‘Armagh, you better watch – we’re coming...’ Down die-hard Emmett Haughian living for Clones clash

Longstone legend Haughian has seen Down win five Sam Maguires and England win the World Cup

Emmet Haughian pictured at the Longstone GAA club in Co Down. PICTURE MAL MCCANN
Passion for the red and black: Emmet Haughian pictured at the Longstone club in the heart of the Mourne Mountains. Picture: Mal McCann

‘COME hell or high water’, bragged Brian Faulkner, then Prime Minister of the North, when asked if Orangemen would parade through Longstone in the 1950s.

Local people blocked the route with granite boulders and farm machinery and it took hundreds of police to force the demonstration up that road where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

A young Emmett Haughian watched it all from the fields above the Longstone Road.

“That’s where Longstone got the ‘hard’ name from,” he says.

“We don’t back down.”

He shows me old photos of Longstone teams from down the years. Big, hairy, fierce-looking boyos cut out of Mourne granite… They must have put the fear of God into opponents.

“They’d call us ‘The Sheep Men’,” says Emmett, who wouldn’t have cared less what they called him.

“We’re the outcasts. Longstone are the Rangers of this area. If Ballymartin or The Kingdom (An Riocht) are coming to Longstone, you know what they call our pitch? Ibrox. They think we’re a law unto ourselves.”

“And is there any truth in that?” I ask him.

“Well… I don’t know,” he says.

Down's legendary All-Ireland Senior Football Championship-winning team of 1960
History-makers. Down''s legendary Sam Maguire-winning team of 1960

THE seventh of eight sons in a family of 12 children, Emmett came into this world in 1947. He was born to love the ‘Stone and Down (he’s also a self-confessed Manchester United fanatic) and was formally baptised into the GAA faith by… an Armagh man.

Killeavy native Mal McEvoy – who had played for Armagh in the 1953 All-Ireland final - came to teach in Longstone Primary School and Emmett stands and re-enacts how he counted as McEvoy did 500 keepy-uppies in the playground one day.

His teacher played a part but Emmett’s family is steeped in GAA.

His eldest sister Elizabeth (going strong in her 91st year) is the mother of the late, great Ambrose Rogers and grandmother of Ambrose junior. His sister Teresa’s grandson Mark Doran lined out for Down and is now a well-known coach and manager. Nephews John Curran, Raphael Haughian and his own son Noel all played for Down minors and Raphael and Noel won All-Ireland minor medals in 1987. Conrad Haughian, another nephew, also played for the county...

“If you were down there (he jabs a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the Longstone club he has been instrumental in developing) there’d be Haughians all over the place,” he says.

When he was the age of some of those young Haughians, Down were building the team that captured the first of the county’s All-Irelands and his brother John was part of the history-making Down squad of 1960.

Standing on an onion box, Emmett had watched the 1959 decider between Dublin and Galway on Hill 16 but John got 10 tickets for the final the following year and Emmett cheered the Mournemen from the middle of the Hogan Stand.

“The atmosphere for every ball… it was bedlam,” he recalls.

You’d imagine the smile on his face was as broad as the cup as he watched all five Down captains lifting the Sam Maguire.

“Of all five, the first one in 1960 registers more because I was so young and I never thought it could happen,” he says.

“A northern team taking the Sam Maguire! The crowds, my brother being involved… It was real euphoria.”

Bobby Moore holds the Jules Rimet trophy
Bobby Moore holds the Jules Rimet trophy after England won the 1966 World Cup. There was a Longstone man in the crowd at Wembley that day

DOWN won again in 1961 and Emmett, one of over 90,000 in Croke Park, was in the Hogan again. You’d never guess the next major final he attended. A few clues: Wembley, England, West Germany, Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, They think it’s all over…

Yes, the 1966 World Cup final.

“I went to London at 17,” he explains as another chapter of a fascinating life opens.

“It was a mortal sin at the time. My wife was pregnant, our first child, Emmett junior (20 years later both Emmetts played together in the same Longstone senior team) was born in England in 1966. I was only 18 and so was she.

“We stayed in London for a year and-a-half.

“I worked on the buses – I was a ‘clippy’ (a bus conductor): ‘All tickets please!’ Craven Cottage (Fulham) was just down the road, Stamford Bridge was round the corner, White Hart Lane… Any time Man United played in London I was there.

