This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 14 July, 2020
Advertisement

'To get the standing ovation coming off the field, I get goosebumps even recalling it again'

Michael Meehan and Bryan Sheehan on the 2002 college classics that helped influence their careers.

Galway's Michael Meehan and Kerry's Bryan Sheehan.
Galway's Michael Meehan and Kerry's Bryan Sheehan.
Image: INPHO

IT IS THE reaction from the stand that remains a crystal clear memory for Bryan Sheehan.

Extra-time had failed to announce a winner on that Sunday afternoon in April 2002 in the Gaelic Grounds when the final whistle blasted.

The main course was still to come, two recent Sam Maguire winners facing off, Páidí and Boylan directing operations from the sideline in a league semi-final.

But for those that had taken their seats early in the Mackey Stand, the Hogan Cup semi-final starter had proved highly appetising as Coláiste Na Sceilge from south Kerry and St Jarlath’s from north Galway duelled.

And as the players made their way off the pitch, they were met with only acclaim.

“At the time dressing-rooms were under the stand and you’d to walk right into the middle of it,” says Sheehan.

“Just to get the standing ovation coming off the field, I get goosebumps even recalling it again. For school teams of 16, 17-year-olds, it was special.

“This was just out and out attack, a joy of football. Colm O’Rourke, was writing for the Sunday Independent at the time, he was down for the Kerry-Meath game, and he wrote that for him it was one of the best games of football that he’d ever seen.

“He said that the senior game after it was such a dour, dull game compared to the football and the excitement of the schools game. It was just amazing.”

*************

How good was it? The bald statistics offer persuasive evidence.

0-12 apiece after normal time, Michael Meehan saving Jarlath’s with a late point. 0-20 to 0-20 after extra-time, Alan O’Shea rescuing Sceilge with a final effort.

37 of the 40 points arrived from play. The teams were level on 17 occasions. The match exploded from the off and the relentless pace never abated.

The Irish Examiner the following day described it as ‘a match that will live forever in the memory’.

SceilgeJarlaths2 Irish Newspaper Archives Source: https://www.irishnewsarchive.com/

The Kerryman compared the two matches that had been on show. ‘One was stale porter. The other was vintage champagne.’

SceilgeJarlaths3 Irish Newspaper Archives

‘“If this game produced a loser, it would have been one of the great tragedies of colleges football,” was The Connacht Tribune verdict later in the week.

JarlathsSceilge1 Irish Newspaper Archives

Greatest game debates are subjective by nature and destined to never find a consensus. The encounter between the Caherciveen and Tuam schools was an underground hit in the absence of television coverage but those present are strong proponents of the merits it carries.

“It’s a game that pops into conversation from time to time with just different people of different genres, people who were there, people who heard about it,” recalls Meehan.

“It’s a good while ago but I watched it on DVD at some point, maybe five, six years ago, I got a copy of it.

“There was a much bigger crowd by the end of the game. The Gaelic Grounds has a huge, big stand there just looking down on the pitch. I just remember the cheers going in at full-time. The crowd appreciated what was after unfolding.”

Michael Meehan was always set to go to St Jarlath’s for educational and football purposes. Five older brothers – Declan, Enda, Noel, Seamus and Tomas – had headed there previously from the family home in Caltra.

“That was the way we did it in our family. It just followed suit and I suppose I was mad into football anyway before that. It was a good match in that regard.”

He’d watched Declan and Tomas collect medals at All-Ireland level in 1994, Jarlath’s storming to victory in a final in Longford.

“The two of them were on that team with Joyce and Donnellan and Divilly and all these guys. I would have been to all those games.

“It was full on as a boarder which we were. We didn’t live too far away but there was no bus connections coming out our side. You were just playing football most evenings after school between four and six, then you were into study most of the night after that.

“The bell went at 3.55, you ran upstairs and you got your gearbag in the dorm and you went hell for leather on one of the pitches.”

