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Rolling Back The Years

14 September 2003

By Micheal McGeary
14 September 2003

It was an emotional afternoon for the men of '53 when they gathered in Maghery last Sunday afternoon.

The survivors from the first Armagh team to reach an All Ireland senior final - eventually beaten by Kerry by four points - were special guests at a grand reunion organised by the local Sean McDermotts club.

How appropriate that the loughshore club should have been the hosts, for Maghery - where the River Blackwater separating Tyrone from Armagh flows into Lough Neagh - was the base for Armagh's training camp prior to the 1953 All Ireland decider.

So much has changed in the last 50 years, but friendships forged then have stood the test of time.

For many of the players, Sunday was their first time back in Maghery.

Joe Cunningham, one of the finest players to ever pull on an Armagh jersey, made the long journey from Cork.

Also present were Gene Morgan, an uncle of Oisin McConville, Jack Bratton, a prince among full backs, John McKnight, Frank Kernan from Crossmaglen, father of top showjumper James Kernan and cousin of current Armagh boss Joe Kernan.

Also in attendance was Dr Pat O'Neill, Mick O'Hanlon from Cullyhanna, Gerry O'Neill and Art O'Hagan.

Ballymavnab man Joe O'Hare came home from England especially for the occasion and it was Joe who replaced captain Sean Quinn who had to go off injured during that epic 1953 decider.

Sub goalie Gerry Murphy, the baby of the party, was in his element back among so many old and trusted friends.

Over lunch in the Ferryside Inn the players - still heroes in the eyes of generations of Armagh gaels - recalled old times, swapping stories as the afternoon progressed.

Don't forget these men were household names long before the advent of the blanket coverage that the sport now enjoys, the footballing superstars of their generation.

They may have missed out on Sam, but they left the county with so much to be proud of and their achievements will never be forgotten.

The older people in the district still talk with great affection of those two wonderful weeks and the build up to the final.

How every house in Maghery and the surrounding area was covered in flags and bunting, and of the rousing send off the team was accorded as it headed off to Dublin that never to be forgotten Saturday afternoon.

Each player received a memento of the occasion from Maghery chairman John Robinson who also made a presentation to BBC big match commentator Jimmy Smyth, who introduced the men of '53 before the Armagh junior final won by Annaghmore.


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