1966 and the Donegal county final that was never played

This is the second in a series of articles relating to St. Joseph's as they celebrate the 50th anniversary of their All-Ireland Club triumph. One of the founder members, Owen Roe O'Neill, gives his account to Peter Campbell

1966 and the Donegal county final that was never played

The St. Joseph’s story is part of Donegal history now and there will always be heated arguments whether it was good or bad for Donegal football.

When it was first mooted in the early 1960s, it got a mixed reception. A combined team of Ballyshannon and Bundoran, under the Ballyshannon name, won a Minor Championship in 1961 and many of the players were students at De La Salle College in Ballyshannon.

One of the men who was to the fore of mooting an amalgamation was current Aodh Ruadh President, Owen Roe O’Neill.

O’Neill had won an Ulster Minor Championship with Donegal in 1956 and was in his early 20s. He takes up the story:

“Bundoran had no minor team in 1961 and their players were allowed to play for Ballyshannon. Myself and Val Wynne looked after the team and we won the county title.

“The standard of senior football in the late 50s and early 60s was very low and it was getting difficult to field a senior team due to emigration and many of the players were not local.

“I embarked on the idea of an amalgamation and made contact with both clubs,” said Owen Roe, who said that many meetings were held. It was to prove a difficult proposition.

“With the assistance of the late Bernard Brady and Bilshie Travers, I got agreement from Bundoran after many meetings over two years,” said O’Neill.

However, getting Ballyshannon on board proved more difficult. “Aodh Ruadh were always a senior club and many of the older generation felt it was a retrograde step for Aodh Ruadh to be regraded to junior football.” (If the amalgamation was to pass, then both clubs would be excluded from the senior championship with St. Joseph’s taking their place).

“After many meetings and with the assistance of John McDermott and Hugh Daly, it was agreed to give this amalgamation a chance. The agreement between both clubs was that all home games would be played in Bundoran one year and in Ballyshannon the next year.”

And so it came to pass. 1963 was the first year that St. Joseph’s entered and there would follow senior championship wins in 1965, ‘68, ‘70, ‘73, ‘74, ‘75, ‘76.

But there was also controversy with the 1966 final never played (St. Joseph’s v MacCumhaill’s) - a year when St. Joseph’s wouldn’t travel to Letterkenny, but offered to play MacCumhaill’s in MacCumhaill Park, while MacCumhaill’s wouldn’t play in MacCumhaill Park and didn’t travel to Ballyshannon when it was eventually fixed for there.

It was a mess and a reflection of the politics of the GAA scene at the time. One famous Co. Board meeting spent four hours debating the issue.

St. Joseph’s won an Ulster Club Championship in 1967 and then retained it in 1968 before going on to famously defeat Dunmore McHales in a two-legged All-Ireland Club final.

Owen Roe O’Neill was part of the panel for the historic 1968 games but was coming towards the end of his career.

There is still a hint of devilment in his face when he talks about the 1966 boardroom battles, when he was the St. Joseph’s secretary.

He has many great memories of those days and recalls the effort made by the likes of Padraig McGarrigle in the early days when he was working in Tipperary. “You worked a half day on a Saturday back then and Padraig left his work and travelled to Kildare where he picked up (Declan) O’Carroll and then on to Dublin where he would pick up three or four more. He would arrive in Ballyshannon on Saturday evening and on Sunday morning would set out for a game, maybe in Dungloe. After that it was back to Ballyshannon, get everyone back on the Morris Minor, and back to Tipperary via Dublin. “I remember what he got in expenses for the trip - £5 for petrol.”

One of Owen Roe's special memories is of a match in Gaoth Dobhair when he came on as a sub and in trying to save a Gaoth Dobhair goal. “I dived across the goal and the ball hit my arse and went over the bar.

“Hugh Daly in his report was very complimentary and it helped that I also scored the goal that won the match,” says Owen Roe.

That is just a few of the stories from the St. Joseph’s era. There is a special dinner to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 triumph being organised in the Great Northern Hotel on Saturday, 1st December. Anyone interested in attending should contact Philip McGlynn at the Great Northern. There are sure to be a few more stories told that night.