Sheehan fell into a similar routine dominated by football. He initially enrolled in St John Bosco but by 1999 the doors of Coláiste Na Sceilge were opened, amalgamating three schools and drawing students from all over south Kerry.

By 2001 they had broken new ground by winning the Corn Ui Mhuiri in Munster. Sheehan’s career would be later characterised by contributions from the middle third but back then he was put between the posts, blessed with a booming kickout that was an invaluable weapon.

At 16 he was in goal for the Kerry minors. That team had Donnchadh Walsh as a midfield lynchpin, started with Colm Cooper and Declan O’Sullivan in the full-forward line, and could throw Kieran Donaghy in off the bench. But their season drew to a close in a Croke Park semi-final loss to Dublin.

bryan-sheehan-digital Kerry goalkeeper Bryan Sheehan lifts the Munster minor football trophy in 2002 Source: INPHO

By the following spring, Sheehan was hoping to make a push out the field. Coláiste Na Sceilge had big ambitions after seeing their hopes scuppered the year before by St Pat’s of Navan.

“I think it was Joe Sheridan got a late goal, three or four of us contested it, he was standing inside alongside me. It was allowed and we lost. That left a bit of a bitter taste in us because we were the better team we felt that day.”

Jack O’Connor had a different plan in 2002 for his St Mary’s protege. Sheehan fired a shot from a 30-yard free that sailed to the net to win a Munster semi-final against Killorglin but his role was generally further back the field.

“Jack just kind of said to me, ‘Look if we’re to win the Hogan Cup or if have a right cut off it, I need you back in goal’. I wasn’t too happy with it but I went back.

“I was lucky enough I could put the ball out 50, 55 yards at that age. You were taking pressure off your team. I was tipping six foot around then, probably had a bit of a growth spurt, so reasonably tall for being in goal.

“It was for the team more than anything else and I had another year again after that to play out the field. I was young as well, probably wasn’t physically up to that challenge either so it probably made sense for me to be playing in goal. I wasn’t thinking that way at the time but hindsight is a great thing.”

St Jarlath’s had their own motivations after crossing paths with the Meath crew coached by Colm O’Rourke in 2001.

“For me it was hugely disappointing, first game in Croke Park, first final with the school,” recalls Meehan.

“We were doing okay but Pat’s Navan came strong in the second half, got a couple of goals. We definitely left the place disappointed that we hadn’t delivered. It was a big learning curve for me that game and the whole occasion.

“We’d had success all the way up but with that came a bit of an expectation. The feeling was there that it had been a long time since ’94. Jarlath’s lost an All-Ireland final in 2001, a semi in 2000 and a final in 1999 as well.”

joe-sheridan-and-gary-sice Joe Sheridan (St Pat's) and Gary Sice (St Jarlath's) in action in 2001 Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Jack O’Connor was guiding fortunes from Caherciveen, the next step on a coaching career that would go right to the top. Sheehan remembers the key inputs made by John O’Shea from Renard and John Dorgan, who helped Glenbeigh-Glencar win an All-Ireland club title a couple years ago.

The Jarlath’s camp was overseen by a figure synonymous with their GAA history. Fr Oliver Hughes was a farmer’s son from Killererin who was parish priest in Corofin at the time of his death in 2010.

In Tuam he was involved with winning Hogan Cup teams as a player in 1961 and first as a coach in 1978. He guided generations of young footballers, taught French and became President of the college in 1994.

“I always just found him very approachable, he was a very nice, kind man,” says Meehan.

“He was football mad. Just loved the game and wanted it to be played as much as possible with a smile on your face. Very simplistic approach but it worked.

“From the times training under him, he focused on the very basics of the game. He would demonstrate himself daily or any time we were out training as part of our warm-up. That was the foundation of what he was trying to instil.”

Before that 2002 semi-final scouting opponents was not as sophisticated as it would later become. From his view in goal Sheehan quickly saw the drawn game boil down to a personal battle.

