Brian McEniff remembers St. Joseph's famous victory in All-Ireland of 1968

Tom Comack talks to the St. Joseph's captain of 1968 Brian McEniff

Brian McEniff remembers St. Joseph's famous victory in All-Ireland of 1968

Brian McEniff returned from Canada in 1965 and went straight into the St Joseph's team and won a county championship.

The club had come into existence due to a decline in fortunes in both Bundoran and Ballyshannon on the playing fields.

Brian had emigrated to Canada just three years earlier in 1962 after winning a minor championship with the St Joseph's (Ballyshannon/
Bundoran) combination and a Junior championship with Bundoran.

“Ballyshannon and Bundoran had joined forces first at minor level in 1959 and lost a county final to a very good Gaoth Dobhair side. Donal Breslin was one of Gaoth Dobhair’s main men,” explained Brian.

“Owen Roe O'Neill in Ballyshannon was the driving force behind the amalgamation. St Joseph's played in the minor championship of 1960 and were beaten by a very good Dungloe side in the semi-final.

“They beat Dungloe in the ‘61 final and played Glenties in the ‘62 final and lost and beat Glenties in the final of ‘63.

“Those minor teams were the genesis for the amalgamation at senior level and the formation of a St Joseph's senior team. And though Bundoran won a Junior championship in 1960 - there was no Intermediate championship back then, just senior and junior - we struggled for numbers and didn’t field at adult level in 1962 and ‘63. Ballyshannon were playing senior football but making no impression.

“Owen Roe O’Neill again was the main driving force and though there was a fair deal of opposition to the amalgamation among officials in the two clubs, the players were all for it and it happened.

“I returned from Toronto after my late father had got a stroke in March of ‘65.”

The fledgling club won the first of their seven Donegal championships in 1965. They defeated Glenties in the final after a replay.

“We were very lucky to win that final. Peter Quinn won a late close-in free. Mickey McLoone pointed to earn us a draw in the first game.

“I remember Frankie Campbell was brilliant from frees for Glenties that day and we won the replay by three or four points.

“We entered the Ulster championship in 1966. It was up and running a couple of years at that stage.

“We beat Clonoe from Tyrone in the first round and Castleblayney, Monaghan in the semi-final and St John’s, Antrim, in the final.

“The final was played in Irvinestown and though we were without Pauric McShea and Mickey McLoone, both injured, we beat St John's.

NOT OFFICIAL

“The championship wasn’t official for the first few years in Ulster and only became a recognised competition in the province in 1968.”

The 1966 Donegal championship final was not played. St Joseph’s and Sean MacCumhaill’s qualified for the final but the game was not played in a wrangle over the venue.

And St Joseph’s went on to represent Donegal in the 1967 Ulster competition.

“We defeated a good Devenish team from Fermanagh in the first round in ‘67. PT Treacy, one of Fermanagh’s all time greats, Jim Carty and JJ Treacy, were on that Devenish team and the game was played in Lisnaskea.”

They then played Carrickmore, Tyrone, in the semi-final before all football was cancelled due to an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease. The final against Crossmaglen was not played until March of 1968.

“The final was played in Casement Park and we came out on the right side of the result to qualify for the All-Ireland final.

“The competition wasn’t recognised officially at national level at the time.

“There was a fair bit of resistance to the competition in Croke Park. The feeling was that there was no place for the competition in an already crowded calendar,” says McEniff, who was captain of St. Joseph’s in 1968 (the captaincy was rotated each year between Ballyshannon and Bundoran).

After conquering Ulster, St Joseph's received a bye into the final because the championship was not yet up and running in Leinster.

They faced Dunmore McHales, the Galway and Connacht champions, in the final. Dunmore were backboned by a number of stars from the three in-a-row All-Ireland winning Galway team of ‘64, ‘65 and ‘66. The Galway men had played a semi-final and had beaten St Nicholas from Cork.

“The final was played over two legs at the beginning of September with the result decided on an aggregate score. The first leg was in Bundoran on Sunday afternoon and the second leg was played six days later on a Saturday evening in Tuam Stadium.

“I think Dunmore thought they had a better chance on a big open pitch like Tuam.

“It was a cracking game of football. I remember there was a great crowd at the game. They may not have liked us but we were well supported by neighbouring clubs.

“Dunmore were a very good side. They had John and Pat Donnellan, John and Tommy Keenan and Seamus Leyden from the Galway three in-a-row team. And we had a quality side too. I think up to seven of our lads either played or later went on to play for Ulster.

“We were without Bernard Brady (exam tied), with a young Pauric McShea deputising at full-back. I was at centre half-back.

“We won by six points at the end of a brilliant game of football in Bundoran. Dr Mick Loftus from Mayo, one of the top referees at the time, refereed the game. He said afterwards if this year’s All-Ireland finals are as good as that game we will all be very happy.

“Mickey McLoone scored a brilliant late goal for us for a six point win,

Mickey won possession after Peter Quinn intentionally ran past the ball to set him up. Mickey took his trademark one hop and then bang, the ball was in the back of the Dunmore net.

“It was a super goal and pure genius from Peter Quinn and showed the great understanding between the players. They were all on the same wavelength and it was an important goal too as it gave us a six point cushion going into the second leg.”

Dunmore won the second leg by four points but St Joseph’s claimed the spoils on score aggregate and won overall by two points.

“We were again without Bernard Brady and we were also without Fr Liam McDaid while Ciaran Dolan had to go off injured.

“Fr Liam was a student in Maynooth and wasn’t allowed out. A Mayo man, Andy Barrett, replaced him at corner back and 17 year-old Martin Carney replaced Ciaran Dolan during the game.

“Dunmore came out the second day and blitzed us early on. It was clear they were stung by the defeat in Bundoran the first day. But we hung in and Mickey McLoone again came up with the goods. He scored another brilliant goal when he ran on to a Kieran Blake cross and dribbled soccer style before planting the ball in the back of the Dunmore net to secure the title with two points to spare.”

St Joseph's went on to win a third Ulster title in 1975, when it was then an official competition. They defeated Castleblayney Faughs in the final.

That win remains the only official win by a Donegal club. Can Gaoth Dobhair add their name to the list on Sunday?

The St. Joseph’s team of 1968, ironically, are marking the 50th anniversary of their All-Ireland win this Saturday night, December 1st (on the eve of the Ulster club final of 2018).

Tickets for the event are still available and can be had by contacting Philip McGlynn at the Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran.