Saturday 20 October 2018

Seamus McGuinness – a prince among footballers

Seamus at home in Rush
Seamus at home in Rush

EVERYBODY knows Seamus McGuinness!Well, almost everybody.Once the darling of Croke Park, these days he still freely talks about the great days against Mayo, Kerry and the rest and one occasion perhaps stands out – exactly 50-years-ago next month.

People and places

By Hubert Murphy

EVERYBODY knows Seamus McGuinness!

Well, almost everybody.

Once the darling of Croke Park, these days he still freely talks about the great days against Mayo, Kerry and the rest and one occasion perhaps stands out – exactly 50-years-ago next month.

It was the All-Ireland SFC final of 1955 and McGuinness was lining out in centrefield with Jim Crowley and a star studded Dublin side, containing the likes of Kevin Heffernan, Ollie Freeney, Des Ferguson and Mickey Whelan.

‘We were favourites but it all began to go wrong even before we got onto the pitch,’ he admits.

He got hurt on the Monday before the match and was in bed until the Thursday while a couple of others were doubtful.

At the end of the day, the Kerry men got the result 0-12 to 1-6 and McGuinness had to come off injured in the second half.

His first introduction to the county set up was when he attended minor trials but failed to win a place. Still, he worked his way onto the junior set up, with the likes of Tommy Bell, Johnny Bell, Peter Faulkner, Mick Jenkinson and Andy Monks.They claimed a Leinster title in 1949.

Soon he was part of the seniors, a sub on the 1950/51 NFL final team and featuring in tournament games in Armagh and Louth before his Leinster SFC debut against Meath in 1952 when he marked Paddy Meegan.

1955 had started well with a NFL win over Meath but he tore ligaments in his knee towards the end and that sidelined him for the start of Leinster.

He came back for the provincial decider against Meath and the side won well.

Next up was Mayo and he had John Nallen to battle with. Nallen was best the first day as the sides drew but McGuinness came good in the reply to help the Dubs home to the final showdown with Kerry.

His career did bring him to London and New York and he enjoyed a few more big days with the boys in blue before, at the age of 28, he had to retire.

‘At one stage I was on crutches for 15 or 16 weeks and still had to work. The knee never really got better and I went to see Dr Kevin O’Flanagan and he asked me did I get paid for playing this game. When I said no, he advised me to go home and give it up.

‘It was hard at the time, I must admit, but I went off and put my name down for Rush Golf Club and haven’t looked back since,’ he adds.

He also enjoyed some big occasions with his club. In 1946 they won the Fingal Cup and four years later St Maurs had a very successful campaign in the Dublin Junior Championship, and although they failed to O’Dwyers in the final, they came back the following year to take the title, with Seamus forming a most effective partnership with the great Jack Newcomen. He played club football right up to 1960, collecting a host of Fingal League medals.

But the friends he made in the GAA world is perhaps the most important thing he takes from it. ‘I have come across people all over the country whom I have met through GAA. It is a wonderful community.’

Seamus, who admits he once played in Tolka Park for a Dublin market team when the ban was in full force, reveals training with the Dubs was much different than today. ‘We’d do mostly sprint work. We believed in getting off the mark quickly so speed was essential.’

The stars of yesteryear ring proudly from his tongue, all Fingal men tall and true. The legendary and much lamented Patser Bissett, Johnny Farr from Ballyboughal, Christy Jenkinson, Nick Dunne, Freddie Harper, Will Halpin, Jack Newcomen, Sonny Leonard, Richard Levins, Bunny Lynch, guys from Rolestown to Fingallians and out to Innisfails.

Not forgetting Billy Monks from St.Margarets and colleagues, Sean Manning and Sean Scally.

‘I would safely say that there are lads on senior county teams now who would not have got onto the junior sides then. It was a marvellous grade.’

Of course, the game has flourished around Rush by times, Paddy Clarke, Patser Newcomen, Joe Devine, ‘Bottles’ McCann, Tim Kelly, Peter O’Reilly, Joe Kelly and Maur Daly all respected names, never mind Con Martin who won an All-Ireland in 1942 and took 25 years to get the medal due to the infamous ban.

He recalls where it all began – on the green at Millbank where once a ball appeared, a mighty rush would come from nearby homes, half eaten dinners left lost, mothers suddenly bereft of sons in a flash!

‘I’d often go out to work at 5am and get back that evening exhausted but once you’d hear the thud of the ball on boot you were all set to go again. Lads like the Bollards, Mickey and Tony and Joe Martin in goals, we’d all enjoy a game.’

He recalls many great games with Fingal clubs, especially Lusk, and bemoans the loss of the Fingal League for traditional local rivalry. ‘The local league games got huge crowds and they were fiercely contested. These days lads are getting in to buses, etc and travelling to south Dublin and they don’t even know where they are going.’

Rush, as a town, has changed much with a huge population increase. ‘Like all communities that change rapidly, you used to know everyone and they’d stop and chat but these days there are so many new faces in Rush. In truth the best land in Ireland is getting built on.’

As for the future of GAA, he waits for the day to see a Maur’s man run out on Croke Park again.

‘It would be great to see more Rush lads coming through and going on to the county set up. That always provides a great lift for an area.’