Football Scholar

My earliest recollections of organised football practice go back to Gogarty’s beach beside Renvyle House Hotel. We played on a level patch of land along the lake. The same bit of ground is part of a beautiful golf course today. I started off like any other young lad at the time by standing behind the goal. It wasn’t easy for young aspiring footballers starting off. There was no encouragement, no tuition and no coaching. The height of my ambition was to get as many kicks on the ball as I could. The ball was like gold dust because we only ever had the one. Eventually as I got older, I managed to assert myself and participate fully in the practice matches.

Gogarty’s beach became our football home. It was lovely, natural ground for playing football and we were very grateful to Mrs Gogarty for not running us. Manys the time we had to channel our collective energies into a bit of impromptu rowing to ensure continuation of our favourite sporting pastime, after a wayward kick would propel the ball into the lake. We would do whatever it took to save the ball because it was very seldom that a new football came into the parish in those days. Official matches were played on a strip of land beside Sailor’s beach which was just over from Gogarty’s beach. Down the north side of the parish, the Lettergesh lads practised a lot on sand at Cloone beach and we often played challenges against one another. We could never beat them in Cloone because we weren’t used to the wet ball and the soft underfoot conditions. They could never make any inroads on us either at Sailor’s or Gogarty’s because they weren’t accustomed to playing a faster game on grass. The lively ground and the good hop always worked to our advantage.

I joined the Irish Army in 1938 as a volunteer and was stationed in Renmore initially. Army life allowed me to practise my football skills on a daily basis, something I would never have been able to do at home in Renvyle. Sunday was the day for football at home and you played all day long for as long as you could. A lot of talented footballers joined the army. There was a lad called John Burke stationed in Renmore who absolutely excelled at the art of solo running. He subsequently went on to play county football for Galway and Clare and he also represented both Connacht and Munster in the Railway Cup. I wasn’t long in Renmore before I was transferred to the 13th Battalion in Clonmel, home to the famous Clonmel Commercials GAA club, right in the middle of Tipperary footballing heartland. I watched as much football as I possibly could because I was always interested in learning and developing new skills and tricks. I spent hours on the Commercials pitch trying to imitate things that I saw other players doing.

In 1939, I was selected to play in the half forward line on the 13th Battalion team to play the 1st Battalion in a challenge match at Finnar in Co Donegal. It was a great privilege to make that first fifteen as there were great footballers in abundance in our battalion including a number of county players. I always considered the art of high-fielding to be the most attractive aspect of gaelic football, particularly the one handed catch, a rare skill which I thought was gone forever until it was resurrected so spectacularly by Kevin Walsh in 1998. I also had great admiration for that select bunch of players who were equally adept on both feet and I practised a lot on my weaker foot. There were other players who were blessed with deft and graceful movement, players who could sell a dummy or execute a beautiful side-step. Peter Kane from Ardnagreevagh fitted this category. He had a beautiful style, two great feet and could make a fool out of his immediate marker. These were valuable attributes to have in an era of football which was often characterised by hard shouldering and hard tacking. The football was extremely physical but always fair and rarely if ever, dishonest, devious or cynical. The last thing any player ever wanted to do was to go down because it was perceived as a sign of weakness and handed your immediate opponent a huge psychological boost.

The forties were magical years at inter-county level. I was fortunate enough to attend a few All Ireland finals where I witnessed some of the greats of the era, players like Mick Higgins from Cavan, Paddy O’Brien from Meath and Mayo’s Paddy Prendergast, to name but a few. Galway lost three successive All Irelands in the early forties, and the two battles with Kerry in 1940 and 1941 were marvellous spectacles, especially the first one when Charlie O’Sullivan’s late point broke our hearts. There was a higher standard of fielding at inter-county level that time. There was more body contact and as a direct consequence of the above there was more continuity in the game with longer passages of play swinging from one end of the pitch to the other and keeping the supporters on the edge of their seats with excitement, fear, trepidation and anticipation. Pulling on the ball and drop-kicking was common and play was very direct, characterised by a no nonsense approach. Every man had to be able to win his own ball regardless of the quality of service into his area of the pitch. There were no passengers. It wasn’t unusual to see points kicked from up to sixty yards out.

Remembered by Willie Diamond and written by Paul Gannon.

Willie Diamond was a native of the village of Tully, on the Renvyle Peninsula, in the parish of Letterfrack-Ballinakill. 

Full Version available in “Pride and the Parish: Volume 1”

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