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The Time The Irish Army Tried To Stop A Man Playing An All Ireland Semi-Final

The Time The Irish Army Tried To Stop A Man Playing An All Ireland Semi-Final
By Mark Farrelly
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There's nothing more annoying than when you're getting ready to play an All Ireland semi-final and the Irish Army arrive into the dressing room to take one of your best players...

The tale of Willie Doonan is told by Paul Fitzpatrick in his new book, The Fairytale in New York, exploring Cavan's journey to the 1947 All Ireland final against Kerry at the Polo Grounds in the Big Apple. Five years previous to 1947, Willie had gone AWOL from the Irish Army to become a machine gunner with the British Army in WWII.


Needless to say, he landed himself in a bit of hot water; as Fitzpatrick explains...

'It’s August, 1942 and Cavan are preparing to play Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park. Studs rattle against the concrete, players pull ragged jerseys over their heads. Some are chatting, some are quiet. Big Tom, the Cavan captain, is doing much of the talking.

He is interrupted by a knock on the door of the dressing-room, which immediately opens. Outside stand two Military Police - ‘Red Caps’, as they are known - and they’re here on a mission: bring the Cavan corner-forward into custody.

The player is Willie Doonan of Cavan Harps, a 24-year-old machine gunner in the British Army who is home on leave from the war and has joined up with the Cavan panel. The role of a private in the neutral Irish Army was no place for a fearless kid keen for some action and Willie had gone AWOL, heading north to enrol in another army in which might see some action, give him a chance to make a few shillings, break some heads, maybe and see some sights.

But here in the bowels of the big house, with 40,000 voices bleeding into one on the terraces, it is catching up with him. The Red Caps want their man. Willie is in a pickle...

'When he needs a hand, though, he gets it; John Joe O’Reilly rises and accosts the men at the door. John Joe is Cavan’s centre half-back and a captain in the army, based in The Curragh, and out-ranks them.

“Private Doonan,” he announces, “will be handed over in Barry’s Hotel after the match. He’ll play for us first.”

The men leave, Doonan plays, Cavan lose. After the game, the players converge in the hotel and get to talking. He was good enough to tog out for us even though he was only home on leave, says one. We can’t see him getting lifted, agrees another, he’s part of the team. Go, quick, Willie!

And Doonan is gone, scurrying out the back window, football boots over his shoulder, and across Mountjoy Square, where he sees a car headed for Cavan Town and clambers in. That night, he drinks on home turf and, next morning, heads out the road and crosses the border, joining up with the forces again at Enniskillen, ready to be deployed in Europe again.'

I have it on good authority that Dublin are considering lodging an appeal to the CCCC.

The launch of The Fairytale in New York takes place tonight in the Boar's Head on Capel St, Dublin at 9pm. Guest of honour will be Cavan footballer David Givney, along with Sam Maguire and The Irish News (Ulster U21) Cup.

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