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'I told the Mayo guys – if we had Offaly jerseys on we wouldn’t even dream of losing these matches'

Sean Lowry won three All-Irelands with Offaly before a twist of fate saw him lift a Connacht title with Mayo in 1985.

PICTURE THE SCENE.

A multiple All-Ireland winner and two-time All-Star transfers from one Sam Maguire contender to another.

pjimage Lowry played for both Offaly (left) and Mayo (right) during an illustrious career Source: Inpho

If it happened in 2017, the reaction would be hysteric, but fortunately for Sean Lowry the world was a much more forgiving place in 1985 and ‘Twitter’ was just a sound that birds made.

One of the most versatile players of his era, he is one of the few players to win an All-Star in both attack and defence. He timed his inter-county career impeccably, breaking through for the golden age of Offaly football.

Three All-Irelands, six Leinster crowns and 14 years later, it felt like the right the time draw the curtain on a remarkable inter-county career.

“I was very lucky,” he says. “I came onto the Offaly panel in ’71 when I was only 19 and Offaly won the All-Ireland. So I says ‘happy days.’

“The following year I was playing centre-back and we beat Kerry in the All-Ireland final and gave them the biggest beating they ever got in a final. That was ’72 after a replay.”

It would be another decade before Lowry added a third Celtic Cross, but his final All-Ireland win couldn’t have been any sweeter.

Brothers Mick and Brendan had since graduated onto the senior team, and the trio helped consign Kerry to their first championship defeat in over five years. The events of 19th September 1982 went down in GAA folklore, from Martin Furlong’s penalty to Seamus Darby’s unthinkable winning goal.

Source: TG4/YouTube

Like any true competitor, there were lingering regrets he didn’t win more, but Lowry was satisfied with his achievements.

“It’s frightening really when you think back; that time we thought it was going to last forever. We were on the go for a few years as well. Then Matt Connor got injured and a lot of things happened, but sin sceal eile.”

New Laochra Gael Series Launch in Croke Park Sean Lowry was speaking at the launch of a new season of Laochra Gael in Croke Park Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

Offaly’s powers were beginning to wane and aged 32, Lowry received an enticing job offer with the ESB in Mayo.

So he signed off on his inter-county career, upped sticks and moved his family out west from his native Ferbane. It wasn’t long before he started to kick some ball in the evenings with local club side Crossmolina.

“I had decided when I went down there I was going to forget about (playing with) Ferbane because it was too far, it was a 100 miles and I had a new family” says Lowry.

“It was a great way of getting into the community anyway and they were so welcoming and looked after us.”

Word spread around the county quickly. Before long, Mayo boss Liam O’Neill came calling.

“I had given up (inter-county) football and was just playing with Crossmolina. I didn’t expect Liam O’Neill to come, and he came knocking at my door around May.”

The Offaly team and fans celebrate 1982 The Offaly team and supporters celebrate the All-Ireland win in 1982 Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

O’Neill’s first foray was unsuccessful, but the chance to tempt a multiple All-Ireland winner meant he wasn’t going to give up that easy.

“Eventually he came around the second time, so I said ‘listen, I’ll give you a hand for a few months and whenever you are out of the championship then I’ll skedaddle.’”

Mayo hadn’t won a Connacht title since 1981 and in the meantime lost three straight provincial finals to Galway.

O’Neill’s arrival as manager in the early 1980s heralded a new approach in the county. He’d traveled over and back to the States to study the latest training techniques, and a fitter, more steely Mayo emerged.

They had a talented outfit, with 1983 U21 All-Ireland winners Kevin McStay, John Maughan, Peter Forde and Noel Durkin energising a squad which already featured the likes of Willie Joe Padden, Eugene McHale and TJ Kilgallon.

The Galway man, who oversaw the provincial final defeats in ’83 and ’84, believed the experience and guile of Lowry could get them over the line.

He was proved right.

Willie Joe Padden 1985 Mayo's Willie Joe Padden during the 1985 campaign Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

A week after his home county opened up their Leinster SFC campaign with a resounding win over Louth, Lowry donned the green and red as Mayo easily accounted for Leitrim in the Connacht semi-final.

Roscommon lay in wait in the decider at Dr Hyde Park, a venue where Mayo had never beaten the home side in a Connacht final.

McStay posted 0-7, while Lowry plundered in a goal from full-forward in commanding 2-11 to 0-8 victory. It was game that was notable for another reason, it proved to be the late Dermot Earley’s last outing in a Roscommon jersey.

MAYO (vs Roscommon 1985 Connacht SFC final)1. Eugene Lavin

2. Martin Carney
3. Peter Forde
4. Dermot Flanagan

5. Frank Noone
6. John Maughan
7. John Finn

8. TJ Kilgallon
9. WJ Padden

10. Henry Gavin (0-1)
11. Jimmy Burke
12. Noel Durcan (1-1)

13. Kevin McStay (0-7, five frees, one ‘50’)
14. Sean Lowry (1-0)
15. Eugene McHale (0-2)

Subs:
Padraig Brogan for Gavin
Des McHale for Brogan
Billy Fitzpatrick for McHale

After the impressive win, Mayo bristled with talk of All-Ireland glory. On their biggest day on the national stage since 1951, Mayo fought back from behind to force a credible 1-13 apiece draw with Kevin Heffernan’s Dublin.

In front of 63,134 in Croke Park, the Westerners went down by 2-12 to 1-7 in the replay. It’s not a result that sits well with Lowry, who believes they should have gone further that year.

“It was a fine team and I think we had a great chance of winning the All-Ireland,” says Lowry ruefully.

Sean Lowry 1985 Lowry in action for Mayo during his sole season with them Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“When I went into the Mayo dressing room in ’85 there were about eight fellas bigger than I was with all the skills. If we had them in Offaly! And the Mayo fellas said we were too thick to know we weren’t good enough.

“But we were probably just confident. And I tell you what we always did; we always gave it our best shot and that’s all you need. Offaly always did that but Mayo kind of think too much and analyse too much and these curses and all that oul’ rubbish.

“Offaly had no tradition, Offaly didn’t win a Leinster title until 1960 and now we are at the stage where our tradition has gone so far back that it is almost lost again. Mayo had tradition in the 50’s and then they lost it, so tradition only stays with you if you keep topping it up.”

It’s 32 years since that defeat to Dublin at HQ, and Mayo are still chasing Sam Maguire. Lowry is in a unique position to comment on their predicament, having represented the county after lifted the All-Ireland three times with Offaly.

Seamus and Aidan O'Shea Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Mayo always had a lot of class, but there’s a few things wrong with Mayo. One thing is the county is very big. It’s very hard to unite the county and in Offaly it was much more of a smaller family and we minded one another.

“If we lost a couple of players, we wouldn’t have won the All-Ireland because we didn’t have the bodies.

“Mayo sometimes don’t persevere, and they don’t have to persevere because they always have another guy coming in. I always have the idea too that if you come to Croke Park and don’t play well, there’s no point in being out there.

“Some people don’t play well at Croke Park and there are people that Mayo persist with that they should have a re-think about. But I think they have a lot of class, and it’s just all in the mind big-time.

“I think if Offaly had that team, they’d win the All-Ireland. Maybe it’s just tomfoolery, but I honestly believe that. I honestly believe that in ’85 when I was playing and I told the Mayo guys – if we had Offaly jerseys on we wouldn’t even dream of losing these matches.”

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