The battle of ‘89 brought heartbreak for Maughan

The battle of ‘89 brought heartbreak for Maughan
Mayo’s Willie Joe Padden has a glance as Roscommon’s John Newton struggles to his feet in the 1989 Connacht SFC final. John Maughan will never forget 1989 because that was the year he realised he would never play for Mayo again. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Everyone who was there has their own special memories of the two-part series that was the 1989 Connacht football final between Mayo and Roscommon.

The draw and the replay, the drama and the tension, the huge crowds and the tailbacks from Castlerea to Claremorris.

Not to mention the agony and the ecstasy.

Mayo’s captain Jimmy Browne eventually lifted the Nestor Cup after Jimmy Burke’s ‘pushover try’ style goal at the ‘Graveyard End’ edged out the Rossies on a baking hot day at Dr Hyde Park.

A match that went down in local folklore finished 3-14 to 2-13 after extra-time.

Heroes were born and reputations were made in those matches.

John Maughan remembers those games and that summer well, but not for the same reasons as the rest of his Mayo team-mates, men like Peter Ford, Willie Joe Padden, TJ Kilgallon and Kevin McStay.

Maughan will never forget 1989 because that was the year he realised that he would never play for Mayo again.

What should have been a routine knee operation six weeks before the first round of that year’s Connacht championship against Galway turned out to be the beginning of the end of his inter-county career.

Five operations later and there was no going back.

He was Mayo’s centre-half back. He was in the prime. He was 26.

“It was heartbreaking,” he recalled last week, three decades after his last game in the Green and Red jersey, a challenge match against Longford that April when he marked Frank McNamee.

It absolutely broke my heart having to give up football at such a young age. I loved it, I absolutely loved it.

“I was playing a lot of football in the army, in the Defence Forces, I was playing with Mayo, and any cockfight in between.

“I’d come out of a Sigerson Cup campaign with UCG, I loved football, it was a huge part of my life. Gaelic football was my hobby and dominated my life to a large extent. I struggled to come to terms with it for a long, long time.

“It was unfortunate, what should have been a routine surgery didn’t work out for me. I ended up having a myriad of complications, five different surgeries, and I was left with no option.”

John O’Mahony was Mayo’s upwardly mobile young manager back then.

Sensing Maughan’s ‘frustration and desperation’ as the Crossmolina man tried to digest the news that he could no longer play a part on the field with Mayo, O’Mahony asked him to ‘help out’ with training.

The rest is history for Maughan, who went on to manage and coach senior county teams in Clare, Mayo, Fermanagh, Roscommon and now Offaly.

He remembers those early days well.

John O’Mahony asked me if I’d help with out the strength and conditioning work. This was prior to the modern strength and conditioning phenomenon that exists now. I was unqualified, but I had spent a fair bit of time in the gym during my time in the cadets and with the army.

"So I had a bit of knowledge and upskilled because I thought it might be beneficial,” explained Maughan.

“I was desperate to hang on, I couldn’t let go in many ways to be quite honest. And that’s probably one of the reasons why I ended up getting involved with the Mayo team [that year].

“John O’Mahony asked me to get involved because he probably saw a bit of frustration and desperation in me. I went for one surgery, ended up having five, and the surgeon said to me: ‘John, if you keep going you’re going to end up being the youngest recipient of a knee replacement’.

“That kind of shocked and worried me, so I had to stop.

“I was part of the backroom team, travelled with the team to all the games, but obviously didn’t tog out.

“It was a special time, it was great to see Mayo play in an All-Ireland in ‘89. But for me, there was an emptiness not being able to play, because I was still young enough to play. I felt like I could have been out there. But that’s the way it goes.”

Maughan, who lives in Castlebar, will be in MacHale Park this evening to see Mayo and Roscommon go into battle once more.

He expects Mayo to win ‘comfortably’ and thinks they are the one team in the country that could derail Dublin’s bid to win the five-in-a-row this summer.

Especially given ‘the huge boost’ that goes with winning the National League.

“I think winning that league title has given us great confidence and, right now, if there’s one team that can challenge the Dubs, it’s Mayo. I’d be cautiously confident, but nonetheless confident,” said Maughan.

This evening he will be in Castlebar and, in a fortnight, back on the backdoor route with Offaly in the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers.

Still making memories.

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