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Former Doonbeg Footballer and athlete Michael Haugh at the Shanahan Mc Namara Field. Photograph by John Kelly

Storied career in black and white

A legend of The Magpies from Doonbeg is celebrated in a new book on the great heroes in gaelic football history

A DOONBEG sporting sensation has been honoured in a new book celebrating some of the country’s top names in Gaelic football.
Michael Haugh from Killard was born in 1943 and has truly earned his place in Clare’s sporting hall of fame. His football feats span three decades. Between the ‘60s and the ‘80s, he won nine County Senior Football Championships with Doonbeg (1961,’67, ’68,’69, ’72, ’73, ’74, ’82, ’83) and 11 Cusack Cup Titles (1961, ’62, ’65, ’67, ’68, ’69, ’70, ’72,’ 74, ’81, ’82).
He has a Clare Minor Football (U-18) title (1959) under his belt, as well as a Clare Under-21 Football Titles (1963). Michael also has a New York Junior Football Championship title and a London Senior Football Championship title to his name.
These accomplishments, as well as a glittering athletic career, have earned Michael a place in Our Field of Dreams, Legendary Gaelic Footballers, just published by Roscommon native Tom Curley.
The book was launched at a gala event at The Athlone Springs Hotel last month. For Michael, the event was a celebration of a sporting life well played, as well as an opportunity to meet up with several former friendly rivals from the field of play.
Born at the height of The Emergency, when World War II raged in Europe, Michael credits his parents – the late Jim Haugh and May Haugh (née Roche) – for making sure the hardship of those years did not impact on his childhood happiness, or that of his siblings, Paddy, Margaret, Frances, Marie, Eileen, Nuala, Carmel and the late Des.
With its deep sporting tradition, Doonbeg was the perfect environment to nurture the talent and interest of the young Michael. There were numerous sources of inspiration for a young man with huge potential. Bealaha GAA Club and Athletic Club both played a role in awakening his earliest interest in football and athletics, when he still in primary school.
While Michael was in his teens, in the early ‘60s, Shannahan-McNamara Park was built, and was one of the first and finest facilities of its kind.
Doonbeg has always cherished and celebrated its long sporting heritage and this too had an impact. “We were regaled with stories of great feats by local athletes and footballers from the parish,” Michael said.
Pat McDonald who was born in Killard, Doonbeg in 1878 was among them. The Olympian, to whom there is a monument in the village, was one of several local role models for Michael.
“I have fond memories from my childhood of when I travelled with my late father to various sports meetings from Cross to Ennistymon,” he said.
“It was at Ennistymon Sports in 1957 that I made my first foray into competition when I took part in the 100 yards sprint for boys under 14. I won the race for which I received a fountain pen for my achievement.
“I remember that I cherished it at the time as if it was an Olympic Gold Medal. My sporting life was off to a perfect start.”
In 1956, Michael completed his primary school education in Baltard National School and went boarding at Mungret College in Limerick. He played rugby on the wing for the senior cup team when he was in second year.
In 1958, he transferred to St Flannan’s College in Ennis, where he completed his Inter Cert and Leaving Cert.
“It was at St Flannan’s College that my two passions, gaelic football and athletics were further nurtured,” he said, crediting Reverend Fr Mullins for giving tirelessly of his time.
“I remember the detail in which he taught me to catch and kick a football effectively,” Michael said.
“There were many times when I could hear his words of advice when I needed them most in the heat of games at club, county and provincial levels. I often hope that I imparted his advice to younger players at training in when I was entrusted to the role of trainer or team coach.”
In 1959, Michael got his first taste of the success with Doonbeg, when The Magpies became the first non-town team to win the Clare Minor Title, defeating Miltown Malbay.
Two years later, he was part of the Doonbeg team that won their first ever double, when they defeated Cooraclare in both the County Senior Championship and County Senior League (Cusack Cup) Finals.
As Michael got increasingly involved in athletics, be began to realise that his two sporting passions were not always compatible.
“Athletics complimented the football, but it didn’t really work the other way around,” he told The Champion. In 1961, Michael learned this the hard way. He had been selected to play centre-field with Roy Hedderman from O’Curry’s for the Clare Minor Footballers. They qualified for the Munster Minor Football Final.
“Unfortunately, Cork overwhelmed us in the Munster Final at The Cork Athletics Ground where I suffered a dead leg early in the game which required that I would be substituted bringing,” he recalled.
