By Damian Dolan
On Sunday 11 March 2007 Robert Emmetts hurling club made history at Croke Park when they became the first British-based club to win an All-Ireland title.
A first half goal from Jim Ryan set the London winners on their way to a 1-14 to 0-8 victory over Galway and Connacht champions Killimordaly, in the intermediate club championship hurling final.
It was an achievement that resonated on both sides of the water.
Perhaps less known, though, is the part played in their victory that day by film icon Al Pacino.
As the team’s bus pulled into Croke Park, manager Mick O’Dea kept his players on board, and had the coach driver play Al Pacino’s rousing ‘inch by inch’ monologue from the film Any Given Sunday over the speakers.
It had the desired effect.
“The bus nearly erupted at the end of Pacino’s speech – when the boys got off they would’ve eaten steel,” O’Dea told the Irish World.
“It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. There wasn’t a chance we were going to get beaten that day – we played out of our skin.”
He added: “I remember saying to the lads ‘we’ll never get another opportunity like this again……we have a fantastic chance to make history’.”
Dublin’s Sean McLoughlin was excellent at full-back, as were Corkmen John Quinlan (0-8, 5f), Tadgh O’Callaghan (0-3) and Jim Ryan (1-1).
Ryan’s 21st minute goal helped give them a 1-8 to 0-4 half-time lead, with Killimordaly limited to scoring from placed balls.
It was left to Emmetts’ Meath captain Fergus McMahon to lift the trophy.
“When the final whistle went….it was just magnificent for a team from London to win an All Ireland title,” recalls O’Dea.
Particularly as Emmetts, founded in 1948, had only claimed a first senior county title three years earlier. O’Dea, another of the Cork contingent, was central to that.
O’Dea, who left Liscarroll for London in 1984 when he was 18, was an Emmetts player when the club took the step up to senior in 1993.
He started at corner forward when the club reached its first-ever senior county final in 1996, only to lose out to St Gabriel’s by 2-13 to 0-10. With 15 minutes to go, the scores had been level.
After heading home in 2000, O’Dea returned two years later to take over the managerial reins at Emmetts, and in his first year guided the club to only its second-ever senior final appearance.
Although beaten by Sean Treacys, just reaching the 2002 final was an achievement “beyond all expectations”.
By 2004, Emmetts were well equipped to finally make the breakthrough. They’d been augmented by the likes of Fergus McMahon, Teu O’hAilpin (Cork) and Kevin McMullan (Antrim).
Waiting for them in the final were defending champions Fr Murphy’s, who’d also lifted the trophy in 2001 and 2000.
But Emmetts had got the better of Murphy’s in the group stage by four points, and they surpassed that margin in the final to win by 0-14 to 0-8, and be crowned London senior champions for the very first time.
The late John McCaughan scored half of Emmetts’ points with Bryan Foley “the best player on display” according to then Irish World sports editor John Collins.
It was an achievement 56 years in the making.
It had been a “fierce struggle” and O’Dea had seen first-hand the likes of Rodger Maher put in “fierce work” to try and help Emmetts take that next step.
“It was a fantastic feeling; I’d played for Emmetts from 19 or 20 years of age and never won anything – in all of those years I played in just one county final (the club’s 1992 IHC final defeat to Action Gaels),” said O’Dea.
“It was a huge step forward for us as a club. It was so important – it gave us momentum.”
It also gave them a first taste of the All Ireland Club Championship – an experience, while unsuccessful, would be prove invaluable three years later.
In the quarter-final, they faced Ulster and Antrim champions Carey Faughs at Ruislip in December 2004. Emmetts won 0-9 to 1-3.
Waiting for them in the semi-final at Bennettsbridge, though, were Carrickshock – complete with Kilkenny senior hurlers Michael Rice, Richie Power and John Tennyson.
In a game dictated by a strong wind, Carrickshock opened up a 2-4 to no score lead by half-time. The Kilkenny side’s final margin of victory was 13 points.
For O’Dea, it was a serious “eye-opener”.
“Carrickshock were at a different level; it gave us a yard-stick as to how at the top of your game you needed to be, and the calibre of hurler you needed to compete at that level,” he said.
When Robert Emmetts returned to the Club Championship, they would be ready.
Solace for O’Dea in 2005 would come in the form of Nicky Rackard Cup success with London’s hurlers at Croke Park, as they beat Louth 5-8 to 1-5.
The Exiles team included several Emmetts players; Fergus McMahon (captain), Kevin McMullen, Sean Quinn, John Dillon, Gary Fintan, Brian Foley and Jim Ryan and John McCaughan.
Another experience that would stand to Emmetts in 2007.
Having relinquished their London crown in 2005 – beaten in the final by Fr Murphy’s – Emmetts were champions for a second time in 2006.
Their stiffest test that year came in the semi-final against Sean Treacys – a game Emmetts trailed by seven points at half-time.
But Emmetts had managed to acquire two “fantastic” hurlers who’d arrived in town from Australia just two weeks before the game. Tadgh Callaghan and John ‘Bravo’ Quinlan.
Both hailed from Charleville, Co Cork, the same club as Brian Foley.
O’Dea introduced Quinlan and Callaghan at half-time, and moved McMahon from centre back to full forward.
