The late John Wilson
July 09, 2007
The late John Wilson
The President of the GAA Mr Nickey Brennan has extended his sympathies and those of the Association to the family of former Tánaiste and Cavan All Ireland medal winner John Wilson.
Born at Callanagh, Kilcogy, Co Cavan in 1923, John Wilson won four Leinster Championship medals with St Mels College in Longford. His intercounty career with his native Cavan delivered five Ulster Championship medals in the forties and a national league medal in 1948. He also won two All Ireland medals with the county, the second coming in the infamous Polo Grounds All Ireland in New York in 1947 when the Breffni men defeated Kerry. A teacher by profession, he was first elected as a Fianna Fáil TD in 1973 and his ministerial posts included Education, Posts and Telegraphs, Communications, Marine and Defence as well as time served as Tánaiste in the early '90s. .
Mr Brennan described Mr Wilson as an outstanding GAA man, politician and person and said that throughout his political career he had remained a great friend of the GAA and would be remembered with fondness by all in the GAA family. Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a Anam.
We reprint an interview carried out in 1993 with the Breffni great and titled - John Wilson A MAN APART
The father figure of Fianna Fail in Cavan and the Mullahoran Man was quite handy on the Gaa fields too.
Forty years on from their last All- Ireland Senior football triumph, organised panic is not what Cavan football is about. Coaching is the operative word these days. Changed times, indeed, but an inevitable phenomenon given the nature of the all-enveloping re-awakening in the G.A.A. world of the need to build from the bottom up, and, of course, Cavan's own continued fall from grace from the provincial and national stage.
The one-time Lords of the manor still maintain their haughty aura of respectability despite long since being relegated to the realms of serfdom. A hard shell of optimism surrounds the local gaeldom where gaelic football is still a religion and current team manager, P.J. Carroll resides as the High Priest. A dwindling population over recent decades and the unrelenting demise of the famed Saint Patricks College, Cavan football nursery has left messr. Carroll and his ilk with fewer quality harvesters in the vineyard. Past times, wreathing in glorious days at Croke Park and the Polo Grounds, are difficult to recapture. Money doesn't grow on trees. Neither does the likes of John P. Wilson. The county's elder statesman. linguist and one-time bulwark of successive winning Mullahoran and Cavan title-winning teams is one of a rare breed. As rare as an overall Dail Parliamentary majority really!
Of farming stock, John Wilson's political pedigree has tended to put into the shade his 'erstwhile achievements as a half back 'cum midfielder of yesteryear. Schooled initially at Cloncovid and Clooncose National Schools, young Wilson was straight out of the Cavan handbook of ready made star material. As tough as whale bone. Imbued with a stern resolve to make good his Innate physical talents in the field of play, the Callanagh, Kilcogy native was very quickly identified as a bright pupil at primary school and a shiny example too of good football breeding on the local football field. Out of the same Mullahoran stable, which produced such notable thoroughbreds as Tom Reilly, Paddy Smith and Dannie Brady, the would-be high profile political was of the same mould and in the years that followed, Mullahoran's most famous son would prove the point.
Despite the inherent shortcomings of organised Underage football in Mullahoran, (a reflection more of the scheme of things in Cavan as a whole rather than anything peculiar to the local club itself), Wilson displayed a liking and an aptitude for the skills of the game which were to be well appreciated at secondary school in Saint Mel's, Longford. Allied to his big-boned frame and his quickly developing fielding ability, the sporty Cavan youngster thrived on the football fields of Leinster and figured on five of the Longford colleges heralded ten provincial title successes between 1933 - 1943.
Brother of Wlllie, Jimmy, Aidan and Eugene (all of whom played with Mullahoran with distinction) plus Agnes (Harten) and May (Brady), John Wilson belied his lack of underage football,experience by outshining some of the best college footballers around although sadly the absence of any Hogan Cup competition prior to 1946 did deny him the opportunity to exhibit his burgeoning talents to the full on a bigger and much more grandiose stage. Nevertheless, In the close confines and hardy domestic football fare at club level In Cavan, Wilson's star began to rise. Hugely resourceful with a pair of hands reflective of the tough terrain from whence he hailed and a football brain to fairly equate with his feats in the classroom, the Mullahoran student yearned to be part of a repeat Senior Championship win with his beloved Dreadnoughts.
