Sean Foran - long, long before his time.

November 8, 2018

Offaly’s first big breakthrough in Senior football was orchestrated behind the high walls of St Conleth’s School in Daingean.

This is were Offaly trained in the build up to their first ever Leinster Senior Championship win and it was perhaps one of the very few good stories ever to emerge from behind the walls of the former borstal.

One of the players back then was Offaly’s brilliant Midfield player Sean Foran.

In this interview Sean talks about those days, about football in the 50’s and 60’s, his involvement with Offaly in ’82 and the current plight of Offaly football.

Who were your earliest influences on football?

‘Eddie Moran was the first man anyway. He was a teacher in the primary school. There was no football in the school at one time and he just started it. Back then you didn’t go home for your dinner so he took us out to the field during lunch and organised everything. Then when I went to college I met Fr Shine. He was big into football and was very knowledgeable. He had played county football with Carlow. He was a great athlete.’

Who were your footballing heroes when you were growing up?

‘When we were young lads out in the field we used to pretend or imitate certain lads. I suppose back then it would have been mostly the Kerry lads because Offaly weren’t going great at the time. Although we still had lads like Bill Mulhall and Tommy Connor. They were the top notch at that time and of course the local lads were John Blong, Pat Mangan, Peter ‘Leesha’ McGlynn and the Hughes family from Killane. I would have looked up to all of them.’

How long did you play for Edenderry’s Senior side?

‘The first time I played for the seniors was in 1948. I was 17 at the time and I played right up until I was 41. Myself, Mick Brady and a few others were there for a long time.’

What was football like in Edenderry in the 50’s and 60’s?

‘In the 50’s Edenderry had good teams. They had won the championship in 1936 and then the next time we won it was in 1951. We were beaten in the final in ’52 and we won in ’53 and ’57. It was a very good era for football in Edenderry.’

What did you achieve at club and county level?

‘I won three senior championships with Edenderry and at county level I won two Leinster titles, Offaly’s first ever in ’60 and then again in ’61. We were beaten by Down in the 1960 All-Ireland semi final after a replay and beaten again by Down in the 1961 All-Ireland final. I think we were beaten by a point in both games.’

At club and county level who would your toughest opponent have been?

‘Everyone of them was tough back then! (laughs) I would have to mention Mick Casey of Rhode. I played with him and against him and he was a great footballer. The two Casey’s in fact, Paddy was very tough as well.’

Who was the best player you ever played with at club level?

‘There were a good lot of them, Mickey Brady, Tommy Cullen, Sean Connell and Sean ‘Hooper’ Farrell. Sean Connell would have played out centre field, Mickey and Tommy in the backs and ‘The Hooper’ would have been in the forwards. It is too hard to say who was the best because we had a lot of good lads. Christy Carroll been another one who was a great footballer.’

And at county level who were the best players you would have played with?

‘Well you have had the Casey’s, Peter Nolan, Mickey Brady and Charlie Wrenn to name a few. To be honest anyone off the ’60 team really.’

What was your proudest moment either playing or watching Edenderry or Offaly?

‘I was involved with Offaly in ’82 when Offaly beat Kerry and Seamus scored the famous goal. That was a very proud moment for me. Most of the time you remember when you were playing but I got a great kick out of watching and been involved, especially when things were going well. I have a good few memories with Edenderry because we won three championships and should have won more.’

How important were the street league’s in Edenderry to the success of the hurling and football teams of the 50’s and 60’s?

‘The street league during the 1950’s was like a championship match. It was taken shocking serious, in fact it was so serious there was so much fighting that at an A.G.M they decided to change the teams. They picked four captains and each one would pick their team. It just didn’t work out and after two years it fizzled out. At the next A.G.M someone suggested we should go back to the four original teams, ‘Killane’, ‘The New Road’, ‘The Town’ and ‘The Tunnel Road’. But someone shouted there’s too much fighting at that, and then Tom O’Neill just said ‘well if it’s not worth fighting for it’s not worth playing’ (laughs) He was dead right too because it was do or die for your locality.’

The Edenderry 7 aside tournaments that took place in Pentony’s field, were there many other inter-county stars playing in the competition?

‘Yes definitely. Most of the Offaly teams would have played in it and because we were so central for the likes of Kildare, Ballinabrackey and Kinnegad it became an inter-county thing as well as an inter-club thing. There was fierce crowds at them. Edenderry played Rhode in the final in ’57 in Pentony’s field and there was something around four thousand people at it. The carnival used to be held in the outside field because Clarence Grey, the secretary, wanted people to stop at the amusements on the way in to the match or on the way out. If you won the match you were more likely to spend a few pound!’

Did you ever play against your brother in-laws Tommy and Davey O’Loughlin of Rathangan and Kildare?

‘I played against them in a lot of challenge matches alright, they were hardy men and very good footballers. Tommy played with the county.’

You played in the Clonmel tournaments in the 50’s. What was the standard like and was it taken serious?

