Michael Lafferty with his family
There are not too many footballers who can claim to have won four county medals in the same year. But that is what Michael Lafferty achieved in 1971 - 50 years ago this year.
The MacCumhaill's man, who went on to have a chequered career both on and off the field, won county titles at U-17, U-18, U-21 and senior. And what makes the achievement even more unique is that the U-21 championship was won with another club - Gaoth Dobhair. Two of the medals - senior and U-21 - were won while Lafferty was 16 years old.
Michael takes up the story: "Back in 1971 there was a rule at U-21 that you could compete with any other club if your club didn't have a team. It would sound crazy nowadays.
"But that was the rule of the day and Gaoth Dobhair approached me and I said 'I'll play with you'.
His older brother, Sean, also played on the winning Gaoth Dobhair U-21 team. It probably could have been a bigger Twin Towns representation but PJ McGowan was away in college in England at the time.
It was a superb year for MacCumhaill's as they also won the U-14 county title that year also.
"I was only 16 at the time. My birthday's in August and I was born in 1954," said Lafferty, who says his memory of the games centre around the senior success.
The four medals won by Michael Lafferty in 1971
"We played Clanna Gael in the final in Ballyshannon. I remember we beat St Joseph's in the semi-final and that was in Tirconaill Park. I remember that. That would have been the big one. Joseph's would have been fancied to beat us.
"I think it was early on. I was only back out of boarding school. I was in St Macartan's and I was playing a fair bit of football in Macartan's. I think I would only have trained once with the seniors (MacCumhaill's) and was straight in.
"I did my leaving cert that year so I was home in June," said Lafferty, who enjoyed his time at the Monaghan college, especially the sporting aspect of the college, especially with handball.
"We played in one or two finals in St Macartan's against St Michael's, Enniskillen, but they were very strong at the time. Peter McGinnity was playing with them.
"We won a Loch an Iuir Cup in Macaratans, but a lot of my focus that time was on handball. I used to compete at All-Ireland Colleges level. St Macartan's was a very strong handball school. I had never played handball before I went there.
"It was the thing in Macartan's. They had brand new alleys. It was a big, big sport at that time and a lot of other colleges were into it like St Pat's of Cavan and schools in the north. Falcarragh were also very good at that time and I would have competed several times against a fella called Pat Sharkey, who was a very good handballer.
Lafferty won Ulster medals in singles and doubles at colleges handball and has a runners-up medals in All-Ireland doubles.
"Football was big with us too. I remember well, we weren't allowed to play soccer. Don't ask me why. There was no soccer or no hurling. Handball and football were the focus."
Lafferty is not sure why there was an U-17 competition in 1971. It seems to have been a competition that was new, although it did feature again in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
He played for Donegal minors in 1971 and 1972.
While 1971 was a momentous year for a young Michael Lafferty, a couple of years later he was in the thick of senior action, playing his first senior championship game against Tyrone in Ballybofey on a day that is remembered for all the wrong reasons with Neilly Gallagher ending up in hospital.
"I played games with Donegal before the 1973 championship game in Ballybofey which became the infamous day against Tyrone. There was a lot of tension around that time; it spilled over from the field of play.
"A famous person, who shall remain nameless, started a lot of it. Mickey Harte was playing that day too. Tyrone had a fairly strong team. Donegal were the holders and they had beaten Tyrone in the final the year before," said Lafferty.
The MacCumhaill's man won his first Ulster senior championship medal in 1974 and in 1983 he captained his county to their third Ulster title.
By that stage he was also into coaching, with the Donegal Vocational Schools team around the late 1970s and early 1980s and also with the Donegal U-21 side of 1982, alongside Tom Conaghan.
"Yeah, I was involved with the Vocational Schools around that time when Sylvester Maguire was there and Joyce McMullin, (Martin) Shovlin, (Anthony) Molloy, the Bonners.
"PJ (McGowan) took over from me after that. Then John Joe (O'Shea) carried on.
"At the start of the Vocationals we weren't greatly organised. But we put some shape on it eventually after a couple of years and quite a number of great players came through.
