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The Great Days of 1967

By Eugene Kyne

IN 1967, New York was a wonderful place! While Ireland was just beginning to emerge from the turbulent decades of emigration that decimated the countryside and forced thousands to leave their homeland New York, despite the recently changed arrival laws in 1965, was alive with the music and culture of home.

Gaelic Park was the place to meet and greet, to find a job and meet a wife. To socialize with old friends and find new. The GAA scene was brimming with vitality, exuberance and life.

The New York football and hurling squads were having a renaissance with competition with Ireland due to the return of their participation in the National League. The footballers enjoyed unparalleled success with a win over Dublin in the 1964 National League final. A win over Offaly at the end of the trip around the world of 1964.

Victories in games against Longford in the ‘66 League final second leg (Longford took the title on aggregate), and close losses to Galway in ‘65 (they beat Galway in the first leg 0-8 to 1-4) and Kerry. When the Tribesmen won the home League title in 1967, and were preparing for the trip to New York for the two legged affair against the home squad, they had also won the Sam Maguire for three consecutive years, ‘64, ‘65, and ‘66.

They were at the pinnacle of the sporting world in Ireland and the team was a who’s who of superstars. Johnny Geraghty, Enda Colleran, Noel Tierney and Matte McDonagh were just a few of the names that dotted the team sheet of the Tribesmen lineout.

New York were, however, to cause a monumental shock to the footballing and GAA world. The first leg was a played on May 14, 1967 and it was a win for the home side 3-5 too 1-6 in front of 12,000 fans at the Mecca, Gaelic Park.

A week later the five point win was duplicated this time with a 4-3 to 0-10 scoreline. The squad that achieved this National League title win was as follows: starting lineup first leg, 1) Willie Nolan (Offaly), 2 Kenny Finn (Louth), 3) Peter Nolan (Offaly), 4 Peter Maguire (Kildare), 5) Dermot Finn (Louth), 6) Seamus Nugent (Kildare), 7) Sonny Kenna (Roscommon), 8) Brendan Tumolty (Wicklow), 9) Tommy Feighery (New York), 10) Tommy Furlong (Offaly), 11) Jim Foley (Kerry), 12) Mike Moynihan (Kerry), 13)Jimmy Halpin (Meath), 14 Brendan O’Donnell (New York), 15) Dessie Ryan (Tyrone), Paddy Cummins (Kildare), Mike Foley (Kerry), Rory Finn (Louth), Mike Fitzgerald (Kerry), John O’Connor (Kerry), Eamonn McGuinness (Cavan), Tony Brady (Louth), Pat Caulfield (Offaly), Danny Byrne (Wicklow), Noel McGuinness, manager (Kilkenny).

This team will be honored when New York play Sligo in the Connaught championship on May 13 this year to mark the 40-year anniversary of the feat. As the date approaches we will take a closer look at the players that were part of the game, with a couple of Galway greats giving their views and memories as well.

Where better to begin on the voyage that will end with a look back at the two games in detail than in the full back line where two superstars stood side by side, Peter Nolan and Kenny Finn.

Like a host of great teams in all counties over the years that have had deep family connections, the Connollys of Galway, the Lowrys, and Connors in Offaly, Spillanes, O’Keefes in Kerry to name a few. New York had the Nolan brothers, the three Finn brothers and the Foleys.

The Finn lads come from Dundalk, Co. Louth, and while the first question to the majority of players is what was your club, Kenny Finn’s response was a stunner. He stopped playing football at 15, until he arrived back to New York at 21.

The 1950s were a different time, and you could not play both soccer and Gaelic. Kenny signed a contract with Dundalk soccer club at 15, and thus the GAA took a side seat for a period.

His soccer career was tremendous, it must be said. He captained Ireland youths in 1955 at Goodison Park and won a FAI cup medal in 1958 when Dundalk created a record that can not be beaten.

They did not concede a goal on their way to the Cup win, with Finn lining out at left back. They beat Shamrock Rovers In the final that year.

He had been invited to trials with Louth minors as a 15 year old, but Dundalk’s gain was certainly the Wee County’s loss. When he arrived in New York, he continued to play soccer for the German Hungarians and was capped for the U.S. when they played in qualifiers for the 1960 World Cup against Mexico.

