It’s 35 years since London’s junior footballers defied the odds to beat Cork and claim the county’s last junior All Ireland title
By Damian Dolan
With the junior All Ireland football championship set for a revamp in 2022, it would seem a fitting time to look back on the last occasion London lifted the title.
1986 was the year and Ruislip the setting, as the Exiles stunned a much-fancied Cork side by 1-9 to 0-7 on 19 October, to claim the county’s sixth All Ireland junior title.
Captained on the day by a Corkman, Barry Herlihy, London defied the odds to upstage a Rebels outfit which could boast the likes of Dom Creedon and Tadhg Murphy.
Both Creedon and Murphy had won a Munster senior final with Cork in ’83.
Also within the visitors’ ranks was a very familiar face in Donal ‘DJ’ O’Shea – a loyal servant of both London and Parnell’s for many years before returning home to Cork. O’Shea sadly passed away last year.
London’s triumph of ’86 resonated across the Irish Sea. It was the first time the junior All Ireland trophy had been prised away to this side of the water since London completed the three-in-a-row (1969-71), but it also remains the last.
“It wasn’t until we’d won it that I realised the importance of it and what we’d done,” reflects Mark Duggan, who lined out at midfield for London that Ruislip day in 1986.
For Cork, it was the other side of the coin. Speaking in 1994, Dom Creedon said: “It’s very hard to explain why we lost. No one could understand it, at least no one that was in Ruislip for the game.”
Thirty-five years on, it remains one of the greatest days in the history of London GAA.
Following London’s three-in-a-row success, the county’s junior footballers garnered further provincial titles in ’73, ’74 and ’75, but thereafter entered some very lean years as they had to play second fiddle to Warwickshire.
In 1982, however, a London side containing Jerry O’Mahoney, Brendan Greenaway, Seamus Carr and Dick Munnelly did manage to overcome Warwickshire after a replay.
After an absence of nine years (1974-82), the Junior All Ireland competition returned to the fixtures schedule in 1983.
But the ensuing years saw London knocked out of Britain by Hertfordshire in ’83, with Yorkshire going on to the lift the title.
Warwickshire claimed it back in ’84, with the Midlanders then seeing off London in the ’85 final by 1-12 to 0-8.
Getting out of Britain had become a tough enough assignment for London, never mind dreaming of winning All Ireland titles.
By ’86, London had a new managerial team of Kerry-native Pat Griffin, Laois man John Lacey and Waterford’s Willie Duggan.
Griffin had been part of the off-field set-up which had overseen the Connacht Championship win over Leitrim in ’77, while he was a selector on the junior team that won All Irelands in ‘70 and ‘71.
Lacey had been involved in the All Ireland wins of ’70 and ’71 as a player.
“Pat Griffin, John Lacey and Willie Duggan were fair mentors to have. They had a lot of experience,” says Adrian Woulfe, who was a dual player for Brian Boru and London.
Duggan, meanwhile, was part of the now defunct St Anne’s club which won the intermediate championship in 1985.
They’d secured the title with a 5-5 to 1-8 win over Acton Gaels, with their star forwards all shining – Barry Herlihy, Liam Hughes and Tommy Parker. Two months later, St Anne’s added the intermediate league.
Far from being out of their depth at senior, 1986 would prove to be “the club’s best ever year”.
St Anne’s shocked Parnell’s in the Tipperary Cup final, 1-13 to 0-8, with Liam Hughes, Barry Herlihy and James Sheridan among those to star.
The club also reached the senior championship semi-finals, only to lose out to Geraldines, and the final of the Conway Cup, where Tir Chonaill Gaels had the edge.
Buoyed by its success at club level, St Anne’s would back-bone London’s junior All Ireland title win.
Barry Herlihy, Liam Hughes, Tommy Parker, Mark Duggan, and Mayo duo Michael O’Hora and James Sheridan all featured against Cork. Their understanding at club level would prove a big factor.
“It contributed an awful lot. We had four of the six forwards on the team that day,” said Willie Duggan.
