Sixty years since St Finian’s were pipped by stellar St Jarlath’s side

Gerry Buckley

Those of us who have been privileged to have got to know Mullingar native Kevin Nugent over the years have been fascinated by his up-to-speed and in-depth knowledge of his hometown to this day, despite most of the past six decades having been spent in such far-flung places as the Philippines and the USA.

Founder and director of the Brazelton Institute, a division of developmental medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, and revered worldwide as an expert in what is a very complex medical field, the affable Kevin is aware of a significant milestone in his life this Friday (May 1). His late father, Jimmy Nugent, ran a successful garage on the Austin Friars St/Millmount corner. Indeed, the site of the VW agency is still referred to as Nugent’s Corner by locals of a certain age. It was Jimmy who took a then-rare colour photo of the parade from 1960 which appears on this page.

The parade preceded a memorable All-Ireland colleges ‘A’ football final in Páirc Chiaráin, a week after the Athlone venue had been formally opened with a challenge match, fittingly between the two counties separated in Athlone by the River Shannon, Westmeath and Roscommon.

The prestigious Hogan Cup was still a relatively new concept, having initially been trialled between 1946 and 1948, and resumed in 1957. It tended to be dominated by the diocesan schools and, by the time the seventh staging of the competition came around in the 1959/60 academic year, St Jarlath’s, Tuam already headed the roll of honour with two successes (1947 and 1958). They still comfortably lead the way despite having failed to win the blue riband of colleges Gaelic football since Michael Meehan (in my opinion, the best player not to have won an All Star) captained the side in 2002.

This columnist’s late father, Des Buckley, taught in St Finian’s for 42 years, covering an astonishing six decades between 1949 and 1991. I have often said – and meant – that my earliest memories in life are of attending schools’ matches with him, including at least one game per annum against perennial challengers for provincial honours, St Mel’s, Longford.

He always claimed that the St Finian’s team of 1953 “would have walked the Hogan Cup” had the All-Ireland series not been in limbo at the time. The results suggest he was right. And he was not a man prone to hyberbole - unlike the younger of his two sons, some might say! The young men of 1952/53 absolutely trounced all and sundry en route to an eighth Leinster title, scoring a whopping 6-12 in the provincial final against an outclassed St Peter’s, Wexford, and supplying seven starters for the Leinster inter-provincial team which won the then-prestigious colleges version of the Railway Cup.

The late Fr Jim Deignan from Cavan was St Finian’s legendary trainer at the time. In recent days, I picked up a radio interview with a famous Royal County duo, Peter McDermott RIP and Mick O’Brien. The latter was a member of the black and amber-clad side of 1960 and correctly opined that football in the school went on a rapid downward spiral since Fr Deignan took up parochial duties (as priests invariably do) in Clara in 1980. They are now languishing in the ‘D’ division.

Yours truly was just three years old in 1959/60 and, naturally enough, I’m relying on older and wiser people to fill in the blanks about that campaign. A consistent thread is the luck involved in edging past Franciscan College, Gormanston in the semi-final courtesy of a last-gasp goal from a 14-yard free by Castlepollard’s Larry Fagan RIP, whose brother Paddy RIP was also on the team. Indeed, the priest who left the game slightly early to make it back to Mullingar to supervise students’ compulsory evening study, announced that St Finian’s had lost – and there was no WhatsApp evidence to the contrary!

The aforementioned St Mel’s were then brushed aside in the Leinster final in Cusack Park. A one-point win against Limerick CBS (Bernie Hartigan et al) ensued in the All-Ireland semi-final. That match in Portlaoise came up for sombre reasons in recent weeks with the death of Sean Mulderry Jnr, as his father Sean Snr died suddenly while attending that match, 60 years and a week before his son. Kevin Nugent has been lifelong friends of the Mulderry family.

All roads led to Athlone on May 1, 1960. A quick glance down the St Jarlath’s side says it all. Backboned by four of the Galway side which would win three Sam Maguire Cups from 1964 to 1966 – Johnny Geraghty, Enda Colleran, ‘Pateen’ Donnellan and Seamus Leyden – and a couple of Mayo powerhouses in team captain Pat Sheridan and the late John Morley, an elegant footballer who was to lose his life tragically as an on-duty garda just over 20 years later, the boys in the famous blue and white colours won an epic contest by 3-10 to 3-7.

St Finian’s had many stars on board also. The aforementioned Mick O’Brien and the late Paddy Cromwell, a goalkeeper renowned for his lengthy kick-outs when full backs still kicked – toe-pegged? – the ball as far as they could in BC (before Cluxton) times, went on to win All-Ireland medals with Meath in 1967. Life in the seminary ended, or at least temporarily suspended, many a promising football career those times. Team captain Fintan Costello went on to play for Westmeath before moving permanently to Canada in 1967. I never grew up – and never will – in my adulation of those who donned the maroon and white jersey when I was a child. Accordingly, I broke out in goosebumps when I received an email from the former St Mary’s, Rochfortbridge maestro in recent weeks after I had informed Kevin Nugent that I planned to pen this article. Fintan’s modesty shone through in his correspondence.

St Finian’s never managed to win the Hogan Cup. I had reached the ripe old age of nine by the time St Jarlath’s again proved to be the party poopers six years later, to the day, at the same venue. This was a game that the losers blew, their nerves allowing the Jimmy Duggan-inspired Connacht champions to edge home by a point (1-10 to 1-9). Duggan (another strong contender for the ‘ignored All Star’ selection) was a classy footballer who went on to play as an 18-year-old midfielder for Galway just four months later as they completed their Sam hat-trick.

I vividly recall being promised a rare meal out in Athlone by my father prior to that final in 1966. However, such was his post-match disgust that he drove home at breakneck speed, flung his car keys on the table, and used an array of words that were an absolute no-go area for his two sons. And we ended up having beans on toast. Both Pat Sheridan and Jimmy Duggan attended the captains’ get-together in the Greville Arms Hotel in Mullingar for my ‘Fifty Years of the Hogan Cup’ book launch in October 2003. Pat and 48 others got fed the best of roast beef. Now Jimmy knows why he was dished up beans on toast!

More from this Topic