Game to Remember: 1995 All-Ireland football final
MICK Deegan is looking forward to getting back on the bus. In January he became the manager of Donaghmore Ashbourne.
"Everybody is missing their sport at the moment, be that Gaelic football, soccer, rugby, whatever," laments Mick. "Sport is so beneficial. It keeps us all sane."
His son, Michael, is a highly talented footballer who has impressed in the Dublin jersey. Young Michael plays with Donaghmore Ashbourne. "They have a great set-up there. Top-class facilities," says Mick.
"It’s a big challenge. They haven’t won the Meath Senior Football Championship since 1942. Paul Clarke got them to the final a few years ago.
"I have lived in Ashbourne for many years now. The place is full of Dubs! There’s always great banter between the Dubs and the Meath locals."
Mick is Finglas bread and buttered. He went to the renowned St Kevin’s College. "We were lucky enough to have Brother McDonnell there. So many Dublin footballers went to school there – fellas like Fran Ryder, Dermot Deasy, Gerry Hargan, Barney Rock, Declan Sheehan, John Kearns, Anto McCaul and James McCarthy.
"It produced some good soccer players as well. Dave and Pierce O’Leary were past pupils. And Stephen Kelly and Keith O’Neill."
The O’Learys were from a select club – brothers who played for Ireland – Dave becoming part of the fittings of the Marble Halls of Highbury, while Pierce played with Shamrock Rovers and Celtic.
Mick was a top soccer player himself. He won the FAI Junior Cup with Tolka Rovers, alongside Charlie Redmond. And he played for Crusaders in the Irish League.
Mick was also playing for the Dubs at the time. The arrangement worked well. He’d train with Dublin during the week and play with Crusaders on Saturdays. He had a successful time there, winning Leagues and Cups, and playing in Europe.
It was Tolka’s Tony O’Connell who arranged the signing. Tony was Bohemians’ first professional player.
Mick was to become one of Dublin’s most elegant half-backs. Using his pace and vision to open up the play. He always looked so comfortable on the ball. He didn’t waste possession.
He honed his craft at Farnham Drive. The home of his beloved Erin’s Isle.
Mick was on a team packed with first-class footballers and characters that brought colour to the game.
"The senior team began to come through in the late ’80s and early ’90s. We got to five successive Dublin Senior Football Championship finals, winning two of them."
Mick was the captain of the first Isles team to collect the Clery Cup when they beat Kilmacud Crokes in 1993. Isles and Crokes had some epic duels during that era.
"We had a good run. We won the Leinster Championship and reached the All-Ireland final in 1998. Unfortunately, we lost to Corofin. They were exciting times at Isles. We all have great memories from those days."
And from his time with the Dubs too. "It was knockout back then. People will recall the four games we had with Meath in the Leinster Championship."
That became the story of the summer of ’91. It took four enthralling tussles to separate the old foes. With David Beggy’s last-ditch point deciding one of the greatest debates of them all. And crushing Dublin’s hearts.
"But we went on to win the next four Leinster titles. We lost two All-Ireland semi-finals and two finals, so to eventually win the All-Ireland in ’95 was so pleasing.
"We were a pretty experienced side at that stage, although Keith Galvin and Jason Sherlock had come onto the team. Most of the lads were 28 plus, so it was wonderful to get over the line.
"After all the disappointments and the narrow defeats, we had finally done it. Sometimes, you’d wonder to yourself will it ever happen? Especially after coming so close in previous years, so it was great. All-Ireland champions. It was a great feeling.
"We beat Meath well in the Leinster final that year, and the margin of our victory was very unusual. We had some fabulous games against them, and there was never more than a point or two between us."
There was only a point between Dublin and Tyrone in the final. Dublin’s hard work on the training ground in Santry brought reward.
It was such an intense tussle with Tyrone. Containing Peter Canavan was a priority of the day. Deego had some excellent defenders for company – Paddy Moran, Ciarán Walsh, Keith Galvin, Paul Curran and Keith Barr
Three of Mick’s club’s colleagues were in action against Tyrone – Keith Barr, Charlie Redmond and Robbie Boyle. "It was such a tight game right till the end," he recalls.
Charlie Redmond scored the crucial goal before half-time. Jayo’s pace and bravery creating the favourable bounce of the ball.
Charlie was sent off in the second half. Twice! By referee, Paddy Russell. There was no yellow or red cards back then. Confusion arose. Charlie played on for a short time. Before heading for the sideline.
All afternoon, Canavan was landing frees from all over the shop. Tyrone scored 12 points that day. Canavan got eleven of them. The Dubs were hanging on at the end. By a thread.
Tyrone thought they had equalised at the death, but the point was disallowed. The Dubs got there – by a fingernail. Massive relief.
The parish, and the city, erupted as Sam was welcomed for the first time since Heffo’s Heroes in 1983. Mick had played under Kevin.
Like all, Mick was raised on their songs and stories. And playing under such respected figures added a slice of sulphur to the boots.
"Managing us to that All-Ireland win were Doctor Pat O’Neill, Fran Ryder, Bobby Doyle and Jim Brogan. And we looked up to them so much. They had done it as players. They had been on successful Dublin teams.
"That kind of experience is so valuable. Being able to relate such experience to the players on what’s required to perform in Croke Park on big match days, and things like that.
"I really enjoyed my time on the Dublin management. Working with Jim (Gavin), the management, backroom team and, of course, the players. It was a fantastic time."
Jim Gavin gave him the call when he got the job in 2012. Mick spent four years beside him on the bench, winning three All-Ireland titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016, before he stepped away to give more time to the family.
Mick had his own days as Dublin manager. Along with Jack Sheedy and Mick Galvin. In 2008, they guided the Dubs to their first All-Ireland Junior Football Championship title since 1960.
They beat Roscommon in the final at Portlaoise. "That was a very enjoyable year. We played the All-Ireland semi-final over in Cardiff. Several of that squad went on to win the All-Ireland Senior Championship with Dublin."
Among them were Jonny Cooper, Darren Daly, Mick Fitzsimons, Denis Bastick and Eoghan O’Gara. Darren Homan was also on the team. Deego, Sheedy and Galvin were christened ‘The Three Amigos.’
Mick had another managerial stint he won’t forget. Leading Fingal Ravens to their first Dublin Intermediate Championship crown in 2007.
They went on to win the Leinster title – against Mick’s present club, Donaghmore Ashbourne! And they made it to the All-Ireland final in Croke Park, losing to Moycullen of Galway.
"That was a good innings. I had happy days there. We had a great group of players."
Rolestown turned black and white. The locality savouring every minute of the journey. Including the sadly missed Andy Kettle, former Chairman of the Dublin County Board.
Mick says he played at a time when Gaelic football contained so many good sides and quality players. Among them Dessie Farrell.
Dessie had another brilliant game in the All-Ireland final of ’95. He had a knee injury coming into the match. He could only do light training. But he was still the game’s top scorer with four points, three of them from play.
Mick wishes him all the best in his job. He knows, from first-hand experience, the great expectations that come packed in Dublin’s kit bag. Especially now after the five-in-a-row years. Pressure is not just for tyres when you are managing Dublin.
When the good days come back, Mick will be in Croke Park, rooting for Dessie, wearing his Dublin colours. Joining the Dublin convoy sailing out from Ashbourne’s Royal Canal.
He’s looking forward to hearing the Artane Band strike up once again, and to see the faithful return to lining the pitches and hanging up the nets.