August 23, 1991
Mickey Linden - The Gentleman of Down Football
writes Brian McEvoy
Referee Tommy Howard sounded the final whistle. Croke Park was a sea of Red and Black. The footballers of Down had just defeated Kerry and booked for the Mourne County a spot in the All-lreland Senior Football Final for the first time in twenty-three years. It was a time of celebration. Some people laughed, others cried, but it mattered little as the Red and Black were back and everyone was ecstatic. In the midst of all the excitement great human nature prevailed. Two Down footballers made their way to the invalids section in front of the Hogan Stand and spoke with some of life's less favoured people. They gave their jersies away. One of these players was Conor Deegan - the other was Mickey Linden.
Michael Rory Linden is one of life's true gentlemen. One of a family of five boys and two girls he comes from a family steeped in the gaelic tradition. His mother, Isabel, played camogie for Glenn and later Mayobridge while his father Eamon was a more than useful club player with Mayobridge. All of his brothers play Gaelic Football and indeed his older brother John has already played in an All-lreland final in Croke Park. He played on the London team which lost to Meath in the All-lreland Junior Football Final in 1988. Incidentally a substitute on that team was a young nineteen year-old called Peter Withnall.
Speed, skill and supreme fitness are the trademarks of Mickey Linden. Even when not training with club are or county it is often common to see the genial unassuming Mayobridge man (he actually lives just outside Warrenpoint after his marriage to a local girl Louisa last year) pounding along country roads close to home. A mechanic by trade, he has recently taken up a new appointment with the Department of Transport and makes the long journey to his work in Tyrone on a daily basis.
Even from his early days as a pupil at St. Patrick's Primary School, Mayobridge. it was clear that Mickey Linden was going to be a footballer with that special appeal. He had the knack of a goalscorer and even at that early age his amazing turn of speed was causing all sorts of problems for budding defenders. He later attended St. Mark's High School in Warrenpoint and played a pivotal role in securing u-14 and u-16 Down Vocational Schools Championship.
At club level, Mickey Linden's greatest day came in 1980 when he helped his club defeat a fancied Bryansford side by 0-7 to 1-1 in the Down Minor Football
Championship Final. Playing at midfield Mickey laid the foundation for the success of the 'Sky-blues' by scoring no less than six of his sides seven points. As one local journalist in his post-match analysis of the game wrote "In Michael Linden, Mayobridge had the most accomplished player on the field".
By this stage Michael Linden was already an established player in the Mayobridge first fifteen. In 1980 also he helped them to win the Down All County Division Four title and the following year he steered them to an ail County League Division Three League and Down Junior Football Championship double, Newry Mitchel's being the vanquished side in that Championship Final. Subsequently Mickey Linden helped Mayobridge to win an All County Division Two medal in Down and for the past two seasons his club have finished runners-up in the All County League Division One.
At present Mickey Linden's two big sporting ambitions remain unfulfilled - to win an All-lreland senior Football medal with Down and to win a Down Senior Football Championship medal with his native Mayobridge. I asked him if he would sacrifice his Down Championship medal this year for the sake of an All-lreland medal and he wryly replied "It would be nice to win them both." This aptly indicates the great loyalty which Mickey Linden has to both club and county.
Mickey Linden has represented Down at u-16, minor, u-21 and senior level. In 1981 he seemed well on course to securing an Ulster Minor Football Championship when Down led Derry by 2-6 to 0-0 but the Oak Leaf county staged a remarkable second-half recovery and a last minute penalty from Terence McCluckian gave Derry victory by 3-6 to 2-8. In 1984, Michael won an Ulster u-2 1 Championship with down but he was unable to inspire his team-mates to an All-lreland final appearance as Cork defeated Down by 2-12 to 0-12 in the semi-final.
It was in the Autumn of 1981 when Down team manager Joe Lennon first invited Mickey Linden to join the Down senior Football team panel. Down had a number of months earlier won the Ulster Senior Football title and were competing in Division Two of the National Football League. Mickey made his debut against Meath in a league game in Newcastle. The game ended in a draw The following year he made his Championship debut against Tyrone in Newry. Down's Ulster Crown was lost at the first defence.
Prior to this year Mickey Linden's greatest honour in the famed Red and Black jersey carne in 1983 when he helped Down to a National Football League victory as the Mournemen overcame great rivals Armagh by 1-7 to 0-7 in the final played at Croke Park. He was a member of the Down side which lost to Tyrone in the 1986 Ulster Final but he was slightly compensated with Dr. McKenna Cup Medals in 1987 and 1989.
1991, however, has been a great year for Mickey linden and Down football. the Anglo-Celt Cup returned to the County for the first time in ten years and history repeated itself as the mighty Kerry were conquered in the All-lreland semi-final. Mickey Linden was voted 'Player of the Championship (Ulster) by viewers of BBC television and named as Telecom Eireann Man of the Match in the All-lreland semi-final. While these awards were nice to receive, Mickey is not one to bask in glory. Such things are only peripheral to the real thing and I couldn't have won any of them without the help of all my team-mates. I felt that I was accepting these awards as much on their behalf as on my own" he stated.
In the past Mickey feels that the breaks went against Down but this year he feels that their luck has turned. "In some of our earlier Championship games this season we got the rub of the green on the odd occasion but we were worthy winners of all our games. That little bit of success has helped our moral no end and there is a new found confidence in the camp", said Mickey.
September 15th will no doubt be one of the greatest days in his life. "lt is certainly a dream come true to play in All-lreland Final. lt will be a wonderful occasion and I'm really looking forward to it." All of Down and much further afield will be hoping that Mickey Linden can reproduce the form he has shown all season on the greatest day in the GAA calendar. If he can, then he may well spearhead Down to their fourth All-lreland title.
Should Down win it will be a case for great celebration and few will have cause to celebrate more than the former All Star replacement from Mayobridge. In terms of dedication and commitment he has few peers and if any man ever deserves to win an All-lreland medal, then surely it is that gentleman of Down football, Mickey Linden.
Taken from Hogan Stand
23rd August 1991
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