November 17, 2005
Jack Mahon: A life dedicated to Gaelic Football
In a very sad year for Galway G.A.A., another of its most famous sons went to his eternal reward. Jack Mahon was the G.A.A.'s greatest ambassador, its greatest promoter in the whole country but particularly in Galway. Jack gave a lifetime to Gaelic Games as a player, writer, historian, manager, administrator and statistician.
From an early age he played Gaelic football in his home town of Dunmore and later in Saint Jarlath's College, Tuam, with whom he won a Connacht Colleges senior title.
He played Minor football for Galway in 1950 and was on the Galway senior panel in 1951. Galway won the Connacht senior championship in 1954 and Jack was a member of a sparkling half-back line with Jack Kissane and Tom Dillon. Galway caused a major shock in '54 when beating Mayo, the league champions and short-priced contenders for the All-Ireland title. The Galway defence marshalled by Sean Purcell at full-back mounted a tremendous rearguard action to defy Mayo's best efforts in the second half and won by 2-4 to 1-5.
Following this great win, Galway were hot favourites for the Connacht final against Sligo at Tuam. Everything was going according to plan in the first half as Galway led by 1-7 to 0-1 at the break. In the second half Galway seemed to ease off and gradually Sligo reduced the margin. In fact, Sligo scored twice as much as Galway (3-3 to 1-3) in this half. There was controversy in the dying moments as Sligo sought an equalising goal. Jack Mangan saved on the goal-line but Sligo claimed the ball had crossed the line. While the referee consulted the umpires, Mick Gaffney the burly Sligo full-forward raised the green flag. Galway had a very anxious wait until the referee awarded a free out and Galway held on to win by 2-10 to 3-4. It was their first Connacht title since 1945 and it ended a very lean spell for the county.
Jim Magee reporting in the Irish Press said:"Jack Mahon was as solid as a rock in the left wing." Jack was to win five more Connacht championships medals.
Galway's next outing was the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry. Galway were jittery in the first half and nothing went right for them as Kerry led by 2-4 to 0-2 at the interval. On the resumption Galway came to grips with the game, none more so than the half-back line. Jack had to keep tabs on Paudie Sheehy, one of the best wing-forwards of the time and he acquitted himself very well. Jack was a terrific wing-back and who loved to attack the ball. He was also a wonderful fielder.
In 1955, Jack was selected on the Connacht Railway Cup team where the competition for places was very keen. Just think of the other players vying for places on Connacht half-back line. You had Batt Lynch, Frank Kelly, Gerry O'Malley, (Roscommon); Tom Dillon, Mick Greally, Jack Kissane (Galway); John McAndrew, Frank Fleming, Eddie Moriarty (Mayo); Nace O'Dowd (Sligo), Tony Hayden and Josie Murray (Leitrim). Yet Jack Mahon was in the half-back line every year from 1955 to 1960. Connacht won the Railway Cup in 1957 and 1958.
In the Connacht championship of 1955, Galway as champions were expected to do well. On a dreadful day for football with torrents of rain Roscommon caused a major shock when beating Galway by 1-6 to 0-3. It showed that no team could be taken for granted and it proved a wake-up call for Galway. Their final league game of 1955 saw the shaping of an All-Ireland winning team though losing in a thriller to Dublin by 1-6 to 1-5. Tom Dillon was moved to corner-back with Jack Mahon taking over at No.6.
Centre half-back is a very demanding position and moving Jack to the middle of the line was an inspired move. He met and beat the best centre-forwards around the country for the next six years. The Dublin game also saw the arrival of Mattie McDonagh who was to become one of Galway's greatest players. The team against Dublin was: Jack Mangan, John Lowry, Gerry Daly, Tom Dillon, Mick Greally, Jack Mahon, Liam Mannion, Frank Evers, Billie O'Neill, Joe Young, Sean Purcell, Mattie McDonagh, Ton McHugh, Frank Stockwell, Aidan Swords. Just a few pieces of the jig-saw missing.
In 1956 Galway faced Mayo with confidence and came away with a big win by 5-13 to 2-5. It was Galway's biggest win over Mayo and it avenged a hammering that Galway got in 1951 (Mayo 4-13, Galway 2-5).
