By Kieran Murphy
TO really get into the minds of how Éire Óg were thinking back in the 90s it might be worth relating a little story about Jimmy Dooley. He was corner-back when the Carlow champions met Skryne from Meath in the first round of the 1992 Leinster club championship in Dr Cullen Park.
Dooley himself has never confirmed or denied it but, as they say, why let a good story interfere with the truth. What is certain is that Dooley was marking Colm O’Rourke that day. The winner of back-to-back All-Ireland senior medals in 1987 and 88 and footballer of the year in 1991, the Meath man is one of football’s immortals.
Legend has it the Éire Óg defender was not intimidated as he sallied up to him.
“You look bigger on television,” said an unimpressed Dooley. Éire Óg destroyed the Meath champions, winning at their ease that day.
In the Leinster final, Anthony Keating scored two goals when Éire Óg beat Ballyroan. That final was played in the New Year after the game was postponed before Christmas because of snow.
“The groundwork was done under Seamus Fitzpatrick from 1987 to 89,” recalls Keating
“An older Éire Og team in John Moore, Richie Moore, Don Walker had been in place but also a new team came through with John Kearns, Willie Quinlan, Joe Murphy, Tom Nolan, myself. All young players.” Keating made his senior debut as far back as 1984 in a league match.
He tasted defeat in consecutive finals against Rathvilly in 1990 and 1991. He wondered whether he would ever get a senior medal. After they did make the breakthrough in 1992, there were times during the following five years when he felt Éire Óg should have lost in Carlow, but by that stage the mentality had changed.
“Rathvilly should probably have beaten us in finals that we won. It’s like Tuam Stars at the moment. They should have beaten Corofin this year but they didn’t.
“When we got out of Carlow we expressed ourselves more. We played a freer brand of football. I used say to lads in the club, the shackles were off. You marked the same players in Carlow. I marked Joe Dunne of Rathvilly every year and I couldn’t get any change out of him. Then when you came to mark someone in the club championship in Leinster you never saw him before and probably wouldn’t ever see him again. Maybe you would try things you wouldn’t normally try.”
The Carlow side took the mystique out of famous names. Dublin clubs Erin’s Isle, Kilmacud Crokes and St Sylvester’s were all beaten in that glorious era.
“They were made out to be movie stars (by the media). They weren’t and when you met them at a local level they were ordinary lads like ourselves,” recalls Keating.
New manager Bobby Miller raised fitness levels.
“We were doing four laps as a training session. Now, we were doing six laps to warm up. Laps is prehistoric training nowadays, but then it was damn hard work,” says Keating.
“You were running with Joe Murphy, Noel Fallon, Jimmy Dooley who could have run in the Olympics they had that little weight. Miller being Miller, we trained maybe on St Stephen’s Day. We were always trying to get an advantage.”
Winning an All-Ireland became an obsession for the Carlow champions. It wasn’t to be, losing narrowly to O’Donovan Rossa of Cork in 1993 and by 4-5 to 0-11 to Laune Rangers of Kerry in 1996. They were within touching distance of winning but fortune didn’t favour the brave.
Alan Callinan has eight senior county medals. He made the number seven jersey his own in the 1990s. Three years after Baltinglass won the All-Ireland club championship, Éire Óg beat them by a point in Athy.
For Callinan that was the day the club found out more about itself than in any other game.
“We were outplayed but we kept going. We just fought and threw our bodies around. We had been under non-stop pressure for 50 minutes to keep it to a situation where we were able to win with two late points.”
The former Éire Óg defender also maintains the club had the ideal midfield partnership in Garvan Ware and Hughie Brennan.
“There was no fear in us and I think the whole thing clicked when we put in Hughie with Garvan. Garvan was the most elegant six-foot-six footballer that you would see. Hughie was the enforcer in the middle of the field. That for me was the final piece which made the team click,” he recalls.
To this day Ware, who lives in Lucan, doesn’t miss a Carlow county final when his former club is involved. He also follows them when they are playing in Leinster.
“My understanding of Éire Óg was that, at the time, you played a lot of challenge games against teams from Wexford, Laois, Wicklow, Kildare. We always had the belief that we could go toe-to-toe with any one of them.
“Up to then there were some in Éire Óg who felt that if we won Carlow we should be well able to take it another step. By bringing in Bobby Miller when they did, and this is no disrespect to anyone who trained Éire Óg before that, it was a case of trying something different.”
Kevin Haughney was a gifted forward in those heady times. Yet he came in at a time when that wasn’t enough. He remembers long treks around scenic spots through the county where players weren’t going out to enjoy the views.
“It was hard work. We ran and ran,” recalls Kevin. “Up the Barrow Track. Up Oak Park. Down by the Burrin. You really put it in. Bobby (Miller) put the belief into the club that we could go further.”
And further they went