Controversy seemed to follow me, I did not follow it.
The words of Seamus Aldridge, former top referee; top administrator with Kildare, Leinster and indeed in Croke Park.
In Kildare there was, and remains to this day, controversy over Larry Tompkins’ move from Kildare to Cork, and to a lesser extent, Shea Fahey following suit, although the moves were not connected.
Then there was the famous, or more to the point, infamous, goal scored by Mikey Sheehy of Kerry against Dublin in the 1978 All Ireland final.
A goal that is talked about; replayed; discussed; dissected to this very day, despite it now being some 42 years later.
That was a very traumatic time not only in the life of Seamus Aldridge but also in the life of his late wife, Leila, and their young family.
For 25 years Seamus Aldridge was Kildare Co. Secretary and for 24 years of those he doubled up as Co. Treasurer and while at the time it was somewhat unusual for the same person to hold down the two posts, according to the man himself “it became more common” in latter years.
Aldridge ruled Kildare with an iron fist.
He was the go-to man.
When the GAA Rule Book was brought into question, an interpretation required, or an understanding sought, Seamus Aldridge was to Kildare what Frank Murphy was to Cork, an expert, through and through.
And when Seamus made a ruling, or a call, at any meeting of Kildare Co. Board his ruling was rarely questioned, and even when it was, it remained the ruling.
Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, due, at times, to his brash demeanour, nevertheless he was hugely admired and respected, both inside Kildare and throughout the GAA world.
As for controversy, well if that was what you were after, this was the man to follow: a bit like a bee to a jam-jar; bacon to cabbage, fish to chips; all practically inseparable, just like Mr Aldridge and controversy.
Going back to the Round Towers man's very first inter-county game as a match official — ironically involving Dublin — it saw him make the headlines when allowing a goal, scored by Dublin's Eamon Breslin against Laois, in Croke Park, stand.
And what was unusual about that goal?
The ball was headed to the Laois net.
It was the right call (as in fairness were most of his calls but that did not mean they attracted controversy) as there was no rule that said the ball could not be headed in Gaelic football, but one can only imagine the furore over such an incident back then.
It was the start of a long running ‘affair’ involving The Dubs and Mr Aldridge, an ‘affair’ that at one stage looked like it would end up in the High Court.
In his schoolboys days Seamus was a member of a successful De La Salle team that swept the boards at all levels up to minor, culminat-
ing in Round Towers winning the Kildare SFC in 1964.
GAA was in his blood, his uncle, Tom Keogh, was a member of the Kildare 1928 All-Ireland winning team, something he remains extremely proud of.
Initially a member of the Leinster winning 1956 Kildare team, he was ‘demoted’ after the quarter final despite scoring three points, and as only 18 players received medals at that time he had to wait all of 40 years plus before he, and a few others, finally received their Leinster momentos.
He stopped playing football at the age of just 28 after the county final of 1963.
“I was knocked out in that final, and who came out to ask me if I was alright but my mother. Now you have to remember there could be 10- 15,000 at a county final back then, and I said to myself that was not going to happen again; I retired, but had taken to golf at that stage, and really got hooked on it.”
Were you a good golfer?
“My lowest handicap was 6 (nothing to be sneezed at I say to myself) initially I played in Athy where I was Club Secretary for a while before I moved to Naas, having been promoted to inspector with the then Department of Post and Telegraphs. I joined Naas and would have played in all the major competitions; Barton Cups and all that.
“I was the regular partner in the Barton of Turlough Boylan; I would not have been the longest hitter but I was a very good putter and at Barton Cup level, a good putter is essential.”
Seamus took up refereeing around the start of the ’60s and did a lot of games in Carlow as for some reason they had a major shortage of referees but then he was asked to take charge of a famous Kildare SFC semi final (replay) between Moorefield and Raheens around 1964 and after that was promoted to the inter-county scene, the first, as stated, being a Dublin v Laois Leinster SFC and that infamous headed goal.
In many ways Seamus got into the administrative side of the GAA nearly by accident, it was around the time Naas’ Liam McManus was Co. Secretary. Liam was anxious to set up a Referees Committee and Seamus, Patsy Broe (Naas) and Liam formed a committee in the county and did a lot of work at that level by all means.
As well as secretary/ treasure of Kildare, Seamus was also Kildare delegate to the Leinster Council for 20 years, while also at the time one of the leading referees in the country.
Being Co. Secretary while also taking charge of big games did, at times, raise some eyebrows but regard-
less the Kildare man was appointed to take charge of the Leinster finals of 1976 and ’77, both incidentally won by Dublin.
Twelve months later, while mowing his grass one evening, two visitors called in on their way home from a meeting in Croke Park.
John Dowling and Michael Delaney dropped in to inform him he had been appointed to take charge of the 1978 All-Ireland final.
“Sometimes I wish” he laughs, “they hadn't.”
