"The greatest Leitrim footballer of them all" - Legendary Packy McGarty passes away

April 06, 2021

Leitrim legend Packy McGarty (RIP).

Packy McGarty was hailed as 'one of the greatest footballers of all time' as the passing of the legendary Leitrim footballer drew widespread sadness across the GAA community.

The proud Mohill clubman, who died this morning at the age of 87, is widely regarded as the best player ever to wear the Leitrim jersey.

Making his Leitrim senior debut at the tender age of 16, Packy went on to win Railway Cup medals on two different occasions and played in six Connacht SFC finals, including four-in-a-row against Galway, during an inter-county career which spanned from 1949 to 1971.

Packy worked on the buildings in England where he represented the Tara club but in that time continued to play for Leitrim and was the only player from the county picked on the Connacht Team of the Millennium.

Owner of a grocery shop in Clondalkin until his retirement in 1998, Packy also played club football with Sean McDermotts and Round Towers in Dublin.

"It is with great sadness we learn of the death of Leitrim GAA Legend Packy McGarty RIP. Packy passed to his eternal reward last night," Leitrim GAA paid a heartfelt tribute to the late Packy McGarty with a lengthy statement.

"Packy McGarty, not only one of the greatest Leitrim footballers to put on a county jersey but one of the greatest footballers of all time. Not just because he was a great footballer but because he embodied all that is admirable in human nature – pride of place, utter dedication, an almost fanatical devotion to the cause of Leitrim Football and a complete absence of bitterness.

"Above all, despite all the near misses and litany of disappointments, he retained that youthful enthusiasm that sustained him, year after year for all the 22 years he played inter -county football ( 1949-1971)."

In January 1993, Hogan Stand magazine carried the following article on Packy McGarty, Leitrim's greatest ever footballer- a man who remained ever loyal to the north west county. A tribute from his old opponent Jack Mahon of Galway.

It's a dangerous game naming anyone as the greatest ever. A writer can only cover what he saw himself, his own lifetime. Leitrim won the county's only Connacht Senior Football Championship title in 1927 and that was five years before I was born. That team is special in Leitrim and men like Tom Gannon the captain, Ned Dolan, Willie Martin, "Nipper" Shanley, a much revered player to this day, Peter Blessing, Paddy Carey and Jack Bohan are still talked about.

Subsequently, Leitrim sometimes fielded a Junior team only, winning the 1938 All-Ireland (Home) title before losing to London in the final proper - a team captained by Mick Kilkenny and including veteran, "Nipper" Shanley, an outstanding place-kicker. I saw Leitrim destroyed by Mayo in the Connact Final of 1949 in Roscommon. They were over-awed and yet I admired the determined play of John Heslin particularly with memories too of Ray Beirne, Hubie Reynolds, Petie Dolan, Frankie Mitchell a great friend of my late brother Fr. Paddy and Sean Mulvey.

Subsequently, Leitrim were regarded Junior again and in 1952 lost in the All-Ireland Junior Home final to Meath powered by Leo McAlinden, a princely player and an absolute sportsman, Alo Blessing, Frank Quinn, Ciaran Shanley and Eugene Boland. At left corner forward on this team was a youngster named Packy McGarty, still a Minor, about to become a national figure and already establishing himself as a footballer fit to rub shoulders with elders.

Born in Garvagh, just outside Mohill, Packy was a schoolboy hero in 1943 helping Mohill to win a Leitrim Under 14 title, attributing much to the tutelage of Mark Keegan N.T. and winning two Leitrim Minor Football titles in the company of such as Cathal Flynn, Eddie Rowley and Jim McKeon in 1951 and '52. But believe it or not, the bould Packy played Senior football for his native county before ever playing county Minor. The occasion was a National Football League game versus Offaly in Mohill late 1950. Leitrim football was in dire straits then and they could only muster fourteen players.

