12 titles in 50 years, none in 56
It’s 56 years since Dungannon last won the O’Neill Cup, ironically enough in 1956, and ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending when the club held a little gathering of the surviving members of the squad which defeated Clonoe O’Rahillys in the county final - this staged ahead of Paddy Devlin’s return to California after an extended holiday in his homeland.
Paddy, son of Edward and Mary Devlin - both long since deceased, is a member of an old Dungannon family and was reared in Charlemont Street with his brothers and sisters - John, Teddy, Mickey, Noel, Mary , Kathleen and Ann. He went to San Francisco in 1959 and worked in the construction industry all his life, he and his wife Nancy having two sons and two daughters who have blessed them with some lovely grandchildren.
All eight players had hoped to get along to the casual little function but, unfortunately three of them - Pat McCall, Frankie McHugh and Michael McLoughlin - didn’t make it on the Wednesday night. Those who happily did enjoy a nice of reminiscing and just good old craic were Tony Byrne, Paddy Devlin, Mickey Donaghy. Jim McCallin and Bobby Mullan.
And the discussion began with talk about why it’s been so long without a follow-up to that twelfth county title triumph, a variety of reasons put forward as to why it didn’t quite happen in 1986, when all present seemed united in the belief that the Clarkes should have beaten Trillick that day in Plunkett Park, Pomeroy.
The point was mader that in the old days The Clarkes had a much bigger cathcment areas, with players from places such as Eglish, Moy, Killyman, Edendork and Killeeshil, so it’s plain that their ability to attract the cream of the talent from a massive extended rural area isn’t what it once used to be.
“The popular description of the squad from some people back in the day was that the town men were there to play the football and the country men were there to do the chopping” quipped Tony Byrne.
Mickey Donaghy explained that he, and his brothers Willie and Pat, had initially played for the Tir na nOgs but then switched to Dungannon, while a key element of that 1956 team were county stars such as Iggy Jones, Tommy Campbell and Frankie Fee.
However, all present were aware that, but for a remarkable finish in the first round match against the Kevin Barrys, the 1956 glory would have foundered at the very first hurdle.
Dungannon Observer’s match report headline summed up the game: ‘A Jones Goal Robs Derrylaughan of Victory’ it read, with the subheading stating ‘Four Points Behind With Four Minutes To Go’. Here are excerpts of the relevant quotes:
‘In the 56th minute at Coalisland, the fitter, faster and, by far, superior team, were leading by four points. Dungannon Clarkes, joint favourites with Omagh to win the county title, were not only well and truly beaten but thoroughly humiliated and spectators, convinced that a Clarkes rally was unlikely, were beginning to stream out of MacRory Park.
‘That was the position with just four minutes and a couple of dozen kicks from time. But Derrylaughan didn’t win. Without warning of any kind and, to the amazement of players and spectators alike, The Clarkes scored two points and a goal, which left them winners by a margin of one point. Truly, it was the most unexpected ending to a championship match in Tyrone for as long as I can remember.
‘The Derrylaughan team in general, and excellent leader Mick Cushenan in particular, had the sympathy of nearly everyone who saw the game. It was a hard, cruel blow. The Barrys deserved the win. They were easily the better team and I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that.
‘The Clarkes made all the running in the first ten minutes and got through for a goal, Michael McLoughlin and Paddy Devlin sharing the honours, Thereafter, to all intents and purposes, The Clarkes did not count.
‘Five minutes from the end, Iggie (sic) Jones brought the ball into a section of the pitch which, during the previous 25 minutes, had been practically deserted. Iggie went solo for a distance, then kicked towards the square where Paddy Quinn gained possession and cleared. With only three minutes to go, The Clarkes were awarded a free. Tony Byrne took this one and pointed.
‘A little over a minute from time, only the Clarkes goalie and fullback remained in position as Tony Byrne stepped forward to take a free. Dungannon supporters hoped he would try for a goal but Iggie Jones, thinking that Derrylaughan were now only two points instead of three in front, advised Tony to try for a point, Try he did, with the desired result.
