10 February 1995
Enjoyed A Much-Travelled Career
Chief Superintendent of the Laois-Offaly Division of the Garda Siochana, Mayo old boy Johnny Carey has had more posts than Phoenix Park. Yet he will always be remembered for the loyalty and commitment he showed to his native county at a time when other counties would have embraced his talents like a father would his prodigal son.
Based in Portlaoise since July of last year, the former All-Star right full back never let distance come between him and his determination to serve the Western County to the best of his ability on the football fields of Ireland. From Templemore to Claremorris, Tuam, Bundoran, Dunmore, Castlerea and Loughrea, Johnny Carey has walked the beat and exhibited his silken skills to varying degrees and for varying lengths of time.
A native of Bangor Erris in county Mayo (situated in the parish of Kiltane), Johnny's first G.A.A. club was Belmullet and he enjoyed good times with them too, winning a county Minor medal with them in 1962. Being on the winners rostrum helped get him noticed too. He was selected for the Mayo County Minor team in '62 and '63 such was the promise he showed as a teenager.
The formation of Saint Pat's of Kiltane later on led the way for the clinching by Carey and company of a north county Championship title win 1965. On his "second coming" with Kiltane, he was fortunate enough to secure an intermediate Championship medal in 1973.
Based in Tuam between 1966 and '72 Johnny added to his already growing collection of medals by tacking on a couple of League souvenirs but a Championship medal chance was dashed in 1972 when Galway city side denied the Stars in the final.
"They were a much more seasoned team and we were a bit on the young side. We would have had a fifty-fifty chance going into the match but it just didn't happen for us on the day".
Between his stint in the county decider in '72, and the end of his career, Johnny also served with distinction both Dunmore McHales and Roscommon Gaels. On the county front, Johnny played with just one county, his beloved Mayo. From 1965 to 1973, he was one of the team's star players, most consistent performers and ace operates.
Over the course of his innings with Mayo Seniors, he figured on the Connacht Championship winning teams of 1967 and '69. In addition he had the satisfaction of captaining the Red and Greens to a famous National League triumph in 1970. For good measure, he togged out for Connacht in the 1969 Railway Cup competition and helped his province beat Ulster in the semi final and ultimately Munster in the decider. Ironically 1969 signalled the last time the men from way out west scooped the now sadly devalued interprovincial series.
Johnny Carey was a very good defender and an even better footballer and his peers duly recognised him as such too when in 1971, at the inauguration of the All-Star Awards, he was selected as the best right corner back in the country. Incidentally behind him on that first ever All-Star team was club colleague, P.J. Smith (of Galway) who manned the number one position as goalkeeper.
As a Garda, Johnny got used to juggling his training and matches around his daily working time table and schedules but he admits now that there was always that wee bit of a struggle, that small bit of strain in trying to balance work commitment and leisure activities.
"Prior to 1970 there were fairly strict working conditions and rules laid down within the Guards. There was little time off although there was a fair amount of goodwill shown to lads wishing to play for their clubs. Back then around ninety per cent of Guards were handy footballers".
As somebody who was relocated from area to area as part of his job, it was understandable that Johnny should transfer his allegiance from his home club of Kiltane at some stage.
"Kiltane was a Junior club but I didn't mind playing for them. For instance for the likes of myself it was easier to play for a club in a town where I was working. You could fit in the football a lot more easily around work that way instead of travelling home constantly to the club while keeping your place on the county team and travelling all around the county with them too".
Surprisingly the ultra keen Mister Versatile from Bangorerris quit the intercounty scene at the less than mouldy age of twenty-eight. "To be honest, I was dropped by the county selectors after going through a bad patch, a lack of form which wasn't helped by a couple of hamstring injuries and the amount of travelling I was doing at the time. Anyway, nobody came chasing after me when I did call a halt", a philosophical Carey explained while winding back the tape on his career.
A county Minor medalist with Belmullet (but the only one of his peers to go on to distinguish himself at the lofty heights of interprovincial level), ironically enough, Johnny doesn't boast of any significant G.A.A. lineage. He did compensate for that somewhat, however, by making the best of his time at the famed Saint Muirdeach's College in Ballina, County Mayo where he captained the school's Junior football team. "Unfortunately we lost out in both the Junior and Senior finals to Saint Jarlaths. I remember we were well on track to win the Junior final but we missed two penalties and literally paid the penalty after that. I can recall our disappointment being compounded when we lost the Senior final a week later", explained Johnny who credits former Mayo county player Father Jim Nallen as being the brains behind the Muirdeach's respectable outings.
Reflecting back on his college days tends to highlight, for Johnny, the relative decline in the challenge posed by colleges from the province of Connacht when Hogan Cup honours come up for grabs. "I'm sorry to say that since my time several colleges in Connacht have threatened to win consistently at the top level but have more often than not lost out. I'd imagine that the decline in the standard of football in the colleges in Connacht would be part of the reason why Connacht football has gone down so much in recent years. It is so often said that Mayo don't seem to hold on to their successful Minors, like the time we won the All-Ireland in 1985, but the volume of youngsters are not coming through. Definitely the same quality of player is not coming out of the school's in Connacht".
Johnny Carey is a man without blinkers though, a man whose travels over the years have given him a wider prospective on things of a football nature that those permanently resident in Mayo may not have been afforded. He sees a great deal of hope on the horizon for his county and province. "When you look back and see that five years ago Ulster football wasn't at all rated and in my time no team coming out of Connacht had any great reason to fear Ulster best", he enthused.
And what of a renaissance in fortunes for Connacht football? "I'm not sure that Connacht can do an Ulster on things at All-Ireland level in the immediate future. However, if any one team from Connacht can break its duck at Croke Park then the future wouldn't look so bleak so I wouldn't be too despondent. Personally I feel that Mayo can recover lost ground fairly quickly".
And why has Mayo lost so much ground in recent years?
"In the last twenty years or so, the rules of the game have changed dramatically. The game has become a lot faster, there's a greater reliance now on speed and fitness than there used to be. Mayo, I think, have been slow to adapt their game in response to this change unlike their counterparts in Ulster and Dublin and Kerry teams for instance".
Interestingly, Johnny admits to holding out a certain degree of fear for the future popularity of gaelic football. The attendances at All-Ireland finals and provincial Championship matches don't, he maintains, bear much resemblance to the numbers turning up for club games up and down the country. "I remember playing against the Australians in 1967 at Croke Park when around twenty thousand people turned up and there were about thirty thousand people going to Championship matches here in Connacht", the husband of Mary Ann and father of Michelle, Jacqueline, John, Brendan, Siobhan and Brian explained.
Team manager of his beloved Mayo between 1977 and '80, Johnny Carey knows all about the weight of expectation that hangs like a black cloud over players and management in Mayo come Championship time. He has been victim of criticism and lauded in turn on and off the field, yet he loves the sport and Mayo. Loves both to a fault.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
10th February, 1995