Fearing no opponents and more often than not using his highly renowned perception to be first to the ball, the staunchly loyal defender was always going to be a vital cog in the Mullahoran push to usurp the resident kingpins of Cavan that was, for many seasons, the formidable Comafean crew. In what is still considered by many to have been one of the best ever Cavan County finals, the Dreadnoughts duly bridged a seven year gap by beating Big Tom O'Reilly and Company by 1-8 to 0-10 in a classic encounter. Mullahoran's golden era had begun and in a side that included such household names as Tom O'Reilly, Val Gannon, Brian O'Reilly and Jack Boylan, the member of Parliament-elect was a sure-fire hit with a penchant for keeping his opponent scoreless. Right half back on the 1942 winning team of which Tom O'Reilly (the first Mullahoran player to win an All-Ireland Senior Championship medal) was captain, a further four Senior county Championship medals were to be notched before he bowed out of competitive club football. The year's 1944, '45, '47 and '48 represented the Callanagh man's best years on every front, club and county.
Graduating to Senior County status soon after helping his club regain the County title, continued studies at the University of London and the National University of Ireland went a long way to securing a career of great potential for him in teaching. Stints in Kilkenny, Letterkenny, London and Gonzaga College, Dublin duly followed as the 'erstwhile football master became a highly respected master in front of the blackboard. A former club team mate of such renowned county stalwarts as Phil 'The Gunner" Brady, Father Dan Danaher and Fr. Fonsle Comiskey, county honours beckoned in 1947 and not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the fiery Wilson was on hand to add an historic All-Ireland Senior Championship medal to his earlier won Cavan County Championship medal.
The 1947 Polo Grounds victory over the Kingdom was one carved out of determination speed and dynamism. Before some 34,000 fans in the heart of the Big Apple Wilson, along with the rest of the Breffni Brigade, was to run, tackle and kick his way past the Kerrymen into the annals of the G.A.A. Once more the Mullahoran man's beautiful fielding and overall honest endeavour on the half-back line were so evident. Alongside the gallant John Joe O'Reilly and the wily Simon Delgnan, Johnny Wilson stepped into history. The 0-7 to 2-5 defeat to Cork in the All-Ireland final two years previous was just a dim and distantly forgettable occasion as the Breffni Blues scuttled Kerry's hopes on a 2-11 to 2-7 scoreline.
Married to English lady Ita (nee Ward), and proud father of one son and four daughters, John Wilson was the archetypal son of Breffni. A real team player. Selfless, committed and never one to shirk his responsibilities for fear of ending up on his backside, he symbolised the coming of age of a new and vibrant Cavan football team. Sharing in the glory of the Polo Grounds was Just an appetiser for further blessed days in the months and seasons which followed in quick pursuit. A model member of the totally united and spirited Cavan camp at that time, the aptly-named "Dreadnought" duly shared in the county's first-ever National Football League title success in 1947 / '48. Cavan's 5-9 to 2-8 victory over Cork left the Leesiders cursing the resolve of the Blues but left the future Tanaiste of Ireland saddled with a precious League medal to go with his Polo Grounds souvenir.
Similarly it was joy unconfined in 1948. An Ulster Championship medal was scooped and with Wilson in the wings, further All-Ireland honours were just around the comer. Victory over Louth in the semi final prompted a turnout estimated to have been in the region of 75.000 for the final against newcomers Mayo. In an extraordinary match, during which Cavan led by 3-2 to no score at the interval, the Ulster county were made to display a backs to the wall type game in the second half before claiming their second successive All-Ireland title by virtue of a 4-5 to 4-4 victory. Bonfires blazed once again in Mullahoran in celebration of Messrs. Wilson and Co. More especially after the Dreadnoughts county title win that same year.
Meanwhile, on the career front, Wilson's star was no less bright. Proceeding to lecture at Saint Patricks Teacher Training College, Drumcondra, and U.C.D., the Killygollagh resident soon began to collect administrative positions like an altar boy collects confetti on a Summer's afternoon wedding ceremonies....... President of the Association of Secondary Teachers of 4 Ireland, Founder Member of National Committee of European Association of Teachers, Council member of the Ulster Colleges G.A.A. etc......
In latter years, however, John Wilson's brief has seen him switch from the right half back berth to the second highest political office in the Government. A T.D. ever since the 1973 General Election, he has graduated up through the political ranks to hold all portfolios of greatest influence apart from that of Finance. A noted debated wit and gael goir, he still represents the honest and integral part of political life for legions of non-party political people. A dyed in the wool Cavan man, who seldom misses an important Mullahoran club match, his political stature merely formed a mirror image of his calibre as a leader of men with the common touch. One of the lads but more often than not, simply a class apart,
Most Read Stories