Saturday 17 August 2019

Getting 'roasted' by Paidi, his unlikely comeback and being told to 'lose weight' - Meet Dublin cult hero Joe McNally

Joe McNally won an All-Ireland in 1983 and enjoyed an up-and-down career with Dublin. Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Joe McNally won an All-Ireland in 1983 and enjoyed an up-and-down career with Dublin. Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Conor McKeon

JOE McNally’s biggest regret might surprise you.

It’s not falling away from the Dublin squad in 1992 and missing out on a second All-Ireland medal in 1995, despite being only 30 years of age and one of the most lethal forwards on the club circuit.

And believe it or not, it’s not getting "roasted," by Páidí Ó Sé in the 1984 All-Ireland final when the two famously ‘bonded’ during the national anthem.

Or the two All-Ireland finals McNally lost after winning his first? No. Joe’s biggest regret from an eventful inter-county career with Dublin was never getting to play alongside Jason Sherlock in the 1996 Leinster final.

That was during the unexpected and brief addendum to his time with Dublin. In 1996 – after almost four years out in the cold – Mickey Whelan called.

"You want me to come back out?"

"Yeah," responded Whelan.

“No problem.”

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

So back came Joe and by the Leinster semi-final, when a strong Louth team had Dublin by the throat, his late 1-1 in Navan put them into a provincial final.

Late on though, McNally gave chase to one of Louth’s flatter-footed players and put him under just enough pressure to cause the shot to skew wide. That wasn’t the only thing that skewed.

"That was it. My hamstring went," he recalls. "That was probably my biggest regret. I would have liked to have played against Meath again in the Leinster final and I’d love to have played with Jason Sherlock."

That it ended in such drama shouldn’t be a shock, given how it started. A goalkeeper on the 1982 Dublin minor team, a sceptical 18-year-old McNally took a call one January afternoon in ‘83 from a man claiming to be Kevin Heffernan. Dublin were due to play Armagh in a League match and John O’Leary was injured.

"We were down to play Thomas Davis in a club match," McNally recounts. "I said I wanted to play for Anne’s – you know, Davis/Anne’s, there’s a rivalry there. Heffo got the match called off."

McNally saved a penalty against Armagh that day but assumed he’d make way for the returning O’Leary.

"But then I got another phone call to go back out with them. So I thought I was going to be a back up ‘keeper. We played Roscommon in a challenge match in Parnell Park and I had a (goalkeeper) subs jersey on me.

"Heffo just came up to me with an outfield jersey and said ‘put that on you. You’re going in corner-forward.’ I just looked at him.

"Everyone was looking at me. They were all laughing! I was like ‘me?’ He said: 'yeah!'

On he went, scored two points and Heffo’s instinct had another victory. He became one of the most instantly-recognisible faces in football after scoring the goal in the 1983 All-Ireland semi-final that sent it to a replay in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on a day the Dubs turned central Cork into a mardi gras of blue.

What most don’t know is that McNally was involved in a crash six days before the first game and ended up in hospital.

The car McNally was driving near Mount Argus in Harold’s Cross collided with a van, causing him heavy bruising on his chest and face.

"I’d say I was in the hospital five minutes and Heffernan knew I was there," he recalls, although some of the national media got wind of it.

Heffernan told him to deny it and when a couple of reporters showed up at team training on Thursday, he was instructed to go out and do two laps of the pitch and then head for the showers.

The following year, he met Páidí for the first time on a football pitch.

"A man against a boy there, I think," McNally laughs.

"We were coming out of the old tunnels and the teams clattered into each other. I was thrown up against a fence. There was a few lads battered. 

"So everyone was telling me, ‘don’t take any s**t off Páidí’. And you’re so wound up.

"We were standing there for the national anthem, he was standing behind me and he kept giving me the digs in the back.

"I just threw the elbow. Next minute I looked and he was on the ground. I was thinking ‘aw Jaysus!’ He never gave me a thing after that. He roasted me!"

In 1991, having been part of the four-game saga with Meath that kept the nation agog, Paddy Cullen cut his inter-county career off at the legs.

"They were always on to me. ‘You have to lose weight. You have to do this and that,’ he says.

"Listen, I’m built that way. I was always heavy. I was never going to be ten stone. I was always going to be bigger."

Yet for all that, Joe McNally remains one of the iconic Dublin footballers of his era, even if he feels the team could have squeezed more success.

"I started of in ’83 as an 18-year-old," McNally points out, "and we got to three finals in a row.

"If we had won the three," he concludes, "we probably would have gone on to win a bit more."

Herald Sport

The Throw-In All-Ireland Hurling Final preview: Can Tipp's firepower edge clash with the Cats?

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport