It’s 10 years ago since the great Tommy McConville, one of Dundalk FC’s favourite and most famous sons, sadly passed away. As part of our ‘Remembering Tommy Mac’ series, we take a look back at Tommy’s interview with Joe Carroll in August 2012 for the Dundalk Democrat’s ‘Will You Answer The Questions Please’ column.
JC: You were always destined to play soccer?
TM: Not necessarily. I played Gaelic with De La Salle and Clan na Gael as well as schoolboy soccer. What turned me towards soccer was the GAA ban. I’d loved to have continued playing both games.
Your first team?
Rangers. It was the Minor League team in our area. Gerry Gover was the man in charge, and when he started a second team, called Wolves, Johnny Boyle and the late Colm Bellew were involved.
Who guided you towards Oriel Park?
Colm Bellew. He was the underage coach there, and when I was around 16 he asked me to go up. There were no underage teams at the time, so it was straight into the ‘B’ team.
Your first manager?
Gerry Doyle; one of the old school if ever there was one. He wore a trilby and would take training standing in the middle of the pitch in his suit.
Then you graduated?
I got a few outings in friendlies, but before playing in the League of Ireland, myself and my brother Brian played with Bangor in the Irish League. Charlie Tully, the famous Glasgow Celtic centre-forward, was the manager and he had former Dundalk player, Ted Harte, as his assistant. It was Ted who got us to go up. That was in 1966.
Your first League of Ireland game?
It was in a 1967/68 game against Cork Celtic in Turner’s Cross after I’d come back from Bangor. Myself, Tommy Kelledy and Stephen Maguire all made our debut that day.
You were now in your first spell with Dundalk?
Yes, it ran for a decade and took in Alan Fox’s time as manager, as well as Liam Tuohy’s.
What caused you to leave?
It wasn’t a case of me wanting to leave, but being sold. The club got into financial difficulties and the solution was to sell me, Turlough O’Connor and Sean Sheehy. Waterford, then managed by former Manchester United player, Shay Brennan, came in for me, and though I wasn’t too happy having to travel so far for home games, I went. Brian also signed for them, and we were allowed to train in Oriel.
Your time at Kilcohan Park?
Mixed feelings. We had a terrific team, Johnny Matthews, Alfie Hale, Peter Thomas, and Al Finucane among them, and we won the league; but it all ended in bitterness.
I was picked for the Republic’s World Cup qualifier at Lansdowne Road. Frank O’Farrell, the Manchester United manager, was at the game and must have been impressed because when it was over he went to Shay Brennan and told him he wanted to sign me. A fee of around £30,000, which was big in those days, was agreed among the lads and they shook on it. I couldn’t believe it when Shay came to our hotel to tell me I was on my way to Old Trafford. This was a dream come true.
Brennan went and told the Waterford board what had happened, satisfied he’d done a good day’s work. But they said they wanted more money. When this was conveyed to Untied, they immediately said the deal was off – they didn’t want to be dealing with a club like that, they said. I was as much sorry for Shay Brennan as I was for myself.
I made up my mind there and then I would never play with Waterford again. I remember on the following Sunday the team bus pulled up outside our house on its way to a game with Finn Harps in Ballybofey. The players pleaded with me to come, but I told them my mind was made up: I’d never wear the Waterford jersey again.
And after that?
Liam Tuohy was Shamrock Rovers’ manager, and he asked me if I’d go to Milltown. I said I would, but on one condition: Waterford weren’t to get any money out of the deal. I got a free transfer.
Life at Glenmalure?
Good. I was there for one season and we won the League Cup.
What took you back to Oriel?
Not what, but who. Jim McLaughlin had just taken over as manager and immediately went about assembling a squad. There was no crock of gold, but some nice bargains were picked up. The fee for me was paid in instalments.
That second spell back with the Town?
Seven great seasons. The crowds were back, and so, too, was the atmosphere, the trophy cabinet began to fill up, and European football was almost a seasonal thing.
Three league titles and three FAI Cups, including a double.
