The Donegal senior team on Ulster final day 1963
It's hard to visualise a footballer starting in five Ulster finals in the same year, but that is what Declan O'Carroll achieved in 1963. And it's a feat that is never likely to be repeated.
For three of those finals he was 17 years of age - the Ulster junior championship final, Ulster minor league final and Ulster minor championship final.
O'Carroll turned 18 the day after the Ulster final and then went on to play in and win two more Ulster finals - the McKenna Cup final and the first ever Ulster U-21 final. He ended with three Ulster medals (Donegal also won the Ulster minor league).
It was the busiest year ever for Donegal GAA. They entered nine competitions in Ulster - seven in football and two in hurling - and reached the final in eight of them. The only competition they failed to reach the final was the Ulster junior hurling championship.
Declan O'Carroll started in five of the finals and was a substitute on the Donegal senior team who were defeated in their first ever senior final, played in Breffni Park on July 28th, 1963.
When I made contact with him this week, he went into his own archives to reminisce.
"It got me looking back to old photographs and cuttings that I had back to the '60s and it sparked some great memories.
"What I discovered was that I played an Ulster Minor League final against Down in 1962. I was 16 at the time, and an Ulster Minor League final in '63 when I was 17. I was still on 17 when I made my debut for the seniors that year.
"I was 18 the day after the Ulster final of 1963. 29th of July, 1945 was my date of birth. I made my senior debut against Armagh in Ballyshannon in June of '63. That was a McKenna Cup semi-final replay against Armagh. I came on as a sub and the first thing I did was get a ball and I scored a goal, so it was a good start."
Going back to his first final, the Ulster junior final, he was surprised by how many senior players were on the team.
"I have a photograph of a junior team of that time and it has the likes of Owenie McBride, Bernard Brady, Sean O'Donnell, all these fellas playing junior. Maybe they were playing for junior clubs. There were a lot of senior players on that team.
"Strangely enough, Antrim hammered us in the final," said O'Carroll.
"We beat Down in the Minor League, also in Ballinascreen. Some of them are now dead, Pat Forker, God rest him."
But Down proved too good for Donegal in the championship final, which was the curtain raiser to the senior game.
"We really fancied ourselves in that game. But as I recall they brought on Val Kane, who was a great Down player. He was on the senior team. He came on and in jig time there was a couple of goals past Willie McNelis. He made the difference. It was just his impact. Maybe we were just in awe of him or something, as he was selected on the senior team."
O'Carroll played midfield with Frankie Campbell on the minor team and he felt it was a good combination. "Frankie and myself were very similar. We were both left footed and we both fancied ourselves in the air as high fetchers. He was a great talent."
Later that year O'Carroll joined the Cadet School in the Curragh and found it difficult to get out to play football.
"I joined the Cadets and the following year when St Joseph's were up and at it, I couldn't play with them in '64 because I was playing in the Kildare senior championship with the Military School."
Asked about the amount of football he had played in 1963, he said it was never a problem.
"It's unheard of nowadays. There is no doubt we were playing Sunday after Sunday either for club and county. But that's what we lived for.
"We were fit for the age, but in no way were we as fit as the players of today.
"We played in different places like Draperstown and Pomeroy. Irvinestown was my favourite football pitch. It was a beautiful surface in comparison to other surfaces we played on."
But that changed when he was in the Cadets: "You weren't allowed out. We played Kerry in 1965 in Croke Park. The Co Board wrote to the Cadet Master and requested my release to play. I was called in by the Cadet Master and was told 'no, you're not getting out'.
"Naturally I was disappointed. About two days later I get a second call from him to be told now I could go. He didn't tell me why, of course, because his authority had been countermandered. Joe Brennnan, whatever Minister he was at the time, wrote and demanded that I get out.
"But the irony of it is, apart from the fact that we were beaten by Kerry, I was playing on Seamus Murphy that day and I swear to God, I didn't get a kick of the ball. It wasn't worth their while going to the trouble to get me out," says O'Carroll.
The Bundoran man also played hurling at minor level with Ballyshannon. "I have a Donegal minor hurling medal, playing for Ballyshannon. Bro Canice was the boss in De La Salle and we all had to play hurley whether we liked it or not. I was playing corner-forward, I scored a goal, but I have no interest and no skill whatsoever," he says.
The success of 1963 should have led to an Ulster senior title long before it happened in 1972 and O'Carroll has a theory on why it didn't happen. "We were in awe of the Down team, even though we could beat then in McKenna Cup and Lagan Cup, when it came to the championship we just didn't have the direction or the conviction."