And were you aware you were in the running for the All-Ireland final at that time?
“I was I suppose, I seemed to be acceptable in Leinster and they had not got many good referees at the time.”
Kerry, of course, went on to win that final, and it should not be forgotten, won in the end with some ease and although the champions led early on, a goal from Ger Egan got Kerry back into it before that infamous Mikey Sheehy goal sent Kerry on their way as The Dubs completely collapsed, ‘Bomber’ Liston hitting three second half goals, Kerry winning by all of 17 points (5-11 to 0-9).
It was that Sheehy goal of course that caused all the controversy, despite the winning margin, but that goal bought a lot of grief to Aldridge in the immediate aftermath of the game, and indeed for many, many years after it also.
So overall a tough time for Seamus Aldridge personally and in particular for his family.
“Atrocious time, absolutely, I got a bullet in the post which I handed over to Naas Gardai and they investigated but they couldn't prove anything; it was really a question of grinning and bearing it; I'd be in bed at night and then get a phone call, with a voice calling me a f---ing b----x and that all sort of stuff, that went on for a long, long time.
“The Mikey Sheehy goal; an Australian match and an article in Magill built up a head of steam, it was practically unstoppable.”
That year an Australian Rules game took place in Croke Park, the visitors playing Dublin, just after the All-Ireland final, and those in authority appointed Aldridge to referee the game amid much controversy, Dublin refusing to play because of Aldridge, a direct follow-on from the All-Ireland.
He takes up the story.
“Paddy McFlynn rang me and said ‘Seamus we have appointed you to do it (game v Australia) but if you wish to slip away you can, and we will do it quietly, but we have appointed you and we will stand by you no matter what’ and that's the road I took, the game went ahead as planned, and there was no problem.”
Commentator Michéal O'Hehir said when Aldridge came out the Dub fans started booing while radio commentator, Jimmy Magee informed listeners all the other fans (apart from Dublin) began to clap, adding I have never seen a referee getting applauded before a match before.
Prior to that game Dublin captain, Tony Hanahoe had given an interview to Vincent Browne in Magill magazine which was not, shall we say, over complimentary to Mr Aldridge, and immediately led to more controversy.
The article went back on every game that Aldridge had referred involving Dublin, citing various incidents and documenting each and every player that had been sent to the line by the Kildare official, including a controversial dismissal of David Hickey against Wexford in the Leinster semi final.
“Remember” said Aldridge “Dublin, in my opinion, were no saints; a few of them were hard men, but that was part and parcel of the game at that time; no yellow or back cards remember; you had a word suggesting that if such and such happened again he would be sent off, and most times that was that.”
So controversy over the All-Ireland (which Kerry won by 17 points); controversy over the Australian Rules game (which went ahead as planned) and controversy over an article in Magill.
Mr Aldridge took legal advice on the Magill article; that advice, in a letter he still holds, was from senior counsel, David Byrne, a Monasterevan man, who was later to become Ireland EU Commissioner.
The advice said he (Mr Aldridge) might have a case while pointing out the difficulties of taking such an action in Irish courts.
At that time Mr Aldridge got the backing of two independent and separate people, who informed him if he decided to go to court they (individually) would cover his entire expenses; one of those who was willing to back him was no less a man than the famous John Kerry O'Donnell of New York GAA fame; the second being a well known GAA man from mid-Kildare.
In the end it was decided not to pursue the matter in court, one of the reasons being that Tony Hanahoe was suspended by the GAA following the article, another case that brought much controversy onto the GAA hierarchy at that time.
So did this entire episode(s) have any detrimental effect on Aldridge as a prominent referee?
“No, because I referred three Leinster finals in ’86, ’87 and ’88; Dublin were in the three of them and lost them all to Meath, with no problems whatsoever from a refereeing point of view.”
Some years later, 1996, Seamus Aldridge was elected vice-chairman of the Leinster Council and became that body's chairman for a three year term in 1999, ironically Aldridge emphasises “I would not have become Chairman of the Leinster Council without the support I received from Dublin.”
As a provincial chairman automatically made the holder of that office a Vice-President of the GAA and Aldridge being the senior vice-president, often stood in for GAA President Sean McCague at that time, something he thoroughly enjoyed.
Two trips to Australia, numerous visits to the US, it was a busy time indeed.
Then in 2003 he decided to go for the big one, President of the GAA.
The hot favourite at that time was Kerry's Sean Kelly, but while Aldridge did come in second when the votes were counted the fact that fellow Leinster man, Albert Fallon, decided to run again in 2003, having been defeated three years previously, certainly did not help the Kildare man with the Leinster vote being split, but regardless Sean Kelly had his expected landslide victory which probably would have happened one way or another.
During his time as secretary/ treasure Kildare were not in a good position financially in fact he says “at that time Kildare were in deep financial trouble, but I got on very well with Jimmy Roche, the Leinster Chairman and he asked me had I any ideas to tackle the financial problem.
