Louth GAA

Martin Farrelly was Louth captain twice as Navan curse struck four years apart

Louth GAA

Caoimhín Reilly

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Caoimhín Reilly

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caoimhin.reilly@dundalkdemocrat.ie

Martin Farrelly was Louth captain twice as Navan curse struck four years apart

Louth captain Martin Farrelly receives the Tommy Murphy Cup from GAA President Nickey Brennan after the 2006 final victory over Leitrim at Croke Park. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)

Two occasions. Two teams. Two emotions. One dream. Eight years apart.

Lannléire midfielder Martin Farrelly kicked the opening point of the 1998 senior championship final. On a major day for the Dunleer parish, it put the underdogs ahead against fancied Clan na Gael, a team who’d seen and won it all before. The day would end in defeat, 0-8 to 0-4.

“I couldn’t wait to get off the pitch in ’98, that was a low point. I went straight home after the game and didn’t go down to the pub for two or three hours.”

St. Joseph’s midfielder Martin Farrelly kicked the opening point of the 2006 senior championship final. On a major day for the Dromiskin/Darver parish, it put the underdogs ahead against fancied St. Patrick’s, a team who’d seen and won it all before. The day would end in victory, 2-7 to 0-9.

“You just could’ve stayed on the pitch all day, surrounded by people looking for your autograph or pictures. It was a completely different feeling.”

Vindication.

Farrelly left his first love, Lannléire, to join Joe’s in 2004. Living in Dromiskin and having toiled rather unsuccessfully with the Páirc Uí Mhuirí outfit as they slipped through years of demise, the move seemed apparent.

“I would have loved to win a senior championship with Dunleer, but it didn’t take away from winning it with the Joe’s, personally,” says Farrelly, whose late father, Tommy, was an Honorary President of Lannléire.

“I was good friends with David Brennan and Christy Grimes, who were after winning championships with Mattock and I just so wanted one, and it’s a feeling that when it does happen, it didn’t matter what club I was with.

“Stephen Melia was one of the best and most influential players I ever played with, especially with the county. I would have had senior players telling me I wasn’t good enough in my early days, but Stephen would be telling me to not mind them. Only for him the first year I definitely wouldn’t have had the career I had, 100 percent.

“I still get a bit of grief from certain people in Dunleer for leaving, because I’m back living here now. But Stephen was heavily involved in the Joe’s at the time and we were close friends. We’d have spoken about how much we wanted to win Joe Ward.

“I remember calling around to the house one day and him saying, ‘we want you’.
Dunleer, at the time, were definitely stuck between a rock and a hard place in that the players didn’t really know whether to go on.

“I could see there was no drive to achieve anything, in my opinion, so I was either going to quit or make the jump to the Joe’s playing senior, and I really wanted to get a Joe Ward. The whole thing about me going was to win the championship and once Stephen came to me, I didn’t take much convincing, to be honest.

“I spoke to my Dad and a few close friends, and once my Dad was happy with me moving, he kind of knew I was stuck on the fence in terms of calling it a day.”

The only real, if rather significant, difference between Lannléire ’98 and Joe’s ’06 was the result. The Dunleer men hit the skids the following year, as did Joe’s, who were relegated from the senior ranks in 2007.

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Farrelly didn’t do casual breaks on to the scene. He was still a teenager when Lannléire co-opted him into their side for a league clash away to Naomh Fionnbarra, the Togher men knowing victory would ensure them promotion.

The travelling Dunleer brigade was lacking in bulk, an 18-year-old being called for a sure sign of desperation. They hadn’t the numbers to fulfil the fixture otherwise and Farrelly was more interested in playing soccer with Dromin at that stage.

However, the Barrs could well still be in a state of shock. They were hit for 1-4 by a thinly-framed quantity of the unknown and denied the points they needed to bound.

Thereafter, Farrelly wore white and blue with distinction, a reserve on their intermediate title-winning side of 1994 before, three seasons later, truly rising to prominence. Outside the top-12, he was playing first- and second-team games for his club, and soon junior and senior for his county.

Lannléire played Louth’s second string in a challenge, from which the future county skipper was drafted into the panel for the Leinster junior championship. So taken was senior supremo Paul Kenny by him that he made his Leinster Championship debut a matter of weeks later, in the narrow loss to Offaly in Navan.

His appearance ruled him out of the juniors’ provincial final at Croke Park, which was a disappointment at the time, though his rise was phenomenal. A bit-part member of the U21 crew that reached the Leinster decider in 1996, having never represented The Reds before, a matter of months later he was now in the public domain.

Formerly a winger under Kenny’s successor, Paddy Clarke, the Dunleer man considered walking away before a positional switch - and a pairing with Roche Emmets’ Aidan O’Neill, who he claims was “hugely underrated” - saw the negative thoughts reflected solely through a rear-view mirror.

“The team was full of cliques at the time, I thought, and I just couldn’t get into it. You’d be making good runs, but they wouldn’t give you the ball - it wasn’t something that I was really enjoying.

“It was until ’99 when Paddy moved me to midfield when I got the freedom to open up the legs and enjoy football.”

The 2000 National League final win over Offaly at Croke Park - the 20th anniversary of which occurred last Thursday, as Lannléire clubman Aidan King let your writer know - was a hugely significant success for both Farrelly, in that it was a milestone achievement, and Lannléire, who had two clubmen playing with Nicky Malone as captain.

Was this to be the start of a prolonged inter-county career? No. He didn’t feature under Val Andrews. Having asked for a break at the beginning of the Dubliner’s tenure, leading into 2004, the request was granted, only permanently.