He also played against Colombia as a defender, but was an emergency goalkeeper when the regular keeper was injured. He kept a clean sheet for 45 minutes, as the goals in a 2-0 loss were in the first half.

On arriving in New York in the fall of 1958, football returned to his life as he was immediately asked into the New York panel after just three games at Gaelic Park. No one knew him as a Gaelic player due to his soccer career and the questions were, “Who is this lad!”

He proved his worth immediately. Center half back was his natural position, and he played both their and in the full back line for the county.

He was on the conquering Kilkenny club team that took home a New York county title, and also won a senior B title with his native Louth in New York.

When asked of the players and opponents of the time, he remarked, “You always knew you were in a game with Jim Foley, he always came to play. Johnny Creedan, who had played for Cork in Ireland, was another who was tremendous. Paddy Casey, Peter Nolan, Paddy Cummins and Jimmy Halpin were outstanding players.” Kenny Finn went on to play for New York for 16 years, but he said his vivid memories of the ‘67 final were the fact that they made changes to suit Galway.

“We had five players that could play center halfback and we made the changes needed and Galway was not able to threaten. There was a huge crowd on hand and it was a fantastic win,” said Kenny, who presently lives in New Jersey with his wife.

Standing beside Kenny Finn as the ball was thrown in was another star of the 1950s from Ireland, Peter Nolan. Nolan had done it for Offaly while Finn plied his trade with Dundalk.

Nolan was a county minor for the faithful in 1953 and was also on the senior panel at the end of that year. His club was Clara in Offaly and he was a mainstay for his club for seven years before immigration brought him stateside. He won a county medal with Clara in 1960 when they beat Tullamore in a replay.

As the 1950s unfolded, Nolan established himself on both the Offaly team and the Leinster squad in the Railway Cup, which was a prestigious competition at the time. He was on the winning Leinster team in 1959 that beat Munster, and had Kevin Heffernan as a teammate and Mike O’Dwyer as an opponent on that day.

He also was selected on the Ireland team that played the combined universities, and on that day he had Frank Stockwell as a teammate and the other half of the terrible twins Sean Purcell as a direct opponent.

“I always seemed to end up on Sean, and he was a handful, but I enjoyed the challenge,” he said.

While establishing himself as a defender of class, the most amazing statistic of Nolan’s career in Ireland is his name on the scoring charts. He shares with Matt Connor, the star player from the seventies and eighties for Offaly, the top scoring achievement when he scored 4-3 against Laois in the first round of the 1958 championship in 60 minutes. He lined out at number 11 that day. Connor scored 2-9 versus Kerry in seventy minutes in the All-Ireland semifinal in 1980.

Nolan played in the first round of the All-Ireland championship in 1960 when Offaly beat Carlow luckily, and then headed for New York. That Offaly team went on to the All-Ireland semifinal where they lost to Down in a replay by two points. His brother Willie captained Offaly in the 1961 final where they again lost to Down, this time by a point, 3-06 to 2-08.

Nolan was a permanent fixture for the Big Apple for the next nine years and was at full back when New York beat Dublin for the 1964 league title, and was also on the trip around the world that culminated with a win over Offaly at Tullamore a week before the Offaly minor team won the All-Ireland title.

Of the League final in 1967, Nolan had some distinct memories. “We felt the games were over before the end, Galway could not keep with us. If we had more competitive games at the time and if we were allowed in, we could have had a real shot at the All-Ireland,” he said.

“The players in New York were top of the line in the 1960s. Brendan Tumolty and Tommy Furlong were unbeatable in Gaelic Park. Jimmy Halpin had a superb pair of hands, the softest I ever saw, and he could get up in the air brilliantly. Paddy Casey was outstanding. They were fantastic times.”

Peter Nolan currently resides in Williston Park, Long Island with his wife, and their son Peter is well known to the Gaelic Park brethren as a reporter and former player who represented New York at underage level.

In the weeks ahead we will delve further into the team of 1967, possibly the greatest team ever in New York!



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