Next up was Roscommon a team that had beaten Galway in the rain in 1953 and 1955. It was raining in 1956, too, but Galway won comfortably by 1-9 to 0-2.
The Connacht final was played in a downpour in Sligo but it didn't matter to Galway who won by 3-12 to 1-5. Sean Purcell played one of his best ever games against Nace O'Dowd and he cause panic in Sligo defence every time he got possession. He scored one massive point from the halfway line as the ball hung in the air for an age. Jack Mahon also had a great game and this is what John D. Hickey wrote about him in the Irish Independent: "If there is a better centre-half in the game than the Dunmore man, I have not seen him. Capable and composed no matter how great the stress of the moment, he is a defender whose confidence must be a great assurance to his helpers."
Galway were hot favourites for the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone following their exploits in Connacht. It was a first semi-final for the O'Neill County but they were not overawed by the occasion. They hit Galway with a frenzy that unsettled the Tribesmen and Galway were just hanging on in the early stages. On three occasions Jack Mangan the Galway goalkeeper was pinned against the goalpost in possession. Mangan still managed to clear without conceding a goal or a "50'. Jack Mahon went into this game with a suspect elbow but still outplayed Jackie Taggart, one of the best centre-forwards in the game. To protect his arm he seemed to jump higher and catch the ball on his chest. The hard-tackling Ulster men disrupted Galway's pattern and were lucky to be in front at the interval by 0-6 to 0-3. Galway increased their lead after the break and led by five points and seemed to be on their way. But Tyrone were not giving up easily. Iggy Jones, who caused so much trouble against St Jarlath's in 1946, almost won the day for Tyrone. He picked up the ball under the Cusack Stand sixty yards out. He sped diagonally across the field towards the Nally Stand. He left Galway men floundering in his wake until he was faced with Jack Mangan in the Galway goal. He pretended to kick the ball in the left hand corner as Mangan momentarily bought the dummy. Jones then fisted the ball to the top right hand corner. Mangan had the anticipation and agility to double back and catch the ball over his shoulder. Sean Purcell was moved to midfield and he helped stem the tide. Galway were glad to get away with a two point win, 0-8 to 0-6.
The All-Ireland final was delayed until October because of a polio epidemic in Cork. It was Galway's first final since 1942 and will be remembered as one of the best in years. Galway played delightful football in the first half, particularly the forwards. Sean Purcell and Frank Stockwell were in sparkling form with Stockwell scoring 2-5 from play, which is a record for 60 minutes. Galway had to withstand a great second-half recovery by Cork and won by 2-13 to 3-7. The team was: Jack Mangan, Sean Keely, Gerry Daly, Tom Dillon, Jack Kissane, Jack Mahon, Mick Greally, Frank Evers, Mattie McDonagh, Jackie Coyle, Sean Purcell, Billie O'Neill, Joe Young , Frank Stockwell, Gerry Kirwan, Sub., Aidan Swords.
Galway qualified for the National League final in 1957 against Kerry and in one of the greatest games for years they won by 1-8 to 0-6. After a tame first half, Kerry led by 0-5 to 0-4. The second half turned out to be a cracker with end-to-end football. Galway levelled after the break and after points were exchanged there was twenty minutes without a score. Up and down the field defenses on top, great fielding, great kicking and everyone wondering which team would crack first. Sean Purcell, who carried an injured leg into the game, got possession and ambled out towards the corner flag shadowed by Ned Roche. No danger out there! Purcell turned and centred with his left foot, a perfect lob and punched the ball to the Kerry goalmouth. The other "Terrible Twin" Frank Stockwell ran onto a perfect pass and punched the ball to the Kerry net. Galway were in front for the first time. Purcell and Stockwell added points for a famous win. This was Jack Mahon's greatest game for Galway and he played Big Tom Moriarty out of the game. Here's what John D. Hickey said about the Dunmore man. "I have seen the Dunmore man play many great games in the Maroon jersey but never did I see him perform so majestically as yesterday. Even when those around him were quite apparently affected by jitters in the early stages, Mahon destroyed raid after raid by Kerry."