“At midfield, Mark was a good passer of a ball and could set up players. Himself and Barry Herlihy had a very special relationship, interplaying the ball to one another.”
From Dr Crokes GAA club, Tommy Parker won a Minor All Ireland with Kerry in 1980. Lining out at corner forward, Parker scored 1-1 as they beat Derry. In 1983 he added a Munster title with Kerry’s Under 21s.
“Tommy Parker was a very good player. He’d have played senior for Kerry if he’d stayed at home,” adds Barry Herlihy, who like Parker was a dentist.
Three weeks after London’s senior footballers were hammered 3-14 to 0-4 by Mayo in the Connacht Championship, their junior counterparts opened their provincial campaign with a comfortable 6-8 to 1-8 win over Hertfordshire in Luton on 22 June.
Liam Hughes, from the An Riocht club in Co Down, set the tone by banging in two goals in the opening five minutes, and London took a 3-4 to 1-3 lead into half-time.
“Liam Hughes played Minor with Down and was absolutely brilliant,” recalls Barry Herlihy.
Hughes had played senior for London in ’85, scoring the Exiles’ goal in their McGrath Cup final defeat to Clare, and was on the panel for that year’s Connacht Championship game.
Willie Duggan adds: “Liam Hughes wasn’t really on people’s radar until that year, and then they found out what a great player he was.”
There was only a small crowd in attendance for the final against Lancashire at Ruislip on 6 July, as the game clashed with the annual London Irish Festival at Roundwood Park.
Lancashire dominated for long periods and led by 1-1 to 0-2 at the break. But a great goal by Barry Herlihy handed London the initiative and they went on to sneak home by 2-4 to 1-6.
“I remember it well. Barry came in from the corner and scrambled it in,” says Willie Duggan.
Andy Hanley (Acton Gaels) and Charlie Farrelly (Brian Boru) were two of those to impress for London.
Brian Boru also provided half back Adrian Woulfe, who’d won an All Ireland Under 16 title with Westmeath in 1981, while Acton Gaels’ Sean Hussey was London-born.
Hussey had been on the London senior panel for the Connacht Championship fixture with Sligo in ’83, and was one of several players on the ’86 junior London panel who’d previously been involved with the county’s junior side.
So too had Mick Gallagher, Jim Sheridan, Denis McCarthy (St Claret’s), Michael O’Hora, Andy Hanley and Charlie Farrelly.
London had been unconvincing, but for the next few months the players and their management could turn their attention back to club matters, while Cork battled their way through Munster and the All Ireland ‘Home’ competition.
What favoured the Exiles was the All Ireland final being push the final back until 19 October.
Despite a six-week delay, the Rebels were still firm favourites and fully expected to add to their 1984 All Ireland junior victory, when they overcame Warwickshire in the final by 12 points.
Warwickshire endured an even heavier beating in the ’85 final, losing 4-17 to 0-4 to Galway. Before that, Kerry had seen off Yorkshire handsomely enough in the ’83 decider by 13 points.
Perhaps it was these results that contributed to any Cork bullishness when they arrived at Ruislip in October 1986.
Speaking to the Cork Examiner in the build-up, Michael Ellard described it as a good Cork team, while selector Billy Finn said that we hadn’t “seen the best of them yet”. “Cork were overconfident,” observes Barry Herlihy.
But arguably with very good reason. The Rebels had come through a Munster semi-final with Kerry (1-10 to 0-12) before beating Tipperary in the provincial final by 1-12 to 1-6 on 26 June. DJ O’Shea scored 1-2 and Willie O’Riordan 0-6.
In the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone in Omagh on 3 July, Cork prevailed by 3-6 to 1-5.
In the ‘Home’ final, Cork faced Meath in a game that took place at Croke Park on 24 August, and ended in a draw (Cork 0-9, Meath 1-6).
The Rebels won the replay, played on 6 September in Portlaoise, by 0-11 to 1-4. Cork’s chief scorers were DJ O’Shea (0-5) and Willie O’Riordan (0-4). But then came the delay.