1963 - All the finals and teams
The present era has been glorious for Donegal GAA - reaching nine of the last 10 Ulster finals - but has there ever been a better year for Donegal GAA fans than back in 1963.
It was a year that Donegal reached an Ulster final eight times - seven in football and one in minor hurling.
They had entered nine competitions with the junior hurlers the only Donegal side failing to reach the Ulster final.
The win rate may not have been as good as was expected but it was still an unique year for the county - winning Ulster titles at U-21, Minor League and Dr McKenna Cup.
The other final teams were Junior and Senior football, Lagan Cup (senior league), minor football championship and minor hurling.
It was a year that saw Donegal record their first ever win over Cavan in senior championship football. Up to that year's semi-final, they had lost 18 on the trot to Cavan. Indeed of the 58 championship games they had played before '63, they had just 12 wins. 1963 would see a big change and the Donegal graph was on an upward curve after that.
Lagan Cup final
O'Neill Park, Dungannon - March 10 1963
Down 1-9, Donegal 0-9
Donegal led 0-6 to 0-3 at half-time and held the lead until Down tied up the game with a James McCartan goal on 50 minutes. It looked like it was heading for a draw but Down hit three late points, two from Paddy Doherty and one from Brian Johnston to decide the issue.
It could have been a better lead at half-time as John Campbell drove a penalty too high and the Down 'keeper got a hand to it to deflect it over the bar in the opening half.
DONEGAL: Seamus Hoare (St Eunan's), Fionn Gallagher (St Eunan's), John Hannigan (St Eunan's), Noel O'Donnell (St Eunan's); Sean O'Donnell (Dungloe), PJ Flood (Pettigo), Brendan McFeely (MacCumhaill's); Frankie McFeely (MacCumhaill's), Sean Ferriter (Dungloe); Donal Breslin (Gaoth Dobhair), Mickey Griffin (O'Toole's, Dublin, 0-2), Des Houlihane (Kilcar); Cormac Breslin (Gaoth Dobhair, 0-2), Bernard Brady (Bundoran) John Campbell (Dungloe 0-5,3f, pen).
Subs: Harry Laverty (MacCumhaill's) for Griffin; Griffin for Lafferty; Lafferty for Griffin; Patrick Boyle (Dungloe), John D McMenamin (MacCumhaill's), PJ McDermott (Carndonagh), Tom Hickey (Gaoth Dobhair), Hugh Travers (Donegal Town), John Diver (Gaoth Dobhair).
Ulster Junior Football Championship final
12th May 1963 - Ballinascreen
Antrim 5-8, Donegal 1-3
Donegal trailed by 3-4 to 1-2 at half-time and they could only manage a late point in the second half from Cormac Breslin.
DONEGAL: Packie Boyle (Dungloe); Seamus McNulty (Kilcar), Paddy O'Donnell (Kilcar), John Dan McMenamin (MacCumhaill's); Sean O'Donnell (Dungloe), Jim Fleming (Convoy), Brendan McFeely (MacCumhaill's); Robert McCool (Carndonagh), Mick McLaughlin (Carndonagh); Owenie McBride (Gaoth Dobhair), Declan O'Carroll (Bundoran), Des Houlihane (Kilcar); Cormac Breslin (Gaoth Dobhair 0-2), John Campbell (Dungloe 1-1), Harry Laverty (MacCumhaill's).
Subs: Eddie Gallagher (St Naul's) for Fleming; Neilly Gallagher (Gaoth Dobhair) for R McCool; Frankie Campbell (Glenties) for McFeely inj. Rest of panel: Ambrose Given (Convoy), Noel O'Donnell (St Eunan's), Peter Quinn (Bundoran).
Ulster Minor League final
Ballinascreen - June 23 1963
Donegal 3-6, Down 2-4
There was a strong wind blowing in Ballinascreen and Donegal made use of it in the first half to turn over leading 2-6 to 1-2.
They only managed a goal from Pat Forker in the second half but they kept Down and Val Kane at bay to run out worthy winners.
DONEGAL: Willie McNelis (Glenties); Matt McNulty (Ballyshannon), Neil McKelvey (Glenties), Gerard McNally (St Eunan's); Tommy Martin (Laghey-Ballyshannon), Charlie Murphy (Bundoran), Peter Carr (Raphoe-Convoy); Frankie Campbell capt (Glenties 1-2), Declan O'Carroll (Bundoran 0-1); Pauric McShea (Ballyshannon), Michael McLoone (Ballyshannon), Pat Forker (Dungloe 1-0); John Bradley (Muff 1-1), Connie Maguire (Glenties), Francis Monaghan (Donegal Town 0-1).