‘They were taken serious because in them times there wasn’t much else to do. Football was always taken serious regardless what type of match.’

Do you feel that these type of tournaments should be revived in order to generate more interest in GAA, particularly in Edenderry where it appears to be fading?

‘It might be very hard these days to do that. The generations have moved on and people are a lot more mobile so it could be difficult to get the interest that we had. I know Kilmacud Crokes have the tournaments on the eve of the All-Ireland final and they are very good, but that is a bit of a special occasion. It would take a lot of promotion.’

What kind of influence had Clarence Grey and Fr McWey on Edenderry GAA?

‘Clarence Grey ran the whole thing. He ran everything he was in and he was brilliant. To a certain extent he was way ahead of his time in everything he did. He was so quiet and harmless but he had a great head. In fact he ran nearly all the plans and ideas from his head, he didn’t write anything down. I remember one famous time in the late 50’s when we used to hold a raffle, a shilling a ticket at that time and the advert ran ’50 thousand for a shilling’ which was a great advert. Of course if you read the small print it said if you won our raffle you got a sweepstake ticket and then you had to win the sweepstake, but you couldn’t rule it out! (laughs) He used to go around in the car advertising it and it went very well.
Fr McWey was a huge influence. He was only a young priest when he came here and he used to tog out and play football. He was good footballer. He was still a priest but he was one of us, only we had to mind our language a little bit, not that he would get over excited. He had a little car and going to matches you wouldn’t know how many would be in it. He could have up to 10 in it and he wasn’t a slow driver by any stretch of the imagination. That’s why they always said he was such a holy man because someone must have been watching over us! (laughs)

What were the best GAA grounds you ever played in?

‘Well it’s hard to beat Croke Park. Cavan had a lovely ground. Tullamore always had a lovely pitch. I know the grounds mightn’t have been too glamorous. I always felt like O’Connor park never helped Offaly at all. The Laois team always preferred to play us in Tullamore more than anywhere else. Portlaoise was a lovely ground as well and it still is.’

When did you make your debut for Offaly and how long did you play for?

‘I came in 1949 as a sub but didn’t last too long! I started in 1950 and my last game was in 1963. Then I played in the Railway cup in ’61 and ’62. We won the two of them.’

How did you travel to training with Offaly and what was it like in the 50’s and 60’s?

‘I travelled with the Edenderry lads. John Blong used to have the car and he collected us and then we would head for Rhode and collect Paddy McCormack and Mick Casey and we all went together. At the start of the 60’s we brought in this new trainer Peter O’Reilly and he was the first man we had that was really organised because he had trained Dublin and Kildare. In ’60 and ’61 we trained in Daingean Reformatory and the principle reason behind that was it was the only place that had hot showers in the county. Tullamore and Birr didn’t even have them and when he came from Dublin where everything was done properly, hot showers was a must. Of course we never got any weekend away to Scotland or training camps in Spain for ‘heat training’, that carry on wasn’t around back then.’

You have been described as the first modern day midfielder of your time, how do you feel about that?

(laughs) ‘I think the 7 aside would have been a great influence for me personally. In football that time with the 15 aside before 1960 it was basically just catch and kick. If you were a corner forward there was no such thing as making runs or so, you just kick in the ball and it was up to them to get it. The 7 aside helped all of us because you had to combine, it was a different game. You had to learn to give good passes and it transferred into the county scene. When I went to Knockbeg College the priest would have you playing two or three times a week and it was intensive training and he was a good trainer so I was always learning.’

How big of a disappointment was it to break your leg before the ’61 All-Ireland final?

‘It was a shocking disappointment because we were going really well and we all knew we were going places. It happened in March actually and I made it back to be a sub for the All-Ireland final but it was about a month or even two months too quick. In them days when you broke your leg you were put in heavy plaster and you were to just lay down and rest it whereas now you’re probably exercising it from day one!’

Do you feel Peter Nolan should have been brought home from the U.S for the All-Ireland final and would he have made the big of difference?

‘Yes definitely. He had the size and was a great presence apart from being a great footballer. You have to have a bit of size. Cork have it now and look at them. You look at the Cork centre back, Graham Canty and when Kieran McGeeney played with Armagh, well you have to go through men like them to go anywhere. That is what Peter Nolan would have offered us.’

Do you think the county board could have handled the situation better?

‘Oh yeah. Ten years later Kevin Kilmurray and Nicholas Clavin were brought home I don’t know how many times and they mightn’t have won the ’71 final without them. When you’re only beaten by one point it takes very little to swing it, Peter Nolan could have been the difference.’

The Offaly Senior panel went to New York in 1962. What was that for?

‘We were invited out by a travel agent from Birr, I think. He was behind it and we played a couple of matches out there in Gaelic Park. We were brought around to a lot of places and everywhere we went we were introduced as All-Ireland Champions. It didn’t matter too much to us! (laughs). We didn’t read the papers back then and I remember when we came home everyone said it was such a relief that we got back home alive. We didn’t realise at the time but we were there during the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis and on the verge of world war 3!’