He lost shape and desire, until Eamonn McEneaney came in and revitalised the set-up. In hindsight, his inter-county exile stood to him longevity-wise.

“I never played for Val Andrews and that gave me a break with regards to the inter-county scene; I wouldn’t probably have been about in 2006 or ’07 without it.

“The fact that I’d got the break gave me the impetus to give it a good go. I remember at the start of 2006, I wasn’t involved but I got a phone call from Stephen Melia to join up with the squad.

“I was overweight, 15-and-a-half stone, and I was training away with the Joe’s, but it wasn’t at the intensity that I was used to with Louth. Before I knew it I’d lost a stone-and-a-half and was as fit as I ever was.”

And soon handed the leaders’ honour, his colleagues having voted to install the No8 as skipper for a year in which The Wee County won Division Two - pipping Donegal after a replay, took Tyrone to a second day in the qualifiers and claimed a hold of the Tommy Murphy Cup.

Injuries, though, began to take their toll and his involvement was limited in 2007. Within two years, he’d called it a day full stop, after one final campaign with Lannléire, now in the junior grade.

It was always his intention to retire in the colours of his native club. He was good to his word.

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Democrat: “What would you say if I brought up Meath in Navan, the 2002 qualifier? Five up, time up. But to lose 3-8 to 2-9.”

Martin: “Stop! I’d start crying maybe.”

Democrat: “What happened that day?”

Martin: “It was a struggle… I was captain that year… I was playing centre-back, the first game I ever played in the backs in my entire life.

“We dominated the game so much and so it was a very tough defeat to take. The crowd was massive and the atmosphere was great; it was class. Again, it was just one of those things where we’d so much control over the game that we thought we were going to win it handily.

“The referee said there were two-and-a-half minutes left, but he ended up playing seven minutes of added-time, which was ridiculous. Like he waited until they scored and then blew the whistle.

“My biggest regret from that game is that I could have put Ollie Murphy over the line for one of the goals and I didn’t - that sticks with me. When the whistle went at the end, a big hole wouldn’t have been big enough to swallow me up.”

Democrat: “For the likes of Seamus O’Hanlon and the older guys, it was probably even more difficult to stomach. The dressing room after the game, can you describe it?”

Martin: “To lose the game the way we did, against one of your biggest rivals, it would bring you to tears thinking about it still.”

Democrat: “You didn’t have the best of luck against Meath. 2006 at Croke Park was another.”

Martin: “It happened that day as well. I didn’t win too many games as a player against Meath and I’d actually grown up watching them; my Dad was a Meathman. You could never put them away, from the mid-’80s up. We didn’t play in the second half that day, we didn’t even score.”

Democrat: “Did that take from the year, despite the National League, Tommy Murphy Cup and Tyrone performances?”

Martin: “Definitely. It was the lowest point in the year and the low point of the last couple of years for me. It would have been huge for us because we’d just beaten Donegal and we knew we could compete with these teams. The win would have done so much for us. We just needed to win a big game.”

Democrat: “The replay with Tyrone, to not have seen it through the first day, was there the belief going to Omagh?”

Martin: “I remember going into the dressing room, a small, skimpy dressing room; no bigger than the sitting room. It was intimidating. Did we let it go the first day? We probably did, we’d chances to win it. It was always going to be a big ask going to Omagh to win. They’d just so much quality.”

Democrat: “But to have the All-Ireland champions - as you did with Meath (2001 All-Ireland finalists) - and to let it go. For it to happen twice, what were the issues with those Louth teams? There was a huge amount of quality, so should Louth have achieved more with the standard of player at its disposal?”

Martin: “I just put it down to us not being strong enough mentally. We’d great players on the team, but as a unit we just mentally weren’t strong enough to do the right things at the right moments in games… to slow things down and be clever… to do things that the other teams were doing. We were too nice in that regard.”

Democrat: “Imagine yourself in the middle of the field against Tyrone, two points up in extra-time, when the ball is being kicked out, what’s the feeling? Nervousness? Is it ‘what are we going to achieve here’? Is it just begging to hold on as opposed to grasping the opportunity?”

Martin: “There’s a bit of begging to hold on, there’s a bit of excitement at the thought of, ‘Jeez, we can do this’, seeing the endline before we’re there. The 2006 senior final, it was about playing to the final whistle, but swinging it back to the county system, it was more like, ‘Jeez, we’re going to beat them’. Panic was setting in. ‘It’s gonna be great and we’re gonna be heroes’. We just weren’t mentally strong enough to finish it out.”

Democrat: “Is that a cultural thing, not being used to winning? Having a group of talented players who’d never achieved titles growing up? The Meaths and Dublins were always in the way.”

Martin: “It was the hallmark of Louth teams over the last 20 years. Not getting over the line in certain instances where you were the better team, but couldn’t win. It’s not something that I like to dwell on because I know it was a fault of the team as a unit.”

Democrat: “Was there no way of correcting that.”

Martin: “I guess it’s just about winning. Winning breeds habit and even the 2002 game against Meath, that has an effect on you for a long time afterwards. It sticks in your head; not finishing games out, and if you’re a player who’s experienced something like that, it’s always there… ‘You can’t let this slip again’ as opposed to concentrating on what you’ve to do on the pitch.”

Farrelly was twice a Louth captain and a hugely undervalued player. A two-time National League champion and the proud recipient of the Murphy Cup, his inter-county career would jump a notch or 10 on the ratings’ board had the curse of Navan not struck four years apart.