Kildare GAA: John Crofton, The Big Interview, Part II

Still lamenting the finals that got away

Tommy Callaghan

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Tommy Callaghan

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editor@kildarenow.ie

Kildare GAA: John Crofton, The Big Interview, Part II

John Crofton, at his business, Kildare Builders Providers, Whitesland Business Park, Kildare

Having won all that could be won at the time with Newbridge at under age level; John Crofton went on to have an extremely distinguished club career with Sarsfields.
It w as a career that saw him collect four senior championships in ’82, ’86. ’93 and ’94; no less than seven Leinster Leader Cup medals; along with, at county level, Leinster medals at minor and U21 in a career that began in 1974 and finally ended in 1997 when losing to Clane in the senior final of that year.
Moving into Club Management, John Crofton took up the reigns at Round Towers where he led them to a county senior title in 2003.
That year was an eventful one in more ways than one, .see below.

SARSFIELDS MANAGER
In 2012 John did his ‘duty’ and returned to take up the senior management role at his home club Sarsfields.
It was to be an extremely successful period when he managed the boys in Sarsfields Park for a total of six years, leading them to five senior finals in a row from 2012 to 2016, winning three and losing two of those.
“Didn't do the three-in-row as did our forefathers, Moorefield put paid to that” he says somewhat regretfully.
Both the Newbridge clubs had their chances to do the three-in-a-row, ironically both were prevented by the other town team.
Ironically it was the finals that they lost rather then the ones they won the man who was to become Kildare senior county manager for two years late was more animated at.
“In 2013” said Crofton “ you remember that because you were there; we came from five down, got it back to two; before being denied a legitimate point from Ray Cahill and subsequently Ronan Fitzgibbon hit a ball, was tackled as he kicked it; the ball went up in the air, landed on top of the net; the goalkeeper pushed it from the top of the net back into play, Moorefield attacked and scored a goal at the other end.”
The following year 2014, said Crofton “we were nearly denied the minor title.
“There was such division in the club at that time; we did not know three days before that final if we would have the use of the minors; whether to start them; play them; bring them in, or what ever.”
“We were told the game could not have been changed as it would have been unfair on the Athy minors, taking from them the thrill of playing on county final day but here's what happened; they ended up playing the county minor final at 12 o'clock; a curtain raiser to an intermediate hurling match was centre stage on the biggest day of club football in Kildare.
Absolutely incredible!
“That was a complete injustice on that group of players and indeed on the Sarsfields club and it was on not one, but two counts” he emphasises.
“Firstly, I was told, off the record, by a board official, the way we (Sarsfields) should have dealt with that was when it became obvious the county board was going to force the issue and play the two finals on the same day, he told me, “the way to do it was to just say you ain't going to be there; you ain't going to turn up” but, added Crofton, “what's the word I'm looking for, honour-
able let's say, I don't know what you would call it, but Sarsfields felt it was the honour-
able thing to fulfil the two fixtures at the time.
“We were denied our minors; the attitude of the county board was ‘them lads will have plenty of time to be playing in senior finals'.”
In the end Moorefield got the better of Sarsfields, having come from five adrift to draw the first game, Moorefield made no mistake in the replay winning 1-15 to 1-6.
Still no matter what way one looks at it, Crofton's time in Sarsfields was very successful one, leading them for six years; reaching five finals on the trot (surely a record) and taking the honours on three occasions.
It really shows though the determin-
ation, the passion and will to be top dog, especially in Newbridge, that it was the finals that got away, the finals that were lost to Moorefield in particular, are the finals that are recalled most contentiously.

