GAA Football

From foes to friends - how Miceal Magill and Charlie Redmond formed a bond in the heat of battle 25 years ago

Twenty-five years ago, Miceal Magill and Charlie Redmond went toe-to-toe as Down slayed Dublin in the All-Ireland final. They were at opposite ends of their career, yet a bond was formed that exists to this day. In the first of a two-part feature, Neil Loughran finds out why…

Charlie Redmond was a special guest at Down's 1994 reunion night in the Canal Court earlier this summer. Picture by Ann McManus

THE Canal Court Hotel in Newry has a subdued feeling the morning after the night before. It’s 11am so breakfast service is finished. Just opposite the check-in desk, an elderly couple sit either side of a short table, sipping tea and digesting the Sunday papers.

A handful of other patrons have found a spot in various corners – some on laptops while others stare at their phones. One is tilted back in his seat, head in hands. We’ve all been there.

Standard waiting room muzak aside, the lobby is serene. That wasn’t the case just a matter of hours ago.

Saturday nights at the Canal Court are seldom anything other than lively affairs but, on June 15, the party started early and finished later than usual as the Down heroes of 1994 came together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the county’s last All-Ireland triumph.

“I’m not long left here,” says Miceal Magill in hushed tones. “Is Linden coming?”

“I’m not sure, I thought it was just yourself from the Down side of things... was Mickey not drinking?”

“Ah he was, but sure you’d spill more than Mickey would drink.”

“What time did you wrap it up?”

“I remember looking at my phone when I was got back to the house and it was half three, but I think there was a few others still going after that. I’d say 5am is probably a conservative estimate on when people started going to bed. I think Charlie was still knocking about then too...”

Charlie Redmond, the Dublin star and the man whose missed penalty in that ’94 decider helped Down edge across the line, was special guest on the night. There might not be much brown left in that trademark Teddy Boy quiff but, a quarter of a century on, he remains an unmistakeable figure.

Having made his way down to reception for check-out, Redmond is fit to confirm Magill’s suspicions.

“It might even have been after five, I’m not sure,” he says, half grimace, half smile.

“Fair to say I’m feeling a little... tender.”

After sitting down in a darkened corner of the restaurant with a cup of coffee, it isn’t long before hangovers are forgotten and the stories start to flow.

Mickey Linden would have been more than welcome to join us of course, but it felt fitting that Miceal Magill and Charlie Redmond should come together for this interview.

First of all, they were in direct opposition that impossibly wet day 25 years ago; Redmond the grizzled, experienced forward desperate to get his hands on Sam after featuring in two All-Ireland finals and winning none, Magill the jet-heeled young corner-back, living the dream in his first full season as a starter.

Respect was earned after a dogged battle on the slippery Croke Park sod, with a firm friendship formed that lasts to this day.

“Funnily enough, after the match Nuala and I decided that if we had children we would name our first boy after Charlie,” says Magill, “and so we did...”

Charlie Magill is now 19.

Both have endured tough times too; Redmond losing beloved wife Grainne in December 2016 following a long illness while, five months later, Magill suffered a stroke at the age of just 47.

There are still difficult days now, and there will be plenty in the future. They know that. But talking helps, and so too does spending time in the company of old friends.

When the invite came, Charlie Redmond was only too delighted to attend. Even when team-mate Keith Barr was forced to pull out at the 11th hour, he never considered taking a raincheck.

And Miceal Magill, as well as every other man involved in the Down effort that year, was thrilled to have him there...

***************

Charlie Redmond and Dublin endured some difficult years during the early 1990s before finally getting across the line in 1995, defeating Tyrone in the All-Ireland final

Neil Loughran: It’s like the calm after the storm in here today lads, but it seems as though a good night was had by all?

Charlie Redmond: It was an honour and a pleasure to come up. If I hadn’t been able to make it I think I’d have really regretted it. I had a fantastic time.

NL: Is there ever any trepidation about coming to something like this Charlie, knowing you’ll likely be the only outsider there?

