Thursday 27 June 2019

Celebration of a class act

Matty tribute a positive showcase for Wexford football

Matty Forde receiving his All Star award from G.A.A. President Seán Kelly in 2004
Matty Forde receiving his All Star award from G.A.A. President Seán Kelly in 2004
Matty Forde celebrating one of the nine points he scored from play against Meath in Croke Park in 2006

Alan Aherne

A night of celebration is planned for the Ashdown Park Hotel in Gorey on Saturday, January 19, and it's an event not to be missed for anyone who has admired Matty Forde's footballing wizardry in more than 20 years of a distinguished playing career.

'This Is Your Life' was once one of the most popular programmes on television, with host Eamonn Andrews and his big red book surprising special guests before bringing them on a journey through their past with the assistance of friends and family.

And while Matty is well aware of what's going to happen at this function on Saturday week, the general theme will be somewhat similar as it has been organised first and foremost to say a sincere 'thank you' to one of the county's best-ever footballers.

However, a strong element of surprise will be involved too, because the Kilanerin and Wexford legend will be feted on the night by a string of household names from the world of sport, and their identities won't necessarily be revealed in advance.

With a host of special guests already confirming their attendance, it promises to be a very enjoyable event and the perfect social occasion to whet one's appetite for another busy year of sport.

The organisers are keen to stress that this is not being run as a fundraiser for Matty, and no individuals will receive any money from their involvement in the exercise.

Any cash left over after expenses will be divided between three worthy causes: Gorey Hospice, the Wexford under-age development squads, and the Kilanerin Coiste na nOg section.

Michael McGovern of McGovern's pub in Gorey, the former Craanford and Wexford footballer, is one of the main driving forces behind the event, and he has spent countless hours compiling a DVD documenting Matty's glittering career with club and county.

Indeed, persistence paid off late last week when footage of one of his finest hours - his individual haul of 2-10 in the 2004 championship against Offaly in Wexford Park - was finally unearthed after proving very elusive to track down.

A free copy of this DVD will be presented to adult ticket holders for an event which is expected to attract a capacity attendance given the esteem in which Matty is held in sporting circles.

Tickets are €10 for adults and €5 for under-18s, and they are available from four outlets: My Sport, Enniscorthy; Hore's Stores, Wexford; Ashdown Park Hotel, Gorey; Murphy's, Kilanerin.

It's almost 20 years ago since Matty made his Senior inter-county debut, and I was among the attendance on that day - February 28, 1999 - in Enniskillen when Wexford lost a National League Division 2B game to Fermanagh by 2-5 to 0-10 despite his three-point haul (two from frees).

Larger than life Kerryman Joe Joe Barrett was team manager at the time, but he had to relinquish his post after striking referee Mick Curley from Galway at the end of Matty's third game in the same campaign - another one-point away loss, this time to Cavan in Breffni Park.

Interestingly, Matty was joined by his big brother, Pat, on his debut, and the 17 players used also included two John Hegartys: his long-time club and county colleague, plus the Monageer-Boolavogue clubman of the same name who replaced a youngster destined to have a brighter future than anyone could possibly have imagined on that miserable day weather-wise in Brewster Park.

For the record, the full team was: Ollie Murphy; Philip Wallace, Mick Kavanagh, Donal Redmond; Colin Sunderland (0-1), Rory Stafford, Willie Carley; Jim D'Arcy, John Harrington (0-1); Pat Forde, Mick Mahon (0-1), Jim Byrne (capt., 0-1); Scott Doran (R.I.P., 0-3), Matty Forde (0-3, 2 frees), John Hegarty (Kilanerin). Subs. - Seán O'Shaughnessy for Wallace, inj., John Hegarty (Monageer-Boolavogue) for M. Forde.

Matty went on to give distinguished service to Wexford over twelve seasons, before playing his 119th and final competitive game in an All-Ireland qualifier loss to Cork in Wexford Park on July 18, 2010.

Interestingly enough, that was also a rain-lashed day like his debut on a scarcely-playable surface in Enniskillen, but he had provided supporters with so many bright moments in between.

Some of his scoring exploits were off the charts, and he was the county's top marksman across all competitions in every calendar year from 2000 to 2008.