"But the county minor teams were also there and the De La Salle (Ballyshannon) lads were making up a good few of the spots and St Eunan's. Eventually, the Vocational lads came in also, but I was never involved with the county minors," said Lafferty, who added that it was great to be involved with those young players coming through at U-21 level, but he has distinct memories of those successful campaigns.
"Ah, it was. It was no more than when we won the All-Ireland senior in '92, and we drew the first game in Cavan. I can remember the U-21 in that year in 1982 against Down in Ballybofey and we drew. Eunan McIntyre got the equaliser and kept us in that game.
"Then we went to Newry and won the replay and went on from there, you know.
"There are always a roadmark. People tend to remember semi-finals and finals but I would remember the close shaves we had along the way.
"The day in Carrick-on-Shannon then crowned it all. They had a super display that day. They weren't hard to motivate them boys. The motivation came from within the group themselves. They were a fine bunch of players.
"They were boys that had won something, too, and they believed in themselves," said Lafferty, pointing out that St Eunan's and De La Salle had won colleges All-Irelands. "They knew what it took. There wasn't an awful lot to do with that bunch.
"That bunch had huge success right on throughout their careers.
"Then you had Manus (Boyle), John Cunningham and them, they came through from the U-21 in 1987. It was a mixture of both that eventually won out.
"We were very fortunate to have those boys at the time. They had a confidence about them. It was just a special time in Donegal football.
"At that time as well there was a huge swell in support for Donegal. Big crowds started to go to championship games for the first time," who agrees that there is an aura around the first All-Ireland of 1992.
"A lot of those players went into management afterwards and were quite successful. Most of them would be very well known. They'll be remembered as always being the first."
Michael Lafferty was central to that breakthrough - at Vocational, U-21 and then as a mentor with the senior team in 1992.
"I was involved in most of the teams with Brian (McEniff) right down through the years and it was nice to be involved."
Lafferty's CV will stand the test of time no matter who it is compared with. From his first championship appearance in 1973 until his last in 1986, he was a leader on the field, playing mostly at midfield or centre half-back.
He was centre half-back on the Ulster Railway Cup winning teams of 1983 and 1984.
Asked who was the best players he had played with and against, he said it was a difficult question.
"The best player I played against was probably Jack O'Shea. He was absolutely outstanding.
"In Ulster, you take your pick. I would be talking about direct opposition and I was playing midfield at that stage. Frank McGuigan was around and Eugene McKenna, two very good players. I'm not just saying that because they are Tyrone, they were really, really good players. Fran McMahon of Armagh was also a very good player.
"There were a lot of them, but if you were to single one out, mine would be McGuigan. On his day, he was a super, super player. The day I first played championship for Donegal I was directly opposite Frank. I would have played against him at minor level too. He was extremely talented, a wonderful fielder of the ball.
"I was at that Ulster final when he scored 11 points, right and left. He was nearly untouchable that day, any time he touched the ball at all, it went over. He had a super game."
As for those he played alongside, he went for someone he soldiered with on and off the field.
"In my era we had big Seamus Bonar was a great player. Very strong, very hard to shake off and a good fielder of the ball as well.
"In later years Joyce McMullin was a super player; Tommy McDermott of Ballyshannon was as good a player as you would get anywhere. It was awful pity that he left so early. Those are the kinds of guys that I would rate highly. I know Tommy and them are a younger generation than me. I played a good big along with them as they through after the U-21 victory."
When put to him that himself and Martin Griffin were players that had to look after some of the young players coming in, he quickly replied: "They were well able to look after themselves.
"We were very fortunate that we got such a fine bunch coming through at the one time, between the De La Salle lads and the Letterkenny lads and then the Vocational lads, Joyce, Molloy, Shovlin, the Bonners."
After his playing days, Lafferty was much sought after as a coach and apart from his home club, MacCumhaill's, he did some coaching in Donegal and Tyrone.
"I worked with Termon, I don't know what year. It's a good while ago now. I did four or five years about Glenfin; then I went to Aghyaran in Tyrone and I was two or three years there. Then I went to Termon for one season.