Life in Europe?
Mostly good. There was the famous tie with Celtic and the less famous match with Linfield at Oriel Park.
First, the Celtic tie…
We were away in the first match and played out of our skins to be beaten 3-2. The two goals left us with a real chance in the return leg. Oriel was packed, over 20,000 crammed in, and we responded with a tremendous defensive display.
That late chance?
It was scoreless coming towards the end when the ball came in from the left. I was positioned at the far post, ready to meet it. Cathal Muckian also had his eye on a goal and got the faintest of touches. That was enough to steer the ball away from where I thought it was going, and I couldn’t connect properly. If I’d scored, Dundalk would have gone through, and as someone said to me afterwards, they’d have replaced the Maid of Erin with a statue of me!
The atmosphere was poisonous that night. It was impossible to concentrate on all that was going on along the line and on the terraces. Once, when the game was in progress, two guards, with their batons drawn, frogmarched a Linfield supporter across the field. Top English referee, Pat Partridge, was in charge and I think he froze. He should have abandoned the match.
How many European games in total?
19 with Dundalk and four with Waterford.
Jim McLaughlin the manager?
A very shrewd man. Knew the game well, and who to buy. When he brought a player it was to do a specific job.
Your own managerial career?
One year with Finn Harps as player-manager, and the same at Newry, after Matt Bradley, who got a serious injury, asked me to help out.
Six, and I was on the bench for 13 other matches. I played with some great players, Johnny Giles, Liam Brady, Alan Kelly, Don Givens and the like. I also played 34 times for the League of Ireland. Louis Kilcoyne, whom I had great respect for, was the man responsible for organising these matches. It’s a pity they’re still not going.
Where did your travels take you?
All over the world: Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, numerous European countries and America, where I spent five seasons, playing with the Washington Diplomats and New York Cosmos. We were allowed to go there in the summer.
You encountered some of the game’s great players?
Yes, George Best, Pele, and Franz Beckenbauer while playing in America, Michel Platini in the World Cup qualifiers, and Maradona, while playing away for the League of Ireland against Argentina. We were beaten 1-0 by a Maradona goal. Shortly after that, Argentina played the Ireland international team in Dublin and won 2-0.
I always had great admiration for Francie Callan. My career was taking off when he was finishing, and I may have played a few times with him. Also, Alfie Hale, from my time with Waterford.
The slightly eccentric Ben Hannigan, Tony Kavanagh and Kevin Blount. And in a different sense, Mick Millington and Mickey Fox. Mickey was a great man for Oriel and a tremendous help to me. I stay in touch with Jim Burke and Danny Hale, two great friends.
The recently deceased Con Houlihan once described you as the Charlie Hurley of the League of Ireland.
That was some compliment, especially coming from Con, who I got to know well. We often had a drink after a game, me on a pint and Con on brandy and milk.
Are you an Oriel Park man?
Most definitely. I go to all the home games and sometimes travel.
Your English weekend team?
Manchester United, of course. I was with them from a very young age, and it would have been something else to have worn the famous red jersey. I also have a soft spot for Everton, because my late father, Brian, was born in Liverpool.
Advice for young players?
Whatever you do, in life as well as on the field, you must be dedicated.
You returned to Gaelic football before your career ended?
Yes, I actually won a Senior Championship medal with the Clans in 1985 and then helped coach and train the team that beat St Mary’s in the 1993 final.
Invite four to dinner.
Liam Tuohy, my manager with three teams, Dundalk, Rovers and the Republic of Ireland; Dermot Keely, a former colleague and a great friend; Tony Kavanagh, as said earlier, a great character, and my brother, Brian.
Favourite read/film/TV programme/song?
Anything by Leon Uris/One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest/ Anything related to sport/San Francisco.
The funniest thing that happened to you?
I was travelling from one city to another while playing in America. I was late boarding and couldn’t understand where my mates were when I got on. Then the announcement came across: “Is there a Mr Thomas McConville on board?” I was on the wrong flight. Embarrassing or what?