Eamonn McClei, liaison officer and team fixer, was a medal collector, and included in his 1934 campaign was the Armagh County Medal won by the Young Irelands team that includes his father Dan.
One day, he spent a large sum of money on a set of six medals, including a Celtic Cross pass from Wexford’s 1916 victory across Ireland.
As the Armagh players sat with their heads bowed in the dressing room, Kernan began the recovery process with a few words. He then went to his candy bag and pulled out the plate he got to finish second after Dublin in the 1977 All-Ireland Race.
At that moment, it served no purpose other than reminding him that he was a loser.
“Do you want one of these?” He asked before smashing it against the wall.
“Or would you like one of these?” Produce the winning medal awarded to Mackle at auction.
Soon the sloping shoulders were lifted. Earth-seeking eyes began to search for teammates, fists pumped. “We can do it,” said those reassuring looks.
Kieran McGinney’s message to his troops was clear. The whole situation wasn’t good enough, but he couldn’t stand that Kerry’s players were walking around Croke Park without a glove on them. Paul Gremley repeated the point – ‘Be tight, be tight; Let them know they are in a game.
While belief was being restored to Armagh players, studio ‘Sunday Game’ had none. They got Kiernan’s plan with medals, but they didn’t see a turnaround on the horizon.
Colm O’Rourke said, “I saw Jerry Adams in the crowd there in his orange, surprise, surprise, and he could have said to linebacker Armagh, ‘Your problems haven’t gone away you know.'”
“I swear to God, my mom is going to be faster than most of these three guys and has a little bit of knee osteoarthritis,” said Pat Spillane. This wasn’t the first time the legend Kerry has sniped the Ulster champions, with brothers McNulty and Francie Bello’s line-backs usually the main targets.
In the aftermath of the final, a letter was placed in a mailbox in Armagh that read simply “Pat the bollocks, Kerry”. I duly arrived at Spillane’s door.
Spillane’s comments echoed, and angered some Armagh players, according to Justin McNulty.
You scored me big time; It made me very angry. It made me very animated and made me very determined. I thought, “I’m going to show that bastard. I’m going to show that damn bastard.” That’s what it was like for me, talking about amateur athletes like that, giving their last breath to be as good as possible.
‘For him to come out and make fun of us was a mistake, simply a mistake. He definitely drove me and Inda forward, and I’m sure he led Francie as well.
Back at the bottom of Hogan’s podium, there was one last important piece of advice thrown in. Des Jennings, who took care of the mental side of things along with Hugh Campbell, took Oisin McConville aside and told him to come down and kick the ball over the crossbar when running onto the field.
McConnell didn’t want to do that because he felt Kerry’s fans on the hill would laugh at him, but when Armagh returned to the field—after keeping Kerry waiting for several minutes—his shot into the field. He immediately felt as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
The public personality of a Crossmaglen man at the time is usually defined by one of two words, depending on how you feel about him – confident or arrogant. He may have seemed like the last person mental drills would work on, but he was always open to it, even the extravagant ones his former coach John Morrison devised.
“I remember one day with the U21s, John had a table and a chair and a chair and a plate and a cup and a spoon stacked up, and he told us we spoons. For things to happen, he was telling us we had to be the ones moving the cup.
It was kind of crazy. It was a good way to get rid of nerves. I don’t know if it was built around that, but if it was, it was great. We played well that day. I think we may have defeated Tyrone.
Armagh was more powerful at the start of the second half. Within a minute, Aidan O’Rourke was booked to tag Colm Cooper.
‘It certainly wasn’t predetermined,’ says O’Rourke of his success at Cooper, ‘but in the first half, there was a feeling that they were getting too much space and moving away from us.’
Grimbo gave us a blast about not sticking, not being tight enough and letting them slide out of a yard. Geezer reinforced that before we head back out. We were in the toilet just before we got back and Geezer said, “We need to call these boys.”
That’s the limit it has come to, but it was in my head that whenever Gooch fires a hand pass and I go to come back, I follow through with it. It was just a shoulder in front of me. I got yellow. It’s hard to tell if it bothered him, but I hurt him when I hit him.
“He didn’t have a great second half – I’m not keeping that in mind, but it was part of the overall urge to be more physical and give them less room.”
Excerpt from Kings for A Day by Niall McCoy, published by The O’Brien Press. In bookstores October 3, price €19.99 / £17.99