WONDER YEARS: The greatest Gaelic footballers of the 1970s

WONDER YEARS: The greatest Gaelic footballers of the 1970s

EVERY decade in Gaelic games brings its winners, gallant and not so gallant losers and personalities.

I remember my own county of Sligo’s short-lived campaigns over the years and the agonising heartbreak of many decades in the wilderness, similar to many other ‘weaker’ counties.

Of course, Sligo’s challenges are compounded by the town, a breeding ground for many of the county’s younger generation, being the nerve centre for the league of Ireland soccer club, Sligo Rovers.

Consequently, the ‘pull’ of both sports reduces the pool of players and coaxes many promising Gaelic players away from the sport.

There had been a great resurgence in Sligo football in the mid-sixties, which saw them push future All Ireland champions Galway to the limits in ’64 and ’65.

But the summer of ‘75 remains unique in the annuals of Sligo football.

They reached the promised land, and won their first provincial crown since 1928, and only the second ever in their history.

This year was a watershed one for ‘Yeats county’, having waited a lifetime for the sweetness of success.

Expectations were high within the county when Sligo were pitted in the All Ireland semi-final against formidable opposition in Kerry.

This Kerry team were in the process of building for the future, and within their ranks were some of the greatest ever players to grace a football pitch, like Spillane, Sheehy and Egan.

Sadly, the Kingdom outclassed Sligo, and won the game.

You see, Kerry and Dublin, the kingpins of the mid and later seventies were in the process of rebuilding and were there for the taking.

Donegal won Ulster titles in ’72 and ’74.

I suppose the late seventies was a period of unprecedented Kerry and Dublin dominance of the football scene.

Between them they won seven All Ireland titles – Kerry four and Dublin three.

Offaly came in from exterior darkness to win in ’71 and ’72, with the evergreen stalwart Paddy McCormack still ‘ducking and diving’ after 12 years on the road.

When the full-time whistle blew, the realisation of the outcome finally dawned on the supporters who had forgotten the many disappointments over the years.

The Lee-siders, Cork, after an absence of nearly 30 years, came out of Munster to beat Galway in the All Ireland final in 1973.

Even more so than Sligo, competing for sporting honours in Cork is a challenge when you consider the competition they face from not only football and soccer, but also hurling, and rugby.

The seventies produced some wonderful footballers and it’s very difficult to choose a team.

The Kerry and Dublin team of the seventies were one of the greatest in history, using the same panel of players into the eighties, and for that reason, I will leave some of their key players out for another day.

The seventies, here we go…


Martin Furlong, Offaly

Martin won three All Ireland titles in ’71, ’72, and ’82. He was courageous under the dropping ball and accurate with his long clearances.

Paddy Cullen, Dublin

An agile, tough goalkeeper who was always in control. When Dublin emerged from the football doldrums in ’74, the county hadn’t won a senior title since 1963.


Gay O’Driscoll, Dublin

Gay was the cornerstone of the Dublin rear-guard during the glorious seventies of Dublin football. A master of the quick hand pass and accurate delivery upfield.

Johnny Carey, Mayo

Carey was the pillar of the Mayo backline for many years and played in a number of positions for the team.

John O’Keefe, Kerry

John was the typical Kerry footballer with his high fielding and long kicking. A model footballer, as sporting as he was skilful.

Pauric McShea, Donegal

A big man who was a gifted underage player at minor level for many years before graduating to the senior ranks of Donegal football. An excellent kicker of the dead ball.

Brian Murphy, Cork

A member of one of the most elite clubs in history, he holds the unusual distinction of winning All Ireland senior medals in both football and hurling.  His hallmark was his consistency over many years.

Jimmy Deenihan, Kerry

An upholder of Kerry’s traditional catch and kick values, Jimmy was always very fit, naturally tough and a man who relished the physical confrontation.

Robbie Kelleher, Dublin

Part of Dublin’s defensive wall, and a key player in Dublin’s dominance in the seventies, Robbie had the capacity to isolate attackers, denying them space and freedom to roam at will.

Brian McEniff, Donegal

The lyrics of Tina Turner’s chart topper, Simply the Best, would aptly describe Brian McEniff. A terrific man-marker, who stuck like glue to his opponent.

Nick CLavin, Offaly

Nick, more than any other member of the Offaly team that eventually scaled the summit in the seventies, won plaudits from even opposition players for his ability to subdue the greatest of attacking footballers.

Barnes Murphy, Sligo

Barnes was not accustomed to wearing a welcoming face on the field of play; a man who never believed in going the roundabout way when there was a more direct route.

Tommy Joe Gilmore, Galway

Any footballer who leaves Croke Park on the receiving end of defeat on All Ireland final day must be crestfallen. Unfortunately for Tommy Joe, this ordeal happened three times for him in the seventies.

Pat Reynolds, Meath

An agile, exceptionally fast player, with a flair for going forward. He had great intensity and balance.


Dermot Earley, Roscommon 

I would rate Dermot among the all-time greats of Gaelic football. An all-inspiring figure, with unlimited stamina, he was elegance personified.

Colm McAlarney, Down

Colm’s strengths were apparent in aerial battles, always first to the dropping ball. His excellent solo runs were capable of penetrating the tightest defensive barriers.


Frank McGuigan, Tyrone

Frank was endowed with natural ability, flair and dash. A gifted player, who played with exuberance that is exciting to watch and tantalising for defenders.

Martin Carney, Donegal

Martin holds the unique record of representing Ulster and Connacht in Railway Cup competitions. He played for both Donegal and Mayo in his time.

Jimmy Duggan, Galway

Jimmy won an All Ireland senior medal in ’66 whilst not long out of college. He was one of the most accomplished footballers of the seventies, tenacious yet stylish.

Mattie Hoey, Sligo

An intelligent player with vision and balance. A fine all-round footballer with an instinctive attacking flair which helped him rattle up scores.

Tony McTague, Offaly

There was much more in Tony’s repertoire of skills than his ability to slot the ball between the posts. When he cut loose with his solo runs, it was poetry in motion.

Tommy Carew, Kildare

Not a name you would be that familiar with nowadays, but the Kildare man created many scoring records for the Lilywhites during his career.

Paddy Moriarty, Armagh

A stalwart of Armagh football, but particularly so in their All Ireland final against Dublin in 1977. By then, he enjoyed a lot of success with his versatility and ability by playing in many different positions.

Denis ‘Dinny’ Allen, Cork

Denis was lethal in the forward line, the superb opportunist, with a quick turn of speed, excellent distribution and an indomitable spirit.

Tony McManus, Roscommon

Tony holds a record 14 county medals with his club in Roscommon, and four consecutive Connacht titles with Roscommon from 1977-1980.

Jimmy Keaveney, Dublin

After being coaxed out of retirement to spearhead the Dublin attack after arriving back from football oblivion, Jimmy was a model full forward and a real poacher on the edge of the square.

John Egan, Kerry

I wasn’t sure whether to place Egan in my seventies or eighties selection, as he was so good in both decades. He was a force of power, head down, soloing the ball, using one hand to shield off the defender.

Sean O’Connell, Derry 

Although well past his best in the seventies, having been in the forward line since Derry’s defeat to Dublin in the All Ireland in ’58, he was still a classy forward who gave loyal service to his county.

So, this is my final selection, which includes players who were strong and resolute in defence, quick and mobile in the centre and creative, intelligent and free scoring in the forwards.

Do look after yourselves and stay safe.

Henry Wymbs has always had a 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].