“I was at the World Cup final and the semi-final... I remember going to England v Mexico (in the World Cup group stage) and my wife was wearing a sombrero. This fella said to her: ‘Are you a Mexican?’ She started to laugh. It was the only time she went to a match with me.

“She wouldn’t go to Gaelic Football round here, or Dublin, or anywhere. She has no interest and thought it was a waste of a good ticket so she sat in the car and read a book until I came out – after maybe five or six hours! She washed jerseys for years but had no interest in the games although she loved to hear you won.”

Down's All-Ireland minor championship-winning team of 1987 made a surprise appearance on The Late Late Show
Down's All-Ireland minor championship-winning team of 1987 made a surprise appearance on The Late Late Show

BACK to the Mournemen. Down won their third Sam Maguire of that glorious decade in 1968 and the campaign included the famous ‘Battle of Ballinascreen’ against Derry.

“I’ll never forget it,” says Emmett.

“Some of it was brutal, the toughest I ever seen. Sean O’Connell – God be good to him – he had a chance to win it and he missed it. Down survived by two points and went on to win an All-Ireland. Nobody gave Down a pup’s chance that year but then we thought Down would win three or four of the next five All-Irelands because that team was so youthful along with the experience of Joe Lennon, Big Dan (McCartan), Paddy Mo (Doherty).

“It didn’t work out like that.”

And so the curtain came down on those swinging sixties and Down went into hibernation on the national stage for over two decades. By the mid-1980s there was a sense of frustration within the county and Emmett, as chairman of the South Down Board, decided to shake things up.

“Kerry won an All-Ireland in 1987 and it was the worst Kerry team I ever saw,” he recalls.

“I could see there was talent in the county but there was a vacuum, there was something wrong with the Down structure and I took the bull by the horns and we shook the whole thing up and along comes 1991 and Down wins an All-Ireland!”

Before then there was Down’s minor All-Ireland in 1987. That squad included Emmet’s son Noel and his nephew Raphael. Walking over Clones Hill on Ulster final day with eldest son Emmett junior to watch Noel playing in an Ulster final was “maybe the proudest moment of my life”.

Unfortunately, in a cruel twist of luck, Noel went off injured after 10 minutes. Collie Mason came on, Down won Ulster and Noel never got his place back.

Emmett’s role was “taxi man” and the squad also included Late Late Show host Paddy Kielty and his brother John. Like Emmett, their late father Jack was one of the regular drivers for training and games.

“Jack had great vision for Down and Paddy was always great craic,” says Emmett.

“You would have knew then he would go on to something – he was a wit, a droll character, always had an answer for everybody young and old, loved the slaggin’, all that type of thing and a very down-to-earth fella like his brother. He never forgot his roots and, really and truly, I admire him for that.”

Emmett was there a fortnight ago when the Down squad from 1987 surprised Kielty live on the Late, Late.

“It was fantastic,” he said.

“I never dreamed I’d be on The Late Late Show. People asked me what part I played in that team – was I manager? Trainer? Selector? All I did was taxi the boys!”

Pete McGrath, the manager of that minor team, and James McCartan were among those who went on to regain the Sam Maguire in 1991. Emmett’s nephew, the late Ambrose Rogers, made a substitute appearance late in the final against Meath.

“I was so glad to see him come on that day because… He was the apple of my eye, big Ambrose,” says Emmett.

“I managed him at Longstone and I always said when you had Ambrose in the dressingroom you didn’t care who turned up. He was as good as five men and he was a great character - he thought he was the bee-knees and I thought he was the bees-knees. The night he died he danced until two or three o’clock in the morning in the hall and then I got the call and I went down the road and there he was, lying in his bed, dead and his hand was still soft… Never, ever, will I forget that.”

Tears aren’t far away as we move on to 1994 and the thrills and spills of Down beating Derry in that famous heavyweight rumble at Celtic Park.

“It was one of the greatest atmospheres I ever was involved in,” says Emmett, who watched three of his great-grandchildren (one for Longstone, two for Atticall) playing at U6/8 level last weekend.

“To see James McCartan going up thon sideline with the ball on his toe – he took steps, if he took one he took 20 – but he bounced her and got away with it.

“Ciaran McCabe coming in and sticking thon ball in the net… It was unreal, it was like a dream.”

