By Damian Dolan
It’s 20 years since Galway rolled up at Ruislip as reigning All-Ireland champions, only to escape with their crown still perched on their head, if slightly off-kilter.
The ten-point winning margin flattered the Tribesmen somewhat and failed to tell the full story.
Galway had gotten off to a flyer; Pádraic Joyce racking up 1-2 in the opening ten minutes with the Exiles struggling to live with the visitors’ early pace.
Joyce had scored 1-2 in the Tribesmen’s victory over Kildare the previous September to bring Sam back to Galway for the first time since 1966.
When further scores followed from Niall Finnegan and Jarlath Fallon, the champions seemed poised to run riot at Ruislip.
But London hadn’t read the script. They battled back in the second half, thanks in part to Julian Grimes’ goal, before a “dubious decision” robbed them from getting with just two points of their illustrious opponents in the closing stages.
A ‘what if’ in London GAA history if ever there was one.
“The referee said [Jody] Gormley had taken five steps, but in the heat of it….I don’t know how you count that sort of thing,” Tony Murphy told the Irish World.
Murphy started in midfield that day alongside Gormley, who four years earlier had played in an All-Ireland final for Tyrone.
Something of a Johnny-come-lately, Murphy had played just two minutes of the league campaign, as a substitute against Kilkenny for Seamus O’Brien in London’s final game.
But when O’Brien’s injury turned out to be worse than first thought, it opened the door for the St Clarets man, who then impressed against Cork in the McGrath Cup to cement a starting place against Galway.
“We had the best players in town at the time. We were training three times a week and giving it as much as we could,” said Murphy.
“I’d be out of a Saturday with Tommy McDermott (London manager) and Mick Hession, who wasn’t even on the panel, just so I could practice jumping against a big guy.”
Murphy recalls the team spending the night before the Galway game in a hotel in St Albans. He was roomed with Gormley.
“Jody kept saying to me, ‘if we both score two points, this game will be close’. He believed that we could compete and others had that belief too,” said Murphy.
“His mentality was ‘we are seriously going to give it a go and do everything possible within our power’. He kept saying that to me all night.
“And what did we have to lose by going out and giving it everything? Nothing.”
As it turns out Murphy and Gormley managed one point apiece, and for a spell in the second half they had the All-Ireland champions looking anxiously over their shoulders.
Galway had taken a 1-10 to 0-3 lead into the break, but London came out fired up for the second half. Tommy Maguire punched over and the tone was set.
When Grimes blasted the ball into the back of the Galway net, after Tom Feehan’s ’45 had had come back off the woodwork, talk of a famous upset began to ripple around Ruislip.
Joyce pointed from a tight angle but London had their tails up and Gormley and McGivern fired over.
“We were to top; Jarlath Fallon went back into midfield and they were starting to try and crowd the middle to try and get the breaks,” said Murphy.
When Grimes was fouled by McNamara, McGivern slotted over the resulting free to leave the score 1-11 to 1-7 with 19 minutes still to play. London couldn’t, could they?
Sean Og De Paor then set off on a charge up field that ended in a point, and the Tribesmen suddenly seemed to emerge from the storm, with Derek Savage adding another soon after.
But London weren’t done quite yet. Unbelievably Jody Gormley sent Feehan through to goal, only for the referee to controversially rule that Gormley had over-carried.
“When the ball hit the back of the net you started to believe…..nobody heard the whistle because there was a huge crowd at Ruislip that day,” recalled Murphy.
Maguire’s fisted effort then hit the post and London’s chance had gone, with Galway stretching the final scoreline to ten points as their superior fitness told. It was far closer than that however.
Murphy’s performance saw him named in the Irish Independent Team of the Week and left with some “great memories”, while Galway’s All-Ireland reign was ended by Mayo in the Connacht final.
Galway 1-18 London 1-8
Connacht SFC Quarter-Final
Sunday 6th June, 1999
GALWAY: M McNamara; R Doyle, D Mitchell, T Meehan; R Silke, J Divilly, S Og De Paor (0-1f); S O’Domhnaill, S Walsh; P Clancy (0-1f), J Fallon (0-4, 2f), T Joyce (0-1f); D Savage (0-3), P Joyce (1-4, 3f), N Finnegan (0-4, 2f). Subs: G Fahey for Divilly (53min), F Gavin for Walsh (60min), D Meehan for T Meehan (66min).
LONDON: D Kelly; B McDonagh, P Rafter, F Downey; C Wilson, D Gordon, B Bolger; T Murphy (0-1), J Gormley (0-1); T Feehan, T McGivern (0-3, 1f), D Deering; J Grimes (1-1), M Galvin, T Maguire (0-1). Subs: S O’Brien for T Murphy (57min), P Coggins for Deering (69min).
REFEREE: E Neary (Sligo).