Over the years whenever I have been asked by a stranger as to where I am from, I have alternated my answers between ‘Mullingar’ and ‘Westmeath’. The town name invariably leads to a reply of, ‘Ah, Joe Dolan, he was a great entertainer.’ The county answer has very often drawn a response of, ‘Ah, Mick Carley, he was a class footballer’, thereby leading to a lengthy chat on GAA matters.
Very sadly, the Westmeath man respected throughout the length and breadth of Ireland as a supremely classy footballer and sportsman passed to his eternal reward last Sunday week. Ironically, it was also St Patrick’s Day, a date once inextricably linked with the very prestigious Railway Cup finals, a huge national occasion which had the added bonus of giving players from the so-called ‘weaker counties’ a chance to show their prowess in Croke Park in the company of All-Ireland and provincial medallists.
In this regard, Mick Carley did the Lake County proud by playing in four successive football deciders, winning in 1961 and 1962 against Munster and Ulster respectively - legendary Gaelic games reporter John D Hickey described his performance in the latter final as “superlative” - before losing in 1963 and 1964 to the northern province. Indeed, the 1960s marked the zenith of the Railway Cup.
Of course, Westmeath folk did not need the glamour of the now-defunct inter-provincial competitions to become aware of Mick’s marvellous range of football skills, those of a certain vintage having seen him tog out for both the county minor and senior teams in championship action on the one day against Louth (the Sam Maguire Cup holders at the time) in Navan in 1958, followed by illustrious medal-laden club careers with both St Loman’s and The Downs, in tandem with almost two decades wearing his beloved maroon and white jersey where, sadly, his only tangible rewards were two O’Byrne Cup medals.
There was no shortage of gushing praise for the all-rounder – best remembered as a classic high-fielding midfielder – over the past nine days, both from team mates and opponents. This columnist took the opportunity in recent days to talk to three of Mick’s former Westmeath colleagues.
Georgie Keane, ex-Rosemount, UCD, Westmeath and Leinster
“I played on the Westmeath minor team against Louth in 1958 with Mick Carley, and then he went on to play all of the senior match. He had eight or ten particularly good years after that. When he was his best, he was a very good player. He got some rough treatment from Louth in the Leinster semi-final in 1960 in Tullamore when he was playing very well and he had to go off. He was a big loss to us.
“He was a very good footballer and, if we had a few more like him, who knows what we might have done. I was delighted to play in the Railway Cup final in 1964 and Mick came on as a sub that day.
“I hadn’t much contact with him since our playing days but was saddened to get a phone call from Rosemount to say Mick had died. Myself and my wife travelled down from Dublin to his removal. It was a sad occasion.”
Paddy Buckley, ex-Maryland and Westmeath, and All-Ireland minor finalist, 1963
“First and foremost, when I was growing up he was my idol, without a shadow of a doubt. There was no better fielder of the ball than Mick Carley. I think he was the best that Westmeath has ever produced. Even the great Mick O’Connell of Kerry said the same.
“He gave an exhibition against Kildare in Tullamore in the Leinster championship in 1960, and in the semi-final against Louth he had 1-1 scored in the opening minutes before he was injured.
“I was always an ardent follower of the county team as a young lad and, when I got to play senior for the county myself, it was a dream come true to be on the same team as Mick Carley. He was always a player you could depend on for a big catch to lift the team. Also, he was an out-and-out gentleman.”
TJ Finneran, ex-Athlone, St Loman’s, Westmeath and Leinster
“In my opinion, Mick Carley is entitled to be compared with Mick O’Connell. He was an equal of the legendary Kerry midfielder.
“He was a very quiet and unassuming man and he mostly kept to himself. He took a lot of stick on the pitch. He had a great leap off the ground.
“I played with and against him in club football. For Westmeath, I played minor, senior and over-40s football with him, and I was delighted to be selected on the Westmeath team of the millennium with him. We had a very good team that time.
“Football is different nowadays - it’s like basketball! Westmeath have nobody like Mick Carley these days. I couldn’t believe it when I was told he had died. I was very sad to hear the news.”
Remarkably, yours truly (ex-no-teams-worth-talking-about!) was in Croke Park last Saturday night week (Tyrone v. Dublin) and the following afternoon (the club finals double-header) with three Dublin friends of mine where we all lamented the decline/non-existence of high fielding in Gaelic football. Accordingly, it was with a mixture of pride and sadness that I texted them on the Monday morning with the following message: “The best Westmeath man ever to field a high ball passed away last night. Mick Carley RIP.”
A measure of the late, great Mick Carley’s prowess can be seen in the lineout of that star-studded Leinster team of 1962:
Andy Phillips (Wicklow); Paddy McCormack (Offaly), Greg Hughes (Offaly) (capt.), Mick Carolan (Kildare); Brendan Barden (Longford), Paddy Holden (Dublin), Charlie Wrenn (Offaly); Des Foley (Dublin), Mick Carley (Westmeath); Sean Brereton (Offaly), Mickey Whelan (Dublin), Tommy Greene (Offaly); Padraig Gearty (Longford), John Timmons (Dublin), Kevin Heffernan (Dublin).
Thanks for the memories, Mick. May your gentle soul rest in peace.