When a conversation begins to stir about the greats of Longford football, you can be certain the Hannify name will feature. As Covid-19 took hold and all sport ceased, it ushered in a period of reflection on sporting days gone-by. The Longford Leader ran a public vote to find out who the best 15 players of the last 20 years in the Farrell County were, and when it came to deciding who should be at midfield, David Hannify recorded an astonishing 75% of that public vote. After announcing himself on to the senior stage as a 17 year old, he helped his club enjoy a period of dominance in Longford from 1996 to 1998 where they recorded an era defining ‘3 in a row’, before captaining his side to another Connolly Cup in 2001. Over the next decade he would dominate the skies inside and outside the county as few could deal with his aerial prowess, not to mention his natural skill and ability on the ground. This week we went Clubspotting to Fr. Manning Gaels in the parish of Ballinamuck and Drumlish, to quiz the man himself.
1. What are your earliest memories of Fr. Manning Gaels?
My earliest memories are of going to games in our club grounds, Monaduff ,in the early 1980s. It looked very different in those days, far removed from the two Prunty Pitches, clubhouse and weights room that are there now. I can remember there being a galvanised toilet over along the river in the early 1980s.
Most of my time going to those matches was spent mooching around the river, which has since been culverted.
I can particularly remember the official opening of the pitch in 1984. There was a great carnival type atmosphere. It’s only as you get older you realise the immense contribution from clubmen, who have since passed on, and played such a pivotal role in making the club what it is today. We are lucky enough to still have fantastic people around Ballinamuck and Drumlish who keep our club at the heart of the community.
2. The Hannify’s are synonymous with Longford football, just how big of an influence did your family have on your GAA career?
Like many households in the country, football was huge in our house. My grandfather lived just up the road and there were always people calling in for a céili. I grew up hearing the stories about all the legends who played for Drumlish in the 30s, 40s and 50s. He certainly left a lot to live up to with 9 club championships medals (including one Galway club championship) and being the only Longford man to play in a Senior All-Ireland final, representing Galway when based there during his Army years. He lined out for Kildare the following year when based in the Curragh and was also the first Longfordian to win a Railway Cup in 1945.
My uncle Jimmy was on the great Longford team of the 60s that won the National Football League and the county’s only Leinster title in 1968. He lived next door, so myself and my brother and sister used to have a kick around over at his place.
My father played for a long time with the club and represented Longford too. He was still playing with the club into the 1980s so I was well used to going to training sessions and kicking the ball back out.
As GAA is rooted in families and communities, it was probably no surprise that Colin, my brother, Michelle, my sister and I followed in their footsteps and went on to play football.
3. Who was your sporting hero(es) growing up?
The world seemed a lot smaller in the 1980s, so many of my sporting heroes were local. I used to go into the Gaels dressing room with my father, and I remember looking up to the likes of Ciaran Gilhooley and Frank McNamee, who were county players then. There were many footballers from the Crowe family in that era who donned the maroon the gold with distinction. Those players looked like giants to a small boy and I especially remember some of the club stalwarts, like Thomas Gill, Séamus Noonan and Séamus Cullen, whom I greatly admired.
James Breslin is an absolute legend of our club. Having watched him play alongside my father, it was an honour to win four championship medals with him during my club career.
4. What was your proudest moment in a Fr. Manning Gaels jersey?
It would have to be captaining the team to our 2001 Longford championship win. I was also very proud of our Leinster club campaign of 1998. We defeated a few strong clubs including Rhode (Offaly) and Clane (Kildare). The Clane victory was particularly pleasing as we were massive outsiders in that game, with the Clane team having six players who starred in the All-Ireland Final a month earlier.
Losing by a point to Éire Óg of Carlow, the eventual provincial champions, was disappointing as we only really played in the second half. Despite the controversial loss, we acquitted ourselves well but there’s definitely a feeling that we left that one behind.
5. Who was your toughest opponent at club level, and who was the best player that you played with?
My time playing Sigerson Cup for UCD made me realise that there are as good players in Longford as any county. Many of my toughest duels were during our training sessions with our club during the 90s. You wouldn’t get much change from any of the Fr. Manning Gaels defenders on that team. Paul McCormack was teak tough while Pete McWade took no prisoners.
James Breslin and Colin Hannify were great footballers around the middle. Absolute workhorses and a scourge to mark! They were the driving force of our team. I’d have to say though that Podgy Davis was a magical player. Definitely one of the trickiest players you could ever mark and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He had a serious burst of speed and was equally comfortable on either foot, being the best striker of a ball I’ve ever played with.
6. What was your most disappointing moment in a Fr. Manning Gaels jersey?
Looking back now, I feel that we could have progressed that extra step in the Leinster club championship. It’s one of those competitions that you have to take your opportunity when it arises.
Losing two county finals and two Sigerson Cup finals in successive years was extremely disappointing too.
7. What is the funniest story you have from your playing days?
I have great memories from underage level of being piled into cars going to matches. So many people devoted their time and car suspension for us – Terry McKenna, Johnny Cooney, Michael Gallagher, Maurice Murphy, Tom Crowe and Michael Mulleady Snr, to name a few.
One time, myself and a gang of lads were walking out to Monaduff for training and Michael Mulleady Snr, in his Nissan Bluebird, picked us up. He already had a full car but piled us in nonetheless. As we made our way down past the Mill, he picked up another gang and made room for us by putting his own sons, Martin and Mike, sitting in the boot with their legs hanging out. There were lads squeezed in from all angles, including along the back windscreen! He managed to squeeze up to 15 lads in. The short spin out to Monaduff wasn’t the smoothest of journeys, even though he just crawled along. He knocked great fun out of the shouting in the packed car from every bump we hit. All arrived safe and sound.
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