The late Packie McGarty
In April 2016, the Round Towers club in Clondalkin, Dublin featured an interview with Packie. Seán Creedon spoke with the former Leitrim footballer and St Brigid's Road and Newlands resident who gave a fascinating insight into his career.
Leitrim may have the smallest population of any county in Ireland, but the county has given us some famous people, like Packie McGarty. The legendary Packie, who played senior football for Leitrim for 23 years, finished his career here in Clondalkin with Towers.
Anywhere GAA supporters meet and you mention that you are connected with Round Towers, the name Packie McGarty comes up with people enquiring about the brilliant forward.
When I was a young lad down in Kerry we used to be fascinated to read stories in the Irish Press or Independent about Packie flying home from London at weekends to play for Leitrim. Little did I realise that one day I would end up living close to Packie here in Clondalkin village.
Packie, who celebrates his 83rd birthday on April 29, was born Patrick Joseph McGarty, but has always been known as Packie. And the great man confirmed that it’s Packie with an ‘e’ rather than a ‘y.’
Born just outside Mohill, Packie was third in his family; his older brothers were William and Dan and then came Eddie and Kathleen.
In National School an Offaly-born teacher Mark Keegan was a great GAA man, but there is no doubt that one of the biggest influences on the young McGarty’s life was Leo McAlinden.
In 1943 when Packie was only ten years old, Leo, an Armagh native came to Mohill to work in the local bank.
In the old days picking club teams was not as scientific as it is now and when Leo turned up one day to play for Mohill against Cloone, it was suggested that he would be a handy corner forward. Leo surprised a few of the locals when he spoke up and said ‘‘I normally play at midfield.’’ Some of the Mohill players were shocked that the newcomer was so forthcoming, but he was proved correct.
Packie said: ‘‘Leo was brilliant, the first man we ever saw who could solo with the ball. The locals in Mohill were so impressed they called him ‘the magic man.’ He was such a fine sportsman, you could compare him to the great Mick O’Connell.
“As a young lad I was thrilled when Leo gave me a small case that contained his football boots. I was the happiest ten year-old in Mohill that day.
“Leo played Railway Cup football for Ulster and after declaring for Leitrim, he also played Railway Cup football for Connacht. Later Leo became a Central Council delegate and it was worth going to a meeting to hear him speak.’’
Senior football was at a low ebb in Leitrim in the late forties and they struggled to field 15 senior players for a League game against Offaly in the Autumn of 1949.
McGarty, who was only 16 and a half at the time, was given a jersey and he scored a goal and a point in his debut. It would be eight months before Packie would play for the Leitrim minors.
‘‘We had a decent team in the fifties and we could always beat Mayo, Roscommon or Sligo, but we just couldn’t beat Galway who had a brilliant team around then with the terrible twins of Seán Purcell and Frankie Stockwell.
“Galway won the All-Ireland in 1956 and I thought they were unlucky not to win two more. It was disappointing not to win a Connacht title, especially for our loyal supporters.
“Long after I retired Mayo-born manager John O’Mahony came in and led Leitrim to win the Nestor Cup in 1994. I was in Hyde Park that day to see Leitrim beat Mayo and win the Connacht title for the first time since 1927. Hopefully there will be many more like it.’’
While Packie was often left disappointed after Connacht final defeats to Galway, he did enjoy playing with the Galway lads in the Railway Cup.
‘‘My first-ever Railway Cup game was in 1954 against Munster in Tralee. At the time I was working for the ESB in Letterkenny and it was a long journey down to Kerry.
“I remember the great Kerry star John Joe Sheehy coming into the hotel. I think he sensed that as a 20 year-old I was nervous and said ‘come on we’ll go for a walk and I will show you around the town.’”
In Tralee, Packie was marked by Jas Murphy, who had captained Kerry to All-Ireland success the previous year.