Padraig Puirseal in the Irish Press said: "Mahon rose to new heights of football eminence, barring every Kerry move up the centre with a confident blend of elegance and ease. Yet with time to spare to help his often harassed flankers and even to drop further back and aid the extreme rearguard when dire danger threatened around the square". Jack was also captain for the day as regular captain Jack Mangan was out through injury.
Galway retained the Connacht title with wins over Roscommon by 0-3 to 0-7 and a big win over Leitrim by 4-8 to 0-4 in the newly opened Pearse Stadium. The All-Ireland semi-final saw Galway and Cork renew rivalry and this time Cork turned the tables. Galway looked a tired team but there was probably a touch of complacency thrown in as well. This was one that got away and later in the year Galway beat Louth, the All-Ireland champions, in a wonderful game in Tuam. Galway were just back from America where two of their best players Frank Stockwell and Frank Evers stayed on. This game drew a huge crowd to Tuam and such was the interest that the game was broadcast on radio by Micheal O'Hehir. This was the first league tie apart from semi-finals and finals to be broadcast live. A case of might have been. Galway 1-9, Louth 0-9.
Galway qualified for the Connacht final in 1958 after a big win over Mayo by 2-9 to 0-6. Galway got the fright of their lives from Leitrim and were delighted to hear the final whistle, winning by 2-10 to 1-11. This was probably Jack Mahon's most uncomfortable match in the maroon jersey. His direct opponent was Packy McGarty who gave him a very busy afternoon as he covered acres of ground. It took at least two defenders all their time to keeps tabs on McGarty who came in for a special attention from the Galway backs. If the card system had been in vogue, Galway would have lost a man. However, Jack recovered from this indifferent display to have a good game against Dublin even though Galway lost narrowly by one point. Ollie Freaney kicked the winning point for a free with the last kick of the game: Dublin, scoring 2-2.
This game marked the retirement of Jack Mangan, Tom Dillon, Billie O'Neill, Gerry Daly and Gerry Kirwan.
In 1959, Galway had an easy passage through Connacht, beating Roscommon by 0-12 to 0-4 and overwhelming Leitrim 5-8 to 0-12. This time, Jack Mahon was well on top against McGarty although in fairness to McGarty he was working out of the country at the time.
The All-Ireland semi-final saw Down play their first Championship game in Croke Park. They came with a great reputation of having played dazzling football in the Ulster championship. Down started at a ferocious pace and went two points up in as many minutes. However, Galway soaked up the pressure and at the break led by 0-5 to 0-2. Galway continued to dominate after the resumption and Sean Purcell goaled from a penalty after he was taken down in the "square". Galway led by 1-6 to 0-2 ten minutes in to the second half and coasting to an easy victory. But Down came to life and in a sweeping movement Sean O'Neill finished to the Galway net Down closed the gap to three points but that was as good as it got for the Mourne men. Galway finished the stronger and won 1-11 to 1-4. Best for Galway were Sean Purcell who scored 1-6; Frank Evers who outplayed Jim McCartan, and Jack Mahon who kept the defence together when Down threatened.
The All-Ireland final against Kerry evoked memories of great tussles between the counties in the thirties and the forties. Sadly, this game was a great disappointment with Kerry winning easily by 3-7 to 1-4. Galway started well with an early goal by Frank Evers and were on level terms at half-time: Galway 1-2, Kerry 0-5. Evers and Mattie McDonagh lorded it at midfield but the scores didn't follow. The closeness of the first half gave no indication of what was to come. Galway conceded three soft goals in the second half and faded from the scene. The team was: Jimmy Farrell, Jack Kissane, Sean Meade, Mick Greally, Mick Garett, Jack Mahon, Seamus Colleran, Frank Evers, Mattie McDonagh, Joe Young, Sean Purcell, Michael "Hauleen" McDonagh, Mick Laide, Frank Stockwell, John Nallen.
