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The man who brought Down to the top of Gaelic football


By Declan Bogue

Last Saturday, he turned 90 years young. Answering the door of his Downpatrick home, you instantly become aware that you are in the presence of a man of serious substance, Dr Maurice Hayes, with heavy political tomes taking up every perch, shelf and cranny.

A quick Google of his name throws up all his political accomplishments. Starting his working life as a teacher, he followed his father by becoming town clerk of Downpatrick and onto a political life where he served as Senator in the Republic, was the author of The Hayes Report as chairman of the Acute Hospitals Review Group, contributed to the Patten Report that changed the face of policing in Northern Ireland and was the very first catholic Ombudsman.

And before all that? Well, he gained the best possible preparation for a political life as a young GAA administrator in Down, and along with a few like-minded colleagues changed the culture of Gaelic football, brought the first All-Ireland title across the border in 1960 and introduced many of the latter-day innovations of the sport.

Here, in the first of an exclusive two-part feature concluding tomorrow, he talks about his beginnings, his heritage and how he helped get Down to the pinnacle of Gaelic football.

DECLAN Bogue: You played hurling for Kilclief and Down, which was rather unusual for someone not from the Ards Peninsula. Can you begin with that?

Maurice Hayes: My father was from Waterford and we used to spend holidays there. I played more hurling than football. My mother was from Kerry, Listowel.

We started a wee hurling team here in Downpatrick and won a Junior County Championship. And there was nowhere else to go after that. I knew a lot of the Kilclief guys and played with them, they were a good team at the time.

DB: How did your family come to be in Downpatrick?

MH: My father was in the British Army. He spent the war in what was then Mesopotamia, and I tell you this much, if Tony Blair or George Bush ever met my father, they wouldn't have put a foot in the place.

When he came back, east Waterford was very Redmondite. But he didn't get back from the war until 1920 and it was like the Americans coming back from Korea - the war that had been popular when they were going to it was no longer popular when they were coming home.

My mother had worked in hotels. She worked in Wynnes in Dublin when it was bombed in 1916. She had nowhere to go. She had a sister working in Downpatrick, and then my father came up to Killough. He got a job in the petty sessions, the clerk of petty sessions was also the town clerk.

There was a group of Iraqis over here 10 years ago and they wanted to talk about policing, because I had been on the Patten.

Ah now, sure they should have left them alone. They couldn't get rid of Gaddafi quick enough and look what they have now.

DB: And you joined the county board when you were still studying in Queen's?

MH: I was in the east Down league first, around '48. But I had been to Congress in 1947, when they voted to go (bring the 1947 All-Ireland final) to New York, it was madness! They had it on an Easter Sunday.

Congress went up there to Croke Park and had it in a room under the Hogan Stand, no bigger than this kitchen here, no ventilation or anything.

(Bob Fitzpatrick, a teacher from west Clare who was an ally of Canon Hamilton), he got up and he read this letter which we found out afterwards had been written in the car coming up. It was a tear-jerking letter from the exile (pleading for the chance to see an All-Ireland final played in America).

The officials at the time, Paddy O'Keefe, Gerry Arthurs and all these people, they were going bananas.

I was sort of there by accident. I was playing for Kilclief at the time. Alfie Oakes was a painter, a grandfather of Conor Deegan. Alfie was a great man, he had a place down in my mother's yard down in the hotel and he said to me about Congress, would I come? And that was the basis in which I went.

That would have been the start of my involvement with the county board. I must have been involved a bit before that, that was my last year in Queen's. And then I was teaching after that.

DB: And a group of you came up with a 10-year plan for Down to win an All-Ireland, even though you hadn't even won as much as an Ulster title before that?

MH: It was less formal than that. I used to say it was a five-year plan. I said it was the five years before that that were the important ones!

What happened was that there was a group of youngish people that came onto the county board together in the early '50s. Quite a few of them were in school in Downpatrick.

At that time, the county was very split between south Down, who thought of themselves as the aristocrats of the whole thing, and east Down, who found it hard to get on county teams.