“That was in London’s interest; we had the chance to look at some players and we could see who was in good form,” says Willie Duggan.
By October, the club scene in London was reaching its climax and several players put their hand up for selection for the Cork game.
On October 4, Tir Chonaill Gaels beat St Anne’s in the Conway Cup final by 2-12 to 0-12. Ger Boyle showed up well in goal for the Gaels, while Liam Hughes and Michael O’Hora were both outstanding for St Anne’s.
The next day, the Kingdom retained the senior title. Gerdie O’Sullivan goaled in the opening minute to set the Kingdom on their way to a 6-12 to 2-4 win over Geraldine’s. Tom Walsh, Mick Gallagher and Jim Hogan had all stood out for Geraldines in their run to the final.
Also on October 5, a Brian Boru side containing Adrian Woulfe and Charlie Farrelly beat Acton Gaels, 0-9 to 0-4 in the intermediate championship final. Sean Hussey and Andy Hanley impressed for Acton.
It was then all guns blazing for Cork two weeks later.
As per rule, London were now able to augment their team with senior players who hadn’t played senior club football the previous year.
In came the likes of goalkeeper Ger Boyle, Owenie Bonner, Frank Glynn (all Tir Chonaill Gaels), Tom Finnerty and Gerdie O’Sullivan (both Kingdom).
It strengthened a back line already containing Tara’s Richie Haran. He’d broken into the Sligo senior team prior to heading to London in ’82.
“Ger Boyle was a fantastic goalie, Tom Finnerty was a great full back and you had big Frank Glynn beside him – at 6ft 3in a very big man for a corner back. Nothing got past him,” said Adrian Woulfe.
“Gerdie O’Sullivan was the star turn on the team in the forward line – he was a great footballer. Mick O’Dwyer was over watching him, I think.”
Frank Glynn, said: “Gerry Boyle was a good goalkeeper, very vocal, and he had an excellent kick-out. He’d come from soccer and had cut his teeth with Finn Harps in Donegal.”
Glynn had been brought in specifically to deal with former London and Parnell’s forward DJ O’Shea, who as recent as 1984 had lined out for the Exiles in the McGrath Cup final against Clare.
From Eyeries, Beara, Co Cork, O’Shea won senior London senior titles with Parnell’s in 1979 and 1981, as well as starring in the 1984 British Club Championship Centenary final, in which Parnell’s defeated Tir Chonaill Gaels.
“DJ was one of the best forwards in London,” says Glynn.
O’Shea had represented London in the Connacht Championship between 1979-83, having played for London juniors before that.
“DJ was a dangerous forward and Frank was picked specially to cope with him. Frank would have known DJ quite well, playing for Tir Chonaill Gaels against Parnell’s,” explained Willie Duggan.
Mid-week before the Cork game, London took on Parnell’s in a challenge match at Ruislip.
“We tried out players in different positions,” recalls Willie Duggan. That included Willie’s son Mark getting a run out at midfield.
The evening before the game, the team was picked at Willesden Junction Hotel.
Mark Duggan, just 20 at the time, had played full back during the provincial games, but in order to accommodate the Kingdom’s Tom Finnerty in that position, it meant switching the St Anne’s man to midfield.
Despite the odds, and the players’ lack of preparation as a collective unit, London were confident in their own abilities. And they certainly weren’t daunted by the challenge facing them.
“I’m sure there were people who thought we were just there to be the whipping boys, but I’d never think like that. It’s 15 against 15,” said Adrian Woulfe.
“We were a very strong side. Tommy Parker and Barry Herlihy would grace any team and the introduction of the [senior] lads bolstered that,” adds Mark Duggan.
London had been “written off” says Willie Duggan, while Cork had been “blown out of all proportion” and built up to be “unbeatable.”
“The press had them (Cork) blown up, and we were just going about to fulfil the fixture,” adds Frank Glynn.
“The five or six [training] sessions we did at the Scrubs were really put in, and we were fired up on the day.”