“Look to be honest I don’t think any of us had heard of Michael Meehan until those games and likewise they probably hadn’t heard of Declan O’Sullivan either.

“Michael was standing in front of me and playing full-forward. I was shouting at backs, ‘Go left and go right’, but he was just phenomenal. Kicking scores from 40, 45 yards, now that’s for a 17, 18-year-old, that’s big kicking.

“On the other side of it we’d Declan, who put on another fantastic display. It’s just amazing you’ve the two left-legged full-forwards, two household names of the game in later years. It was just a shootout between the two of them.”

The replay the following Sunday went the distance again. John Devane’s 89th minute point in extra-time nudged Jarlath’s over the line, 2-13 to 2-12. Sceilge bemoaned a late goal by Damien Dunleavy in normal time that was allowed to stand.

Meehan hit 1-7, following up his tally of 0-7 in the drawn match. O’Sullivan kicked 0-7 over the course of the two games. They were at the heart of the attacking drive of their teams.

Those present were treated to another colleges epic that throbbed with energy, the attendance touching the 17,000 mark as the Kilkenny and Limerick hurlers were facing off afterwards.

The widespread praise was scant consolation for Sheehan.

“It was just one of the hardest defeats I’ve ever had to take. Even to this day. I would always say that the hardest was the 2011 All-Ireland final to Dublin and I would probably put this loss to Jarlath’s up there with it.

“Things around that time really galvanised the school team. The amount of effort we put into it, there was such a good camaraderie between the group of players. Having lost out the year before, we felt we were wrongly done by. To come back again and lose again, and after extra-time in both games, it was hard.”

Jarlath’s went on to finish the job, blitzing St Michael’s from Enniskillen in the final in Carrick-on-Shannon at the end of April. Meehan shone once more as he rifled in 1-6.

As captain he brought the cup with him that night to the Malthouse in Mountbellew where the Caltra club were having their annual social. His achievements embellished an evening where brothers Declan, the 2001 Footballer of the Year, and Tomas were being toasted for their Sam Maguire win with Galway the previous September.

Sheehan never did manage to get his hands on the Hogan Cup. In 2003 Coláiste na Sceilge would complete three-in-a-row in their province only to run into a well-drilled St Pat’s Maghera team afterwards and make their exit.

A few months later all those disappointments faded in significance.

Ger O’Shea had been a key component of the Sceilge attack, notching 0-6 in that saga with St Jarlath’s the year before.

On the August Bank Holiday weekend, Sheehan was playing for the Kerry minors in Ennis. They beat Mayo, he fired home 2-5 from full-forward.

After the game he found out O’Shea had passed away suddenly.

“We were all young fellas, it was a tough time. I knew Ger well. A family, the Keatings from over the water, used to look after us when we were younger and they were cousins of Ger, I knew him very much through them.

“Look there hasn’t been a corner of the country or any parish that hasn’t dealt with the loss of someone. We’re not the only ones it happened. It’s not easy.

“He was a bundle of joy, he was always a laugh around the place. A few things that Ger spoke about in the dressing-room after that Jarlath’s game, hit home a small bit after that. Fellas rallied around to help him and he was the first fella to help out everyone else.

“It was just a sad time but it’s great to be able to look back and say we had Ger when we were involved in those games. Just very lucky to have been part of it and got to play with him.”

*************

For Meehan that success with Jarlath’s was the start of an extraordinary run. Later that year he had his first taste of All-Ireland U21 glory with Galway.

In 2003 he won a Sigerson Cup with NUIG, lighting up the final with two sublime sideline kicks. He took home Galway and Connacht honours with Caltra that autumn.