But the same thing is happening now. I am quite convinced, and I say this, that the county board have a mental map of County Down, in which County Down stops north of a line from Banbridge to Downpatrick and they don't see the northern part of the county at all.

That's where the population is now. That's what they should be investing in. The one thing that pleased me recently was that I saw a reference to an Under-14 east Down team which had beaten an east Waterford team in hurling. There's an accomplishment for you.

And a third of the team were from Bredagh and Carryduff.

But back to the '50s. There was a group that were chomping at the bit a wee bit, wanted a bit more ambition.

The first thing was to raise the standard of football in the county, which we did by starting an all-county league. It had been the south, the east and the mid. The north didn't exist.

The all-county league put in the best 12 teams. And the other thing we did at that stage was to produce a programme at the start of the year of the games they would have, and stuck to that.

And then, after a bit, we needed to help the people in small clubs, where you had good players. Those players were in small clubs, carrying the whole thing on their back and every one of them was a midfielder, so they couldn't get their place on the county team!

So we formed a barony league, four teams; Lecale, Mourne, Kinelarty and Iveagh was the southern bit.

Discipline was another thing which was very bad at that particular time, nearly every match finished in a row.

So we brought in referees from Antrim. Someone from the Antrim county board said that they were getting paid! They weren't actually getting paid, but they were getting decently treated.

The colleges then, the Intermediate schools were coming into being and we gave them all sets of jerseys, balls, things like that to get them going. I am talking about Castlewellan, Downpatrick, Warrenpoint.

And then the colleges happened to be going well at the time, the two Newry schools who were competing with each other and producing good footballers. There were those years where we felt we needed to improve things.

DB: That was quite the shopping list.

MH: There was a terrible lack of ambition actually in the county board at the time. They had won a Junior All-Ireland with a good team in 1946 and after that all they wanted to do was win Junior things. There were guys kept off the senior team, for junior next year!

All Down wanted to do was to get out of the Championships, so that they could get on with their local fixtures.

So eventually this carried through as people did not want to play for their county. There were threats to suspend players. But I always believe if you need to suspend people for them to join you, then you have lost before you start.

It was a very personal thing, a very private thing, this five-year thing. We just got this group of players and said, 'Look, we think this could be done within five years. And if you stick to us, we will stick to you'.

The idea was that in the first year, we would get to an Ulster final and lose. But we would learn enough that we would win the next year and then go to the All-Ireland semi-final, but you would be beaten. And learn enough out of that to get the next year to a final, where you would be beaten…

What it did, it gave people an objective, but also prepared them for defeat. It wasn't the end of the world.

What quickened it up was the draw against Offaly (in 1960), which gave us two games at that level.

The other thing we did was to try and break out of Ulster. People were fed up playing each other. At that time, the Lagan Cup was the northern section of the National League.

Certainly the eight northern counties, apart from Cavan, were in the Lagan Cup. The same counties were in the McKenna Cup and the Ulster Championship. So they were there kicking the lining out of each other, getting fed up.

So we played friendlies with everybody, as many matches as we could against southern teams and that helped us.

They were a great group of fellas and they stuck with it. Obviously, there were some hugely talented footballers.

DB: Paddy Doherty, who captained the team to their second All-Ireland in 1961, once said he thought you were all mad with that talk.

MH: I remember getting Paddy back. He was playing soccer with Lincoln Town. PJ McElroy was lost somewhere in the middle of Wales with the forestry. And I remember writing to him, telling him that if he kept fit, I felt we might do something.

Joe Lennon was in the Met Office, if he wasn't in the Shetlands he was in the Persian Gulf. James McCartan had played a game or two with Glenavon I think, in a fit of pique!

So we got them all together. And we did look after guys. We were one of the first teams to have a doctor, Martin Walsh. Martin was a very good footballer himself, played with Down and Newcastle. He was almost a selector too.