CR: It’s 25 years ago; there’s no point living with regrets. It happened, we lost the game, Down won, and you move on. There’s more important things in life than a football game.

In football, you make friends for life and friends you never lose, so it’s a mantra I’ve always carried through my life – don’t live with regrets. Don’t let them be part of your life.

NL: I’m sure there was plenty of chat about the 1994 final and how the year unfolded last night. From a Down point of view Miceal, the mood music around the camp wasn’t great at the start of that year. Was there a turning point at some stage, because it looked a long way back after that defeat to Derry in Newry the previous summer?

Miceal Magill: The ‘Massacre at the Marshes’ was the driving force going into ’94, there’s no doubt about that, but there was also an incident referred to as ‘The Clonduff Two’.

It was around February time, and I’ll never forget that particular night because there was about two inches of snow on the ground. That was the night James [McCartan] and Greg [Blaney] returned after their two or three week sabbatical having fallen out with Pete [McGrath].

DJ Kane had been on the brink too, and after training I got into the jeep with Tommy McGivern, who was our driver, God rest him, along with Mickey and he turned round to me and said ‘DJ has just been made captain for the season’.

All of a sudden you were thinking ‘happy days’.

NL: I remember hearing a story, which may or may not be true, about DJ having words with Pete at training, then heading back to his car to leave, only to realise he had forgotten his car keys. Pete intercepted him on his way back, they had a conversation, and the rest is history…

MM: That was the night! He was actually walking to his car to pack it up. Things weren’t right, he wasn’t happy with the way things were in the camp.

CR: It’s a pity he didn’t find his keys a little bit earlier...

NL: It wouldn’t have done Dublin any harm.

Down went on from there, rebuilt and came out the right side of that legendary Ulster Championship game against Derry at Celtic Park. That was obviously a huge moment for the group too after what had happened 12 months earlier, and from there the road opened up for the rest of the summer...

MM: We had a fair idea that whoever came out of Celtic Park would make it to the All-Ireland final. There were a couple of things that bonded us along the way – obviously the night of the ‘Clonduff Two’ was a key moment. That was the first one.

The second one was the night before we played Monaghan; the night of the Loughinisland massacre. We arrived into Armagh for our pre-match meal, the old Drumsill House Hotel, and at that time we hadn’t a clue of the identities of the people who had been killed.

Now, obviously Loughinisland’s not a very big area and the first person who came to our mind was Gary Mason. Ciaran McCabe had a cousin caught up in it too but they both played the game, and there was a real unity that day when they arrived into the changing room. That bond spread to the whole group.

Thankfully we got over the line against Monaghan and you could see things were developing. Pat O’Hare had come in as our trainer that year and freshened things up, and his philosophy and his way of training was unbelievable.

If someone had told me in February I’d have been running to the Cloughmore stone in Kilbroney with a log on the back of my neck, I wouldn’t have believed them. There wouldn’t have been anything under maybe 23, 24 players at every session.

Because of the bond, and because everyone wanted to be part of the first 15, our training games were absolutely hell for leather. One of the lads who hopefully will be able to make it to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day is Richard Starkey from Downpatrick.

Unfortunately Richard’s not well at the minute and we just hope he’s strong enough to join us because he was the front man of the 17-30 panel, and their competitiveness in training game was unbelievable.

You had Eamon Connolly in nets, Gerard and Gregory Deegan, Richard Starkey, Shane McMahon, Barry Hynes, Francie Poland, Rory Sharvin… all top, top quality players who were pushing us to the limit. That’s what stood by us.

NL: More and more supporters would have been going to a lot of those training sessions too as that momentum built. I remember Brendan McVeigh, who was the goalkeeper when Down last got to an All-Ireland final in 2010, telling me he used to go to county training and stand behind Neil Collins’s goal, watching everything he did. A decade later, he was the man with the number one jersey on his back. That kind of buzz can create a legacy in itself...