Ain't no mountain high enough. With no spectators allowed because of Covid, Emmett Haughian watches a game from the bucket of a low loader
Ain't no mountain high enough. With no spectators allowed because of Covid, Emmett Haughian watches a game from the bucket of a low loader

DOWN have been sleeping giants since. It’s 30 years since Sam and the Anglo-Celt Cup wintered in the Mournes. There have been occasional moments to celebrate – the 2010 All-Ireland final being one – but lots of disappointment as Down slipped into the ‘alsoran’ category.

Results were often poor, players and managers came and went but there was one absolute constant: Emmett Haughian was always, ALWAYS, in the stand, even for the two games of the 2020 ‘Covid’ Ulster Championship when (I kid you not) he brought a ladder along in case he needed to get over the wall.

“I might have missed some Down games, but I don’t recall any specifically,” he says.

“I don’t miss any games. I was in Clones last Saturday for the Down minors. I go to challenge games – I stood in Meath for a challenge game and I was the only one there. I go to everything – minors, U20s, seniors… You name it. I go to them all, especially now when I’ve plenty of time and I’m lucky I have a very patient wife.

“It’s my passion, my obsession and love for the red and black. I wear a Down cap all the time, not just going to matches. I have two caps – one for just running about in and the other one for games.”

The thick of the action. Jim McKerr in an aerial duel with Down full-forward Ambrose Rogers
The thick of the action. Jim McKerr in an aerial duel with Down full-forward Ambrose Rogers

NO prizes for guessing the opponent that gets his juices flowing most of all – Armagh, the old enemy. His eyes sparkle as he tells me his favourite story from the rivalry.

“The big moment that stands out in the Down-Armagh rivalry is the 1983 League final and I love telling it to Armagh people,” he says, his voice steadily rising.

“I can always see the ‘Armagh beetle’ Jim McKerr at full-back and Ambrose at full-forward. The ball went in and Ambrose came off the end line and caught it. McKerr went for the left foot for Ambrose’s right was only for standing on… Ambrose dummied him, went onto the right foot and buried it. The rest is history.”

“Something came out of you there Emmett,” I tell him.

“I’m not afraid to admit it,” he says.

“I get all worked up about Down-Armagh!

“Some great battles. A fella called Danny Kelly at centre half-back… The battles him and James McCartan (senior) had! The battles Down had with Joe Kernan! I always admire Joe Kernan for being there with all his boys at the Carrickdale when Down brought Sam over the border in the 1990s. I never forget that.

“That rivalry is there and when I get stick off Armagh people (he loves that banter) I’ve only got to say one thing: ‘How many have yiz?’

“I remember the night Armagh beat Down in the Athletic Grounds and Paddy O’Rourke (former Down captain and manager) was along the line for Armagh. He went: ‘Yesssssssss’ at the final whistle. I felt like somebody had stabbed me because I loved him.

“One of the biggest enjoyments I got at the Athletic Grounds was the night our own clubman Polie (Mark Poland) took them on – he went inside and outside – and buried it and we won.

“I don’t think there’s anything beats the rivalry between Down and Armagh. I always stand six-foot tall, and I’m only 5′8″, when I walk into any Armagh ground because we have five All-Irelands and they have one. That’s why I can’t wait for Saturday night.”

All is fair in love and war and Emmett didn’t have anything to crow about last year when Armagh beat Down out the gates of St Tiernach’s Park. Four goals, two in either half, were the highlights for the Orchard county fans and Down, out-played and out-muscled, were lucky to get out with a 10-point loss.

“It was a bitter pill to swallow to sit and listen to the Armagh spectators,” he says.

“But you have to grin and bear it. There’s nothing you can do about it – you can talk, ridicule and say what you like but, at the end of the day, you’ve gotta suck it up.”

Should we expect different on Saturday evening? The quarter-final performances don’t suggest so - Armagh hammered Fermanagh, Down laboured to a four-point win over Antrim.

“Armagh are out-and-out favourites – in any man’s language,” Emmet agrees.

(There’s a ‘but’ coming.)

“But,” he adds.

“I can assure you, it’s far from over. Down are lacking physicality – I would love to see them with a bit more physicality but we have some of the best footballers Down’s had for a long time. Their running game… To me we haven’t seen the best of it the year yet.

“I’m glad we didn’t show our hand against Antrim – we definitely didn’t – we were poor but if you play poor and you win… It’s great.

“So Armagh, you better watch – we’re coming!”

Saturday will tell the tale. Will Down’s next game be the Ulster final or the Tailteann Cup backwater? You know which one he’d prefer but - whatever and wherever it is - Emmett Haughian will be there.

Oh yes, come hell or high water…