And we had very good support then from the hospital here in Downpatrick. We had a man called Johnny Boyd who was the surgeon. Most doctors at that time had no interest in sports injuries. They would say to just go home and rest. But we wanted to get them back. So he was very good and he would get them back.

DB: One of the innovations you introduced was the practice of wearing tracksuits, which was novel in the GAA at the time, but perhaps it's a frivolous thing to be recalled?

MH: It wasn't frivolous. I'll tell you how we got the tracksuits.

At that time, the subs tended to tog out and then put their trousers on again and sit on the sideline.

That would have been at the time of the drainpipe trousers! And you would be trying to get a sub out and they wouldn't be able to get their trousers off quickly.

Eventually, they had to take their boots off so that they could get their trousers off, that sort of thing. I thought we can't have that anymore.

There were practical things like that. In the same way the black togs were a practical thing for two reasons.

One was that if you were playing a team like Galway or Cork or a team with a lot of red in their jersey, you would change the Down jersey. So the point of reference of the Down jersey was gone. So we wanted there to be a point of reference that the Down players would always see. That was the black togs.

The second thing, it had to do with peripheral vision and it was more a hurling thing than a football thing. When you are down low caught up with the ball, what can you see? So we wanted a reference at the bottom half of the body, so that was what it was for.

But it worked well. That team caught the imagination and it still does.

DB: There is a celebrity status afforded to the Down team of 1960 that few other champions enjoy.

MH: I remember one night I was chairing a thing called the Forum for Europe down in Wexford. There was a debate going on between Garret Fitzgerald and that wee guy who was supposedly exonerated at Jobstown, Murphy, Worker's Party guy.

There was Garrett in his best theoretical basis saying that fishermen never had it so good, you know? To a crowd of unfortunate fishermen from Kilmore Quay, who couldn't even pay to get their boats out of the dock.

It was a very, very rowdy meeting, but we got through it. I was coming out after and a big fella stood in front of me, I was wondering what this was going to be about.

So he said to me, 'I have one question for you' and I said, 'Fire away'.

He said, 'I want you to answer it straight'.


He said, 'O'Neill, McCartan, Doherty. What does that mean?'

And I said, 'That's the Down half-forward line of the 1960 team!'

That was only 10 years ago, 50 odd years after the event. I think they played a bright sort of football, a positive sort of football with intelligent players.

DB: And you took the power of team management out of the hands of selection committees with vested interests, and entrusted Barney Carr as the first Gaelic football 'manager.'

MH: Barney Carr more or less looked after that end of it. He said more or less, go out and enjoy yourselves.

DB: So it's you we have to blame for the cult of the manager!

MH: Well, I think the cult of the manager has gone mad.

The amount of people that ask me about that… we had a sort of a corporate management. Barney, he was the football end of it. Out on the field, that sort of thing.

I looked after a lot of the relationships and that. TP Murphy looked after the logistics. There was five of us. There was no vote or a selection panel. There might have been a discussion, but nor was there any one person who regarded himself as a superintendant of it all.

DB: Do we underestimate the impact the players had in getting that first All-Ireland at the expense of Kerry

MH: Actually, the footballing style owed as much to the players. These were very intelligent guys, the likes of Kevin Mussen, Joe Lennon, Sean O'Neill, James (McCartan), he was a very strong character.

I always thought that half-forward line, people have different characteristics. Sean O'Neill was cerebral. Maybe too cerebral. And Paddy was instinctive. Paddy reminded me of Christy Ring. He would do things, but he wouldn't know why he did it. But it would be the right thing. And he was accurate.

And James was in the middle and he was the physical presence. But he also had a very good footballing brain.

There was a wonderful balance between them. So those guys developed their own approach to the thing. There was nobody involved in imposing a system on them.

Funny enough, we thought we were breaking somebody else's system.

I always said that was why we beat Kerry. Dr O'Sullivan, a very good friend of mine who wrote the book on Gaelic football, told them to stay in their zone and not leave it.

And then we came and we were moving all around the place.

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