Finally, they called on a sprightly youth who was distinguishing himself in a pre-match kick-around goal, very much a feature of the scene then, handed him a jersey which he pulled on over his clothes and in the course of that unusual debut, the great Packy scored one goal and a point. This was Packie's first appearance in a Leitrim jersey and he never looked back after that, giving absolutely brilliant and loyal service to his county in a football life span of 22 years. No man could do more for his county. In fact, for me, Packy has always epitomised county loyalty to the fullest degree. In an interview with the legendary John D Hickey in 1958, Packy said "no matter where I am, I will never play for any county only Leitrim as long as they will have me. Winning is not everything - not for anything would I part from my Leitrim team matches." Greater loyalty and love of county no footballer ever had.

For Connacht In 1954 I played against Packy for the first time in 1953 in the Connacht Senior Football Championship in Roscommon. It was my debut for Galway in the Connacht Senior Football Championship. Packy had still to make an impression. The Leitrim men, I remember from that game, were Brian Sweeney, Tony Hayden and Leo McAlinden. But in 1954, when Packy was selected for Connacht at the age of nineteen and travelled from Donegal where he worked to Tralee to face Munster, and his immediate opponent, Kerry's 1953 All-Ireland winning captain, James Murphy - a towering figure - little was expected of the diminutive Mohill man.

Let Packy take up the story - "my most enjoyable game was the 1954 Railway Cup semi-final against Munster in Tralee - my first match for Connacht. I was working in Letterkenny at the time and on the journey to Tralee, I was overawed with the prospect of playing with forwards like Padraic Carney, Sean Purcell, John Nallen, Tom Langan and Eamonn Donoghoe. I felt I would be completely out of my class. And to be marking a giant of a man like James Murphy really made me feel it was all up with me. I must pay tribute to the big Kerryman, although he had all the physical advantages, he played me fairly and squarely like a sportsman. I had worried I might let down Connacht and Leitrim, but Padraic Carney brought me into the game and I could scarcely believe afterwards that I had scored 1-4. We won and I was on my way to Croke Park for the first time."

Connacht Railway Cup semi finalists 1959. Front L-R: Jack Mahon, Cathal Flynn, Packy McGarty, Sean Purcell, Willie Casey, Tom Dillon, Jackie Coyle. Back L-R: John Nallen, Mattie McDonagh, Gerry O'Malley, Nace O'Dowd, Gerry Kirwan, Frank Evers, Mick Greally, Aidan Brady.

Packy was to go on to play for Connacht for many years, winning Railway Cup medals in 1957 and 1958 as a player and in 1967 as a substitute. In the 1958 semi-final versus Leinster in Balinasloe, Packy and Cathal Flynn between them shot 1-9 out of 1-11 of Connacht's total - a remarkable contribution from this footballing duet. Packy was selected for Ireland in the Annual Representative game versus the Combined Universities for three successive years.

Years afterwards, he was honoured with Leitrim's G.A.A. Hall of Fame Award and is often invited back to this day for some function or other. But statistics are cold. It was my pleasure and at times discomfort to be Packie's immediate opponent in the Connacht finals of 1957 in Galway, '58 in Roscommon and '59 in Sligo. He was then in the zenith of his career. He had the elasticity of a rubber ball, could turn on a sixpence, was an impeccable sportsman, kept coming at you toe to hand, toe to hand, was indomitable, irrepressible, a born footballer. '58 was his greatest honour. I remember being as delighted to see the rain fall before the end feeling I'd have a fielding advantage, which I had. One incident from that game, refereed by Johnny Mulvey, is still with me. Early in the game, Sean Purcell and myself sandwiched him between us and a knowing nod between us suggested the end of the threat of McGarty that day. He bounced up from being winded to take the free, got on with the game and played the game of his life.

