Almanac (Gaelic) Football and Golf – The Lowry’s Eyes are Smiling

You may have heard that on the weekend a bearded, rotund Irishman won The (British) Open in torrential rain and wind (unsurprising) on a rugged seaside golf links in Northern Ireland.  The tournament at Royal Portrush was only the second time The Open has been played outside Scotland or England (the first was at Portrush in 1951 when Englishman Max Faulkner won).


Many fine words have been written in praise of Shane Lowry and Portrush and the hospitality of the locals – this my pick among many –


As refreshing as Shane’s broad smile and unassuming honesty was his rounded, flowing golf swing developed with the child’s eye for mimicry and discovery rather than at a Golf Academy High Performance Trackman/Flightscope Swing Analysis Centre for Wealthy Prodigies. 


There endeth the golf commentary because this is a story about football (Gaelic) and family.


Turns out Shane is not the first All Ireland champion in his family.  He follows in the footsteps of his father Brendan and Uncles Sean and Michael who were part of the county Offaly (I kid you not – it’s the name of an Irish county in the Province of Leinster – not a sausage or an adverb) team that won the 1982 All Ireland Football Final.  In the biggest boilover in Gaelic football since Polly put the kettle on – tiny Offaly beat the mighty Kerry team contending for a historic fifth successive championship.


Shane’s father Brendan works for the Post Office.  All champion Irish footballers are postmen.  All champion Irish rugby players are bricklayers.  All champion Irish soccer players are playboy alcoholics.  All Irish golfers will be drunk for the next week.


Offaly’s preparation for an All Ireland Final was unusual.  In 1981 they gathered in Tullamore for Mass (and a team meeting) before travelling up to Dublin by train on game morning.  After copping a flogging they went by car the next year and won.  There is no mention of whether the improvement was due to changed transport or prayer arrangements.


Players kept a diary where they recorded their travel to games for claiming their 15 pence a mile travel allowance.  In a 2017 interview Brendan was asked to choose between a golf major for Shane or another All Ireland title for Offaly.  


There’s no choice there. Shane for a major. (Laughing). But if you gave Shane the choice, he might slightly hesitate for a minute. He’s mad for GAA. Mad for it.


Shane won US$1.935 million as winner of the 2019 Open.  Safe to say that beats 15 pence a mile (even allowing for inflation).


The rules and structure of Gaelic football are confusing to the outsider.  It all seemed a bit Irish to me.  Ireland is divided into four provinces – Munster, Leinster, Connaught and Ulster.  The provinces are further divided into 32 traditional counties.  Ulster has counties in both the Unionist North and the Republic.


Back before the internet and pay TV you relied on #9’s Wonderful World of Sport with Max “Tangles” Walker and Ken Sutcliffe for your overseas sporting highlights.  One Sunday afternoon they were showing Gaelic football which the breathless commentator kept referring to as the Monster Final.  Fair enough I thought – AFL has a Grand Final and Americans have a Super Bowl – so I guess that’s what the Irish call their really big match.  The next week they showed the Leinster Final and then the All Ireland Final and I twigged.


Brendan played for his local club side of Ferbane in county Offaly (in the centre 100 kilometres west of Dublin) and for the Offaly county team (a “State” side in our terms) from 1981-92 and won 2 Leinster finals as well as the famous 1982 All Ireland win in front of 60,000 at Croke Park.


The game highlights are spectacular.  Every player looks and moves like Robbie Flower or Garry “Flea” Wilson.  Lean, fleet of foot and fast of hand and eye.  Watching the highlights made me think of Essendon’s Conor McKenna ‘chip kick baulking’ a hapless Crows defender on Friday night.  Footy as god intended.


In the 1982 highlights Offaly is in white and Kerry in green.  Brendan is a left corner-forward (our forward pocket) and he snaps a spectacular “over” @1.45.  Uncle Sean scores @ 2.15.  There is a dramatic penalty save by the Offaly goalie, but with one point for an “over” and 3 points for an “under” the commentators are calling Kerry safely 2 points ahead in the dying minutes until substitute Seamus Darby scores with his only kick of the match.  Do yourself a favour – it’s the best football you’ll see all week.



Offaly had seen nothing like it before or since – until Sunday.


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  1. Love the story PB.

    Starting with the golf, the course was super, the weather varied and Lowry played brilliantly and with the freedom confidence (and form) bring. He enjoyed it so much.

    Your back story is a classic. I love the coverage. The leprechaun commentator! I can imagine him in cardigan, soup stains on his tie, pipe in a a Bridgestone tyre ash tray to his right. And the highlights. Even if they are highlights the camera angle accentuated the pace of the game – which was lightning play on Gaelic footy anyway.

    Brilliant. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Beautiful PB. I have a strong affinity with the Irish game not because of my ancestry but because I played a bit of the Aussie Rules/Irish Rules game in the 1980s. Its so quick. Suited me down to the ground. I should have been born in Ireland and would have been if not for the famine (that’s a whole other story).

    I can tell you why they lost the first year when travelling by train and not the second whilst travelling by car. In the first year they had a mass in Tullamore; home of the world’s finest whiskey. So I’m guessing a few bottles found their way onto the train.

    JTH – magnificent description of the leprechaun commentator. Were you there?

  3. These golfers should be soundly chastised shooting HARMless birdies like they do, John .I believe someone once put a hole in one – disgraceful. Thankfully they don’t shoot many eagles or albatrosses.

  4. Terry Riordan says

    Great article … Ireland has another sporting hero but he comes from an Irish tradition. Loved the commentator passionate and involved. My son attended a Croke Park finals match some years ago and said there is nothing like it
    If not for the famine l might still be there myself

  5. John Butler says

    PB, cracking find, this.

    And Nanna is a ripper (2 brandies or not). :)

  6. E.regnans says

    Oh yes, that is magnificent, PB.
    The athleticism is wonderful. The game of it all.

    Like Dips I was lucky enough to play the combined rules palava.
    I must have been 12 or 13 years old.
    At VFL Park.
    There were training sessions and then we played on the ground – maybe as a pre-game? a half0time event? I’m not sure. I was more your Jimmy Stynes running follower. I loved it. I remember the moment of “getting” how to kick a round ball. (You can overthink these things).

    J Butler references Nanna there.
    Here’s the weblink of her interview – Emily Scanlon is proud proud – cause for her first brandy in 10 years.

  7. Dad and I went to a GAA semi in 2004 at Croke Park and it was terrific. Much in common with our game.

    Also great to see that a golfer and not an athlete won the Open.

    Excellent stuff, PB.

  8. Roger Lowrey says


    Marvellous piece. Inter alia, it captures my imagination because Jill and I are visiting Ireland in the northern autumn.

    (And yes JTH, we fly out the Monday before Grand Final. We of little faith – but surely there will be a pub in Londonderry with a breakfast broadcast that morning?)

    Offaly interests me though Peter as Athlone in County Meath, immediately to its north, is where my great grandparents left to come here in the middle of the 19th century. Of course many of their contemporaries did likewise for well documented reasons either our way or to New York.

    Somewhere along the way the “e” became added to our surname for whatever reason. Think here, the stained glass window in St Peter & Paul’s Church in Geelong West (est 1866) is dedicated to the memory of James and Honora “Lowry”.

    It’s a long shot but if there is any connection there I would pay him handsomely for a quick lesson before we shared a Guinness or three. I’ll make some casual enquiries.


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