MATT GOFF – LEGEND OF LEIXLIP AND KILDARE

by mariocorrigan on November 20, 2007

 
 
Matt Goff
by
EOGHAN CORRY
 
 
Tall, athletic, and good-looking, he was a symbol of the new generation, a proud member of the new army.
He was full back on the Kildare team, the most glamorous in the country in their glowing white jerseys and one of the best known sportsmen in the country.
We were not to know it, but it was Kildare’s greatest era.
He played in six All Ireland finals between 1926 and 1935, won an unprecedented six Leinster titles in succession, and won two All Ireland medals with the Kildare team that was the first to be presented with the Sam Maguire Cup.
Matt Goff was born Matthew Gough the only son of Thomas Gough and Elizabeth Malone on July 5th 1901 and baptized in Leixlip. His godparents were Matt and Katie Malone.
He was married to Mary Patricia Mulligan better known as “Connie” on January 9th 1946, by Fr Michael Kilmartin. his best man Patrick Doolen and his sister Mary Doolen remained Matt and Connie’s best friends through life.
His former home is now known as the St Vincent de Paul house
Matt played with Leixlip in the junior championship teams of 1921 and 1922 and the 1923 league, and came to notice on Tom Farrell’s 1924 Leixlip team that reached the 1924 Kildare junior final, only to lose to the Roseberry (later Newbridge Sarsfields team). His colleagues on the team included Jimmy and Paddy Dempsey, Ned Malone, Joe Balfe, George Hynes, Tom “Swigger” Johnson, Robert Crone, Chris and William Ennis, Patrick Campbell and Tom Galvin.
They were to form the backbone of the Leixlip team that achieved senior status six years later, with Matt’s first cousin Ned Malone at full back while Matt played at centre back. Five of the Leixlip team were on the Kildare team that lost the junior all Ireland to Cavan in 1928 which lost the final in controversial circumstances. But Matt had bigger things in mind.
 
He had joined the National Army during the war of independence and was a participant in the Stacumny ambush.
His army career helped his football profile. He was stationed as a military policeman at the newly renamed McKee barracks beside the Phoenix Park, reputedly to help the Army Metro win the Dublin championship. Matt played in the army championship of 1924 and on the Eastern Command team that won the army championship.
They reached the semi-final of the 1925 Dublin championship. Matt played on the Kildare junior team that year.
His colleagues at McKee included two of the greatest Kildare players of the time, Jack Higgins, Paul Doyle and Pat “Darkie” Ryan, a sub on the 1928 All Ireland team.
The “declaration rule” enabled Goff to make his debut for Kildare at corner back against Louth in the 1926 championship, alternated with Mick Buckley at full back for the next two matches and then wore the number 3 jersey from the Leinster final for ten years. In the programme for the 1926 final he was listed as 6’1, and 12 stone 2.
His debut year was an eventful one. Kildare played a drawn final with Kerry in 1926 that was commemorated in a famous ballad by Sigerson Clifford and regarded as one of the best in the history of the game long after the death of the last of those who were there. The Leinster Leader described him as “the body of the 1926 team.” The turning point of the drawn final was when bill Gorman eventually outfielded him and sidestepped past him for Kerry’s breakthrough goal.
It was the first football final to be broadcast on radio, bringing the drama of the game to a wider audience listening attently to their crystal wireless sets. The offices of the new York Advocate was besieged by hundreds of phone calls from Kildare emigrants, with the staff working in relays to announce the result of the match from Ballinskelligs telegraph station.
The attendance at the 1929 final, 43,839 crammed into Croke Park at a time when it had two small stands and most people had to stand on a rough circles of muddy banks, broke the record for an Irish sports event of 41,000 established for the Ireland-Scotland soccer match in Belfast in 1925.
Since then Gaelic football has remained the most popular sport in the country.
 
A sportsman and a gentleman
On the field and off
Kildare will find it hard to field
Another Mattie Goff
– Poem by PJ O’Connor Kells
 
Matt Goff played on for ten years, participating in the 1935 All Ireland final when Kildare were defeated by Cavan in a reverse of the 1928 result.
If there were All Star awards at the time, Goff would have won five or six, such was his dominance of the full back position in the late 1920s. The debate about whether he or Joe Barrett of Kerry was the best player ever in the position raged through the country.
Every time a team took on Kildare in league of championship, his presence was the first obstacle the opposition had to overcome. Getting past Goff was the key to beating Kildare.
Reputations don’t wear well. Goff’s memory was lost as the generation of followers who attended those matches passed on. There is little archive newsreel footage of Goff in action, except a few grainy sequences from the 1935 final when he apparently spent much of the game covering the Kildare goalkeeper James Maguire.
The folklore of the era is full of Goff stories, Goff exchanges. He was what made Kildare famous. It was a tragedy that Kildare took so long to return to contest another All Ireland final.
He won an intermediate medal with Leixlip in 1929 and was on the Leixlip team that beat Carbury in the replay of the 1937 Leader Cup final at Bawnogues tin Kilcock and the Leixlip team that was beaten by Carbury in the 1940 Leader Cup final at Rathcoffey, his last game for the club.
After leaving the army he worked as a security guard for CIE in Inchicore until he died as a result of bowel cancer in 1956.
Football is a team game. Matt Goff’s achievement was as part of a bigger movement, his team mates on the Kildare team, his deathly but friendly rivals on the Kerry and Cavan teams, and a generation of young sportsmen who raised the standard of football to new levels, energized the lives of millions of people and brought sport to the centre of popular culture where it remains today.
It is that those achievements and more that we are celebrating.
 
Footballers came from all over the country to his funeral after his death on March 19th 1956. A large crowd followed the coffin up Captain’s Hill, his coffin draped in the tricolour and his lily white jersey on the coffin. A bugler sounded the Last post. A guard of honour was formed by his old Leixlip team mates. Sean Boylan, OC First eastern Division of the War of Independence was present, father of the long serving Meath GAA team manager.
Jack Mangan and John Maguire represented the 1916 men and  Jack Maguire of the old Meath brigade of the Irish Volunteers gave a graveside oration.
A Celtic cross was unveiled at Matt Gough’s grave in 1958.
 
As PJ O’Connor’s poem mourned:
No more he’ll don the lily white
Or grace the emerald sward
No more he’ll fill us with delight
He’s gone to his reward
 
 
 


Some time back Eoghan Corry wrote a piece on the famous Leixlip and Co. Kildare footballer, Matt Goff which was unearthed by Kevin during an exhibition in Leixlip Library. Eoghan kindly passed on the text for EHistory.

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