There are many other memories not least his great hospitality to me in London when I travelled there in the mid sixties with Dunmore McHales. We had tea together, relived many memories and cemented a relationship which spanned more than a decade. Travelled from Afar For most, if not all, of his footballing life, the jovial McGarty lived outside Leitrim. Mostly in Dublin with a sojourn in London in the late fifties and early sixties, before returning to Clondalkin, where he established a successful business and now lives. In his early day, he played his club football with Sean McDermotts in Dublin then with Taras in London, where he had many Leitrim exiles including two brothers as team mates and finally with Round Towers in his Clondalkin days. So his loyalty in unquestioned and sacred. I remember clearly the 1959 Connacht final in Sligo. I had been injured in a clash with Packy just before the full time whistle and for one reason or another didn't meet him after the game. I had to drive my brother Brendan to catch the boat to England from Dun Laoghaire. Having bid goodbye to my brother, who raced down the pier almost the last to catch the boat, bag in hand, but the bould Packy? A quick shake hands, no time for chat, but I really admired this man who had to be in time for work in London the following morning.

It was around this time that Packy was the victim of a vicious frontal charge after he had kicked the ball in a club game with Taras. A rotten facial injury required eleven stitches and the culprit, well-known in the London scene, got off scot free. Another lesser mortal would have given it all up. Not Packy. This greatest of all Leitrim men had more to give to his native county. Six Finals Packy played in six Connacht finals in all, losing all six - five to Galway in '57, '58, '59, '60 and '63 and one to Mayo in '67. Leitrim were unlucky to be at their best during Galway's golden era in Connacht in the era 1957-'60 particularly.

At another time, Leitrim would have won a number of Connacht titles. Their backline couldn't handle the football skill of Sean Purcell. Bernie Doyle did a great job of handling Sean in 1958. One had to admire the football ability of Josie Murray, Frank Quinn, Paddy Dolan, Cathal Flynn, Tony Hayden, Tom Colreavy, Jim McKeon, jimmy O'Donnell, the late Leo Heslin, the late Eddie Duffy, Michael McGowan, Jimmy Reynolds, Paddy Reilly, Columba Cryan, Noel Blessing, (how nice to see him in the audience at Mick Murphy's Winning Streak show on R.T.E. very recently - greying now, but still with the broad smile). Carroll And Mahony Since those days when Leitrim's support never forsook the county team despite all the reverses, Leitrim's football interest has not waned.

In fact, despite a dwindling population, interest was never higher. P.J. Carroll did much to raise the spirit when he came down from Cavan to steer the Leitrim football ship. Their All-Ireland B success in 1990 was the start, then a very successful National Football League campaign saw Leitrim become a top football force. Gone was much of the inferiority complex of the past. Players like Micky Martin, Micky Quinn and Declan Darcy have become folk heroes though not to the same extent as McGarty. John O'Mahony of Mayo has now taken over from P.J. Carroll and there is great confidence in the guidance of the Mayo teacher. A healthy Supporters Club has helped to up morale and generate finance largely controlled by the County Board as is right and helped considerably by Leitrim's many exiles. I have watched Leitrim's great attempts to crash the Connacht barrier over the past few years. They came close last year in Roscommon, over-elaboration was their downfall.

One of the men now reaching the veteran class, Ollie Honeyman, is another who made a great contribution to Leitrim's recent upsurge. County officials like George O'Toole, Tommy Moran and Tony McGowan have helped no end to fuel the flame. Moran is a communicator par excellence and is yet another marvellous admirer of McGarty. Packy is still keen on the game, very loyal to Leitrim, a hard working businessman in Clondalkin and will never be disposed as "the greatest Leitrim footballer of them all." 

Funeral Details as per RIP.ie

Due to the current Government guidelines regarding public gatherings, a private Funeral will take place for immediate family only. Packie’s Funeral Mass will be streamed live from St. Pius X Church, Templeogue on Thursday morning at 10am: https://www.churchservices.tv/piusx.

Those who would have liked to attend the funeral, but due to current restrictions cannot, may leave a personal message at: https://www.masseybrosfuneralhomes.com/funeral-notices or by using the condolence book by clicking here.

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