The bus broke down in Sooey, of all places, a stretch of country road about ten miles south of Sligo town. It was the last day of 1978, Sunday, December 31: a bitterly cold evening and black as ink outside.
But as luck would have it, there was an oasis in the distance, a pub by the name of Flanagan's just a few hundred yards further on. We all piled in, the Abbey Rovers football team, management and supporters. Earlier that day we stood cheering on the sideline of a pitch that had turned rock hard in the freeze. It was the home ground of Collegians FC on the Strandhill Road and Abbey were playing Sligo Rovers Reserves in the fourth round of the FAI Junior Cup. It was the proverbial David and Goliath job. David won 2-0 and we were jubilant.
Which was why nobody was too bothered about the bus. It became an opportunity to celebrate a momentous victory in this unsuspecting tavern on the side of the road. By the time we got home that night it was the wee small hours of New Year's Day.
In the Leitrim Observer the following week, David Walsh, with tongue only slightly in cheek, described it as "the greatest soccer upset since the USA defeated England in the (1950) World Cup."
The Sligo-Leitrim District League had four divisions in those days. Abbey Rovers were in division four for one simple reason: it was their first season in the SLDL. The club had only been founded the year before. It was made up of GAA players from Ballinamore in south Leitrim and the surrounding rural parishes. They had never played organised 11-a-side soccer before.
"At the beginning," recalls their midfield dynamo Jimmy Heavey, "a lot of people were struggling with the offside rule!" Their home venue was a farmer's field. "We nailed up goalposts and eventually we got a bit of money together and got proper goalposts." Before a match, the players might be clearing cow dung off it with pitchforks.
And yet within five months of their league debut they were beating a Sligo Rovers second string that were top of division one, and which on the day featured League of Ireland players such as John Skeffington, John Kent and Reggie Armstrong, plus an Ireland youth international in Mickey 'Bomber' Savage.
Each division had 12 teams. They played each other once per season. Starting in 1978/79, Abbey Rovers shot up through the four divisions in four seasons. They were beaten once in those 44 games. "There was just a lot of natural ability there," says Heavey by way of explanation.
In 1983 the Galway senior team that would reach that year's All-Ireland final beat Leitrim by two points in Connacht. Abbey Rovers had four starters on the Leitrim team that day, including the entire full-forward line. Frank Heavey, Jimmy's older brother, wore number 14.
Rovers scored 221 league goals in those first four seasons - Frank scored 89 of them. Cup competitions included, he was averaging about two goals per game.
Noel Kennedy, the veteran secretary of the Sligo-Leitrim District League, was managing Merville Utd back then. "Frank was one of the best players that I ever saw on the Sligo-Leitrim scene," he says. "He stood head and shoulders above anybody. Very strong boy, good on his feet, good in the air and a lethal finisher. The first time I saw him I was saying, 'Where did he come out of?'"
He came out of the Irish community in Selly Oak, Birmingham, England. He was 14 when the family moved to Leitrim in 1974. He was only the third pupil from his Comprehensive to make the Birmingham Catholic Schools representative team. The first was goalkeeper Gerry Peyton, capped 33 times for Ireland. Heavey was an all-round centre forward. "But he was just a prolific goal-scorer," says Jimmy. "I think he'd have made it as a professional if we'd stayed in England."
The brothers became stalwarts of the Ballinamore Gaelic football team in the 1980s. Frank captained us to a senior league and championship double in 1986. The following year he joined Jimmy in New York. In later years they worked together renovating apartments in the city.
Frank and Noreen had four children, three boys and a girl. Emma was born with special needs. "She was the apple of her daddy's eye," says Jimmy. "It was Emma and Frank, Emma and Frank, Emma and Frank everywhere." She died from motor neurone disease in 2015, aged 21.
"He never got over that. He wasn't the same after. He'd be there at work and you'd see him just staring at the floor. It broke his heart."
Within the year, Frank was gone too: a cardiac arrest sitting in his chair at home watching his beloved Aston Villa play Tottenham on TV. He was 56.
At the 25th anniversary function for the '86 team, people all over the room rose to give him a standing ovation as he made his way to the stage. It was a spontaneous gesture, a natural outpouring for someone universally considered a gentleman. Frank wasn't really a dressing room banterer or joker. He was a sincere, refined, courteous man. He carried himself with an inbuilt dignity. Twenty-five years living in New York, it moved him deeply to know he was still regarded with such respect back home.
The picture that accompanies this piece: it was taken minutes after the county final, Frank with the cup, myself with a man-of-the-match trophy that could have gone to any number of teammates. I have never owned a copy of the photo. Truthfully, I never passed much remarks on it either way. You don't live in the past, and anyway I long ago came round to believing that individual awards in a team sport are an impurity. The team is sacred.
But it has taken on a whole new meaning since Frank died. I am going to get a copy of it and have it framed. It is a moment in time I had the honour to share with an outstanding sportsman and an exemplary human being.
WHO: Tommy Conlon and Frank Heavey
WHEN: August 31, 1986
WHERE: Cloone, Co Leitrim
PHOTOGRAPHER: Willie Donnellan
Sunday Indo Sport