‘‘He was a big man, but he played me very fairly. In addition to the big names on the Munster side there were also a few big names in the Connacht side and at first I was a bit overawed lining out alongside the likes of Padraic Carney, Seán Purcell, John Nallen and Tom Langan. Carney brought me into the game, we beat Munster and I managed to score 1-4,’’ added Pakie.
That win gave Packie his first appearance at Croke Park, where Connacht were beaten in the final to Leinster on St Patrick’s Day, but he was back again in Croker in later years to win the Railway Cup three times.
His only time to line out at Croke Park in the green and gold of Leitrim was the 1959 National League semi-final against Derry, which the Oak Leaf county won.
However, he did get to represent his county in an All-Ireland final, the 1952 Junior ‘home’ final against Cavan at Breffni Park, which Cavan won. Cavan then played London in the final proper.
There were no All-Star awards in the fifties and sixties and one of the top honours available for a footballer was to be selected for the Irish team that played the Combined Universities at Croke Park usually on the Sunday after St Patrick’s Day each year.
Packie was at left half forward in 1957 and right corner forward the following year.
In ’57 Packie was marked by Kerry’s right half back Seán Murphy and played against the former Kerry star three times that month in different competitions with different teams.
McGarty and Murphy first met in March 1957 on St Patrick’s Day at Croke Park in the Railway Cup final when Connacht won 2-9 to 1-6. That was on a Sunday and the following day they were both back at GAA headquarters, McGarty playing for the Irish team against Murphy, who was on the Combined Universities team.
The third meeting that week was the following Friday night in Parnell Park in a Dublin League game when McGarty lined out for his club Seán McDermotts and Murphy played for UCD. No wonder it’s a popular question for GAA quiz masters.
Packie had joined Sean McDermotts as there were a lot of Connacht players playing with the club.
Packie spent some time working with the ESB in Donegal, but like many people from the West of Ireland the lure of the bright lights of London drew him eastwards.
In London Packie played for the Tara club.
‘‘We played in New Eltham and my brothers Eddie, William and Dan also played for Tara’s. But to be honest every chance I got I tried to earn a few bob in London. I worked on the building sites and with London Transport.
“I had a great boss in London Transport, an English man named John Prior. He would bring me to see soccer games at Stamford Bridge or Highbury. And thanks to John I got to see a few England internationals at Wembley.
“John would get permission from his boss for us to slip off early if England were playing at home and he used to say to the boss, 'we will make up the time at the weekend.'
‘‘Travelling home for inter-county games with Leitrim at weekends was often hard going and thank God I never drank or smoked because we didn’t have the benefit of dieticians in those days.
“Often all I would have to eat before a game would be an orange on the plane home from London. Sometimes I came home on Saturday night, but often it would be Sunday morning and one of Leitrim officials would be waiting at Dublin Airport to drive me to a game somewhere in the country.”
After returning home from a trip to the US in 1964 to play in the ‘Kennedy Games,’ Packie, who by then was working for Roadstone at their Bluebell plant, heard that there was a grocery shop for sale on St Brigid’s Road.
‘‘I didn’t even have the deposit but Jim Moran, the father of former Dublin player Kevin Moran, lent me the deposit.
“Jim, who was also from Leitrim, had his own shop on the Long Mile Road and both he and his wife Maura were very good to me.
“One Sunday morning Maura called into the shop to see me and it was very busy after Mass. Quick as a flash Maura came in behind the counter and started serving the customers.
“When we opened the shop in 1964 I was 31 years old and thinking of retiring from football. But naturally the Round Towers people heard of my arrival in the village.
“Mick Kavanagh, Michael ‘Dykes’ Delaney and Kevin O’Reilly approached me and convinced me to change my mind about retiring. I knew that Towers had won the Dublin under 21 championship and the lads also told me that Paddy Delaney was coming from O’Tooles.
“We had a good team with lads like Paddy, Mick Cranny, Vinny Maguire, Tony Higgins, Des Keating and Cyril Dowling. It was a great honour to get to a Dublin senior final and no disgrace losing to a very talented UCD side. It’s hard to believe that 51 years on the club has not reached a senior final in the meantime.”