SO PASSIONATE, SO PARTISAN, SO PAROCHIAL

“Gives us just one year before you hang up the boots.”
The words of the late Mick Leavy of Round Towers fame as he implored his son-in-law, John Crofton, to throw in his lot with The Towers before he retired.
However while Crofton kept lacing the boots until he was 40 years of age, he never changed from wearing The Sash to the Black & Amber.
He did, however, do the next best thing when in 2003 he managed them, not alone to a senior title (the last of Towers six senior titles) but to the Leinster Club final.
Crofton was not happy to sit on his laurels that season and went on to enjoy a great Leinster Club campaign.
“We beat Arles Kilcruise in the quarter final; and were then down to play Rathnew in Aughrim in the semi.”
Rathnew were practically unbeatable in Aughrim at that time and Crofton wondered to Mick Leavy (“not sure if he was the chairman at that time but it matter little as he ran Towers anyway”) if there was any way we could get into Aughrim for a training session, to take the mystique of the place out of the equation.”
What exactly have you got in mind enquired Leavy.
Here's what I'm thinking said Crofton.
“I want to replicate, exactly what will happen on match day; we meet at the exact time; get on the bus; fellas would understand what it was like to go up that auld road; if we needed to make a pit stop on the way; get out of the bus, get into the dressing room; fellas could decide where they were going to tog out the next day; warm up; play maybe a 10 or 15 minute game into both ends, all the mystique would be gone.
“I knew Mick has pulled a few strokes in his day but this was a big ask” I said to myself.
However the following Saturday he (Leavy) came back and said, “I have that organised.”
What? replied Crofton.
“I have the trip to Aughrim organised, do you want to do it on the Saturday evening or the Sunday afternoon.”
So off we went and did exactly what I had hoped to do; it took all the mystique out of Aughrim; it sounds very simple but it worked.”
Crofton recalls getting a call at that time from Larry Tompkins congratulating him on the win over Arles and asking him what did I think about Rathnew. “Towers are 5/2 what do you think” said Tompkins.
I said to him I think we we'll win; we did, and Larry landed a good old punt I was told after laughs Crofton.
A Leinster final meeting with St Brigid's of Dublin, was a step too far however, losing 3-11 to 1-10 but it was a right good campaign nevertheless, and showed, not for the first time, if you wanted to pull a stroke at that time there was only one man to go to.
But fast forward to 2012 and Mr Crofton was again making strides in the Leinster Club, this time with Sarsfields.
Again it was a semi final with Paul Curran's Ballymun Kickhams clashing with The Sash in St Conleth's Park.
Lo and behold but what did Ballymun boss Paul Curran do, only manage to get his players into St Conleth's Park prior to the semi final; no kicking around mind you; no warming up; no playing a bit of a game, not even allowed to walk on the sacred turf, but got them into the dressing rooms, familiarising themselves with the set-up there prior to taking on Sarsfields.
It was a move that had John Crofton fuming at the time but when I reminded him of the day he (or Mick Leavy to be exact) got The Towers into Aughrim prior to their ’03 semi final, what was the difference?
“Huge difference” came the reply, in exactly the same way Mick Leavy would have said it.
“Look, and this was a fact; Mick Leavy did what I thought was undoable at the time, got us into the county grounds in Wicklow, but he did not get permission from the Wicklow Co. Board, he did it through some other means (as I laugh to myself) but Ballymun got permission from Kildare Co. Board; they got official permission.”
Warming to the task Crofton added: “Now remember if you had never been to Newbridge, first of all you couldn't fit the entire team in one dressing room; there is no place to do any physio work, etc, etc., and all of that should have come as a complete and utter shock to them but because they had been in the ground the day before; the officialdom of Kildare Co. Board allowed the Dublin champions into the ground to familiarise them-
selves with the surroundings, before playing against the Kildare champions; that was absolutely disgraceful” he implored.
But John, said I, you realised the importance it was for the visiting team to get into the visiting ground; as did Paul Curran.
“Yes, but it was not the Wicklow Board that gave Mick Leavy permission to go into Aughrim, I know because the lad that let us in and out could not wait to see the back of us.”
I wonder why.
Me thinks Mick Leavy taught John maybe more than he is willing to admit.
“I didn't see eye-to-eye with Mick Leavy on a lot of things” said Crofton; “he was just so passionate, so partisan; so parochial; such a Towers man; there is nothing he would not have done to get an edge for Towers, I'm not kidding you.”
I laugh to myself when I heard words such as passionate, parochial and partisan, and wonder ... now who does that remind me of!

NOT THE ALL-IRELAND HOPED FOR, BUT ONE NEVERTHELESS

Around 1967 John Crofton was working in Irish Ropes when he successfully applied for a job in Roadstone as a senior computer programmer and was due to commence the Monday week after the Leinster final of that year.
However, when the final whistle was blown that day in Croke Park, the man he was marking in midfield, Anton O'Toole, came over to shake his hand, as was, and thankfully still is, the norm, but to Crofton's amazement Anton said to him “after commisserating he added ‘sure I'll be talking to you in the job Monday week in Roadstone’.”
John Crofton, even though after the defeat was very down at the time never forgot that gesture.
“A true gentleman was Anton O'Toole, and a very fine football to boot” said Crofton.
However John Crofton never arrived at the Roadstone Headquarters.
“In the meantime I got an offer from Denis Dalton and Pat Mangan of Spollen Concrete, with a job selling concrete if you don't mind. There was a car and expenses involved so I joined Spollen.”
At that time inter-firms football was really popular and drew big crowds when ever and where ever games were played as you would be guaranteed a host of inter-county players would be involved and these were no holds barred encounters.
“These were really tough and hard games” recalls Crofton, adding “that such was the strength of the Spollen squad that to even get on the panel on a match day was a big thing.
“Spollen had some of the best players around with the likes of Tommy Carew, Pat Mangan, Denis Dalton; Mick Ryan and Paddy Fenning of Offaly fame; Vinny Holden (Dublin) while 'Boots' Kelly, Benny Gorman were also there at that time.
“Pat Mangan and Tommy Carew” was class acts while Denis Dalton from Sallins, was as good a player that I ever played with; he was a super defender and played many times in the Railway Cups for Leinster.”
The craic after these games was something else but the actual games were as tough as you would get, the use of the whistle was liberal with no quarter asked or given at the time.
Spollen won the All Ireland inter-firms the following year, hardly a surprise with the spread of players.

... AND FINALLY

As we came to the end, after a few hours, of a most enjoyable conversation with John Crofton, the only thing missing was a few pints, the last question posed was: do see or have your heard from Micko much over the years?
As only John Crofton can, off he goes in a conversation relating another story.
“A few years ago, three or maybe four, myself and herself took off for a few days to Kerry; for once we had a bit of spare time so we decided to go down and see the sights.
“After a long day we landed back in O'Dwyer's former hotel and just totally by chance bumped into Jack O'Connor.
“We sat had a bit to eat and he told me Micko was a bit under the weather at the time.”
Anyway we parted company and I decided to give Karl (O'Dywer) a ring to enquire just how the da was; he asked me where I was and when I told me he said to hold on I'll ring you back in a minute.
“Sure enough and in no time at all Karl rang back with the word ‘the auld lad will be down to see you in twenty minutes or so.”
And so he arrived.
“There was a few people in the bar that day but a young lad, maybe 16 or 17 was serving but when Micko came in, he couldn't take his eyes off him.
“I mentioned the young lad to Micko and he duly told me everything there was to know about the lad, how good a footballer he was, his strong points, his weak points, his potential, the lot. It was Micko at his best.”
We stayed for a couple of hours, went through his entire time in Kildare, from the day he came to the day he left; from the games we won to the games we lost; and to the games we lost but should have won; we went through the lot, and I mean the lot.
“It was something I was very glad and happy that happened, and even more so that soon after I was told Micko was back to reasonable health.”