On the morning of the match, London were dealt a blow when Maurice Laverty of Dulwich Gaels pulled out.
The Donegal-native had been listed to start after racking up 12 points at Ruislip in a junior competitive match for Dulwich the previous weekend at Ruislip. St Anne’s James Sheridan was drafted in.
“James happened to be living in my house at the time, so he was easy to contact,” says Willie Duggan, who that morning also had to drag his son Mark off a soccer pitch.
Still thinking he’d be lining out at full back later that afternoon at Ruislip, Mark headed off to play midfield for his Sunday soccer team in a cup match at Senegal Fields playing grounds in New Cross – now the site of Millwall FC’s new stadium.
“Dad was screaming at me and dragged me off to my massive embarrassment,” recalls Mark.
“He told me I was playing in an All Ireland final that afternoon and that I should ‘cop myself on’. I hadn’t really understood the importance of it – an All Ireland final.”
On the Cork panel was Barry Herlihy’s brother Brian. When the teams arrived at Ruislip, Mark Duggan recalls Barry going into the Cork dressing room.
“He’d gone in to mingle with them, and when he came back he told us that they didn’t have a very good team and that they were there for the taking,” recalls Mark.
Whether it was mind games, or he genuinely meant it, it gave Mark, and maybe some of the other London boys, a “massive boost”.
“It definitely worked in my case, without a shadow of a doubt,” Mark adds.
London’s captain up until that point had been Liam Hughes, but on the day he sportingly handed the skipper’s armband to Barry Herlihy, so he could lead the Exiles against his home county.
“Liam should have been captain, but we didn’t think we’d win the bloody thing!” says Barry.
“It was a great gesture by Liam,” adds Willie Duggan.
Amongst the Ruislip crowd were Barry’s father and mother who’d travelled over to see their sons in action, albeit on opposing sides.
“Out at Ruislip that time there was a small little hutch where you could get a coffee,” remembers Barry.
“My parents were inside there before the match and met Philip Byrne, whose son was playing for Cork. Ya man said ‘jez, I’ve an awful feeling about this game’. My father said to him ‘no, Cork will hammer this crowd!’.”
While London’s team showed a number of changes from the side which had beaten Lancashire in the British final way back on 6 July, Cork started with 14 of the players who’d overcome Meath in the ‘Home’ final replay.
That level of continuity was evident in the opening exchanges.
With a “gale force wind” behind them and attacking the clubhouse end, Cork nearly got off to the perfect start when they hit the foot of the London post inside the opening minute.
It was one of several early goal chances the visitors created as they flew out of the traps.
“I remember we should have had it won in the first quarter. We should have had at least four goals in the first half,” Cork’s Dom Creedon later recalled in a 1994 interview with the Hoganstand Magazine.
“If they’d got those they probably would have hammered us,” says Barry Herlihy.
Mark Duggan remembers going up against Mick Spillane, “a block of a man”, for the throw in, in what was the “biggest test” of his football career.
“Someone took a photograph of the throw in and I’m standing there looking up at him. He looks like he’s about four foot higher than me in the air, and with the ball in his hands,” laughs Mark.
But Mark and Tom Walsh began to dominant in midfield, against Dom Creedon and Spillane.
“Cork couldn’t get possession at all. Tom was a very good player, very strong, and we linked well,” said Mark.
Frank Glynn, recalled: “Mark and Tom in the middle of the field had an exceptionally good day together.”
London added four more points in the remainder of the half, as they kept Cork scoreless (0-5 to 0-0).
At the other end, Andy Hanley, Adrian Woulfe, Sean Hussey and Tom Finnerty coped admirably with the Cork attacking threat, but 13 wides didn’t augur well for London’s chances.
“Sean, Andy and Adrian were brilliant in the half back line,” says Willie Duggan.
A five-point lead looked like it might not be enough as Cork made a determined start to the second half, but Gerdie O’Sullivan (from the An Riocht GAA club in Kerry) finished off a fine move to the back of Cork net to extend the home side’s lead.