Packie had married Offaly native Ella Murphy in 1959 and when they moved to St Brigid’s Road they lived above the shop at first. Then they bought a house in Newlands and reared seven children.
“I thought it was best to keep the children away from the shop and we got the house in Newlands. Paddy Crosbie of the ‘School Around the Corner’ fame lived around the corner from us in Newlands.
“I got great help in the shop from my sister-in-law Bernadette and Mrs Dowling, who used to own a shop on the same road.
“It was difficult to run the shop and juggle playing for Towers and Leitrim. Often on a Sunday morning I would work in the shop until 11 o’clock and then head off to a game in places like Carrick-on-Shannon or Castlebar.
“I enjoyed my time with Towers and Paddy Delaney was very helpful. Often I wouldn’t be finished in the shop until late and training would be over. Paddy would stay behind and kick a few balls with me.
“One day we were playing Fingallians out in Swords and we were on the wrong side of a few ‘home decisions’ by the umpires. At least one shot from Paddy was clearly over the bar, but was waved wide. The crowd were getting on to Paddy and eventually he said ‘‘Which part of the crossbar do you want me to put the ball over.”
Packie continued playing for Towers until the early seventies. Apart from a few broken fingers and hamstring problems, Pakie’s only serious injury came when he broke the fibula bone in his leg in a League game against Longford.
There was one nasty incident in a club game in London, but Pakie being the sportsman that he is, would prefer to forget about that incident at this stage.
Ella told me that their customers came mainly from St Brigid’s, Newlands and Kingswood.
Ella said: ‘‘Newlands Cross was much quieter back then and we would often get people stopping off on their way into Dublin. As there were no shops up in Kingswood people came down from there also.
“In the old days it was very safe and you could leave a child in charge of the shop if you wanted a day off. I suppose we were lucky in that it was an era before the arrival of the big supermarkets.”
Packie worked hard and together with Ella they reared seven children: Christine, Jean, Padraic, Michael, Mary, Aileen and Eamonn. They now have 10 grandchildren.
Packie and Ella eventually sold the shop in 1998 and then downsized and switched houses with their son Eamonn and they now live in Terenure.
But it’s only ten minutes away from Clondalkin and Ella still visits at least once a week for a hairdressing appointment and Packie keeps in touch with old friends and never misses the annual club Mass.
Looking back on his long career there is no doubt that Leo McAlinden made a huge impression on Packie. He also says that Limerick-born Tommy O’Riordan and Tommy Moran were great friends of his in Leitrim GAA.
Although Leitrim didn’t win the Connacht title during Packie’s playing career, his playing skills were widely accepted and he was inducted into the Leitrim Hall of Fame in 1983.
Packie was also honoured with a Hall of Fame award by the Leitrim Sports Partnership in November 2015. He is also the only Leitrim player to make the Connacht Team of the Millennium.
“I lost county finals in Leitrim with Mohill, in London with Tara’s and in Dublin with Sean McDermotts and Towers and we were beaten in six Connacht finals.
“I think I won more trophies when I retired than when I played,’’ joked Packie, who in 1984 was named on the GAA Centenary team that never won an All-Ireland senior final.
His memory is perfect and when it comes to naming teams of the past he is as good as the Memory Man, Jimmy Magee. Packie can ‘sing off’ the names of the Connacht players he played with 60 years ago and the GAA’s Team of the Century and Team of the Millennium.
Now Packie supports the Leitrim Supporters Club in Dublin and likes to go to see the odd Leitrim game, especially if the weather is good.
There was no ‘back door’ in Packie’s day and Leitrim didn’t have an opportunity to play counties from other provinces after losing to Galway!
He told me that he likes the current ‘back door’ format in that it give players more championship games in the summer. But he is definitely not a fan of the ‘B’ championship proposal.