DRAMA AND RIVALRY: The greatest Gaelic footballers of the 1980s

DRAMA AND RIVALRY: The greatest Gaelic footballers of the 1980s

OBVIOUSLY, my selection of the teams of the decade have stirred debate, and as a consequence many Irish Post readers have had their say.

Gerry McDermott in Manchester has challenged my sixties football selection of leaving out Seamus Leydon of Galway, and Cathal Flynn of Leitrim.

Interesting enough, readers have been in touch enquiring where they can purchase GAA books from. Hero books in Ireland have the greatest selection and are available on Amazon.co.uk.

Now for the eighties…

This decade heralded a golden era for the Kingdom of Kerry.

It all started for them in the late seventies, and by the time the eighties were finished, they had won seven senior All Ireland titles, the greatest achievement of any Kerry team ever.

The great rivalry between Kerry and Dublin always brought excitement to the game, but Dublin were now in decline and in their shadow lurked Offaly, whose resources were scarce compared to the riches that Kerry enjoyed.

In 1982, Kerry had notched up four on the trot, and were red hot favourites to create history by being the first team ever to win the five in a row.

In one of the most dramatic All Ireland Football finals ever, up popped Seamus Darby who wrote himself into the history books by scoring a goal in the last minute of the final, to end Kerry’s dreams.

It was very much a family affair for the Offaly team, with five sets of brothers involved. What has happened to Offaly football since then?

Why has a county that could win an All-Ireland title nearly forty years ago slip to the bottom rung of the rankings?

The near total Kerry dominance of the football scene was resumed in the Centenary Year of 1984 and continued with the completion of the 3-in-a-row in ’86.

The departure of Kerry, after completing the hat-trick, was greeted by football fans with a degree of relief, as their dominance had become somewhat monotonous towards the end.

Dublin, under the astute management of Kevin Heffernan, fashioned a cult following, with their sky-blue banners filling Hill 16.

They brought a new dimension and extraordinary glamour to football during this period.

The results did not live up to the hype, but they did surface briefly in’83.

Sean Boylan, the herbalist from Dunboyne, took over the helm of Meath football in 1982, at a time when it was a wilderness, yet when he left, the ‘Royal’ county had played in seven All-Ireland senior football finals winning four of them, including ’87 and ’88.

I have always felt that the footballers in Cork were the downtrodden second citizens to that of their hurlers.

In fact, it would be a lean year indeed if at least one All-Ireland title failed to find its way to the Leeside.

Before the introduction of the ‘back door’ system, Munster finals had been effectively reduced to a two-horse race between Cork and Kerry, with the Kingdom usually ruling the roost.


Charlie Nelligan, Kerry

Charlie was always alert, displaying an unflappable way about him. He was also extremely brave in the face of in-rushing forwards.

John O’Leary, Dublin

For 17 seasons John was a key member of the Dublin team, and was coolness personified between the posts.


Robbie O’Malley, Meath

An outstanding corner back, tough and uncompromising in the last line of defence. Strong as well as skilful.

Mick Holden, Dublin

Mick was a talented, committed player, who established a reputation as a footballer of the highest quality.

Mick Lyons, Meath.  

The county has long been renowned for producing excellent full backs. Mick was a hard, robust type of player, with an obsessive streak and bone crunching reputation.

Harry Keegan, Roscommon

A wonderful footballer, who played in a number of different positions, usually in defence for Roscommon and Connaught.

Niall Cahalane, Cork

A forceful, determined player, who was still playing senior football at the ripe old age of 40. An integral part of the Cork team that won the ’89 and ’90 All Irelands.

Mick Spillane, Kerry

Mick was one of an amazing family of three brothers who won 19 All Ireland senior football medals in Kerry’s glorious run between ’75 and ’86. It would be very easy to fit them all in for my selection.

Seamus McHugh, Galway

Seamus was one of the finest players ever to come out of Galway, but never got his hands on an All Ireland medal. He read the game superbly and was as tough as they come.

Colm Browne, Laois

A wing-back of the highest quality, who had great style and passion for the game, his greatest attribute was his consistency in the half back role, that inspired his teammates.

Páidí Ó Sé, Kerry

An inspirational player, who won eight All Ireland medals during a glorious career with Kerry. His timely defensive interceptions gave him the freedom to make marauding runs up and down the field.

Mattie Brennan, Sligo

Mattie had a distinguished career with Sligo. His wholehearted approach, determination and courage inspired his teammates.

Willie Joe Padden, Mayo

A cult figure in the green and red of Mayo, with his high fielding and flamboyance, he was a born footballer of true grit.

Tim Kennelly, Kerry

Tim was nick-named ‘The Horse’ due his size and natural strength. The Listowel man was a player of huge stature, who starred for many years in the pivotal role of centre back for the green and gold.


Jack O’Shea, Kerry

Arguably the greatest midfielder of his generation, Jack was an industrious type player, who travelled the length of the pitch, either to help out in defence or creating vital scores in attack.

Liam Hayes, Meath

A player with a huge physical presence. The towering Skryne man was part of the Meath team that won two all-Ireland in the eighties, and five Leinster crowns before hanging up his boots. A tremendous all - round footballer.


Kevin O’Brien, Wicklow

Had Kevin been born a few miles north of the Wicklow mountains, Dublin may have been the beneficiary of his natural talent.

Mickey Martin, Leitrim

With his shrewd football brain and great pace, he was one of Leitrim’s finest forwards.

Colm O’Rourke, Meath

Colm will always be remembered for his brilliant displays in many ill-tempered games against the old enemy, Dublin. He was pivotal in the ‘Royals’ attack over many years, with his running, intelligent play and scoring opportunities.

Joe Kernan, Armagh

The big man from Crossmaglen was a legend among the followers of the Orchard County. A versatile player, with tremendous strength and durability.

Pat Spillane, Kerry

Probably the greatest of all the Kerry footballers from the golden era of the seventies and eighties. The splendid sight of Pat surging away leaving opponents in complete disarray remains with me.

Mike Finneran, Roscommon

A skilful player, who occupied a variety of positions in the primrose and blue of Roscommon. A star of the team that won four Connacht tiles in a row in the late seventies and eighties

Mikey Sheehy, Kerry

The Tralee man had such belief in himself that he had the ability to take defences apart with lightning speed, then clinically finish it off with a score.

Anton O’Toole, Dublin

The Blue Panther as he was commonly known - a swerve, then a couple of stalking strides and he’s gone, either to score, or get pulled down for a free.

Matt Connor, Offaly

On many occasions he rescued the team from impending defeat by his scoring exploits. Matt was blessed with extraordinary talent, and his exemplary sportsmanship on the field of play shone through.

Eoin Liston, Kerry

A giant of a man, who earned the nickname, the Bomber for his scoring feats. Because of his massive frame he was the ideal target man for the high dropping ball, in addition to his brilliant distribution to his colleagues.

Eugene (Nudie) Hughes, Monaghan

An integral part of the Monaghan side that scaled the dizzy heights by winning three Ulster titles in the late seventies and eighties, an inspirational player.

Bernard Flynn, Meath

Bernard was a footballer of great spirit and vision during the glory years when Meath reached the summit with All Ireland success.

Henry Wymbs has always had a great love of Gaelic football and hurling and played inter-county football for Sligo in 1967. He now presents ‘Irish Eye', a weekly Irish music programme broadcast from Oxford across BBC Radio Oxford, BBC Radio Berkshire and online via BBC iPlayer. Email [email protected]