IN the latest in our series to mark the 75th anniversary of the club, Michael Moran, talks to James Tiernan who gave almost half a century of service as physio to Sligo Rovers.
By Michael Moran
'THE genius of the lamp.' A pair of hands that could tell a torn hamstring or a pulled groin with a simple touch.
In over fifty years of dedicated service, James Tiernan has carved out a special place, not alone in the history of a town's soccer team, but Sligo sport in general.
His 'magic sponge' at the ready, James has tended to countless teams and individuals in what is an extraordinary tale of a self-thought 'bag-man' who went on to become one of the best known figures in League of Ireland football.
Born in 1924 in Emmett Place, his soccer career began with a 'Rangers' team started by John McGarry. His first job was in Avery Scales, as he actually got Sean Fallon's position when the Glasgow Celtic giant left to work in McArthurs.
Jamsie later moved to Denny's and remained there until the factory closed in 1982.
"It was a great place to work, they were all football mad. We had a great team that won the McArthur Cup about eleven or twelve times," he now recalls.
"We were a very useful team, but there were other lads working there at the time who were also very good players so we decided to enter a 'B' team in the McArthur Cup," he added, naming the likes of Jocky Stanford, Peter Wynne, 'Ski' Feeney and Aubrey Kells as just some of those involved.
James also played for the 'Stars' team in the left back or left half positions mainly, but his interest in 'physio' had taken root at an early age.
" I always had the idea of looking after players, rather than playing myself," he says.
"Even when I was going to school, if there were any birds or other animals hurt, I would look after them. I was interested in that sort of thing. When I was playing, I saw players getting hurt and that got more more curious and I started to read up on it," James added.
"Working in Denny's also helped in an unusual sort of way, in that it gave me the chance to study the animals and to learn about the various muscles and joints, etc., " he explained.
James also struck up a friendship with a fully qualified physio in Cork, Timmy 'Bosco' Murphy, whom he met when Rovers travelled to Leeside.
"He told me I had the hands and the heart for the work and that that was all that counted," he said. His 'lamp' came from Fannon's in Dublin, though he is also a great believer in the healing power of salt water.
James did a correspondence course with the Royal Institute of Swedish Massage, but demands for extra money as the course was reviewed, saw Timmy Murphy tell the Sligoman to "throw the letter in the fire" and he offered him a full-time job in Cork. James a self-confessed 'home-bird' declined.
He became associated with Sligo Rovers when Jock Shearer was manager, Andy Dolan, a former shop owner in Holborn Street and Committee member asking James to give a hand with some work on the pitch.
"That was the start of it really. I then got involved in training and playing and things developed from there," he outlined.
In addition, James was heavily involved with the small group of volunteers who built the old dressing rooms, including Brian Costelloe, Bernie Tiernan, Gerry Mitchell and a 'team' from the Post Office and Pat McKiernan, building contractor.
James was well-known for "maintaining everything", including repairing the roof when the need arose.
He also played for a Rovers 'B' team, which included the likes of Tommy Oates, Willie Bradley, Jackie Keenehan, Stephen McDonagh and Andy Flynn. Such was the customary battle against financial crisis after financial crisis that the players had to collect funds among themselves to pay for the transport that brought them to away games.
An unfortunate incident deprived him of the chance to make the breakthrough to the Rovers first team.
"We had travelled to Waterford for a game and when we arrived our car got stuck and we had to push it. In doing so, the car came back on top of me and I dislocated my knee. I was out of action for twelve months and it was a disappointment at the time," he revealed.
James worked alongside Tom McManus and Charlie Howley for a time and was at the Showgrounds when Ken Turner arrived and was subsequently appointed manager as Rovers reached the 1970 F.A.I. Cup Final.
"Obviously, that was a great disappointment. It was a good time and it was a great pity we didn't go all the way. I remember the first game was poor and as far as I remember there weren't a lot of chances.
"We should have hammered Bohemians in the replay. David Pugh broke loose from about thirty yards and went on a run. It looked as though we were certain to get a goal. Pugh let fly and even though the ball went past the hands of Dinny Lowry, it hit him on the shoulder.
"We lost the second replay and I recall that David Pugh and Tony Stenson clashed. It just wasn't to be," he added.
The 1983 'rematch' with Bohs was to provide ample compensation, but in the interim, James enjoyed contrasting fortunes with 'The Bit O'Red'.
The appointment of Billy Sinclair as manager was the start of a lifelong friendship between 'the wee man' and his trusted lieutenant and also brought long-overdue success.
"I first met Billy in Dalymount Park when we were playing Bohs. I quickly informed him that we had 'four camps', as it were in that we had players in Sligo, Donegal, Dublin and Derry.
"He had watched the match and I asked him to pick out the players he thought had done well. He immediately picked out the four local players and said he would 'sort out' the situation.