The returns amassed were something else: 3-51 in 2000; 8-31 in 2001; 3-22 in 2002; 2-83 in 2003; 11-81 in 2004; 7-83 in 2005; 4-63 in 2006; 2-35 in 2007; 6-72 in 2008.

He was an ever-present in two of those campaigns, starting every game in 2003 along with Darragh Breen, and doing the same in 2005 in the company of Colm Morris and Shane Cullen.

The undoubted high point of that glittering career arrived in 2004 when Matty was named GPA 'Footballer of the Year' and became Wexford's first-ever All Star after a series of memorable displays.

Followers will never forget his amazing haul of 2-10, including 2-7 from play, in an All-Ireland qualifier win at home to Offaly during that summer, and he pipped Mayo's Conor Mortimer (1-42) to the championship's leading scorer accolade thanks to the sublime tally of 3-38 from his five matches (an average of 9.4 points per game).

This was broken down into 3-19 from play, 0-16 from frees, 0-2 from '45s and 0-1 from a line ball, and the feat was all the more extraordinary given that Wexford made a relatively early exit to Derry in the qualifiers.

He went on to play in both international rules tests at home to Australia later that year, scoring a combined 13 points to help Ireland to success, while he also assisted Leinster in an inter-provincial final defeat to Ulster which was played in Paris.

However, the game that sticks out in my memory from his glory year of 2004 was the National League annihilation of Galway, All-Ireland champions just three seasons earlier, on an incredible day in Tuam.

Wexford were flying high in Division 1B at the time under Pat Roe, and they stunned local followers into silence by romping to a runaway 5-12 to 1-7 win.

Matty was simply inspired on that rainswept afternoon, amassing a magnificent 4-5, with all bar two points arriving from play.

The team captain was as close to perfection as is humanly possible, with a quickfire hat-trick of goals near the end of the first-half putting the game to bed.

One of his trademarks was to launch high kicks into the heavens, judging the wind to perfection as they inevitably sailed between the posts.

He gave a couple of memorable examples on that particular occasion, and it was an absolute privilege to be there, one of the highlights of my near 30-year reporting career.

He will also be remembered for his nine points from play versus Meath in the championship in Croke Park in 2006, having scored the clinching goal one year earlier when Wexford pipped Tyrone by a point in Portlaoise to reach the Allianz League Division 1 decider which they lost to Armagh.

He also played in the county's first Leinster Senior final appearance since 1956 in 2008 against Dublin, having led the charge in the opening round against Meath in Carlow when the Slaneysiders came back from the dead to record a 2-14 to 2-13 success.

On the club scene he still commands the utmost respect, and his display for Kilanerin in the drawn decider with Shelmaliers last October was out of the top drawer for a man zoning in on his 40th birthday.

He contributed 0-4 when collecting his first Senior medal in 1997 against Adamstown, and his 1-7 haul earned him the man of the match award when Castletown were defeated in the 1999 decider.

He was deemed the star man once more in 2003 after picking off 0-13, including eight from play, in the demolition of Horeswood, and his fourth medal was gained in 2008 in a game remembered as the 'Forde versus Cullen final'.

On that occasion, against Gusserane, Matty went head-to-head against long-time Wexford colleague Shane Cullen in the scoring stakes, and his ten-point haul (five from play) earned an incredible third county final man of the match accolade after a hard-earned 1-12 to 0-12 win.

His all-round talent was exceptional, and there's every chance that he would have been a hurler of renown if he hadn't concentrated on his first love of football.

Those doubting that claim should consult with any member of the St. Mary's (Rosslare) club, as he masterminded their downfall with Ballyfad in the Intermediate final of 2003 and - surprise, surprise - ended that particular contest with yet another man of the match trophy.

Debate will always rage about who was the best-ever Wexford footballer and, in truth, it's impossible to adjudicate with any degree of accuracy given that nobody has seen the full complement of players who have donned the jersey in live action.

However, I have watched every inter-county team closely since 1983, and I can safely say that there was nobody to touch Matty in that period.

He was simply in a different class, and there will be plentiful reminders of this in the Ashdown Park Hotel in Gorey on Saturday week, January 19.

Tickets are selling out fast, so make sure to get one without delay and share in what should be a memorable occasion to celebrate a truly great player, and a showcase of all that's positive about Wexford football.

Wexford People

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