On St Patrick’s Day 2004 there was a magical All-Ireland win over Kerry’s An Ghaeltacht, the Meehan family kicking 0-12 of the 0-13 total and Michael supplying half of that number. Then 2005 yielded another U21 victory, a final adorned by the hat-tricks bagged by him and Sean Armstrong. Six of the Jarlath’s class of 2002 were part of that Galway triumph.

michael-meehan-and-dara-ose-1732004 Michael Meehan goes up against Dara Ó Sé in the 2004 All-Ireland senior club final Source: INPHO

“There was a lot of talent there with Jarlath’s who would go on to have varying lengths of inter-county careers but at that stage they were the best in the business

“Obviously Gary Sice is one of the last men standing at a very elite level. There would have been Alan Burke and Niall Coleman, Darren Mullahy, Damien Dunleavy. James Kavanagh was there as well from Kildare.

“It was busy but it was a great time. It kind of front-loaded a lot of my success at that stage. Didn’t really stop to think about it too much. I didn’t feel it a burden. There was talk of burnout but the rate of training and what you’re expected to do wasn’t near as taxing as they are now. So in hindsight it was just great, you were going from one campaign to the next.”

Times have changed now. Jack O’Connor achieved an All-Ireland breakthrough in 2009 with Coláiste Na Sceilge but since then in the Kerry school football power bases have shifted back to Dingle, Killarney and Tralee.

jack-oconnor-celebrates-with-damien-hogan Jack O'Connor celebrates the 2009 final triumph Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The numbers are down, there’s very little going to primary schools and that feeds through to secondary school,” says Sheehan.

“I just think back then as well fellas mindsets were different. I know from my days it was all football, whereas I don’t think football is a priority any more.

“We had a group of players at the time that were very good, they were keen footballers, there were no distractions. We hadn’t much soccer, we didn’t have basketball at the time, everything was just geared towards football.”

His career took off in a different direction afterwards, a role with Kerry in nine All-Ireland finals and five victories. Locally he has lifted the Bishop Moynihan Cup five times with South Kerry. Former school mates have remained football acquaintances. One in particular.

“Everything in my trophy cabinet, outside of my club football, I’ve won with Declan. Schools, county minor, county U21, senior county, Munster titles, All-Irelands, National Leagues. I’ve been lucky to have soldiered with him and we’ve had that success.

declan-osullivan-and-bryan-sheehan-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Bryan Sheehan and Declan O'Sullivan celebrate after the 2015 Kerry senior football final replay Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“But we’ve had a fantastic group of players around us. There was such an honest group of players there fighting for each other. That’s what Jack instilled into the team, that bond. We’re all down here in the one small part of the country. We play South Kerry championship and we knock lumps out of each other but then you can be guaranteed when those fellas meet after, there’s always respect.”

Meehan experienced the flipside with injuries wrecking his own progress and frustration in Galway colours when chasing the big prizes.

“They missed out on their Hogan Cup but I’m sure they’ll settle as to how it panned out for them,” he laughs.

“I don’t know how many All-Irelands they have between them at senior level, I know Declan captained one as well. He was a young guy at that stage and that was a phenomenal achievement.

“Met them here and there at different things, match days or social gatherings, so you’d have a pint with them. I think they may be a little bit sore that we got them on that occasion but they can console themselves with their fine collection of Celtic Crosses.”

“We did well alright,” agrees Sheehan.

“Sometimes those kind of defeats, they give you that bit of hunger. There’s times when you think you don’t want to feel that way again Monday morning waking up.

“Timing was everything. I came into a fantastic Kerry setup. If Michael Meehan was a couple of years younger, he’d have come into a good Galway team that won All-Irelands. Looking back at it now, all you can say is you were just lucky to be there and involved in those times.”

Meehan is back where it all began, now a Maths teacher in Jarlath’s. He helps out with some of the juvenile football teams. The school last graced the All-Ireland stage in 2011 with a team powered by Shane Walsh and Ian Burke. Connacht has become a highly competitive arena of late and the school no longer takes boarders. But the locality remains a Gaelic football hotbed.

conor-cunningham-with-jerome-johnston Shane Walsh (left) in action in the 2011 Hogan Cup final Source: Leo Byrne/INPHO

“The standard is rising and we’re not as strong as we like to be but it’s not for the want of trying. Every year you’ll still have 60 or 70 first years who’ll turn out for football trials and they’ll all want to play for Jarlath’s. The dream is still there for those lads which is good to see. You just have to get on with it and adjust.”

