision and had to leave the field as the game become more and more physical and sections of the crowd began booing and shouting at players and referee. Then all hell seem to break loose. Kerry's centre-back Noel Lucy and Cork's Joe O'Sullivan were sent off. Now I had a perfect view of events as they unfolded off the field. As Lucy was walking along the side line to the Kerry area some supporters showered him with sods, which they were tearing from the embankment.
Kerry secretary Tadgh Crowley and Chairman Jim Brosnan were walking with the Kerry player and he had to duck and dodge as the missals rained down. The atmosphere was frightening and hostile.
Then from behind the goal to my right a section of the crowd began bombarding the Kerry players with sods and stones. It was in many ways an amazing sight. The two umpires at that goal left their positions and took shelter in the net with Kerry goalkeeper Johnny Culloty who had not been involved in any incident what so ever.
The net was showered with missiles and the situation looked as if it would get out of control. After the game a friend of mine told me that a young Cork "supporter" picked up a bottle with the obvious intent of hurling it at a Kerry player. As he was about to throw the missle the Kerry man hit him a belt of a shoulder and send him spinning. He then quickly moved away from that area as some Cork supporters were incensed by his actions.
The game was at a stand still at this stage and then I saw something amazing. A Friar, who I later learned was Rev. Fr Nessan O.F.M. of the Capuchin Order and for many years a member of the Cork football selectors climbed up on the wall surrounding the pitch. Dressed in his long cross shaped brown robe the distinctive dress of his order, including a white cord with three knots symbolising his threes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience worn at the waist and sandals and no stockings he began remonstrating with the crowd.
He was soon joined by the Cork County board chairman Weeshie Murphy and Denis Conroy and eventually some semblance of order was restored and the game finished. However, the trouble continued after the game as the players made their way from the grounds. Some of the Kerry players were marooned outside the grounds and surrounded by a hostile crowd of what Dr Jim Brosnan later describes as "teenagers and teddy-boys".
Members of the Cork county board came to their rescue and brought some of the Kerry minor and senior players back to their hotel in their cars. This problem had arisen because the official Kerry cars, which brought the players to the ground had to park over a mile away from where the players were to be collected after the game.
Kerry went on to win the minor and senior All ireland that year, but for me that unforgettable Munster Final fifty years ago this year will forever remain etched in the memory.