Mike Feeney & Eamonn Duignan present Columba Cryan with a photo to mark the 60th anniversary of Connacht's 1958 Railway Cup victory. Photo by Willie Donnellan
A golden era for Leitrim and Connacht football was celebrated recently in Croke Park when three Leitrim players were recognised for their role in the Railway Cup winning Connacht team of 1958.
Ballinamore's Columba Cryan was happy to look back on those glory days although, no more than his team mates, there remains a tinge of regret that Leitrim failed to land a Connacht Championship during that era.
Reflecting on his role in the Connacht team of 1958 Columba was quick to downplay his own involvement as he recalled “I was only a sub, I was sub three times and I got two medals. I have the photograph of the 53 team at home.”
As well as two Railway Cup medals, Columba also won a Leitrim Senior Championship with Ballinamore Sean O'Heslin's but there remains a hint of regret that Leitrim failed, despite reaching four finals, to claim a Connacht title.
Playing with the best of the talent in the province, Columba proudly recalls that the best two players on the team were Leitrim men.
“It was difficult to get on the team,” Columba recalled adding, “The two outstanding players were certainly Pakie McGarty and Cathal Flynn. I was a sub and that was it. I played some of the games, a small bit. I was a sub and I got a medal.”
Reflecting on his career in the Leitrim jersey Columba recalled many great games and memories but what really stands out is the individuals he shared a dressing room with.
“I started at minor and then went junior and senior. It was a great bunch and the same bunch in a lot of the photos from 57-’62.
“They were a great bunch, Tom Colreavy, Leo Heslin who is a brother-in-law of mine. He was the captain of that team and Sean Heslin, he was older than Leo, he wasn’t involved then but before that he was.”
Reflecting on the style of play and how the game is played between his own era and the current trends Columba revealed it was some of his contemporaries rather than Jim McGuinness of Mickey Harte who introduced audiences to the tough tackling style that has been largely credited to northern teams of recent times.
“You had fellas who were the forerunners of what the northern teams are now with the blanket defence. Purcell was fantastic and Stockwell.”
Commenting on the current Leitrim team, Columba conceded that he has not seen much of them but keeps up to date with their fortunes through the Leitrim Observer and feels that while they may be skillful players they are missing a degree of physicality. He did, however, note the team doesn't need to be full of giants as two of his former team mates proved.
“Leitrim would be quite good but they have too many small fellas. There is nothing wrong with them but you have to be fairly strong. Even in ‘55 Leitrim had Mick Mullen and Paddy Reilly and they were very strong. There were one or two small fellas Paddy Dolan and Cathal Flynn.”
While he may see areas in which Leitrim need to improve, Columba is pleased with the progress being made by a fellow Ballinamore man - “There are a few of them trying hard and the young McGovern fella from Ballinamore is very good,” was Columba's assessment of the current Leitrim senior team.
Turning his eye closer to home Columba acknowledged the setbacks experienced by Ballinamore Sean O' Heslin's that saw them spend two years at Intermediate level was tough to watch for such a proud club.
“I didn’t see a lot of them last year because I get disappointed and I feel disappointed when things are going bad.
“I don’t mind them losing but when things are going very bad it is upsetting, especially when you think of where they were.”
During that golden era of Leitrim football which spanned from the mid to late 1950s until the early 60s Leitrim were to suffer more than their share of heartbreak at the hands of Galway with the '58 final still a vivid memory for Columba.
“Over that period from the 50s to 1962 the only team we could not beat was Galway. We weren’t beaten by any of the other teams in that period that I remember up to 1962.”
The fine margins between the joy of victory and the despair of defeat are perfectly illustrated when Columba refers to a picture he has at home.
“It was Galway all the time that beat us. I have a photo at home of the ‘58 Connacht final that we almost won of a ball just going to the side of the post and wide.”
Columba Cryan, centre, pictured with fellow Leitrim great Cathal Flynn and Eamonn McGarty, representing his father Pakie, and members of the extended Cryan family. (Back, from left) Columba Cryan Jnr, Sine Cryan, Tom Quinn, Fiona Cryan, Lucy Quinn, Thomas Quinn, Pam Cryan, Conor & Ronan McCabe, Catriona Nangle and Ronan McCabe with, in front, Kay Cryan, Columba Cryan, Cathal Flynn and Eamonn McGarty. Photo by Willie Donnellan