Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

5 February 2009 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY

GAA soccer stars

ONE of the interesting things highlighted by the 125th anniversary of the GAA has been the number of former players who went on to make their mark at other sports. In recent times there has been a plethora of professional soccer players who played for their county, including Steve Staunton, the former Irish international and manager who played under-21 for Louth.
Current Aston Villa and former Celtic manager Martin O’Neill played minor for Derry but was best known as a colleges player when the fact that he was playing Irish League soccer with Distillery decided the Antrim County Board to refuse to allow the McRory Cup final involving O’Neill’s team, St Malachy’s, to be held in Casement Park. That was the year before the ‘ban’ was abolished.
The Celtic connection has been maintained up to date by Cillian Sheridan (loaned out to Motherwell this week) who was on the Cavan minor football panel prior to his becoming a professional. He was also named in the Irish international squad, leading to it being remarked that he was probably the only Cavan person alive likely to get a chance to play in Croke Park.

THERE’S a rake of Dubs who played minor or senior football with Dublin before becoming professional soccer players.
They included Johnny Carey, who played for Dublin in the 1930s and later with Manchester United; Con Martin, who won a Leinster senior medal in 1941 while playing professional soccer for Drumcondra and also likewise moving to Manchester; and perhaps, most exotically, Kevin O’Flanagan, who played minor with Dublin, soccer with Bohemians, Arsenal and Ireland, and played international rugby while managing to win national athletics titles in the long jump and over sprint distances. Apparently, only the outbreak of World War Two denied him the opportunity also to compete at the Olympics but he compensated for that by being made the British team doctor for the 1948 games.
Three people have won All-Ireland senior medals with Dublin and also played professional soccer. Two of them also won English FA Cup medals. It is a good one for table quizzes and while most people will get Kevin Moran, who was on the victorious Dublin teams in 1976 and 1977 and won two FA Cups with Manchester United in 1983 and 1985, few will guess the other. Remarkably, Moran continued to play until 1994 amid perennial rumours that he was going to return at some stage to the sky blue jersey. Moran himself apparently said at one stage that he would no longer be fit enough to play Gaelic football at a high level!

THE other dual All-Ireland and FA Cup winner – the one few ever guess – was Jack Kirwan. Kirwan won an All-Ireland with Dublin in 1894 while a member of the Young Irelands team, which was mainly, if not exclusively, comprised of rather large chaps who worked as coopers and other physically demanding jobs in Guinnesses.
Kirwan moved to England, where he played soccer with Southport, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea, Clyde and Leyton Orient, as well as 17 times for Ireland. It was while with Tottenham in 1905 that he won his FA Cup medal. After he retired he became the first professional manager of the famous Dutch club, Ajax of Amsterdam.
The only other player I can think of who won a senior All-Ireland before becoming a professional soccer player abroad was Val Harris, who won his All-Ireland with Dublin in 1901 and subsequently played professional soccer with Shelbourne, with whom he won their first-ever Irish Cup, and Everton, where he managed to get to an FA Cup semi-final, before returning to Shelbourne, where he won a second FA Cup medal and trained both them and the Irish international side.
Niall Quinn is possibly a more typical Dub in reaching finals but not winning any of them. He was on the Dublin minor hurling team beaten by Galway in the 1983 All-Ireland final before joining Arsenal and, of course, being part of the Irish team that got to the World Cup finals in 1990 and 2002. His main claim to fame, however, is that he played hurling with yours truly, something which no-one believes, of course, not even my own child.

ANOTHER former county hurler who is excelling in another discipline is boxer Matthew Macklin, who played minor and under-21 with Tipperary.
Macklin is Irish middleweight champion and will fight Wayne Elcock for the British title next month. Many, however, would most like to see Macklin fight John Duddy.
Finally, a chap whose GAA antecedents are vaguer but who is said to have played in Dublin in the early 1900s before devoting himself to soccer was Patrick O’Connell. He played with Frankfort in Dublin, Belfast Celtic (alongside future Dublin Brigade O/C Oscar Traynor), Sheffield Wednesday, Manchester United – where he famously managed to scupper a match-rigging betting coup in which he was part by missing a penalty! – Dumbarton and Ashington.
O’Connell’s chief claim to fame, however, is the fact that he went on to manage teams in Spain. He began with Racing Santander in 1922, before moving to Real Oviedo and Real Betis. It was while there that he was signed by Barcelona, who he managed to the 1936 Cup Final where they lost to Real Madrid before Spanish soccer was closed down due to the Civil War.
O’Connell took Barcelona to North America and is widely credited with saving the famous club who returned to play in a short-lived Catalan league before rejoining La Liga and embarking on their epic and sometimes bitter rivalry with Real Madrid, although they only won it again in 1945 after O’Connell had left to manage Seville.
O’Connell (‘Patricio’) remains an iconic figure in Barcelona, possibly the second most glamorous and best-supported sports team in Europe      .

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