The Mayo senior football teams of 1950 and 1951 have gone down in both history and folklore among GAA folk the length and breadth of both the county and the country.
The only Mayo team to successfully defend the Sam Maguire when they overcame Meath in the Croke Park showpiece that year, they are also the last Mayo team to annex the famous trophy and bring it over the border outside Charlestown.
Some famous faces played for Mayo in those years. Paddy Prendergast, Sean Flanagan and Tom Gilvarry are all well known but perhaps the most famous name on the teamsheet was that of ‘The Flying Doc’ Pádraig Carney.
A Swinford native, Carney is famous in Mayo and national GAA circles for being one of the best centre forwards the game has ever seen. In over 30 appearances for his native county, Carney scored 8-99, became the first player to score a goal from a penalty in an All-Ireland final in 1948 and picked up his famous nickname when the Mayo County Board flew the then trainee doctor home from college in New York to play in the National League semi-final and final in 1954.
While it is a well held belief that Carney was one of the finest to wear the number 11 jersey, with his career ending at the age of 26 due to his studies abroad, many wonder just how good he may have become. Speaking to The Mayo Advertiser from his home just outside of Los Angeles, the former Castlebar Mitchels and UCD player doesn’t wonder that, but would love to know if he could have made it in the current era.
“I think I would have been suited to the modern game because I liked to carry the ball, stay fit and getting involved in both attack and defence. I think I could compete these days,” he said.
“It is a much different game now. Really you can see that in my time it was really an amateur sport. We didn’t concentrate on the fitness programme and weight lifting that they do now. It’s a much faster game now and much more co-ordinated. A much tougher game now as well with the amount of physical contact and injuries. That can be worrisome at times in all sports, including gaelic football. It’s a big stress on the body to go through all they have to do.”
There was never a point, according to Carney, that the team of 1950 or 1951 thought they would be the last to win the famous Sam Maguire. In fact, he thought it was the beginning of a golden age for Mayo football, “No. At that stage (1951 ) I thought Mayo would keep winning All-Irelands at a regular pace. They were always there but they just couldn’t get it over the line. I thought within the last 20 years they would have won on some occasions. There are probably two or three of the finals that they should have won.”
He continued to say, “I’ve been especially watching this team in the last five years or so, I watch a lot of the games. I can see them on my computer. I think the present team is one of the best teams that Mayo have produced in the last 20 or 30 years.”
“I would be very close with Aiden O’Shea and I think he has been a stalwart for Mayo over the years. He’s a very fine young man. He visited me when he was in America last year for the TV show (AIB’s The Toughest ). When you’re in the limelight like that it can be very easy to get into mischief but I think overall he has carried himself very well. When he came out here we discussed at some length and when I was home last year we also met. He brought me a Mayo jersey with the number 11 on it, the one that he wears and that I wore myself for many years.”
“Of course they have a number of other standout players. Andy Moran at his age has been doing very well and of course Keith Higgins just to mention a few.”
Padraig has never lost touch with his Mayo roots, despite living in America for almost 70 years and has made it home for every one of Mayo’s All-Ireland final appearances with the exception of last year when a leg injury left him unable to fly.
He told The Mayo Advertiser “I slipped on a hard surface last year and I had a hip fracture but thankfully it wasn’t a serious one. I have recovered very well and I still swim almost every day. I’m hanging in there. Retirement to the West coast suits GAA players.”
He continued to say that 2017 is another final he won't be making the transatlantic trip for but he thinks it might finally the a victorious one for the Green and Red, “I’m very sorry that I won’t me it home for the final this year. I’ll be watching it and rooting them on. I think they are two evenly-matched teams. Dublin has a very good team but Mayo have been through the wringer this year, this is their tenth game so they are seasoned and hardened and they are moving very well as a team together. Dublin have the players there but I don’t think this Mayo team will fold. I certainly give Mayo a good chance to win.”
Two weeks ago the country saw Galway end a 29-year-wait to claim the Liam MacCarthy cup, in the lead in to that final against Waterford many of their 1987/88 team said they wanted the burden of being the last team to win off their backs.
Padraig Carney, and many would believe Paddy Prendergast also, want to see that burden lifted from the great team of 50/51 also.
“You bet! Unfortunately there are not many of us around anymore to worry about that but yes, it would be great to have that burden lifted and pass on the mantle to this generation of players.”
And who, from both within and outside of the County Mayo, would begrudge them of passing on that mantle?