Subs: John McHugh (St Naul's), Sean McGee (Letterkenny), Ciaran Dolan (Ballyshannon), Jim Gallagher (St Eunan's), Pat Conaghan (Glenties), Brian Quinn (Castlefin), Pat Caffrey (Lifford).
Ulster Minor final
Breffni Park, Cavan - Sunday 28th July, 1963
Down 4-6, Donegal 2-11
It was heartbreak for the Donegal minors who were within a whisker of success, but a late point from substitute E Haughey saw Down win by a point. The Mourne men had started without Val Kane, who was selected for the seniors, but he came on in the second half and set up the winning point.
Donegal had led by 2-6 to 1-3 at half-time but after falling behind in the second half to three Down goals, fought back to be level with two minutes of normal time left.
DONEGAL: W McNelis (Glenties); B Quinn (Castlefin), N McKelvey (Glenties), S McGee (St Eunan's); T Martin (Ballyshannon-Laghey), C Murphy (Bundoran), P Carr (Raphoe-Convoy); F Campbell capt (Glenties (0-3,1'50'), D O'Carroll (Bundoran 0-1,f); M McLoone (Ballyshannon 1-0), P McShea (Ballyshannon (0-4,1f), A Bonner (Dungloe 0-1); J Bradley (Muff), P Forker (Dungloe 1-0), P Breslin (Gweedore 0-1). Sub: G McNally for C Murphy.
Rest of panel: J McHugh (St Naul's), M McNulty (Ballyshannon), J Gallagher (St Eunan's), L McDaid (Bundoran), P Caffrey (Lifford), F Monaghan (Donegal Town), P Conaghan (Glenties), C Maguire (Glenties), A Curran (Castlefin).
Ulster Senior final
Breffni Park, Cavan - Sunday 28th July, 1963
Donegal 1-4, Down 2-11
The first senior final for Donegal ended in disaster as they froze in the first half, failing to score. By half-time they were 0-6 to 0-0 in arrears, but made a good start to the second half with Cormac Breslin pointing and then Des Houlihane was upended in the parallelogram. The Donegal sideline officials sent John Hannigan forward to take the penalty and his goal left just two points between the sides.
But that was as good as it got for Donegal as Down with Joe Lennon in top form at midfield, pulled away. Donegal could only manage three more points late in the game from Frankie McFeely, Sean Ferriter and another from Breslin.
DONEGAL: S Hoare (St Eunan's); F Gallagher (St Eunan's), B Brady (Bundoran), B McFeely (MacCumhaill's); S O'Donnell (Dungloe), J Hannigan (St Eunan's 1-0, pen), P Kelly (Cloughaneely); F McFeely (MacCumhaill's 0-1,f), PJ Flood (Pettigo); D Breslin (Gweedore), S Ferriter capt (Dungloe (0-1)), D Houlihane (Kilcar); C Breslin (Gweedore (0-2)), M Griffin (O'Toole's, Dublin), H Laverty (MacCumhaill's). Sub: Paddy Ward (Carrick-on-Shannon) for H Laverty
Rest of panel: P McNelis (Gweedore), P O'Donnell (Kilcar), J Diver (Gweedore), JD McMenamin (MacCumhaill's), PJ McDermott (Carndonagh), D O'Carroll (Bundoran), N Gallagher (Gweedore).
Dr McKenna Cup final
Sunday 8th September 1963 - Breffni Park, Cavan
Donegal 2-8, Cavan 0-5
Just over a month after losing to Down in the Ulster championship final, Donegal were back in Breffni Park to take on the locals in the McKenna Cup final and this time it was a better outcome.
The side had just one change from the Ulster final defeat with minor Declan O'Carroll starting in place of Harry Laverty, but there were a number of positional changes.
Donegal scored 1-4 in each half and led at half-time by 1-4 to 0-3. Cavan were missing Charlie Gallagher, who was on holidays in Spain.
DONEGAL: Seamus Hoare (St Eunan's); Finn Gallagher (St Eunan's), Bernard Brady (Bundoran), PJ Flood (Pettigo); Sean O'Donnell (Dungloe), John Hannigan (St Eunan's 0-1,f), Brendan McFeely (MacCumhaill's); Sean Ferriter capt (Dungloe), Frankie McFeely (MacCumhaill's); Donal Breslin (Gweedore 1-1), Paul Kelly (Cloughaneely 0-1), Mick Griffin (O'Toole's 1-2,all frees); Cormac Breslin (Gweedore), Des Houlihane (Kilcar 0-3,3f), Declan O'Carroll (Bundoran).