In 1960, Galway had a close call from Mayo before winning by 2-5 to 1-6. In the semi-final Sligo put up a good show before going down by 1-8 to 1-3. In the Connacht final Galway had a comfortable win over Leitrim by 2-5 to 1-5. This was Galway's fourth win over Leitrim. In the All-Ireland semi-final Kerry came out best in a thriller, winning by 1-8 to 0-8. Galway lost a number of goal chances in the second half as Frankie Kyne hit the upright low down and Frank Evers blazed wide just before the end. Jack Mahon, who went into this game with an injury, was replaced at half-time.
In 1961, Jack Mahon moved to corner-back, a position he never liked. He felt the half-back line was a more constructive line to play in. Galway beat Mayo by 0-10 to 0-6 and Leitrim by 4-11 to 2-9 and qualified to meet Roscommon in the final. Galway were going for six in a row but were beaten by a last-minute point by Tony Kenny: Roscommon 1-11, Galway 2-7. This was Jack's last championship match for Galway.
Jack took up writing on G.A.A. matters in 1956 and had his own column in the Gaelic Weekly under the pen name "Corrib". This was a lovely weekly news paper devoted solely to Gaelic Games and it was the first of many papers, magazines, programmes, etc., that Jack contributed to. He became the most prolific writer on Gaelic games for the next fifty years and produced reams and reams of interesting articles. His output exceeded the great G.A.A writers in the history of the Association, men like Thomas O'Sullivan, Phil O'Neill, Patrick D Mehilgan (Carbery), Seamus O Ceallaigh, Padraig Puirseal and Raymond Smith.
We were very lucky and privileged in Galway to have such a man to keep us informed on G.A.A. matters. He wrote his first book "Twelve Glorious Years" in 1965, which covered a period from 1954 to 1965. He followed that book with "Three in a Row" which covered Galway's achievement of winning three All-Ireland titles in 1964, 65 and 66. "J.P.B.", Jarlath Burke of the Tuam Herald, one of the most respected editors in the newspaper world, labelled Jack "The Grand Chronicler" of Galway football. This was a title Jack was delighted to accept.
In 1970, he started a column (many pages) in Gaelic Sport called Junior Desk. This was meant for young followers of Gaelic games but many of his readers were well over age. It was the first page that most people turned to because it was very informative. Jack made us aware of any new books that were published; also programmes announcing pitch openings etc. We would have missed many publications without this column. A lot of Junior Desk was made up of letters from fans around the country and it started many on a career in G.A.A. writing. It put people in touch with one another and many programmes, books, photographs etc were exchanged. Many lasting friendships were started by Junior Desk.
Jack as "Sam Maguire" also wrote a wonderful column for many years in the Galway Advertiser and had a huge following. He published another book, "Action Replay," in Centenary Year and it has become the bible of Connacht football. It reported on many Connacht finals and was laced with numerous photographs.
In the year 2000, Jack produced a major work, "A History Of Gaelic Football." It traced the game from its origins, its foundation and development to the pinnacle of Irish sport.
In 1971 the Connacht G.A.A. Council on the instigation of Jack Mahon produced a souvenir programme which has added greatly to the Connacht Final occasion. These programmes are very informative and have become collectors' items. They set a standard for the other provinces. Jack has contributed to all of these programmes and on a national level "Mahon's Musings'' featured in many programmes.
In Galway we were lucky to have Jack Mohan to compile, to edit and produce quality programmes for our home county games and club games. The Galway Yearbook was another area where Jack had a very big input and indeed was the first to publish yearbooks in the 60s. Jack was the supreme statistician and when he compiled a list it was sure to be 100 per cent accurate. Quiz books were another of his creations and they must have been a godsend to quizmaters around the country.
Jack produced 19 books, 15 dealing with Gaelic Games.
It can be said that Jack Mahon's contribution to the G.A.A was immense. On a personal level, I have lost a friend of fifty years' standing. I was a regular visitor to his house where I was always welcomed by himself or his lovely wife Eileen and family members. I never left that house without a cup of tea. Jack always had some memento or programme that he knew would interest me. For my part, I gave him the odd programme of book and my collection of G.A.A. memorabilia was available to him when doing research.
He will be greatly missed but it was a privilege to have known him.
Go dheana Dia trocaire ar a anam dilis.
Courtesy of The Tuam Herald
17 November 2005
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