Back into the guest slot comes ontheroad who casts a critical eye on the baneful influence that the Catholic Church has had down the years on the footballing careers of its own student priests.
For men who at times almost single handedly kept the fires of the GAA alive, the bishops had an almost schizophrenic view on its own student priests actually playing the game.
Until the 1970s a lasting image of All-Ireland final day was the captains and referee kissing some bishop’s ring. In the colleges it was the priests and brothers who put the time an effort into teams that became legends of the game. St Jarlath’s of Tuam and St Brendan’s Killarney are two of the most famous ones.
And yet; a clerical student in Maynooth was, until the early 1970s, prohibited from playing what they termed “Violent Sports”. I recall a ferocious match in Ballina where Muredach’s and Nathy’s locked horns. One of the Ballina boys flattened two of the Nathy’s boys over the side line. A priest who wasn’t a mentor promptly whacked the son of Ardnaree with his brolly over the head.
Today Joe Duffy would have his ears reddened and the CCCC whatever would be proposing bans and life terms for such an act. Back then, we laughed at the madness and passion of it all. College football in particular owes a debt to the men who gave of their time, passion and expertise in an austere climate.
However many clerical footballers had their careers squashed like ants by tyrannical enforcement of the clerical rule that forbade student priests playing football. We in Mayo have a few examples of that madness. What amazed me was that so many of those young men when they became priests still had a love for the GAA.
In some lists of the 1950 and 1951 Mayo All-Ireland winning teams you will see a Peter Quinlan listed. Others show a Peter Quinn. Both are the one and same person. Peter Quinn had to add two letters to his name in order to keep the charade going. Fr Peter Quinn was born in Quignashee, outside Ballina. He attended St Muredach’s College but despite playing with some of the finest youth in the county, they were locked out of the Connacht College’s championship. Apparently in the mid 1930s Muredach’s or their masters took the hump over some alleged slight or other. It was the students who suffered and it was in the late 1950s before they returned to the fold.
Fr Quinn won a sack of medals with Mayo. An All-Ireland winner in 1951 at twenty-five, by 1952 he was a foreign missionary in the Philippines. What must have he thought, what marvellous faith the man had. John Healey wrote in “Healey, Reporter” the following about the 1948 All-Ireland final:
“Well, there were four minutes in it yet and the Mayo team came storming back. In front of me a Franciscan priest was reading from his breviary…now Mayo came charging down field and Peter Quinn was positioned dead between the posts of the Cavan goal, solo running the ball, the forwards moving up with him.
The whistle went. The pain flashed across Quinn’s face I can still see. He looked at the referee, as if asking, what foul had he committed. But the referee called for the ball-it was, incredibly, all over. The Franciscan said plaintively: “Fuck that” and slammed his breviary closed.”
I can never think of Peter Quinn without thinking of those paragraphs. Some years ago Fr Quinn donated his medals to the county. They were placed at Knock Airport at some stage. The last I heard about him was that he was living in Daytona Beach, Florida. His great team mate, Padraig Carney, lives in California. Two of Mayo’s greatest sons, yet so far from home.
Mayo drew with Kerry in the 1967 U21 final. On the Mayo squad were three clerical students, JJ Cribbin, PJ Golden and Micky Lally. The replay saw the three boys confined to barracks in Maynooth as Mayo and Willie McGee blew Kerry asunder. Cribbin was particularly unlucky as the clerical rule was to give him a second whack.
We won the League final of 1970 and JJ scored 2-1 against a great Down side who had won three All-Irelands during the previous decade. A month later Mayo crashed out to Roscommon on a miserable June Sunday. As Mayo exited the championship and headed into eleven years of barren Connacht returns, JJ Cribbin was being ordained down the road in Tuam Cathedral. I often recalled the last line from the Franciscan quoted above over that unfortunate clash of dates.
Fr Cribbin signed off in that League final with 2-1 and resumed the next league match with a tasty 1-3. On such simple twists of fate rests the hopes and aspirations of an entire county. Fr Jim Nallen taught me in school. Fr Jim was a brother of John Nallen ex Mayo/Galway/Cavan and Meath legend. He was uncle to James and Tom Nallen.
A deep but warm man who single handed trained our senior team and who also gave his time to assist in our theatrical productions, it is only now that I fully realise what great work he did. Fr Jim was on the Mayo team that won the 1957 “Home” All-Ireland Junior final.
The winners then played Warwickshire for the overall title. Mayo won, but Fr Jim was reading his prayers in Maynooth. He eventually got his winners’ medal … forty something years later. I often marvelled at how stoic he was, how forgiving and how generous he was with his time.
Mayo wasn’t the only county that suffered in such a fashion. Most counties had to put up with it. Today it seems quaint and tyrannical to do such a thing. Back then, just like black and white photos, heavy overcoats, flat caps, emigration and a deficit in real intellectual political leadership, it was part of what made us what we were. We have gotten rid of the flat caps, heavy overcoats and black and white photos. Two others remain alas. Plus ça change, as the boys from Binghamstown might say.