15 Aug 2022

The former Dundalk FC defender that stopped Jim McLaughlin from throttling Eamon Dunphy

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division

The former Dundalk FC defender that stopped Jim McLaughlin from throttling Eamon Dunphy

Mickey Coburn is Fatima born and bred, and yet Quay Celtic through and through. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)

Mickey Coburn is Fatima born and bred, and yet Quay Celtic through and through.

It was the late, great Jimmy Clancy who coaxed the former Naomh Moninne hurler down the Navvy Bank having spotted his talent in the colours of Ray Larkin’s Spurs. And it was from the legendary figure’s scouting that Coburn’s career, one which would produce over a decade in the League of Ireland, was set in motion.

Called up to Oriel Park when Jim McLaughlin was calling the shots, the defender became a regular in the second string over several seasons without ever progressing into the first XI for any meaningful period of time.

There was success with the B-team, though. A title win in the early-’80s with a line-up that included Teddy Rogers and Dermot O’Neill, and from that Coburn was picked for a B international selection, captaining the side on an Oriel Park outing before again earning membership of the panel the following year for a clash with the North at the Oval. His highest honour, he admits.

But his Dundalk FC term was gradually coming to an end, even though he remained part and parcel of ‘the Saturday team’ when Mick Leech and then Mick Lawlor took charge of the reserves.

John Murphy got him to join Bank Rovers, where he partnered Tommy Parker at the back, before Dundalk’s 1962-’63 title-winning captain brought him to Monaghan United when he took up their post midway through the decade, their first game happening to be against Derry City in the Foyleside club’s 1985 League of Ireland debut.

He remained a focal cog, in a side which usually struggled towards the foot of the First Division, throughout Murphy’s tenure and subsequently under Danny Doran, who Coburn replaced, becoming player-manager for two years. A role he didn’t altogether enjoy.

Still a Quay stalwart, Coburn’s local displays earned him entry on to the Summer League’s team of the ’70s and he continued long after walking away from the Farney men, playing his last game in 1996, age 40.

A lifetime later, it must be asked, how did Shamrocks, who pull firmly out of Fatima, let him slip the net?

“Fatima was - and is - a stronghold for Fatima, run by Larry O’Rourke, and in the length of time I’ve been in Fatima, I was never asked to play for Shamrocks,” Coburn says.

“Jimmy Clancy, the main man in the Quay, asked me if I’d play for them and I’ve never played with anyone else since. I’d be an allegiance man, I’d never leave a club unless they folded.”

Democrat: “Let’s talk about McLaughlin; how good was he?”

Mickey: “McLaughlin could get the last bit of talent out of you. You’d die for him. You’d go into battle with Jim McLaughlin because you knew he’d have your back and if you didn’t go in and die for him, you’d know about it too.”

Democrat: “‘You’d know about it?’”

Mickey: “He was a hard taskmaster. The far side of the pitch in Oriel, there was a place down there called ‘the pit’. He’d have a circuit there… I saw more boys throwing their guts up down there.

“If he was in bad form, after being beaten on a Sunday, I saw fellas and the only way that they could have a shower was to sit down in the shower. They were that tired coming out of that pit.

“Everyone dreaded, if you were beaten on a Sunday, the Tuesday night. He would go ballistic. He should’ve been in Auschwitz or somewhere like that. I think he might have come from one of those concentration camps!

“But I’d be very fond of Jim, I really would. He was great, he is great.”

Democrat: “It would have been the late-’70s when he asked you up for B-team duty.”

Mickey: “I remember the first time I was invited up for a B-team match, we just came in and sat down. In those days the bus would come down with all the Dublin fellas. I was in the dressing room, like a wee boy, for the want of a better word, because it was alien to me.

“The shirts were hanging up so when the Dublin lads came in, the right-full would go over and start putting on his jersey and the left-full his… Next, McLaughlin comes in, ‘hold on a minute there, boys, there’s a few changes’.

“He read out the team and read out me at right-full, and someone else, another Dundalk fella, another Dundalk fella and another Dundak fella. All the Dublin fellas just threw the jerseys on the bench and walked out. That was just the temperament of them; they were just cock sure that they were going to be playing, and the cheek of us to try and get in.”

Democrat: “Strangely, McLaughlin was manager of both the first- and B-team.”

Mickey: “Yeah, and he used to play for the B-team too. I was centre-half and he was the sweeper… We were playing Rovers up in Milltown and (Johnny) Giles, Ray Treacy and Eamon Dunphy were playing, and McLaughlin nearly took the head off Dunphy. He was waiting years to get a dig at him. He was a lunatic, McLaughlin. He was possessed, you wouldn’t believe it.

“I sort of intervened and then at half-time he gave me a bollocking for stopping him. Says I, ‘wait a minute, Jim, we’re going for the title, there’s not much point in you being sent-off’, because Rovers were very good.

“He just ate me; he nearly put his finger up my nose. ‘I was waiting 20 years to get that Dunphy fella’. Sure he would have torn Dunphy’s head off his shoulders… A lunatic. Jaysus, it was unreal.”

