Darver and Louth GAA legend Jimmy McDonnell - full forward on the Wee County's 1957 All-Ireland SFC winning team - passed away on Saturday, September 30th, 2017 at the age of 90. From Grange Road, Allardstown, Jimmy's place in Wee County GAA folklore was cemented when he came out of retirement to play a starring role in the '57 campaign, which culminated with a 1-9 to 1-7 final victory over Cork.
Having already won provincial medals in 1948, '50 and '53, Jimmy lined out at No.14 as the Dermot O'Brien captained side captured the county's third All-Ireland SFC success 60 years ago. He had also featured for Louth in the 1950 All-Ireland final against Mayo. Encouraged to return from intercounty retirement after an absence of more than two years by those who believed in his ability - including brother-in-law Stephen White - he scored 3-3 and 2-2 respectively in that year's Leinster semi-final and final wins over Kildare and Dublin. Jimmy was on the 40 for Louth's 1953 Leinster final win over Wexford, with brother Michael at midfield.
On the club front, he was a real driving force for Darver Volunteers, winning a junior league in 1952 and adding a JFC medal to his collection with the Volunteers in '56. Before retiring, he found time to represent St Josephs, a new club formed as the result of an amalgamation between Darver and Dromiskin. Jimmy managed the St Josephs team that won the 1990 Louth IFC with his sons Jim and Jody involved at centre half forward and wing back respectively.
Jim had also won a SFC with Geraldines in 1982. Another of Jimmy's sons, Ollie (county junior manager this year and another of the county's finest ever footballers), also represented the Joes with distinction, winning SFCs in 1996 and 2006, while Jim and Ollie both followed in their father's footsteps by becoming Wee County regulars at senior level. The McDonnell family is synonymous with Louth and St Josephs GAA at all levels, with Jody managing the Joes to their 2006 SFC win. Jimmy was Guest of Honour in the dressing-room in 2016 after the club sealed their return to the top table by winning the IFC again.
One of the greatest Gaels Louth has produced, Jimmy McDonnell also served St Josephs energetically at committee level and was named as Honorary President of the club. A massive gathering of GAA players past and present, club and county (with St Josephs very much to the fore), as well as GAA followers from near and far, paid their final respects and there was a massive turn-out at Jimmy's funeral mass at St Michael's Church, Darver as one of the Wee County's GAA greats was laid to rest.
St Joseph's GAA club paid the following tribute: "Jimmy McDonnell passed away this weekend at the age of 90, having lived a fulfilled life. One of the greatest Gaels this parish and even county has ever known. His playing career started with the Darver Volunteers. Wining the junior league with them in 1952and the Junior Championship in 1956.
He was one of the driving forces from the Darver side in amalgamating the Volunteers with the Unknowns in 1961 to form our current club. However, it is his feats in the county jersey for which he is probably most remembered as a footballer. Having returned from retirement he was the full forward in the Louth All Ireland winning side of 1957, having played a starring role in the path to the final.
Work commitments brought Jimmy and his family out of our parish for a number of years, but on his return, he and his now matured family played a crucial role in the most successful period of the Joes history. Having struggled to get out of the intermediate grade in the late eighties with a talented team, Jimmy managed the team to win the intermediate championship in 1990. At his side was his son Jim, who was also centre half forward on the team, with Jody playing wing back.
His part in the first senior championship success in 1996 should always be remembered also. He was also involved in the management of underage teams, such as selector on the 1993 minor team that won the club's first ever division one league title. He was a special man, with a burning passion for the game, generous with his unique wisdom and insight, a true GAA gem.
Whether directly involved with teams or not his coaching and advice was inspirational to so many generations of players in this club, from the mediocre to the very best we have produced, he has impacted on them all. He took real joy from his involvement in football, as the photos of him presenting to the juniors in 2009 and showing his All Ireland medal to an Og Sport audience in 2012 both display.
It was especially brilliant to see him in attendance at the club's intermediate championship win last year and he was the true guest of honour in the dressing room after, still reserving some of his cutting wit for the players following their success. When he first became sick a few years ago, it was a battle to try and stop him from going to games such was his passion! And many will still remember him pacing the outside of the wall in Cluskey Park like a panther as his passions sometimes got the better of him.
The only thing you did not want to get from Jimmy though was the thumbs up. As many found out to their detriment later, this did not always mean what it first appeared as. He was a hard working committee member off the field. Even when the time came for him to leave the committee he was still reluctant to take up his fully deserved Honorary President position at the time as this would mean an end to his contribution at committee level, a rare way to go nowadays.
We could not pay tribute to Jimmy without making mention of his family. For he was very much a family man. His wife May was his constant companion and Jimmy's own passion for football has always been every bit as much matched by Mays'. She was always well fit to debate with him on the matters of the game. They had eight children and seventeen grandchildren and are very much a close and loving family.
Jimmy was followed on the field of play by his three sons Jim, Jody and Ollie. Playing firstly for the Geraldines but then all coming across to the Joes. Jim and Ollie followed in their father's footsteps on to the Louth team and between the three of them they have accumulated one of the highest appearances for the county as any family in Louth. As previously mentioned Jim and Jody both played in the intermediate championship winning team in 1990. Jody would pull off one of the greatest wins in Louth senior championship history by managing the Joes to the 2006 triumph.
Ollie would come close to managing the Joes to an intermediate championship win himself, denied only by and exceptionally tough Sean O Mahonys team. But Ollie's exploits on the field are hard to be rivalled and he is one of the greatest players to ever play for the Joes. The tradition keeps going with the next generation also showing the renowned McDonnell talent. Jimmy will be missed dearly by his family and friends and he leaves a hole that cannot be filled. Ar dheis de go raibh a anam."