Reunions are always special, but when you are remembering an All-Ireland triumph from 50 years ago, it is even more special.
That was the case in the Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran recently as the St. Joseph’s All-Ireland club success against Dunmore McHales in 1968 was celebrated and remembered.
While it was unofficial, it was nonetheless very real with some of the best footballers of the era pitting themselves against each other.
Many of them were back for the reunion on Saturday night with the Keenans, John and Tommy, Pateen Donnellan and Seamus Leydon among those who travelled from Dunmore.
Under the watchful eye of MC, Michael Daly, insights into the game at the time were re-lived. What was really evident was this two legged final, although unofficial, was the forerunner to what is now one of the most coveted titles for clubs, and many of the speakers underlined the pivotal role played by Dunmore’s Bertie Coleman, as a driving force for the competition.
St. Joseph’s won the final by two points on aggregate, winning the first leg in Bundoran by 3-11 to 0-14, while Dunmore won the second leg in Tuam by 3-10 to 3-10.
Many of the speakers highlighted the goals scored by Michael McLoone, one in each game, with his late goal in Tuam being the reason for the aggregate win.
The Dunmore players were high in their praise of St. Joseph’s. They had known many of the St. Joseph’s players through meetings between Galway and Donegal and the 1967 National League semi-final was recalled by Seamus Leydon - the famous penalty and Neilly Gallagher being penalised for replacing the ball after the wind had blown it off its spot.
Leydon opined that the win for Galway hindered them in their chance for a four in-a-row, as they went on to win the league and also had a trip to New York.
Among the speakers on the night were Seamie Granaghan, Pauric McShea, Declan O’Carroll, Martin Carney, Michael McLoone and Brian McEniff.
Donegal Co. chairman, Mick McGrath, spoke of the big changes that have taken place in the GAA since 1968 and “not all for the better”. He was quite outspoken on the fact that the GAA could no longer be called amateur as coaches were “getting 100 and 200 pounds a night to train teams”.
McGrath was present for another special reason - to present county championship medals from 1976 - the last championship success for St. Joseph’s. The medals had been in cold storage and had never been presented.
Speaking after the event, Michael McLoone, talked about the special occasion of 1968. By that stage the Ballyshannon man was working with just one good knee, but still played a significant part, scoring 1-4 in the first leg and 1-3 in the second.
“We are grateful to Brian McEniff for organising the event and it was a special time. There was some slagging tonight about soloing and keeping the ball, but when you look at games why we won them, it was basically the understanding between players and finding the person in the best position all the time.
“I was recovering from a serious injury and was basically playing within what limitations I had at the time. It was about opportunistic play, basically,” said McLoone, who said that Donegal players had met Kerry and Galway in league semi-finals.
While Donegal had not won an Ulster title, McLoone said: “At club level we didn’t have that problem. We always felt we could actually win an Ulster championship.”
McLoone highly praised his colleagues for the teamwork that had been built. “In many ways there was more entertainment and enjoyment and you did get the opportunity to score a goal in the last few minutes. Nowadays, you would be faced with six or 10 players.”
Brian McEniff was the main driving force behind the reunion, but he praised the work of the Colemans in Dunmore and Seamie Granaghan.
The night also coincided with Brian McEniff’s 76th birthday and the Bundoran hotelier said he was both relieved and happy with the way night went.
“Dr. Mick Loftus, who was referee, said after the Bundoran game that if the All-Ireland final is as good as this game I’ll be a very happy man.
“There was nothing at all between the teams but for McLoone’s clinical finish,” said McEniff. “There was a great understanding on that St. Joseph’s team. There is a bond still there. Dunmore had four or five Galway players,” said McEniff, but he then went on to name seven St. Joseph’s players that were on the Donegal team.
McEniff thanked all the Dunmore players who had made the journey.