“To compound my injury problems, I had been selected to run for Ireland in the Catholic Student Games on the following Wednesday, as I had already won the Munster Colleges, One Mile and 880 yards races in 1960 and 1961 and finished second in the All-Ireland Colleges Mile event in 1960 and 1961 as well as winning the All Ireland Cross-Country Youths title with Clare in the same year.”
Scarcely able to walk on the following day, Michael made his way, to Gormanstown College. He joined the rest of the Irish team that Monday, courtesy of his cousin Bill Killian who was holidaying in West Clare.
“I spent all day Tuesday in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda where the medical team worked on my injury more in hope than confidence of at least getting me to the starting-line on the following day,” he explained.
“On the following morning, Wednesday, I was able to jog but could not risk any greater form of a fitness test.”
Eventually, the games got under way. Against the odds, Michael finished a creditable fourth in the 1,500 metre event. Unhappy with his fourth place finish, he went on to run in the 3,000 metres event and won a bronze medal.
1961 was also the year that Michael moved to Dublin to work and study. He maintained his winning ways with The Magpies for several years.
“I consider myself fortunate to have been captain of the Doonbeg Magpies in 1967 and 1968 when we won the Senior Football League (Cusack Cup) and Championship double,” he said.
“We went on to achieve a unique three-in-a-row doubles in 1969 when we were captained by the prodigious football talent and leader Senan Downes.”
In 1970, Doonbeg were beaten in the semi-final of the championship by Kilrush Shamrocks. They avenged the championship defeat by beating Kilrush Shamrocks later in the year in the semi-final of the Senior Football League. After that, they went on to beat Kilmihil at the second time of asking in the final.
Doonbeg were beaten in the County Final of 1971 by Shannon Gaels before returning to winning ways in 1972, ’73 and ’74, when they won another three-in-a-row double of Senior Football Leagues and Championships.
Between 1974 and 1980, the club experienced a fallow period. In 1980, they won the Clare Shield and in 1981, they regained the senior league title (Cusack Cup) which they followed-up with back-to-back double League and Championship titles in 1982 and 1983.
Michael played with the Clare Senior footballers in the 1960s and ‘70s. During this time, the Banner had several impressive victories in the National Football League, beating some of the then giants of the game including Laois, Mayo and Cork.
Michael was selected for the Railway Cup team in 1969 with Senan Downes. In 1970, he was one of four from Doonbeg, and was joined on the team by Senan Downes, Paddy O’Grady, and Jamesy Lynch.
Michael retired from football in 1983, having savoured every victory and taken the lessons from every loss. “I learned a lot from those defeats and they enabled me to analyse my own performance and work on the areas of my game that needed to be improved,” he said.
“The victories were most memorable and the many friendships I made through playing football are what makes the sport a journey worth travelling.”
Michael’s parallel career in athletics also saw him enjoy great success, including a chance to represent Ireland in the Catholic Student Games in 1961.
He won county and provincial awards, running cross-country with Meelick AC and Kilmurry Ibrickane AC and Clare as well as qualifying for the finals of the mile race in the National Senior Track and Field Championships on a number of occasions in the 1960s.
“I ran and completed 15 marathons, the Dublin City Marathon on 13 occasions, The London Marathon once and the National Marathon in Limerick in 1976, which was won by Danny McDaid in in 2 hours, 13 minutes and 6 seconds,” Michael added.
“I enjoyed the running and it helped my fitness levels for the football and the marathons were a great means to sustain my fitness levels after I retired from football.”
Michael is remarkably modest about his achievements and someone who is clearly more comfortable on the field of play and out of the limelight. He is also conscious of the support that made his sporting feats possible.
“I am eternally grateful to my parents, siblings and colleagues who shared with me in my sporting journey,” he said.
He also expressed deep gratitude to his wife, Anne Taylor a native of Kilkee, “but a wholehearted supporter of the Doonbeg” and family Cathal, Rachel, Michael, Jim and Avril. “The people of Doonbeg have been great supporters too,” he said.
“For me, it wasn’t about the medals, it was about being involved and all of the friends made along the way. Every footballer is an athlete now. It’s literally a different ball game.”

by Fiona McGarry

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