“That really got our heads going,” says Richie Haran.
When London were awarded a penalty soon after, Geraldine’s Mick Gallagher could afford to tap it over the bar.
“There was a good crowd at Ruislip and ten minutes into the second half they really started to get behind us,” adds Frank Glynn.
But Cork then began to rally, with London increasingly called upon to defend. Point by hard earned point, the Rebels closed the gap.
“Cork were good; they were all big men and they came back strong at us in the second half,” Adrian Woulfe recalls.
Three of those Cork points came from DJ O’Shea, and another from the boot of substitute Brian Herlihy.
But the Cork comeback had come too late, and with London simply in no mood to be denied the home side held out to record a very famous victory (1-9 to 0-7). London were All Ireland junior champions once again.
By the end of it all, the Exiles had kept Tadhg Murphy – the hero of Cork’s 1983 Munster final win over Kerry – to a solitary point. Murphy’s goal, with the second last kick of that ’83 final, had given the Rebels a 3-10 to 3-9 victory and a first provincial title for nine years.
“We emptied the tank; it was backs to the wall stuff. We were absolutely shattered afterwards,” says Adrian Woulfe.
For Willie Duggan, it just “all clicked on the day” for the Exiles.
“It was a wonderful boost for London football, and against all the odds,” he said.
“For a team that had never played together before, we played some wonderful football that day. But we had good footballers – we were no mugs.”
When the final whistle sounded, London could celebrate a first All Ireland junior title since 1971 – a success 15 years in the making – watched by 1,000 spectators among whom were Kerry manager Mick O’Dwyer and then GAA president-elect Peter Quinn.
The latter presented the trophy to London captain Barry Herlihy on the Ruislip pitch.
“Cork came over with a very good team, while we were cobbled together. But the team just gelled on the day,” said Frank Glynn.
The significance of what they’d achieved only really hit home for Mark Duggan when his father came rushing over to him on the pitch.
“The elation on his face, I could see how much it meant to him. I realised more so [then] what we’d achieved,” remembers Mark.
Mark, along with Barry Herlihy went on to win a McGrath Cup with London in 1988 and the same year take Sligo to within just three points in the Connacht Championship (2-13 to 2-10).
In his ’94 interview with the Hoganstand Magazine, Cork’s Dom Creedon admitted they perhaps thought they’d “done all the hard work” after overcoming Meath in the ‘Home’ final.
“When we went in five points down at half-time, I thought we could come back but we couldn’t keep up with them (London) in the second half. It just went from bad to worse for us,” said Creedon.
The following year, eight of that ’86 Cork team got redemption by beating Warwickshire in that year’s All Ireland junior final, 0-14 to 0-4, at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
After the astonishing events at Ruislip, it was on to the Irish Centre in Camden, where the London players were presented with a special commemorative medal by the Cork County Board.
And then to Christy Kissane’s pub in Kilburn where the celebrations carried on “until all hours of the morning”.
“There was no dentistry done!” laughs Barry Herlihy. And it didn’t end there.
“The next night the Tir Chonaill Gaels boys and a few others ended up in Mick McGrath’s pub the Roxborough in Harrow,” recalls Frank Glynn.
Richie Haran went on to play in two more All Ireland junior finals for London – against Meath in ’88 at Croke Park, and in ’91 at Ruislip when Kerry provided the opposition.
“1986 was the highlight of my football career. It was huge; it really woke up Ireland as to how good London teams were,” reflects Haran, who moved to Chicago 20 years ago.
As London GAA celebrates its 125-year anniversary this year, the achievement of that London junior team of 1986 is perhaps one that’s been allowed to slip a little from people’s consciousness.
“Remember, this was Cork we were playing, so it was a massive achievement,” says Adrian Woulfe, who would go on to win a third All Ireland – only this time a Senior ‘B’ with London’s hurlers in 1990.
He added: “I think the 1986 final got lost in people’s memories. People forget about it.”
Hopefully the county’s 125-year commemorations will once again throw the spotlight back on London’s boys of ’86.