Tommy Hughes - Hero of 1934
My life and times on the football field
M. Waters (from book 'Killererin' published by Morgan Hughes c.1983 to raise funds for Killererin GAA)
All-Ireland Senior football win
In Springvale House, deep in Killererin country, Tommy Hughes has spent his lifetime working his extensive farm. But in his young days, he took time off from his farming chores to engage in his favourite sport – Gaelic football, and it was in this sphere that he won the game’s supreme honour, when in 1934 he won an All-Ireland senior football medal when playing for his native county, Galway.
I spoke to him recently at his home and recalled some of the events in his footballing career. In excellent health, his agility, fitness and lightness of foot belies his 74 years of age. He still works on the farm every day now helping his son, John, to run the farm.
The Early Days
Although he played football in St. Jarlath’s in his school days, it was not until he began to play with Tuam Stars when he was 19 or 20 years that his football improved and that he came under notice of the county selectors. He takes up the story….. “There was no football team in Killererin in those days, but I remember that there was a team in Killererin when I was a boy of around 13 or 14 years of age. That was around 1920. They used to play above in Martin Hughes’ field in Clogherboy. They had a good team at that time and I remember seeing them beating Dunmore up there and Dunmore had Mick Halliday playing that same day.
Some of the players from Killererin’s early days
I remember players like Joe Tim Fahy and his brother Tommy Fahy from Killererin, Peter Burke from Kilmore, Jimmy Courtney from Kilmore and Tim Dunleavy from Coolrevagh all playing great stuff for Killererin in those days.
Selected for the County Team
“It was while playing with Tuam that I was selected for the Galway team. We won All-Ireland honours in 1934 but we were a bit unlucky not to have won it in 1933 and in 1935 as well. With any luck, we could have won three-in-a-row.
I played at right half-back on the 1934 team. We had a great half-back line including Tadgh McCarthy, and Frank Fox. McCarthy was a Kerryman and he was in the army and Fox came from Dunmore. They were mighty men. The half-back line was the mainstay of any team in those days. Dinny Sullivan from Oughterard was behind Fox in the full back line and he was a fantastic man in every way. John Dunne played great football that year and afterwards. It was my job always to ‘feed’ Dunne the ball. I knew exactly where he would be always. In 1934, we were somewhat lucky to beat Roscommon. The All-Ireland semi-final was fixed for Tuam against Cavan. Cavan were All-Ireland champions at the time as they beat us in the All Ireland final the previous September.
1934 All-Ireland semi-final played in Parkmore
The match was played in Parkmore and I will never forget it. There was a very large attendance and the facilities were non-existent. There were no stands of any description and the crowds milled along the sidelines and endlines trying to get a view of the players and there was much pushing and shoving. We eventually beat Cavan by a goal on a score of 1-8 to 0-8.
An unusual incident, as far as I was concerned, occurred during this match. I was racing down the sideline with a ball on a solo run when I got a mighty belt from a Cavan man which sent me over the line and well into the crowd. I ended up in the arms of a girl. Whereas I did not remember who the girl was at the time, and in the excitement, but the girl remembered the incident well. By a remarkable coincidence, I married that same girl later in life. She was then Breege Curran from Garra.
1934 All-Ireland final
I can remember the All-Ireland final against Dublin that year well. We beat them by two points on the score of 3-5 to 1-9. It was a great advantage to us to have played in the final the previous year.
1935 – county career comes to an end
In the following year, in 1935, we were most unlucky to lose to Mayo in the Connacht final. I did not play any county football after 1935.
Training – before big games
“In those days, we did collective training for two weeks before the big games like the semi-finals and finals. Most of the time, our training headquarters was in Tuam and we used to stay in Canavan’s Hotel. Our trainers were very strict and nobody was allowed to leave the party or the hotel for the fortnight. At night, the trainer produced a blackboard and as we sat around him, various movements were planned. I’ll give you an example of how strict the trainers were. One day the squad was going for a five mile walk. I did not feel like going on this as I was fit enough and did not need it. I told the trainer that I did not wish to go for the walk. He then put me into my room and locked the door. I suppose he was afraid that I’d go rambling down the town and that anything might happen to me. So there was great discipline then.
Housed in an old Woollen Mill
I remember also training before a big game in Ballinasloe. I remember a man named Dick Kenny putting us up in an old Woollen Mill which he owned near the pitch and we stayed there for the fortnight.
“I also played on the Railway Cup team for Connacht in those years. I remember we played Leinster in Mullingar in a semi-final on a very stormy day. It was blowing a gale and it was almost impossible to play football. We played with the storm in the first half. We only scored one point, but Leinster scored nothing. In the second half Leinster scored a point and then we got one and that was it – we won by 2 points to 1. A remarkable incident occurred in the second half.
Frank Fox took a kick-out into the teeth of the gale. When the ball went into the air, the storm took it and carried it back again over his head and out over the endline for a fifty. I myself got a bad kick in the thigh that day and as a result was not able to play in the final on St. Patrick’s day. However Connacht won it and I got my medal, but like every medal ever I got, I lost it or gave it away.
1931 – two games on the one day
“I recall in 1931 I played in two games on the one day for Galway. I played in Junior first and we won it. I played so well that I was put out playing with the Galway senior team right afterwards against Mayo. Mayo beat us that day and because I had played the senior match, I was not eligible to play further in the Junior competition. For the record, Galway went on to win the All-Ireland Junior final defeating London in London in the the final.
America – by boat
“After we won the All-Ireland in 1934, we went on a trip to America and played a series of three games against New York in a competition which was classed as the world championship. The team travelled over on the liner Queen Mary and it took us about five days to make the journey. She was a beautiful ship and we trained every day on board her. I still have a team photo taken aboard.
Return home – no welcoming party
We were in America for about a month and we won the series against New York. I remember we were each presented with a miniature football in solid gold. The team also played in Boston and Philadelphia. I’ll never forget the trip home. We travelled in a desperate old ship like a cattle boat. We were rocked back and forth all the way. I was relieved when we pulled into Galway docks. I remember there was nobody to meet us there and we had to go and get our own grub.
Comparison to Modern-day football
“The football played in those days was very different to the football played today. It was much tougher and more physical then. You got hard knocks and you gave them. You had to kick the ball when you got it or get killed. I remember one Monday morning looking at my body after a hard match against Mayo the previous day and I was black and blue from head to foot. The referees that time allowed rough play and did little to discourage it. I was as bad as any at times. I remember putting the ball under my arm a few times to get a good ‘clather’ at a fellow.
I wonder a bit about present day football when I compare it with my own day’s brand. An exception to the rule is our own Billy Joyce. He is one of the best I’ve seen since the old days. He is strong and tough and he goes an awful height for te ball and he is a great all-rounder. He would have fitted in well to the Galway team of my days. I’m very disappointed that he never won an All-Ireland because there was nobody did more to earn and deserve one in the past 13 or 14 years.”
Follows St. Jarlath’s College with their coach (his son Fr. Oliver Hughes)
Tommy admitted that he does not go to matches any more An exception is that he goes to college matches everywhere with his son, Fr. Oliver Hughes, who is the present coach of St. Jarlath’s team. He loves and enjoys college football.
First man from Killererin to win an All Ireland senior football medal
Tommy is a very humble man and in my interview with him I had difficulty in getting him to delve into his past and recall those wonderful moments of his playing career. He gave a great service to Galway in the early thirties and he will always be remembered for it. He has the unique distinction of being the first man from Killererin parish ever to wi an All Ireland senior football medal and need I say we are all very proud of him for it.