"Billy was brilliant. He gradually brought in his own players. He had contacts everywhere. If he wanted a player, he would get him. He was a great manager, but he also worked hard off the pitch," James maintained.
Sinclair started the 'Golden Goal' fundraiser and he also visited many local factories in a bid to raise money.
"Billy came down to Denny's one day to meet the manager and he was allowed to talk to the workers in the canteen. One 'comedian' shouted that he couldn't see Billy, so he got up on a stool and talked to the workers. He told them he was going to give them something Sligo could be proud of and asked for contributions. By the time he left, he had enough to purchase eighteen pairs of socks and eighteen pairs of togs" James added.
Sinclair delivered on his promise as Rovers won the league championship for the first time in forty years in 1977.
"Billy put together a marvellous side. There were some great players involved, including Chris Rutherford, Mick Betts, Paul Fielding, Paul McGee, 'Fago', Mick Leonard and Gary Hulmes.
"That 1976/ 77 season gathered its own momentum. Things just took off and it was the best season I ever had with the club," James acknowledged.
The day Rovers won the league against Shamrock Rovers has its own special memories.
"That was an incredible occasion. The Showgrounds was packed. Naturally, the players were very nervous beforehand and Billy talked to them all individually. Just before they left the dressing room, he asked them to be quiet.
"All you could hear was the crowd outside. Billy turned to the players and told them that the people outside were paying his wages and theirs and he asked the players to make them proud. They did just that and won three-one. It was a great time. There were some very good teams in the league and to come out on top was a great achievement," he said.
Euphoria was replaced with further disappointment in the 1978 F.A.I. Cup Final and that 'penalty' which gave Shamrock Rovers a one-nil victory in controversial circumstances at Dalymount Park.
"The players took that defeat badly. People were in an awful state and Paul Fielding was particularly upset, because he had never touched Steve Lynex for the spot-kick. It was very hard to take," James admitted.
When Patsy McGowan took over as Rovers manager, there was further disappointment and hurt for James, as Bobby Toland joined the Ballybofey man as 'bag man.'
"Bobby was a great character and I had known him prior to him coming to the Showgrounds. It did hurt that I was no longer required," he outlined.
Paul Fielding later replaced McGowan as manager and one of the first calls the new boss made was to contact James.
"I told him I would help out in any way I could, but I didn't want to go back. As it happened, he got a couple of bad injuries and I looked after them all," he said.
The semi-final marathon with Cobh Ramblers stands out, not alone for Chris Rutherford's two goals in a remarkable comeback, but a serious injury to 'the big man.'
"I had been in the dressing room at half-time and I asked Paul Fielding if I could say a few words. The heads were down, but I told them they were beating themselves. I told them go out and not let Cobh beat them. Chris picked up an awful gash on the head and I went out to give a hand to Padraic McManus, who was 'physio' at the time. A doctor from Cork had a look at it and said Chris would need about six stitches.
"I told him we could do that after the match. O fixed Chris up as best I could and thankfully things worked out for us. Tony Stenson also picked up a bad knock in the rubs," James added.
A week later, he made another crucial intervention in the final.
"I was up in the stands to watch the game with my family. I had told Padraic that if there was anything wrong, I would come down. In reality, Paul Fielding, Padraic and I knew that Chris Rutherford was not going to last the match, but we had to start him as heads might drop if he were not there.
"Tony Stenson then got injured and that was a big worry. He received a big gash down his shin and I left the stand to attend to him. It looked as though he would have to come off, but after losing Chris I thought 'no way.'
"The referee looked at me on the pitch and commented 'James I didn't know you in your suit'. We worked on 'Stennie' and Dr. Des Moran later gave him four stitches. We managed to keep him on and of course he got a smashing equaliser in the second half and Harry's goal capped it all," James stated.
"It wasn't our best team, but they stuck to their task and things worked out for us on the day, something which hadn't happened in the past," he added.
James continued to look after players in his own understated way thereafter and there aren't too many around who have not paid a visit to his 'landmark' room adjacent to his home.
He didn't have too much involvement when Willie McStay completed a glorious First Division Shield, First Division Championship and F.A.I. Cup treble in 1993/ 94, and is now not doing as much work as he used to.
"People still come up to me, but I have stepped back a little," he said.
His Rovers involvement apart, James was also a regular at many local football tournaments and was of course trainer when Sligo won the Connacht Championship under Barnes Murphy in 1975. He also worked with the Roscommon and Leitrim G.A.A. teams in the past.
His unassuming nature sees him to decline an invitation to name some of the best ever players he worked with.
"It would not be fair, least of all to myself. We had many great players, many great locals and many great 'imports," said James, who was recognised for his contribution to his local community by receiving a Community Award in the Sligo Person of the Year initiative in recent years.
"I certainly enjoyed it and though there were some disappointments, I also have some great memories," said James.
*We would like to acknowledge the help of Mr. Micheal Melly and the Sligo Town Supporters Club for their assistance in providing some of the information for this feature.