“The Leinster Council then brought forward a scheme, initiated by myself, Michael Delaney and Jimmy Roche, where each county, in financial difficulty, was given an interest-free loan to get them going again.
“When I left Kildare they had a big surplus but the biggest regret I had was when I was there, particularly towards the end, that I didn't do the job that needed to be done in Newbridge, remember I could walk into the AIB at that time, meet the manager and say “I want .... a quarter of a million for Newbridge” and be told ‘that's alright Seamus go ahead.’
“That was the way banking was done at that time, but I was brought up with a theory that you didn't do anything until you had the money to pay for it, which isn't a good way to get things done, but that was the way.
“I am a trustee of many of the clubs in Kildare and when I see the paperwork that clubs have to do these days to say, get €10,000 to buy a lawnmower, it just doesn't make sense, to me any way” ironically adding “I don't know of any GAA club in Kildare that did not honour their obligations, and that the bank had to take action.”
In the summer of 1990 Kildare had slumped to a new low and it was decided that something needed to be done to revive their fortunes.
Chairman Jack Wall and Seamus Aldridge, along with the late Michael Osborne convened a meeting in Kildangan Stud with this in mind and invited people they knew were not just staunch Kildare GAA people but people of substance shall we say.
“So, with the blessing of Wall and Aldridge, a group was formed, later (mostly) to become Kildare GAA Supporters Club, with a view to bringing a ‘name’ to the board.
It is ironic that most are of the belief that Micko was top of the list but that was certainly far from the case.
In fact a fellow Kerry man, Pat Spillane, still playing for Kerry at the time, was one of the first that was approached to ‘test the water’ and see if he was available.
Spillane intimated he had given Kerry manager at the time, Mikey Ned O'Sullivan, a commitment to play one final year for Kerry so that was that.
But even before Micko was approached others, including Brian Mullins, Mickey Whelan, Mick Carolan and a youthful Brendan Hackett, not alone had been approached, but most had in fact been interviewed, all that before Micko's name surfaced.
Between hopping and trotting Mick O'Dwyer was eventually approached, and to the surprise of many, agreed to take the job.
He duly arrived and while “we enjoyed some great days we still missed out landing a big trophy” and he departed to be replaced by the late Dermot Earley, who stayed for two years, again with little luck, before Micko returned for a couple of glorious years culminating in winning two Leinster finals and of course making it to the ’98 All-Ireland final, great days and great times.”
Seamus reminds us that during 25 year tenure in Kildare there were a lot of things done for a lot of players; things that would not be generally known, private things, things that will stay that private, “that, he adds “ is what annoys me about the Larry Tompkins affair.”
While not willing to go into the ins and out of that whole episode Aldridge did say that at the end of the day Larry Tompkins got what Larry Tompkins looked for as regards his costs from America.
“Larry looked for x number of pounds and Larry got a cheque for that x number of pounds” adding “and you can quote me on that.”
As for the Shea Fahey move from Kildare to Cork, the former county secretary said “that was a completely different thing, Shea was promoted in the army and stationed to Cork; I informed the Co. Board of the circumstances at the time.”
You have to try and treat everyone the same; you can't do one thing for one player and something different for another, said Aldridge.
An avid (marathon) runner in his time, Seamus, now in his 85th year, remains as sharp and alert as he was when first elected Secretary of Kildare GAA back in 1975.
Never short of a word, I can recall one day he was walking out of Newbridge meeting a Kildare supporter who thanked him for “the ticket you got me for the game in Croker last Sunday, but to be honest” the supporter added “the seat was so bad I may as well have been at home looking at the game on the telly.”
Without breaking stride Aldridge instantly replied “and that's where you'll be watching the next one from.”
Love him or loathe him, you could certainly not ignore Seamus Aldridge.
An avid GAA man, a knowledgeable GAA man, a committed GAA man, who gave generously of his time so much so that on one occasion missed the confirmation of one of his daughters, as he had a county board meeting.
As to where we are today, the coronavirus at all that, he says it is difficult to see games being played this year but quickly adds “things change from week to week so you never know” but admits he can't see any development at St Conleth's Park taking place, for two years at least.
“Money is going to be very tight” adding in typical Seamus Aldridge style “they (Croke Park) have so many people working up there now they don't know how many they have; they have lads opening doors and lads closing doors ...”
It just shows you though “it is so important for the GAA to retain the amateur status; rugby is going to be the hardest hit sport of all, they won't have the money to pay the Johnny Sextons of this world” adds Mr Aldridge, who was once suspended from the GAA for playing rugby for Athy RFC long before his fellow presidential candidate, Sean Kelly, spear-
headed the removal of the ban on ‘foreign’ games.
Even then, back in the early ’60s Seamus Aldridge could not avoid a bit of controversy.
Little changed throughout an absorbing, controversial but very successful career.
Both on and off the field of play!
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.