MM: It’s funny you say that. We trained every Thursday night in Ballykinlar because it was a sand-based pitch, and there was always a young kid who would’ve stood at the corner of the changing rooms.

After the training was over, obviously you would’ve had extra gear, boots, socks, shorts, and this kid would have gone round asking if you had anything… it turns out it was actually Conor Laverty.

Him and his father travelled from Kilcoo to those training sessions, and look at Conor now – a very successful player with Kilcoo and Down in his own right, and now a highly regarded coach too.

Kilcoo and Down star Conor Laverty would regularly have attended county training sessions during the 1994 All-Ireland winning season

NL: Those A v B training sessions Miceal mentioned sound a bit like the way the current Dubs side are, and it’s striking the difference when looking back at where Dublin were then - coming into that 1994 final - compared with where they are now. Then, Dublin hadn’t won an All-Ireland since 1983 and had lost three finals in between. There was a bit of a feeling that the GAA needed a Dublin win, which is something we haven’t heard in a while...

CR: Yeah - how times change! We had the ’91 saga against Meath, the ’92 final against Donegal, Derry beat us in a great game in Croke Park. People wanted Dublin to win, which is ironic because most of time they hate Dublin, for whatever reason.

It’s funny, and maybe I shouldn’t be mentioning it, but when we played Donegal in 1992 and Down in 1994, I never received a good luck card from anyone in the north, and you wouldn’t expect it.

But when we played Tyrone in ’95, I got a huge amount of good luck cards from the north. I couldn’t believe the phone calls I was getting, everything. I was quite taken aback by it actually...

MM: That’ll be on the changing room wall now next time Tyrone play Dublin – ‘Redmond: nobody likes Tyrone’.

CR: I know, I know. But, from our point of view, time was running out. We had a lot of miles in the clock, and the team needed a bit of a refresh in front of goals. We could kick points all day, but we didn’t really have a goal threat. Sherlock coming along made the difference.

NL: Jason exploded onto the scene as a 19-year-old the following year - could he not have played a part in ’94 or was it too soon?

CR: Well, we had heard about him then; that he was very quick, a good goal threat, and he stood out. But when he came on the team first he was very young, very raw in many ways.

He was a very shy guy and he had some difficulty adjusting to it, but he loved playing with the guys. He loved playing football, and as ’95 went on he became more of a media darling, and that took a lot of the pressure and attention off other fellas, which no doubt helped.

As a footballer, Jason was actually very limited. He couldn’t kick the ball very far, he couldn’t kick it 30 yards, but in front of goal, one on one, he was the best fella I’ve ever seen, as he showed against Laois and Cork. He was wonderful, that was what he brought, and it was what we probably missed in ’94.

I suppose if we’d had a penalty taker that wouldn’t have hurt either…

Jason Sherlock burst on to the scene with Dublin in 1995, and Charlie Redmond feels his pace and eye for goal were what Dublin missed in 1994. Picture by Seamus Loughran

MM: Haha. Jason was a phenomenon; it was like Beatlemania at one stage. I played in the Goal Classic the year Dublin won it and it was the only game of football I can remember being stopped early because of the fans coming onto the pitch. It was pretty close to full-time, and they all just made a beeline for Sherlock.

CR: With that came a lot of pressure and prior to the ’95 final it got to him and he was apparently very close to not playing. [Mick] Galvin and Keith [Barr] were very close to him and they had to go and meet him during the week and convince him to play because he wanted out.

In those days you could walk along the street and people might be looking at you, but nobody would bother you. With Jason they’d actually be stopping him, and he was only a kid really. I’m sure it was very difficult for him.

Ultimately he played and we know the impact he had in that final against Tyrone. If we’d had that Jason in ’94, who knows?

In tomorrow’s Irish News…

From screw-ins and superstitions to pints and the penalty miss that changed everything – Miceal Magill and Charlie Redmond relive the drama of the 1994 All-Ireland final

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