GAA Football

Where are they now? Former Cavan midfielder Joe Dillon looks back at his days in Breffni blue

A young Joe Dillon was pitted against the great Dermot Earley sr when he made his Cavan debut against Roscommon in 1978
Neil Loughran

Age: 58

Club: Kingscourt Stars

Position: Midfield

When did you play for Cavan?

1978-1990. My last game was in the Championship against Donegal. Back then lads used to say, even if you’d a long career, the only way you found out you were retired was when you weren’t on the panel the following year!

What do you do nowadays?

I’m a maintenance fitter at Wellman’s in Mullagh and I’m at it now 31 years.

Are you still involved in Gaelic football?

I was a selector with the club a few years ago but I’m not actually involved at the moment, though I still go to all the games. My son Joe [a Cavan senior panellist] is playing with the club and I wouldn’t like to be there involved when he’s playing, but I have a great interest.

What do you remember about your first game for Cavan?

It was the fourth of October, 1978 and I’ll never forget it. The reason I remember it is because I was only 19, we played Roscommon in a League match, and I marked the great Dermot Earley sr.

Roscommon had probably the second or third best team in the country at that time, they were absolutely flying, and to go out against a man like Dermot Earley on my first game was really something.

What I remember about him was that he was just a gentleman of a player – clean, strong, no dirt, pure football. He would’ve been the modern-day player playing in that era because he was an army man and was way ahead of everyone in terms of fitness.

He was just in great condition.

What’s your best memory from your playing days?

I went to America in 1984, we had been beaten in the Championship by that stage, and I came back in November/December having played with St Brendan’s in Chicago and got myself into great condition at the time and was playing great football.

I was back with Cavan for the League in February ’85 and I just had a great run. That was probably me playing at my best, and then in 1987 we got to an Ulster Club final where we lost to the great Burren team of that time.

And the worst?

We had one great chance in 1983, Donegal beat us in the Ulster final, and that was the height of it. In a way that is the best and worst memory.

There wasn’t much in it, a couple of points on the day, but that was the year we could’ve done it.

I remember at the start of that year I was asked to play centre half-back, I was thinking ‘Jaysus, what are they asking me to play centre half-back for?’ But as it turned out, I had a good year there.

We beat Derry in Ballinascreen and then Tyrone in Breffni Park. I played on Frank McGuigan and probably held him pretty well that day, so we had a good run to the final but it just wasn’t to be.

We’d lads like Jim Reilly there and Paddy McNamee, the two Faulkners [Pat and Michael] here from my own club, Barry McArdle… we’d a lot of good players over the years, we just didn’t make the breakthrough.

I was sorry for some of the players that year, great footballers, that we didn’t get over the line. As a group of players, we never got back to an Ulster final again, but you’ve good days and bad days, that’s just the way it is.

Biggest character you played with?

We always had great fun with Paddy McNamee. He was a wild man but a tremendous footballer, and I had great respect for him as a character and a player, both on the field and off it.

Glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?

It’s a completely different ball game now. I’d love to give it a go now because back in our day, you give your best, everybody gave 100 per cent, but the professionalism wasn’t there.

When I look at what Joe’s going through now and the amount of time… it’s the gym, the field, the gym, the gym. Every one of them is doing it and they’re in great condition but I do worry about the time given over – I reckon a lot of lads are going to be burned out at 27-28. It’s a young man’s game now.

Years ago you just got a job, it didn’t really matter what job you did, and you trained twice a week with the county. But now these lads are looking at jobs and they really can’t do anything unless it finishes at four or five o’clock in the day.

It’s incredible the effort lads put in.

Any regrets?

Probably that there was no back door system when we played, you had no second chance. I remember playing Donegal or Tyrone or Derry and you might get beat by a point, but that was your year over. On any given day there probably was only a kick of a ball between four or five teams but, no matter how well you performed, that was it.

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