"I enjoyed all the years coaching," said Lafferty.
The MacCumhaill's Minor team at their presentation night in 1971
FOR THE RECORD
The Donegal senior final was the first decider for Lafferty on July 18, 1971 - MacCumhaill's defeated Clanna Gael in Ballyshannon by 2-10 to 0-11.
MacCumhaill's: Anthony McFeely; John McGinty, Liam McMenamin, Liam Sweeney; Sean Lafferty, Tom McMenamin, Andy Curran; Mickey McMenamin and Eunan Laverty; John Bradley, Mick Moriarty, Seamus Kane; Hughie Temple, Michael Doherty, Eugene Gallagher. Subs: Mickey Lafferty for Seamus Kane; Joe Leeper for Mick Moriarty.
CLANNA GAEL: Donal Britton; Eugene Fox Donal Monaghan, Austin Coughlan; Paddy Woods, Eddie Gallagher, PJ McGarrigle; Seamus Bonar and PJ Flood; Steve McCormack, Hughie Travers, Francie Monaghan; Paddy Brogan, Brendan Needham, Marty Keeney. Subs: Brendan Martin for M Keeney; John Barry for B Martin; Pearse Mullin for S McCormack.
The U-21 final was played on Sunday, August 15 in MacCumhaill Park with Gaoth Dobhair defeating Glenties by 3-6 to 2-7.
Gaoth Dobhair: Alan Boyd; Patrick McBride, Kevin Owens, Peadar Gallagher; Sean Lafferty (0-1), Andy O'Donnell, Seamus McGarvey; Colm Crilly, Francis Carroll; T McGinley, Eamonn McBride (1-0), Andy Campbell (1-4); Michael Diver, Malachy Owens (1-0), Sean Hickey. Subs: Sean McGinley(0-1) for E McBride; Michael Lafferty for S McGinley.
Glenties: James Cunningham; Sean Houston, John Boyle, Josie Gildea; Paddy McGlynn, Michael O'Donnell, Aidan McGill; Josie Gallagher (0-1), Kieran Keeney; Pat Boyle, Gerry McDermott (0-3), Frankie Rodgers (1-3); Martin Sweeney, Charlie O'Donnell, Patsy Furey (1-0). Sub: Louis Walsh for P Furey.
The minor final was played on the following Sunday August 22 in Ballyshannon with MacCumhaill's defeating Ardara by 3-6 to 0-8.
MacCumhaill's: John Kelly; Paddy White, Martin Griffin, Andrew Gallagher; Sean Mailey, Sean McDermott, Charlie Doran; George McNeill, Michael Lafferty; Manus Harkin, Joe Houston, Kevin O'Hara; Charlie Kelly, Ronnie Gutherie, Joseph Hannigan.
Ardara: Donal Byrne; John McGettigan, Sean Houston, John McNelis; Martin Haughey, Michael O'Donnell, Neilly Byrne; Enda McGill, Martin Sweeney; Mickey Gallagher, Patsy Furey, James Cunningham; Cathal Byrne, Seamus O'Donnell, Hughie Molloy.
The U-17 final was played on Sunday, October 3 and MacCumhaill's defeated Burt. There is no record of the score. On the same day the MacCumhaill's were out in the Ulster club championship against Bellaghy in Magherafelt and lost out 1-10 to 0-7, with Lafferty missing because of his involvement with the U-17s.
MacCumhaill's, county champions 1971. Front, l to r: Eunan Laverty (hidden), Andy Curran, John McGinty, John Bradley, Hughie Temple (capt), Mickey Laverty, Anthony McFeeley, Michael Doherty, Michael Lafferty. Back, l to r: Liam McMenamin, Liam Sweeney, Mick Moriarty, Tommy McMenamin, Eugene Gallagher, Seamus Kane, Francis Doherty, Joe Leeper, Jimmy McHugh, Dermot Hannigan, Eamon McGinty, Sean Lafferty, Michael McMenamin.
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