And there are still reminders of those past glories.

“Jack was up doing the Irish orals in St Jarlath’s there, maybe two years ago now,” recalls Meehan.

“I met him for a coffee one of the lunchtimes.

“He was there saying, ‘Jesus Christ, they send me back to this place’, after us kind of robbing them a couple of decades ago.

“We were able to have a laugh and a chat about it.”

18 years on, the memories of a classic refuse to fade.

**************************

  • 14 April 2002 

St Jarlath’s 0-20
Coláiste Na Sceilge 0-20

(after extra-time)

Scorers for St Jarlath’s: Michael Meehan 0-7, David Warde 0-6, A Flaherty, Darren Mullahy, Niall Coleman, Damien Dunleavy, Shane Moran, James Kavanagh, A O’Hara 0-1 each.

Scorers for Coláiste Na Sceilge: Declan O’Sullivan (0-1f), Jer O’Shea, Joe Corridan (0-2f) 0-4 each, Alan O’Shea, Kieran Cronin 0-3 each, Michael Curran 0-2.

St Jarlath’s

Donal Dowd

Paul Costello
Gary Sice (Corofin)
Gerald Aherne

Alan Flaherty (Tuam Stars)
Darren Mullahy (Milltown)
Alan Burke (Corofin)

Niall Coleman (Annaghdown)
Damien Dunleavy (Kilkerrin-Clonberne)

Shane Moran (Tuam Stars)
David Warde (Cortoon Shamrocks)
Cillín De Paor (An Cheathrú Rua)

John Devane (Milltown)
Michael Meehan (Caltra)
James Kavanagh (Ballymore Eustace, Kildare)

Subs

Alan O’Hara for Aherne (half-time)

Coláiste Na Sceilge

Bryan Sheehan (St Mary’s)

John M Clifford (St Mary’s)
Wayne O’Sullivan (Skellig Rangers)
Aidan O’Connor (Dromid Pearses)

Padraig Sheehan (Dromid Pearses)
Gary Galvin (Waterville)
Ciarán Grandfield (St Michael’s-Foilmore)

Adrian Breen (Derrynane)
David Fenton (Derrynane)

Michael Curran (Waterville)
Kieran Cronin (St Michael’s-Foilmore)
Barry Murphy (Valentia)

Jer O’Shea (St Michael’s-Foilmore)
Declan O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses)
Joe Corridan (Derrynane)

Sub

Alan O’Shea (Waterville) for Clifford (72)

  • 21 April 2002: St Jarlath’s 2-13 Coláiste Na Sceilge 2-12 (after extra-time)

Scorers for St Jarlath’s: Michael Meehan 1-7 (0-2f, 0-1 ’45), Damien Dunleavy 1-2, David Warde 0-3 (0-3f), John Devane 0-1.

Scorers for Coláiste Na Sceilge: Joe Corridan 1-3 (1-0 free), Kieran Cronin 1-2, Declan O’Sullivan 0-3 (0-2f), Ger O’Shea 0-2, Aidan O’Connor, Adrian Breen 0-1 each.

St Jarlath’s

Alan O’Hara started replay instead of Gerald Aherne

Subs

J O’Donoghue for O’Hara, Gerald Aherne for Moran, Moran for O’Donoghue.

Coláiste Na Sceilge

Same team started replay

Subs

Alan O’Shea for Ger O’Shea, Colm Martin for Michael Curran, Barry Lynch for David Fenton, Ger O’Shea for Colm Martin, David Fenton for Wayne O’Sullivan, Michael Curran for Barry Murphy.

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

Read next:

COMMENTS (10)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel