Eighty years ago, on Sunday, October 10, 1937, Longford were crowned All-Ireland Junior Football Champions after they defeated London by 0-9 to 0-4 at the GAA Ground, Bromley Road, Catford, London.
En-route to glory and prior to that trip across the Irish Sea, Longford defeated Offaly by 3-7 to 4-1 in the Leinster Final on August 1, 1937 at Pearse Park - the home of Longford GAA which was officially opened three months earlier - Mayo and Kerry played a tournament fixture to mark the occasion on April 25, while Longford v Roscommon was the curtain-raiser on that auspicious occasion.
In the All-Ireland semi-final at Breffni Park, Cavan on August 8, Longford were convincing 2-14 to 0-7 winners over Antrim. Then in the All-Ireland ‘Home’ Final at Roscommon on September 19, Longford got the better of Mayo by 1-7 to 1-6. And ultimate success was captured at London’s expense.
The triumphant panel of 1937 came together for a Golden Jubilee celebration of their victory in 1987 and in this special feature we recall Longford’s win over London and also the Jubilee gathering in Longford Slashers.
“Longford's all conquering team have realised their proud ambition and having added London's scalp to the others, are now undisputed Junior Champions of Ireland.
It has been a wonderfully successful year for the Longford players, and to those who succeeded in bringing home the first All Ireland title must go the full honour that is their due.
The latest triumph will certainly be remembered for many years particularly by those whose privilege it was to participate in it. The journey to London, though made in very pleasant conditions, was a big handicap to our players who were far from being at their best at Catford Park. But they secured a merited victory, and there was no reason to doubt the issue after fifteen minutes football, for Longford's pace and combination proved too much for the London lads who individually were as good as most of the home champions. They also lacked the experience of the Longford boys and so the home team were able to initiate movements that were always dangerous and were it not for the splendid goalkeeping of Smith, London would have been down considerably at the end.
What wonderful gaels those London Irish are! They play the games of the homeland, dance her dances and sing her songs with an enthusiasm that would make some of us feel ashamed of the little we do for the Irish Ireland movement at home. Many of the London players have to travel considerable distances to attend practice games, some in fact go over 20 miles but they do it cheerfully and with wonderful enthusiasm.
The language is their special pride, and well it may be, I heard more Irish spoken in London during the weekend I spent there than I could hear in Longford in a week.
They gave our boys a wonderfully warm welcome that made everybody feel at home. And to judge from the numbers of Longford folk – boys and girls – who turned up at the ceili on Saturday night, the exiles from this country are proud of the achievement of the boys in blue and gold. They were there in hundreds from Longford, Granard, Edgeworthstown, Colmcille, Mullinalaghta, Dromard, Clonbroney, Ballinamuck and Drumlish and there were some whom I must confess I didn't know though their welcome was very full and kindly.
But it was on Sunday afternoon they mustered all their forces and at least 70 per cent of the four thousand spectators present were Longford exiles who made no secret of the fact that their home county was there to win the title. Their cheer of encouragement gave wonderful help to the players who realised to the full what their exiled friends expected from them and started off in great style. Cheer succeeded cheer as Longford swept through the field and the enthusiasm reminded one of Croke Park, though the crowd was of course much smaller, but they were much more enthusiastic.
It made one feel to the full the tragedy it is that the flower of Irish youth is compelled by circumstances beyond our control to seek a livelihood in a foreign and unfriendly soil.
There was a full muster of players for the trip. The Killashee, Clonguish, Dromard, Killoe , Mullinalaghta and Colmcille players joined the train at Longford where the officials also entrained. There was a big crowd to wish them good luck. The train moved off to the accompaniment of cheers which were punctuated by the explosion of fog signals on the line.
At Edgeworthstown, the Granard and Ardagh contingents joined the others and it was a very merry party that reached Dublin where Mr P O'Keeffe general secretary, Mr C McGeough (British representative on the Central Council), Mr James Bolger (Irish Independent), Mr P Moran (Dublin County Board), Mr JJ Feehily, a former Ballinamuck man and many others met them and wished them a pleasant journey.
At Dun Laoghaire the party which included some dozen supporters was joined by Mr PD Breen (Trustee of Central Council) and Mr Martin O'Neill secretary of the Leinster Council who travelled with the team.
Ther sea crossing was very pleasant and when Holyhead was reached the best of good humour prevailed. Customs examination having been completed, the party joined the Sleeper Coaches on the London train which had been specially reserved for them.
Euston Station was reached about 6.30 on Saturday morning and the party detrained shortly afterwards making their way to the Shaftesbury Hotel, Great St Andrew Street, where they were accommodated. Some of the players went to bed but after lunch all were on foot and very fresh looking.