Democrat: “But first-team chances were limited. You made five in all. Were you disappointed at not breaking into the side before leaving?”

Mickey: “The backline was Richie Blackmore, Martin Lawlor was left-full, Paddy Dunning and Dermot Keely, and Tommy Mac was right-full. Now, you’d want to be some player to oust one of them, wouldn’t you?

“I was realistic, I was an average player and I knew in my heart and soul that I’d no chance, but I was happy enough to play for the B-team. Those boys just never got injured and some of the tackles that’d have been going in...

“I remember being on the bench down in Limerick and Paddy Dunning got injured. McLaughlin says to me, ‘warm up’. I was saying to myself, ‘Jaysus’. There were golf balls, snooker balls, billiard balls hopping off the top of the dugout and I had to get out and do a warm-up on that sideline. It was like Beirut, and I didn’t even get on, Dunning was alright. Was I glad to get back into the dugout!”

Hurling was probably Coburn’s first love growing up, prior to the soccer bug biting, but GAA remained a big part of his sporting calibre. Roche Emmets, his parish’s club, benefitted from a reservoir of soccer talent, including Mickey, during the 1970s, before adopting a hardline stance which worked against them.

“Soccer was sort of frowned upon,” he adds. “I played for Roche for three years, I think Jimmy McVeigh was manager. But there was an AGM in it one night and myself, Tommy Parkin, Jonah Martin, John Morris and Terry Levins… we’d have played soccer and Gaelic and one man stood up and says, ‘these boys that play the two, they’ll have to make up their mind; either the soccer or the Gaelic, no in between’.

“Sometimes there’d be a clash and nearly all the time the soccer fellas would go to the soccer. It was debated and I think at least four of us walked out of the room that night. It was a sort of gun to head job and I didn’t like that.”

Although he didn’t quit the 15-man game altogether and would later line-out in the colours of Young Irelands and Sean O’Mahony’s. Indeed, with O’Mahony’s, himself, Martin O’Brien, Eddie O’Leary and Willie Crawley would sometimes play three games on a Sunday, from five-a-side in the morning to a Summer League game in the afternoon to a GAA affair in the evening.

Quay was his priority, however. Understandably so given the wealth of talent the black and whites had. Accolades rained.

“We’d a super team, Willie Crawley, Martin O’Brien… We’d great success in the Summer League.

“We used to do six weeks pre-training out in Ravensdale because that’s what me and Willie were doing with Dundalk. You can imagine asking the players playing Summer League now to go out to Ravensdale for six weeks to do pre-season. They won’t even come to matches now, I believe, unless they’re collected and left back… They’re all mollycoddled now, but sure isn’t that just the way it is?”

Though one trophy was evasive for quite a while, until the 1992 penalty shootout victory over Pearse Celts, after the game had ended 1-1.

“Jimmy Clancy was a God as regards Summer League football and down the Quay, and when Jimmy died they organised the Clancy Cup, which was sponsored by the Kelly family and the club.

“But we could never win it. We were in so many finals and beaten, and it was the one thing I really wanted to win. We won it eventually and I know it’s not nearly as big as winning the league, but, to me, it was like winning the World Cup because of what it represented… I thought we were never going to win it. We were the best team the whole time, but it was just so difficult to win.”

Democrat: “Kenny Cairns, in an interview he did with us a fortnight ago, says you’re the best player he ever played with.”

Coburn: “Cairns?”

Democrat: “Yeah.”

Coburn: “Don’t mind that oul liar; you couldn’t believe a word out of that fella’s mouth. But I’ll tell you what, he was the best left-full I ever played with.

“I wasn’t the best player he ever played with. Don’t mind him, he’s a bullshitter, but I can tell you, he was the best left-full. He had the sweetest left foot and I tried to get him to Monaghan because I knew he’d make an impact. But he was settled in Newry.”

Golf is now Coburn’s pastime of choice, although, he admits, “I wouldn’t swap soccer for golf for any price”.

He took up the game following the formation of a golf society in the brewery, where he worked, and developed well, dropping his handicap to as low as seven. Having begun in Greenore, playing for about 10 years, he transferred to Dundalk, where, along with Ken Norton, he was part of a team that returned Jimmy Bruen Cup glory.

And, in 2017, he was bestowed with the club’s highest individual distinction, becoming captain.

“It was an honour, a big honour. I know, especially me coming from Fatima, if anyone mentioned golf in those days (years ago) you’d be classed as a stuck-up f**ker because it would have been an elitist sport then; it would have been very expensive.

“But now anybody who’s anybody plays golf.

Dundalk Golf Club has changed so much and so much for the better because of, for the want of a better word, the gougers that were let in; they make it. The craic and the slagging…”

Before the line goes dead, Coburn mentions playing against Roy Keane thrice during the former Manchester United skipper’s budding year at Cobh Ramblers, indicating that the Corkonian’s talent and steel was blatantly obvious even then.

Though, the question is, would he have stopped McLaughlin from having a go at him?

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