Friday 15 December 2017

'We thought after '75 we'd win titles every three or four years'

Brian McEniff had the player-manager dual role as they lifted their first ever Ulster title in 1972
Brian McEniff had the player-manager dual role as they lifted their first ever Ulster title in 1972
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

With the arrival of Kevin Heffernan in Dublin and Mick O'Dwyer soon afterwards, it is generally accepted that the 1970s saw the modern manager 'concept' in Gaelic games take firm root.

But the '70s also featured the brief cult of the player-manager.

In Donegal, Brian McEniff had the dual role as they lifted their first ever Ulster title in 1972. In Dublin, Tony Hanahoe took the reins from Heffernan in 1977 and steered the team to a second successive All-Ireland title.

In between, Barnes Murphy and Sligo nipped in to claim only the county's second Connacht title. It's 40 years since they took Mayo to a replay in Castlebar and then, inspired by the great Mickey Kearins, bridged a 47-year gap since their previous provincial crown.


To this day Murphy is still not sure if he can be rightfully classed as 'player-manager.'

"Player-coach might be more appropriate - I didn't get to have a say in picking the team." he recalls.

Murphy had toured America with the All Stars the previous year and had struck up a good relationship with Heffernan, who he leaned on for much advice during the '75 campaign.

As player-coach, the then 27-year old was willing to source advice from quarters beyond his own county so McEniff and the legendary Galway trainer John 'Tull' Dunne were part of his war cabinet.

His best bit of business, though, was luring Kearins out of retirement.

"Mickey always jokes that I was behind the '75 win because I had convinced him to come back again," he laughs.

"If I hadn't taken over as captain, he wouldn't have played. We wouldn't have won it without him. The first two or three points he scored in that replay were fabulous. Off left and right.

"I met Mick O'Connell down in Valentia only last year and he told me he would consider Mickey Kearins as one of the best ever."

The '70s was the lost decade for Mayo and the '75 loss is ranked among their worst defeats. But nothing could take from Sligo's win and the celebrations lasted a week, much to the detriment of their preparations for an All-Ireland semi-final with Kerry.

Pat Spillane has referenced in the past how Sligo players waved to the crowd as they took part in the pre-match parade. It's something that rankles with Murphy.

"I was the first man and I wasn't looking behind me," he recalls. "I wasn't looking at any crowd. Maybe one or two were. But I've seen it since.

"The big problem with Sligo was we had a replay with Mayo, there were only three weeks to the All-Ireland semi-final. We did spend the next week celebrating and went all over the place.

"I was anxious to get them back training. I think we did about six nights and it was too much, trying to make up for lost time.

"We were in worse shape than we were going out in Castlebar. That was understandable after winning a first Connacht in 47 years."

That Sligo have only won one provincial title since grates with him.

"We thought after '75 we'd win them every two or three years but it doesn't happen like that, especially in Sligo," he says.

"It was great in 2007 but we gave it away in 2010 against Roscommon. We left it behind us. We were so cocky going up to Castlebar."

Murphy feels Roscommon fell into the same trap when they came to Sligo four weeks ago as hot favourites.

"Roscommon were so sure of themselves and Sligo just knocked the stuffing out of them. There is never too much between them anyway."


It's a "big ask" for Sligo to beat a Mayo team that were "hard done by" against Kerry in Limerick last year.

"This Mayo should have an All-Ireland. But they haven't got any better this year, said the Enniscrone man.

"We have to make the most of these opportunities but the standard of club football is poor in the county," says Murphy.

"Too many games called off at short notice and then players lose interest. Take St John's, the local club here. They've lost 10 players to emigration in recent times."

Murphy has concerns over Sligo's ability to match Mayo's power around midfield.

"But I'd be an optimist so I always think we can cause a surprise," he says.

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