Legacy of Down's 1960 All Ireland success side lives on
Kevin Mussen recalls glory years
Down's 1960 magical All Ireland success was to prove a seminal moment in the history of the sport.
Not only were they bringing the much sought after Sam Maguire across the border for the first time, but they had also beat a great Kerry side.
To prove it was no fluke they again proved too good for Kerry in the 1961 All Ireland semi-final.
They then rubber-stamped their highly impressive credentials with victory over Offaly in the All Ireland decider before a 90,556 record attendance.
Their arrival in the big time was a huge boost for the sport here; we had a team not just of footballers but of entertainers.
They revolutionised the sport playing with six inter-changeable forwards and moving the ball at pace. There were other significant changes too for until Down’s emergence, track suits and black shorts had been virtually unheard of at GAA matches.
It was appropriate that captain Kevin Mussen, a Hilltown teacher, should be the man to take Sam across the border for the first time, for he had soldiered with the Mourne men from the early 50s when Down football was largely anonymous.
“When I first began playing for Down our biggest ambition back then was to win a match,” he said.
“The turnover of players then was immense. You saw players playing one Sunday and you might never see them again.
“There was no planning or organisation, but Maurice Hays came along and changed all that.
“He was the organiser, a man who knew exactly what he wanted and how to go about it.
“From 1958 onwards things began to improve and we had the rare luxury of players turning up more than once for a match.”
These days Mussen, as modest as they come, is genuinely taken aback by the interest in the events of 1960 and 1961.
“They were fabulous days and things now are often remembered with no great accuracy as people recall the widest they kicked,” he says with a smile.
Now living in Newcastle he’s able to indulge himself in his other great passion of golf where he often plays as often as five days a week at the Mourne Golf Club.
An uncompromising right half back, he gave the county sterling service as did his good friend and full back on that side Leo Murphy.
He was still a student at Trench House, but Murphy was a colossus, a man who dominated that area in front of goal with great authority and composure.
Reflecting on those heady days for football in the Mournes, he said: “I was still quite young at the time and for me it was a step into the unknown even though I had played in league finals and other big matches.
“Without question it was the pinnacle of my career and the atmosphere for the 1960 final was something else, the massive crowd and noise around Croke Park.
“That has to be my abiding memory of that day, but once you got going and got clobbered a few times your nerves soon disappeared.”
Like Mussen he’s quick to acknowledge the contribution of Maurice Hays.
“He had a controlling influence over everything and I mean everything. If anything was out of place he was first to correct it.”
Big Leo enjoyed the after match celebrations as much as everyone else, but by the following Tuesday he was back in Trench House.
“Winning the 1960 All Ireland meant we had reached the pinnacle and retaining it 12 months later meant it had been no fluke and that we were worthy champions,” he said.
“Bringing the Sam Maguire back to Down was a vision we had quietly hidden.
“There was no great crowing about it, but as time moved on we came to believe it was achievable.”
Many of the 1960 and 1961 All Ireland winning sides were products of former grammar schools, principally St Colman’s and Abbey CBS and their contribution was crucial.
The McCartans, James and Dan, the O’Neills, Sean and Kevin come to mind and then there was the irrepressible Paddy Doherty, captain in 1961 with Joe Lennon again holding up Sam in September 1968.