Cavan football followers feel their team should have won the All-Ireland in 1967 but their dreams were shattered by Cork in a controversial All-Ireland semi-final. In this exclusive extract from ‘Charlie: The Story of Charlie Gallagher, the GAA’s Lost Icon’, authordetails a game which still haunts the Breffni men.
Before the 1967 Ulster final, the Cavan squad met up in the Farnham Arms Hotel in Cavan Town and made a pact. There was to be no mistake this time.
“Any time Down ever beat Cavan, they got two goals in the first 15 or 20 minutes. Before the Ulster final in Clones in ’67, the six backs got together and vowed that wouldn’t happen,” remembers Ray Carolan.
“I knew we couldn’t get beaten. Leaving the Farnham, if I had £1,000 in my pocket I’d have put it on Cavan to win. We got on the bus and it was so calm, it was unreal. There was so much confidence there.
“After about 20 minutes we had held them at bay and I remember going round to the boys and saying ‘come on lads, we have them beat now’. And we destroyed them after.”
Carolan can recall the ferocity of Cavan’s play.
“James McCartan was coming through with the ball,” he says, “Peter Pritchard came across and hit him a shoulder and, before he straightened up, Andy McCabe came across and hit him from the other side.”
Down’s Colm McAlarney was playing in his first Ulster final and recalls how fired up Cavan were.
“We were beaten, deservedly so, that day,” he remembers.
“I was playing centre-half forward against the great Ray Carolan. He had a stormer - he was one force of nature. We had huge respect for that Cavan team. It’s funny, though, how you think you’re right and you’re not and it’s too late when you find that out in the white heat of a Championship match.
“In those days, Cavan were coming, breathing fire, and unless you were ready to run through brick walls, you were going to be on the receiving end and we certainly were in ’67.”
By the time the full-time whistle sounded, Cavan had run out 2-12 to 0-8 winners, Charlie Gallagher chipping in with six points.
Charlie received the Anglo-Celt Cup as captain for the first time.
It was arguably his greatest day, an afternoon where he displayed his wondrous skills on the big stage.
For McAlarney, greater days lay ahead but he considered it a privilege, even in defeat, to share the field with the likes of the Cavan captain.
“I was coming into my career and Charlie was coming towards the end but was still a formidable player and played very, very well against us.
“As a player, I would describe him as almost a little bit portly — a little bit of weight but not much but that was deceptive because he was very quick off the mark. ‘Sharp’ is the word.
“That was an era when players tended to keep their positions but Charlie was very cute and leaving space for the ball being delivered into, he was very sharp on that first ten yards.
“He was going to get there and when he would get it he had such silky skills that, for a defender, he was a nightmare because it was so difficult to take it off him and then he was very accurate. So, he had it all.”
The newspapers had a field day. Cavan — so brilliant on their day, so unpredictable — made for good copy and so did Gallagher.
Every national paper carried his image.
“Of all the many triumphs the blue-jerseyed representatives of Breffni have etched into the annals,” wrote Mick Dunne in the Irish Press, “few can have been sweeter than this.”
The report in the Cork Examiner, under the heading ‘Gallagher stars for Cavan’, was all about one man.
“I am not suggesting that this is a great Cavan team but they have a devilishly difficult individualist in ‘Cheeky Charlie’ and a flair for natural football against which there can be no preconceived answer... Unless Cork negate Gallagher, they could be in trouble.”
The unnamed staff reporter was wrong, though. This was a great Cavan team, by common consent the greatest since the All-Ireland-winning sides.
For one thing, it was no longer a one-man show up front.
“Previously, we were expecting Gallagher to carry the whole show on his shoulders up front but now we have six outstanding forwards,” said county vice-chairman Tommy Gilroy, a selector when Cavan lost the All-Ireland final to Cork 22 years earlier.
Now, it was again Cork who stood in their way in the All-Ireland semi-final where, surely, Cavan would finally put things right.
But information was sketchy. Selector Tom Maguire admitted to Dunne that “none of us have seen Cork lately” while county secretary Hughie Smyth described the Munster champions as “an unknown quantity”.
Manager Mick Higgins agreed (“We know nothing about Cork. I’d much prefer a team we know”). But Paddy Donohoe, the county treasurer, summed up much of the reason for Cavan’s confidence.
“The days of stopping one man and holding the Cavan forward line are gone,” he said.
“Our forwards are now firing on all six cylinders and the Ulster final proved it.”
When the Cavan players of the 1960s look back now, ’67 is the one they rue. That they lost to Cork by a point was down to sheer bad luck, they say.
“I’ve no doubt that ’67 was really the year we should have won it, there’s no doubt about that. It was the best of the teams that time,” says Greenan.
Somehow, Cavan managed to lose 2-7 to 0-12 to the Rebels. Steve Duggan, in common with his teammates, talks about two penalty decisions — one was given, one wasn’t.
Both calls, Cavan believed, were wrong.
“We reckoned that day we should have got a penalty that we never got. Cork got a penalty that they shouldn’t have got. Someone pushed Peter Pritchard and he fell on the ball and they gave a penalty. It should’ve been a free out. Cork beat us.”
Said Greenan: “As a former referee I hate to be critical, but Cavan felt he didn’t do us many favours that day.
“For the first goal, Seamus Galligan and Pritchard collided and yer man put the ball into the empty net. The next one, someone caught a ball and fell with it in their hands and the ball hit the ground. Penalty. I actually felt it was a free out because he was fouled but that’s what happened.”
Garrett O’Reilly feels the same.
“There was a penalty we definitely should have got. We had a last-minute free to equalise it but we lost by a point. Mick Burke played midfield for Cork that day and he was brilliant. We were told don’t worry about Burke; Mick O’Loughlin was the man to watch at midfield. But Burke had a storming game.
“We conceded two terribly soft goals. John Joe [O’Reilly] was pulled down on the square, it was clearly in the square but we got no penalty.”
Years later, when asked what his greatest disappointment in football was, Gallagher, who scored 0-8 of Cavan’s total, didn’t hesitate in nominating that 1967 semi-final.
“This was one game,” he said, “that Cavan should have won.”
To rub salt into the wound, Burke collided with Meath’s Red Collier in the final and went off injured after 10 minutes.
The Royals won and headed off on what Duggan described as “the best trip ever — to Australia”.
There was a priest at the time, Fr Tully, the chairman of the Meath county board, who was famously anti-Cavan. He declared that Meath were not worthy All-Ireland champions until they had Cavan beaten.
So, when the Royals returned, Cavan played them in the Grounds Tournament final and won.
“We could beat everyone on a given day, we showed that time and again. But not just on the right day,” says Greenan, shaking his head. “It was unreal.”
The right team, the wrong time...
- ‘Charlie’ is published by Ballpoint Press and will be available in all good bookshops from next week.