Are you happy with your achievements as a footballer?

‘When you look back on it you say all the things we could have done and we could have been better but like it is we done ok. You can only live in your own era. I might not have played at all because I went to Maynooth for a year and that time priests weren’t allowed to play, even though some did play under different names.’

How did you become to be involved with ’82 team?

‘Eugene McGee came in as the new manager when Offaly were at a bit of a low ebb after the 70’s. He came in and he had his own selectors, Mick O’Rourke was one, I think, I’m not sure. Both they and Eugene clashed and they all left. I think for a while some of the county board officers where picking the team. Eugene knew Paddy Fenlon I think through UCD, Paddy had gone to UCD and Eugene had trained them and done very well. He asked Paddy to be a selector and Paddy said can I bring somebody with me? Paddy and I were always very great. So we met Eugene McGee in 1980 and we came in as advisors not selectors. We used to sit in the stand and go in at half time. That Autumn we became official selectors along with PJ Mahon and Leo Grogan.’

How was your relationship with Eugene McGee and Paddy Fenlon?

‘Well Paddy was a very strong character and Eugene could be as touchy but we all got along very well. People always said McGee was a fierce dictator but one thing we always found was he was a great listener. He mightn’t have given the impression he was listening but he was. So I had a good relationship with him and I was very good friends with Paddy. Of course Eugene and Paddy remained very good friends. You could always argue your point with him even though people sometimes said he would make the decisions and we just rubber stamped them. He definitely would listen to us.’

Did winning the All-Ireland in ’82 as a selector make up for missing out on the ’61 final?

‘Without doubt it did yeah. Just been involved with the lads and getting to know them all so well and to beat Kerry who where virtually unbeatable was amazing. I would still be in contact with most of them. The Connors don’t live far from me and when we have get togethers its great fun. We had the famous cruise two years ago as well.’

What is wrong with Offaly football?

‘That’s easy. It’s the club situation. Rhode are by far the best team but it not good for them that there not been pushed. In ’82 Walsh Island were the best team they won six in a row but they had Rhode, Edenderry, Ferbane and Gracefield who were all snapping at their heels. Now Edenderry are fighting relegation, Ferbane were only one match away from relegation a few years back and Tullamore are not the force they were. Rhode are not being tested at all in Offaly and when they come up against more serious opposition in Leinster they are finding it hard. Whether Rhode can keep producing or not I don’t know, very few club teams can keep producing. Walsh Island had some great teams back then and I think they are coming again but there’s been a great time lag. When I was growing up I always thought parish rule was the principal rule of the GAA, just one team in every parish. It happened once in Edenderry when we won the championship. We were due to play Baltinglass in Leinster and we heard they were going to object because we weren’t strictly a parish team because Sean Evans from Ballyfore was playing. Ballyfore lads always played Senior with Edenderry and Croghan the same with Rhode. It left fewer Senior teams but it left stronger Senior teams. If we do it at underage why can’t we do it at Senior? When you go outside Offaly it leaves you in a stronger position and it also leaves you with a bigger pick. Teams are better prepared because they know they’re going to get better games.’

Do you still attend Edenderry and Offaly matches?

‘I don’t attend as much as I used to. I was sick for a while so I couldn’t really go but now I have two grandsons starting off with St. Broughans so I try to go see them as much as possible and I have to say they are a great auld crowd here in Clonbullogue.’

How much has the GAA changed over the years and are the changes for the better?

‘Well you would like to think that it has changed for the better. You would imagine things like training have changed anyway. I remember one teacher from the vocational school in Edenderry used to train us. We used to arrive at training and there would probably be about 30 of us. We would just pick two teams, play a match then go for one lap. I remember someone used to keep cattle in the field at that time and afterwards we would go over to the half barrel of water, splash a bit on yourself and off you’d go. He introduced the likes of sprints in training. In the early ’50’s with Offaly there was kind of an unwritten rule, if you won the first match in the championship, after that you’d train otherwise you didn’t. With Offaly minors we won the first Leinster in ’47 but again you didn’t train with them. You got picked for them if you went to college based on the opinion that you were getting more football than anyone else and at a higher level. So basically if you went to college you could make the county team.’

Is it true that it was yourself and Paddy Fenlon’s decision to bring in Darby in ’82?

‘Well you would always love to think that! When Seamus came onto the panel he was one of the last of the ’71 and ’72 era and around the county it was seen as going backwards. We went to a match between Walsh Island and Rhode to watch him and make up our mind whether or not to bring him into the panel. He played well and we did bring him in. Leading up to Leinster final Johnny Mooney got hurt so we knew this was it. Seamus Darby went in full forward and scored 1-3 off a real good Dublin full back, so automatically he was back in with the crowd. He nearly had to prove himself to an extent. People would have very quickly slated him and us had it not worked out. We always had the intention of bringing him in during the final and it worked out very well! I met Colm O’Rourke in Croke Park a few years back and he said to me that we got great mileage out of ’82. But I think we deserved it.’