A motor coach picked up the whole party and a tour of the city and surrounding parts was made. As guides we had the chairman and secretary of the London County Board as well as the British representative on the Central Council.
On returning to the hotel later the party, having dined, set out for the Ceilidhe where they were warmly welcomed and made feel at home. The match took up the greater portion of Sunday as the journey from Hotel to Park, the game and the return journey took up the best part of four hours but visits were paid early that morning to many places of interest in the city.
After dinner a start was made on the return journey. Prior to the start a meeting of the Provincial Council of Great Britain was held, delegates being present from Birmingham and Liverpool as well as from London. Mr Shalloe, chairman of the London County Board, briefly congratulated the Longford team on its victory, and Rev Father McLoughlin, in reply, referred to the wonderful welcome the London Gaels had extended to Longford.
Leaving London at 8.45 the party had a wonderful send off, hundreds of Longford folk being present at the station and there were songs and cheers in plenty. The players broke the journey home at Dublin, only the officials returned home by the morning train.
When the team reached Longford on Monday night they had a great welcome. Shamrock Pipers Band and St Mary’s (Granard) Accordeon Band were at the station and a big crowd waited for their arrival.
As the train entered the station fog signals announced to the crowd that the players had arrived and there was a thunder of greeting as individual players were recognised.
Headed by the two bands the team and reserves paraded through the town followed by a big crowd whose cheers rang loud and long.
Returning to the Market Square where a bonfire blazed addresses were delivered.
Mr Bill Keenan, the captain thanked the crowd for the welcome the team had got.
Father McLoughlin, Mr C Baxter, county accountant and Mr M Brady MCC spoke of the great honour the players had brought to the county and referred to the improvement which had placed gaelic football on such a high plane. Father McLoughlin paid a special tribute to the Gaels of London and particularly the Longford exiles for the welcome they had given the team.
Tributes were paid, too, to the trainer, Mr Tom Molloy, who had accompanied the team and was among them on the platform.
Result never in doubt
The game itself requires little description save for the opening ten minutes of the second half when London, putting on pressure, reduced a half time deficit of five points with three good points, the issue was never in doubt. Longford tightened their belts and to ensure that victory was not slipping away flashed over three points before the end to restore their interval lead.
In the opening minutes of play Bill Keenan put in some great work for Longford and repulsed several forward movements by the London men. He got able assistance from his brothers Paddy on the left, Jimmy at right full back; Stevie Reilly, on his right, Joe Lyons and Harry Rogers completed a back division that proved much too good for the London side.
Joe McDermott and Barney Reilly were very effective at midfield while the two Murphys at right and left wing forwards put in some great work. McCarthy on the forty yards did some wonderful fielding at great heights and he was rarely beaten.
Out in front Joe Regan's craft placed Tony Sheridan time and again and the corner forward was quick to seize on those passes. Jack Rogers, on the left corner, with Gerry Marsden between the uprights, completed the line-out.
After the change of ends, Farrell came into midfield, Joe McDermott moving up to replace Jim Murphy (Killashee), who retired, Frank Marsden was not at his best and decided to stand down as the journey disagreed with him and so well did the changes pan out that the team were five points up before London scored.
Longford nullified this score and led 6 points to 1 at the interval. For ten minutes of the second half London flattered and three points in a row left them only a couple of points in arrears.
At this stage Longford asserted their superiority. A sweeping movement in which Farrell, McDermott, McCarthy, Sheridan and Regan participated was a grand bout of play that ended in a point. Two others followed and Longford, forcing the pace, were pressing to the end, when they had a five point winning margin.
LONGFORD: Gerry Marsden (St Brigid’s Killashee); Jimmy Keenan (St Patrick’s Ardagh), Joe Lyons (St Brigid’s Killashee), Harry Rogers (Mullinalaghta); Stevie Reilly (Dromard), Bill Keenan (St Patrick’s Ardagh, captain), Paddy Keenan (St Patrick’s Ardagh); Joe McDermott (St Brigid’s Killashee), Barney Reilly (Mullinalaghta); Jim Murphy (St Brigid’s Killashee), John McCarthy (St Mary’s Granard), Jim Murphy (Clonguish); Tony Sheridan (St Mary’s Granard), Joe Regan (St Mary’s Granard), Jack Rogers (Mullinalaghta).
The substitutes were Paddy Farrell (St Brigid’s Killashee), Frank Marsden (St Brigid’s Killashee), Dinny Hughes (Killoe), Peter Duignan (Drumlish), Wilson McNerney (Colmcille).
Mr J Ryan (Liverpool), a former Kilkenny man, refereed.