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All Ireland Football Championship: The Down captains who ruled Croke Park

Three days before Down go for All-Ireland glory against Cork in the final at Croke Park, Micheal McGeary talks to the five men who who know what it’s like to life the Sam Maguire trophy for the county

Kevin Mussen 1960

We had made such progress in 1959 that it was realistic for us to be optimistic in 1960.

In 1959 we had reached an All Ireland semi-final and won the National League.

We had created a momentum and a lot of the credit for that must go to Maurice Hayes.

He had no equal when it came to organisation. He had the knack of being able to make things happen.

The logistics of it all were taken care of by him.

Barney Carr was trainer and between him, Maurice Hayes and Brian Denvir they got things done.

When I first began playing for Down you were lucky if you played with the same group of players more than once.

There was no real continuity or planning until the aforementioned men took over.

We met in Newry and travelled up on the day of the match.

No matter what anyone says there were nerves that morning on the way up to Dublin.

I agree you need that edge going into a big match. The good thing from our perspective was that we didn’t panic. There was no such thing as blind fear which meant we were able to settle down very quickly and play football.

An All Ireland final is totally different to any other game because of the huge hype that surrounds it.

You had the media descending in hordes which was totally new for us.

You had cameras all over the place, but it was all great fun and we made friends forever.

The match itself was over in a flash. It’s all a blur.

We travelled home on Monday night and for some unknown reason we stopped twice in Drogheda on the way home. We stopped again in Dundalk and didn’t get home to Newcastle until 1.30am.

Paddy Doherty 1961

Paddy packed in soccer to be winning captainWe went down to Croke Park in 1959 but Galway, with Sean Purcell and Frankie Stockwell at their very best, taught us a lesson.

On that particular day I got a kick on the knee at the start and it seized up completely.

I wanted them to take me off but they left me on. The main thing to come from that defeat was that the players had a meeting and from that moment on everything was focused on the 1960 All Ireland.

Maurice Hayes was an exceptional man. He had everything planned from start to finish.

He looked after the players first and foremost and everything else was secondary.

The 1960 final against Kerry was a special occasion, but as a player it’s all a blur.

I do remember though the only time we spent on warming up was parading behind the Artane Boys Band.

I remember saying to our captain Kevin Mussen that some day we’ll get to sit in those cushion seats in the Hogan Stand.

One other thing that stands out from that day was that we were kicking a ball about outside the chapel and the Gardai arrived up with the book out ready to take names.

Maurice Hayes though intervened. The books were put away and they wished us the best of luck.

There was Dan Lavery from Ballynahinch, a brilliant footballer.

For me he was the Sean Purcell of Down. He later went to Glasgow Celtic and I remember him saying he would give 20 years of his life to be playing in the final.

I myself went to Lincoln City for eight weeks and over there I thought to myself, ‘am I going to win an FA Cup medal, an Irish Cup medal or an All Ireland medal’.

I decided to come home and finished up winning three All Ireland medals.

I’ve no regrets and I’ve made friends everywhere I’ve travelled.

People say I was a natural footballer, but I also spent seven nights a week in the football field in Ballykinlar.

But it was all so different then — no discos, no drinking clubs.

Joe Lennon 1968

I was collected at my Gormanston home by the team bus on the Sunday morning.

We travelled by bus from our hotel in Portmarnock to Croke, but actually spent very little time warming up before the match.

It wasn’t at all like the amount of time spent warming up today.

Hanging around isn’t the best thing to be doing when you are ready to play a big match.

We just had a very brief kick around before joining in the parade before the start.

There was the usual banter about which team would have the inside or the outside, Kerry wanted the inside.

Dr Mick Loftus was referee, I was playing wing half back and was marking Dr Brendan Lynch.

The match itself wasn’t all that eventful. I was fortunate enough to play a ball forward that resulted in a goal for us.

It was a big thing for me to have played a part in one of the goals in an All Ireland final.

In the 1960 final I played midfield and again in 1961, then moved to wing half back in 1968.

In my career with Down I played in 13 of the 15 positions — the only two I didn’t play were goals and left corner back.

I was born in Poyntzpass, my family moved to County Down in 1945 when I was 11, and I was associated with Aghaderg all my playing career.

In the 1968 All Ireland final I was injured just before half time with a bad tear in the hamstring.

At half time I was told to make a decision whether I would stay on or be substituted.

I felt in the interests of the team that it would be best if I took myself off.

The second half, sitting on the sideline, was a very long 30 minutes.

But had I stayed on and been responsible for losing the match I would never have forgiven myself.

I remember Maurice Hayes saying after we won the 1960 All Ireland, ‘you guys will be dining out on this for the next 50 years’, and he was absolutely right.

He was an excellent administrator who made a point of looking after the players.

We stayed in Dublin on the Sunday night.

My advice for the 2010 Down team would be to concentrate on the little things, cut out the short handpassing in your own defensive area.

And play flat out to the very end — we won so many games in the dying minutes.

Paddy O'Rourke 1991

All through my career I always felt that one day I would win an All Ireland with Down.

If you didn’t believe you were going to win an All Ireland you wouldn’t continue playing county football.

A lot of players in Down would have that same belief, that it could happen and would happen.

You must have that belief in your own ability and in that of those around you.

Growing up I was always aware of the 1968 winning side and confident that one day we would follow in their footsteps.

I remember seeing the Down All Ireland winning team of 1968 coming home and I can recall listening to Micheal O’Hehir on the radio.

Captaining your county to All Ireland success is a very special day and it’s something you never forget.

I always try to stay calm before matches and it was a similar case that day.

You had to shut yourself off and remain focused on the main business of the day — that’s the match itself.

The match against Meath was something of a rollercoaster.

We built up a good lead and they hauled us back.

At a time like that, when our lead was down to two points, you begin to glance at the clock.

I’ll always remember Mickey Linden, late in the match, getting through for a one on one with the Meath goalkeeper.

I was thinking ‘this is it, the game’s over’ but Mickey put it wide, which was so unlike him.

At a time like that we certainly felt the pressure. I do always remember that miss.

I didn’t think we had blown it, but it gave us something to think about.

We travelled up to Dublin on the morning of the match and then travelled home on the Monday, stopped for an official reception in Drogheda and again at the Carrickdale Hotel.

We eventually got to Downpatrick at four in the morning.

DJ Kane 1994

DJ was very aware of the high expectations To be honest I went to Croke Park that day hoping for the best but mindful there were no guarantees.

The prospect of being the first Down captain to lose an All Ireland was certainly something that didn’t appeal to me.

I did the best I could to put it to the back of my mind — Croke Park on All Ireland final day though isn’t something you can dismiss very lightly.

Human nature being what it is, both options had been going through my head from the moment we won the semi-final.

There was the possibility of either a great achievement or a great failure.

In many respects it was a double edged sword.

The fact there was only a three year gap from our last All Ireland success in 1991 meant the expectation rose every time the record was still intact.

You can understand there was a fair bit of pressure in the build up to the match. The media probably brought it up much more than I did.

You can well imagine the sense of relief when I finally got the Sam Maguire into my hands.

You do lose track of things that happened during the match itself but the day itself, from arriving in Newry and heading on the bus to Portmarnock and the Gardai escort to Croke Park, is still fresh.

I was no different to any other lad growing up. I can remember doing little projects at school and they were always football related, always about Down and winning All Irelands.

The fact I had so many brothers and cousins who had already achieved success meant there was no getting away from it all.

I was only six when I was taken to my first All Ireland. It soon became second nature for me and as time moved on I was hoping to follow in their (the players’) footsteps.

When the final whistle sounded all I wanted to do was to see some of my mates but this steward grabbed me and took me to the Hogan Stand for the presentation.

I had a few words prepared in anticipation. I didn’t want to stand up there like a prat not knowing what to say.

I did Irish up to A level so I had a fair idea but I checked it out with my former teacher just to be on the safe side.

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