When it comes to the lore of Mayo football, the men of 1950 and 1951 are the benchmark against which all others are still judged, and while all who achieved greatness for Mayo in that period of time are highly regarded, Padraig Carney was one of those held in the highest of esteem.
Carney passed away on Sunday in California at the age of 91, leaving just Paddy Prendergast as a surviving member of the 1951 All Ireland winning starting team, along with Dr Mick Loftus, who was a sub that day.
A prodigious talent, he played his first game for the Mayo seniors as a 17-year-old against Galway and his football career ended nine short years later, with two All Ireland senior medals, four Connacht senior medals and three Sigreson Cup medals with UCD, along with two senior club county medals with Castlebar Mitchels after he relocated to America to further his medical career.
He picked up his famous nickname the ‘Flying Doctor’ after the Mayo County Board flew him home in 1954 to play in the National Football League semi-final and final, which turned out to be his final game for the county in a 2-10 to 0-3 win over Carlow. He scored seven points in the semi-final win over Dublin and four points in the final victory over Carlow – his last act in a green and red jersey on home soil, lining out once more in an exhibition game in New York.
In the 1951 All Ireland final, Carney kicked five points against Meath, having not scored in the 1950 final victory over Louth. In his other All Ireland final appearance in 1948, he scored 1-2 in Mayo’s controversial loss to Cavan, and became the first ever player to score a penalty in an All Ireland final.
The 1951 Mayo team.
Stories of the greatness of Carney and his ilk have been passed down through generations of Mayo supporters through the years and grainy footage of their hayday can be found online and chronicled in depth in James Laffey’s book The Road to 51 and Terry Reilly and Ivan Neill’s The Green above the Red.
In preparation for the Mayo Advertiser coverage ahead of the 2017 All Ireland Final and with ideas being thrown around the office, Mike Kelly suggested speaking to the ‘Flying Doctor’ and subsequently found his fellow Swinford man in fine form and pondering, could he have cut it in the modern era of the game, telling him: “I think I would have been suited to the modern game because I liked to carry the ball, stay fit and get involved in both attack and defence. I think I could compete these days.
“It is a much different game now. 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.”
Carney also told Mike Kelly that he fully believed that after Mayo won their last All Ireland title in 1951, they would have many more in the bag by now. “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.
“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.”
He also spoke with fondness about when one of Mayo’s current stars came calling to his door in 2016. “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 matters 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.”
He also told Mike about his hopes to see a new team take on the mantle of being the last Mayo side to win an All Ireland title saying: “You bet! Unfortunately there are not many of us around any more 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.”
You can read the full interview from 2017 at www.advertiser.ie/mayo/article/95205/the-flying-doc-is-still-fighting-fit-and-backing-mayo