McMahon’s goal straight from the start proved the catalyst for an Emmetts’ comeback sealed with a goal at the death.
Quinlan and Callaghan turned that semi-final “on its head”.
“John was a top class freetaker – he did not miss”,” said O’Dea. “The turning point in our year was bringing those two players in – they made such a difference.
Emmetts went on to beat Kilburn Gaels comfortably in the final and set up a club championship quarter-final at Ruislip with Kildare and Leinster champions Ardclough.
But the tie was called off just minutes before throw in due to a waterlogged pitch, and re-fixed for Clane in Kildare. Not Ruislip.
At the end of normal time the scores were level; but only after “a scoring spree from the ultra-accurate Quinlan reduced the arrears to just three points with five minutes to go”.
That was increased to four, before Quinlan despatched a penalty and then scored the point to take game into extra-time.
Four unanswered points near the end won it for Emmetts – two from Quinlan – by three points (2-14 to 2-11).
“Quinlan was dynamite; he was the best forward I ever saw in London. His freetaking was impeccable – top class. He was outrageous from placed balls.”
But it was the performance of another Emmetts player that really stood out for O’Dea that day – Seanie Quinn, who died tragically in 2013.
“Seanie had an absolute blinder in extra-time – I remember standing on the sideline thinking this guy has stood up to the plate,” said O’Dea.
“That’s the one outstanding memory I have of that game – how well Seanie Quinn played in extra-time.”
The Munster champions, Clooney-Quin, awaited Emmetts in the semi-final.
Originally fixed for the county ground in Clare, O’Dea was “having none of it”. The London board wrote to Croke Park and the game was moved to a neutral venue, The Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.
Clooney-Quin had Clare duo Fergal Lynch and Conor Harrison in their ranks.
Emmetts led by a point at half-time (2-4 to 0-9), having played into the breeze, but the move of Lynch to full forward brought a lot of frees, and Clooney-Quin moved ahead.
Once again, though, Emmetts would show their “will to win” late on.
With four minutes to go, Emmetts trailed by four points, when O’Dea turned to his selector Donie O’Dwyer.
“I said to Donie ‘if we get a goal now, we’ll win’. And no sooner had I said it than Jim Ryan collected a pass from Mark Traynor and buried the ball into the roof of the net,” recalled O’Dea.
O’Dywer, a Tipperary man who joined the club in 1988, died in 2018.
The passings of O’Dwyer, Quinn and McCaughan – “all true Robert Emmetts men” says O’Dea – adds a poignancy to Emmetts’ All Ireland adventure that year.
“They all played their part,” adds O’Dea.
John Quinlan levelled the game with a 65, but with another bout of extra-time looming, goalkeeper Colm Buckley found Eddie Carey, who drove it to Tadgh Callaghan.
“Tadgh caught the ball, turned and let fly, and it went straight over the bar,” said O’Dea.
Emmetts had hit them for 1-3 in the space of about seven minutes to lead by a point. They then “managed to hold out” in the final few moments.
“Knowing we were going to Croke Park was as good a feeling as I’ve ever had. For a club from London to get to an All Ireland final was just magnificent,” added O’Dea.
In the end, Emmetts had prevailed by 3-7 to 1-12 – Kevin McMullan and Quinlan (penalty) with their other goals. Quinlan finished with 1-6 (5f).
Emmetts were on their way to Croker, and O’Dea had a secret weapon up his sleeve…..Al Pacino.
In 2012 O’Dea steered Emmetts to a fifth London senior title in the space of eight years, before stepping down.
His last game in charge was Emmetts’ All Ireland Club IHC semi-final defeat to Mount Leinster Rangers.
Emmetts struck 16 wides that day as well as hitting the crossbar and the post.
For O’Dea, Emmetts had a better team that year, than in 2007, and it remains his biggest “regret”.
Now secretary of the club, he watched as former player Kevin McMullan, along with Mark Traynor and Denis Costello, managed the club to further titles in 2015, 2016 and 2019.
It will take something special to surpass the memories of 2007 though.
Robert Emmetts 1-14 vs 0-8 Killimordaly
All Ireland Club IHC Final
11 March, 2007
SCORERS – Robert Emmetts: J Quinlan 0-8 (5f), J Ryan 1-1, T O’Callaghan 0-3, O Kennedy, S Kelly 0-1 each. Killimordaly: C Earls 0-4 (4f), N Earls 0-3 (2f, 1 ’65’), E Ryan 0-1 (1f).
ROBERT EMMETTS: C Buckley; L Mannix, S McLoughlin, C Ó Murchu; B Foley, F McMahon, J Dillon; T O’Callaghan, E Carey; E Kennedy J Ryan, B Keane; S Quinn, J Quinlan, M Traynor. Subs: S Kelly for B Keane (37), P Jordan for S Quinn (56), P McArdle for M Trayor (60), B Hennebry for C Ó Murchu (60), A Maloney for L Mannix (60).
KILLIMORDALY: P Kilkenny; JP O’Halloran, I Creaven, J Daly; Conor Daly, S Hanlon, N Earls; P Madden, F Duane; T Madden, A Lawless, N Earls; C Earls, E Ryan, G Earls. Subs: M Corcoran for C Earls (38), S Spellman for Conor Daly (50), Cathal Daly for N Earls (52), J Whyte for S Hanlon (60).