The late Phil Smyth

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 10th February, 2010 6:00pm

The late Phil Smyth

The recent death of Phil Smyth at his Ardmore Road residence severed one of the last remaining links with the Westmeath GAA world of the 1930s. Phil Smyth was ninety-four years of age at the time of his death and had an incredible seventy-one years association, firstly as a player and later as an administrator, with the Mental Hospital and St Loman's GAA Clubs.

Phil Smyth began his career in the then Mental Hospital, Mullingar on 1 January 1939 and was one of the key figures that inspired the emergence of the Mental Hospital Club, as one of the leading football clubs in the county. The first significant football breakthrough happened in 1941 when The Downs were beaten by 4-7 to 0-2 in the junior football final. Phil Smyth played at left-half back in a match dominated by Joe Gerety who scored 3-3. A good team had been assembled in 1939 but Ballinacargy surprisingly eliminated the hospital boys in both league and championship. The senior breakthrough arrived in 1948 when Athlone were beaten 0-5 to 0-1. The Mental Hospital Club had made little impression in senior ranks prior to 1948 but the collapse of senior football in Mullingar town had made available some of the better players to the hospital and when some new recruits to the hospital staff also joined, a championship winning team was created.

Phil played wing-forward in this final with Paddy Heery, team captain Ned Mann, and Dinny Hughes, the only members of the 1941 junior team still on the senior panel. Phil Smyth was a member of the Mental Hospital team beaten by Athlone in the 1949 county final and also won two Feis Cup medals with the club in 1944 and 1950. On his retirement from playing, Phil involved himself in the administration of the club. He served the club as secretary, was a selector for the St Loman's team that won the 1963 county senior championship and was elected Life President a signal honour for his services to the club.

Although Phil Smyth enjoyed considerable success as a footballer, contemporaries of Phil's who called to his Ardmore Road residence to pay their last respects were heard to remark 'he was better at the hurling'. A cursory examination of Phil's hurling career would support this view. Phil Smyth lined out for no less than six different hurling clubs in Westmeath and won county medals with five of these clubs. His first success in Westmeath hurling arrived in 1939 as a member of the Mental Hospital team that won the county junior hurling championship. Hurling wasn't to survive in the hospital club however. With staff recruitment limited to Westmeath, Longford and Meath, the supply of reasonable hurlers was always going to be limited. In 1942 Phil Smyth lined out for Clonkill who were attempting to win their fourth successive championship for the second time in thirteen years. Brownstown defeated Clonkill in the semi-final and this was followed by an extraordinary series of objections with Phil Smyth a central character. Clonkill successfully objected to an illegal player on the Brownstown team who were removed from the championship, the latter then objected to the legality of Phil Smyth. It was claimed that he had played illegally in Meath in 1941. Brownstown produced strong evidence to suggest that Phil Smyth had played with Athboy using his brother Brian's name but the affair ended when county board officials visited the Mental Hospital and inspected work records. These confirmed that Phil Smyth was present at work on the date in question. Clonkill contested the county final but were beaten by Ringtown. Whatever about playing in Meath in 1941, Phil Smyth found time to escape across the border in 1942 and he added a junior hurling medal won with Athboy to his collection. In 1944 Phil's hurling skills were displayed much closer to home; along with several more former Clonkill players he was a member of the Mullingar team that won a rare senior hurling title for the Cathedral town. In 1945 several members of this team transferred their allegiance out the Delvin road to Rathconnell and not surprisingly the Westmeath junior hurling title was annexed.

Brownstown didn't hold any grudges for in 1948 Phil Smyth was a leading player on the team that won the senior hurling championship. This senior hurling medal was hard won. It took four Sundays before Brownstown got the better of Collinstown. The first day, Brownstown were winning by 4-1 to 1-3 when the referee abandoned the match because of continuous fighting. Heavy rainfall prevented the replay from even starting the following Sunday. The re-fixed game ended in draw. Five players were sent off in the first-half and the police entered the pitch on two occasions to restore law and order. There was also some hurling and Phil Smyth scored the only goal of the first-half. After all the trouble, the final game of the series was easily won by Brownstown (3-3 to 1-3). In winning this 1948 senior hurling medal Phil Smyth became a member of a very select group of players: those who have won senior hurling and football county medals in Westmeath in the same season. Phil's brother John who was the goalkeeper on the Mental Hospital football team was a substitute on the Brownstown team and joined Phil in this distinct group. (Since 1948 Jimmy and Christy Corroon are the only players to have achieved this rare double in 1969). Phil Smyth was to win one more Westmeath senior hurling medal before retirement. In 1953, he played on the Delvin team that defeated Collinstown in a replayed senior hurling final. Phil Smyth's association with hurling didn't end with his retirement from the playing fields for he became involved in the St. Oliver Plunkett's Club after its formation in 1976 and was President of the club for some time.

Phil Smyth did not confine his sports activity to hurling and football. He represented the Mental Hospital badminton club throughout the 1950s in the midland leagues. He was an all-round and competitive athlete with a preference for the short sprints. At least one All-Ireland veteran's medal won in 1971 in the 100 yards championship of the NACA is included in Phil's medal collection. He had finished third in the same competition in 1970. When Phil Smyth became too old to compete seriously he loved to participate in the family relays that were part of the athletic sports programmes that were common in the 1970s. This was appropriate for it united two of the great passions of Phil Smyth's life: sport and family. Phil Smyth was first and foremost a family man and was happiest in the company of his large extended family. He is survived by his loving wife Catherine, his daughters Mary, Patricia and Caitriona, his sons Kevin and Bill, his brother Kevin and his sister Lily, his sons in law, daughters in law, brothers in law, sisters in law and grandchildren. T. Hunt

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