Connaught's greatest ever Gaelic footballers

GAA SPECIAL: BY MICK BYRNE

LAST week we went on a tour of Leinster and Munster with the Byrne’s Babes, who will be 40 years on the road next year.

In Part II of this series, we go through Connaught where we had some tough choices to make after seeing some of the legends of the game, selecting favourite players from each county.

In the third and final part of the series in tomorrow's issue of The Connaught Telegraph, I will name the top men from the province of Ulster.

Leitrim: Packie McGarrity. I had the pleasure of seeing one of Leitrim’s finest footballers towards the twilight of his career, the legendary Packie McGarrity, a man who first donned the Leitrim colours at the age of 16 in 1949.

His career spanned four decades – the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and 70s – and not a word about burnout.

Packie won a Connaught junior title with Leitrim in 1952 and later the team went on to contest four Connaught senior finals in a row (1957 to 1960) against a Galway team that included the ‘terrible twins’ - Sean Purcell and Frank Stockwell.

He was a regular on the Connaught Railway Cup teams, winning two in 1957 and '58. He was an automatic choice on the Connaught Railway Cup team of the century.

As a mere 19-year-old he was selected on a Connaught team that included Sean Purcell, Paraig Carney, Sean Flanagan and Paddy O’Malley.

This man had it all, from soloing and shooting to free-taking, and was a great motivator. A happy memory for Packie was when his club, Mohill, won the Leitrim county championship in 2006 after a gap of 35 years.

Sligo: Mickey Kerins. There were many great footballers that came out of the Yeats County but for me the name Mickey Kerins stands out above all, a man that served his county for nearly 20 years and won Sligo’s first All-Star in 1971.

He was a legend of the game and one of the finest sharpshooters that ever came out of the province of Connaught, scoring a total of 14 points in a drawn Connaught final against Galway in 1971.

During his playing career of 215 games, he scored a total of 36 goals and 458 points, a tally that compared favourably with any other player of any era.

He played for 13 consecutive years in Connaught alongside Dermot Earley and the great Gerry O’Malley, winning two Railway Cups in 1967 and 1969.

He won seven county titles with his club, St. Patrick’s Dromard. His finest hour was in 1975 when he helped Sligo win their first Connaught title since 1928. In 2014 Mickey was inducted into the GAA Hall of Fame.

Roscommon: Dermot Earley. We were all there in the Hyde in 1985 celebrating Mayo’s great victory in the Connaught final when all of a sudden we noticed Willie Joe Paddy and T.J. Kilgallon hoisting Dermot Earley on their shoulders.

This was his last game for the saffron and blue. The Mayo supporters halted their charge and applauded the vanquished hero.

Indeed, this was a sad day for Roscommon followers as the legendary Pat Lindsay announced his retirement later in the dressing room.

This was an era of Roscommon football at its best, winning five Connaught titles in the ‘70s and '80s. A team that richly deserved an All-Ireland but didn’t quite manage to win one.

Dermot was from a strong footballing family. His brother, Paul, played for Roscommon for 12 years, while his son, Dermot Jnr, played for Kildare, winning two All-Stars, and his daughter, Noelle, won a ladies’ All-Star in 2009.

Dermot first won a Connaught minor medal in 1965. He first joined the panel in 1963 at the age of 15. He later won two Under 21 medals, in 1966 and 1969, winning an All-Ireland Under 21 title in 1966.

He was only 17 when he made his senior debut in 1965. He won five Connaught finals with Roscommon, one NFL in 1979, two All-Stars in 1974 and 1979. He appeared in one senior final, in 1980.

Galway: Padraic Joyce: There are many from the Maroon and White we could pick. We all have an opinion, but for me the greatest of them all is the Killererin clubman, Padraic Joyce, another I would put on my all-time 15.

I first noticed the great man when he captained St. Jarlath’s to Hogan Cup success in 1994, playing alongside Michael Donnellan, Declan Meehan, John Divilly and Tommy Joyce, men who four years later would go on to win the Sam Maguire.

But it was Joyce who will live long in the memory. A genius with the ball, he scored 28-279 in 66 games for the Tribesmen.

He won a Hogan Cup in 1994, captaining St. Jarlath’s, a Sigerson Cup in 1997 with IT Tralee, Connaught minor and Under 21 titles, four county titles with Killererin, six Connaught titles, two All-Stars and two All-Irelands (in 1998 and 2001)! Enough said.

Mayo: Henry Gavin. We’ve had many great occasions following the Green and Red in both league and championship.

Many great days, many great occasions indeed. We’ve had more good days than bad following Mayo the width and breadth of the country, from Donegal to Wexford, Antrim to Kerry.

We've made many great memories, and we all have our own favourite player – and I could pick any one of 50 and make a great case for them all.

My favourite player is a man who played through the barren years of the '70s and early '80s, a man who could play half-back or half-forward, a man who captained his college, St. Jarlath’s, to All-Ireland success in 1974.

He captained Mayo minors before he made his Mayo senior debut against London in 1975.

He scored a total of 6-24 in a career where he played 84 times for his county, the highlight coming in 1985 when he captained Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin.

Henry won two Connaught championships, in 1981 and 1985. At club level, he soldiered for Castlebar Mitchels for many years, winning four county championships, one Connaught final and an All-Ireland appearance against Nemo Rangers in 1994.

Thank you for the memories Henry!

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