‘It was all over now bar the shouting - or so it seemed! Then in the 60th minute of play, Frankie Fee sent a high ball towards the square. Three players jumped for it but Jones, lying on the inside, got it, raced forward, eluded the goalie, who had rushed out to intercept, and pushed it over the line for the winning score.
‘Clarkes supporters, too astonished at first to realise what had happened, cheered madly at this completely unexpected turn of events, while supporters of Derrylaughan were understandably silent and sorrowful.
‘In a matter of seconds the ball was kicked out and carried swiftly to the other side of the field, where Sean Dynes, determined not to give way was “buried” in a ruck of players. The man who took the resultant free got the last kick of the game because, a split second later, Jim Devlin sounded the fulltime whistle.
‘My sympathies lie with Derrylaughan, yet I cannot help admiting Dungannon’s pluck in resfusing to admit defeat’ admitted the author, Linesman his nom de plume.
The quarter-final wasn’t easy for Dungannon either, ‘Ballygawley Gave Dungannon A First-Half Fright’ the headline on his report.
But the opening paragraph summed up the story of the match: ‘Dungannon Clarkes, after a very shaky start, romped home easy winners over Ballygawley. This was probably Dungannon’s best performance for quite some time, but it was still far from impressive.
‘Joint matchwinners were Tommy Campbell and Iggy Jones who were the mainsprings of the attack. Paddy Devlin also put in a lof of useful work up front. The defence was very, very shaky. At midfield Neil Hackett and M.McClean had the edge on Pat McCall and Christy Mallon, but there was a marked change in the second half when Pat Donaghy and Tommy Campbell were switched to the centre.’
The semi-final triumph over Omagh, whom the Linesman indicated had ‘started odds-on favourite not only to win, but to win in a canter’.
‘On par, at least, they appeared to be unbeatable, for what team in Tyrone could be expected to lower the colours of a team which included such battle-scarred stalwarts as Sean Donnelly, Jackie Taggart and Paddy Corey, not to mention half a dozen others who had seen action in county teams?
‘Dungannon goalie Jim McCallin was tested and Clarkes supporters breathed a sigh of relief when he brought off a good save. It was the first of many. The Clarkes backs almost immediately began to play with confidence because they knew there was a good goalie behind them.
It was a very exciting game, thrills were two a penny and sometimes even cheaper. Omagh went down fighting, congratulations to The Clarkes on a tremendous victory’ he assessed, commending the management for their tactical ingenuity and stressing that each and every member of the Clarkes team pulled his weight, final score Dungannon 3-8 Omagh 2-7.
The final finished with a four points advantage as well, Dungannon 2-6 Clonoe 1-5 and Linesman summed it up thus: ‘From goalie Jim McCallin (and later Johnny Harte) right out to full-forward Iggie Jones, every member of the team contributed. The backs were shaky enough but settled down, Sean Dynes, Christy Mallon and Tony Byrne particularly good, midfielders Pat Donaghy and Pat McCall fully extended in the first half by Tom Fox and Mickey O’Neill, Iggie Jones, Paddy Devlin, Tommy Campbell and Mickey Donaghy the pick of the forwards’.
There was much debate at the Clarkes club when this little reunion took place as the quintet of great and highly-respected players recalled many wonderful incidents and anecdotes of the happenings along this title trip, but in the years before and after it as well.
As well as recalling how Coalisland had beaten them in the final the yjust twleve months earlier, notably because of a great save by Fianna (and Coalisland Celtic) goalkeeper Charlie Maneely from a penalty taken by Iggy Jones, there was great merriment as they remembered the social occasions as well - especially how, when denied the use of St.Patrick’s Hall for the had obtained permission to stage the annual Boxing Night Ceili in The Viceroy, where some will have been surpised at the end of the night by the playing of Amhran na bhFiann!
And, as for the early scare, Tony Byrne summed up their approach to such situations: “Iggy Jones always said that when the final whistle goes, you’re beat; until then - you’re not!”.
The enjoyable little function only lasted a couple of hours and it required no massive organisation, so I would suggest that nights such as this should be encouraged more in all clubs. My thanks to all involved and may the five players all live long to recount their memories to many more folk!
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Friday 24 May 2013
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