Subs: Patrick McNelis (Gweedore), John D McMenamin (MacCumhaill's), Eddie Gallagher (St Naul's), Frankie Campbell (Glenties), Paddy Ward (Carrick-on-Shannon), PJ McDermott (Carndonagh), Harry Laverty (MacCumhaill's).
Ulster Minor Hurling C'ship final
1963 August - Lurgan
Antrim 6-12, Donegal 1-1
Wasn't able to see a report of game but it was the fifth year in-a-row that the Donegal minor hurlers had reached the Ulster final and on each occasion Antrim proved too strong.
The margin in 1963 was the second lowest as Antrim had recorded some really big final scores in most of the previous encounters.
1962: Antrim 12-7, Donegal 2-3; 1961: Antrim 11-5, Donegal 4-4; 1960: Antrim 16-4, Donegal 1-0; 1959: Antrim 12-6, Donegal 0-2
DONEGAL: D Porter; E Kelly (Carndonagh), P Mahon (MacCumhaill's), John Campbell (Burt); Sean Long (Ballyshannon), Pauric McShea (Ballyshannon), Ciaran Dolan (Ballyshannon); Sean Crawford (Burt), P Coyle (Carndonagh); L Harrigan (Burt), Brendan Dowling (Lifford), F Harrigan (Burt); Michael McLoone (Ballyshannon), B McLaughlin (Carndonagh), Liam Diver (Lifford).
Subs: K McCrory (Burt), P Farren (Carndonagh), P McCafferty, H Curran, C Crawford, H Cullen.
U-21 Ulster final
Irvinestown, Nov 10, 1963
Donegal 3-6, Cavan 1-3
Donegal had defeated Tyrone, Derry and Antrim on their way to the final. They overcame Tyrone 1-8 to 1-4 in Ballybofey. On a Thursday night in O'Donnell Park, Letterkenny they were 2-12 to 0-6 winners over Derry with a goal in each half from Michael Doherty and Mickey McLoone with McLoone, Patsy O'Donnell (in his first game impressing at midfield) and Frankie Campbell sharing the points. They were without Donal Breslin and Frankie McFeely for this game.
In the semi-final in heavy rain at Fr Tierney Park, Ballyshannon, they were much too strong for Antrim, winning 3-5 to 0-6. The goals came from Declan O'Carroll, Michael McLoone and Donal Breslin with points from Breslin, O'Carroll, Hughie Travers and two from Frankie Campbell.
In the final Cavan had the wind advantage in the first half and led at half-time by 1-2 to 1-1 but Donegal took control in the second half. Frankie Campbell levelled from a free and then Frankie McFeely "streaked past his Cavan opponents and sent a streamliner shot to the back of the Cavan net."
This was followed by the move of the day which started with Eddie Gallagher and continued by Frankie McFeely and Patsy O'Donnell before Donal Breslin fired home the second goal from 30 yards.
Donegal were now completely on top and full-forward Patsy O'Donnell outfielded the Cavan full-back twice to hit two points. Michael McLoone added another before Donal Breslin won and pointed a free for the last score of the game.
DONEGAL: Joe Leeper (MacCumhaill's); Hughie Travers (Donegal Town), John Dan McMenamin (MacCumhaill's), Seamus Given (Convoy); Anthony Carroll (Gaoth Dobhair), Eddie Gallagher (St Naul's), Dan McCool (MacCumhaill's); Frankie McFeely (capt., MacCumhaill's 1-0), Mick McLaughlin (Carndonagh); Michael McLoone (Ballyshannon 0-1), Declan O'Carroll (Bundoran), Frankie Campbell (Glenties 0-2,2f); Donal Breslin (Gaoth Dobhair 2-1, 1-1f), Patsy O'Donnell (Kilcar 0-2), John Bonner (Dungloe).
Rest of panel: Michael Doherty (MacCumhaill's), Charlie Kavanagh (Convoy), Dermot Bonner (Dungloe), Pauric McShea (Ballyshannon), Terence Craig (Glenties), Danny Thomas, (Donegal Town), Seamie Granaghan (Bundoran), John Delap (St Eunan's), Paddy Gallagher (St Eunan's).
In earlier games John Barry of St Naul's; Peter Quinn, Bundoran; Seamus McGuire, Dungloe; Jim McGarrigle, Ballyshannon were involved.
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