New book celebrates Galway Mayo rivalry

This Thursday in Castlebar, Jim Carney’s hugely successful book will have its Mayo launch at 6.30pm in Castle Books on Main Street.

On the face of it, a book titled ‘Seán Purcell and Frank Stockwell – From a childhood friendship … to Gaelic football fame and glory’ might appear to be solely a Galway football book on the incredible duo from Tuam. And a worthy subject that would be in of itself.

But anyone who knows Jim knows he will never tell half a story. This book pivots around Purcell and Stockwell and, from there, focuses also on many of those who came into their orbit.

Therefore, there’s an extensive Mayo element to the book through the likes of Peter Solan, Pádraig Carney, Dr Mick Loftus, Mick Flanagan and John Nallen. The extract below on Purcell, Stockwell, Carney and Solan, four footballers Jim says are fit for the title ‘genius’, is a perfect example.

The Jarlath’s connection ties both counties inextricably and is considerably explored in the book while the nature of the rivalry of Connacht’s big traditional big two – apologies to any Roscommon readers – is examined.

Ultimately, it is a wonderful trip down memory lane to another era of football. One that those who were reared on stories of Purcell and Stockwell’s brilliance will appreciate and one those younger again will find illuminating.

The book was such a phenomenal success at its initial launch in Tuam that the first print run sold out inside two weeks. It was testament to the esteem in which Jim Carney is held as a journalist but also as a wonderful human being. It also shows just how much appetite there is for such marvellous stories from the past.

Jim has done a great job of weaving so many diverse threads together into one compelling collection. If you cannot make the launch, the book is for sale online – link here.

Former Mayo footballer Martin Carney will be the guest speaker at the launch while the book will be officially launched by legendary journalist Seán Rice, a long-time friend and colleague of Jim’s. Looking forward to see plenty of people there on the night!

* * * * *

Seán Purcell, Frank Stockwell, Pádraig Carney and Peter Solan all had a touch of genius

IT wasn’t the first time Seán Purcell and Frank Stockwell played against Pádraig Carney and Peter Solan when they clashed in the 1948 Connacht SFC final. It first happened in the 1946 provincial minor final, which was won by Mayo. All four were reported to have starred in that game.

By then, in colleges and inter-county minor games Seán Purcell and Pádraig Carney were much talked about as midfielders who could cut through any defence and score goals. Frank Stockwell and Peter Solan were goal-poachers and there was seldom, if ever, a day when they did not put defenders under intense pressure.

Frank’s two goals and five points (all from play) in the 1956 All-Ireland final victory over Cork put the seal on his high reputation but it did not come as a surprise to all who were familiar with the telepathic connection Frank had with his friend and teammate at club and county levels. Another superb example was Seán’s crossfield high ball which Frank met with a powerful fist to win the 1957 National League final against Kerry.

On St Patrick’s Day that year, they had combined expertly to inspire Connacht’s 2-9 to 1-6 Railway Cup win over Munster, as Mitchell V. Cogley reported in the Irish Independent: “Purcell won nearly every ball he contested, held it just long enough to pick his spot, and Stockwell’s uncanny anticipation of his colleague’s next move repeatedly found him in the open spaces. The dashing full-forward’s unerring aim did the rest.”

Their exceptional talent enabled them to reap a bountiful harvest for their club, Tuam Stars. Ten senior championships were won between 1947 and 1962, including seven in a row (1954 to 1960). One of those ten titles was awarded to Tuam by the Football Board: in the 1959 semi-finals Tuam defeated Dunmore (Seán Purcell scored 3-4) and Annaghdown knocked out Fr Griffin’s but the city club lodged an objection to the Corribsiders who then put in a counter-objection and both were proven. Tuam Stars were left with no opposition to play in a final, so they were declared champions.

Seán and Frank had many top-class teammates in Tuam’s golden era, 1952 to ’62 – as Dunmore’s county stars had in their glory run through the ’60s – but Seán, Frank and the great midfielder John Nallen showed the way for Tuam with the same drive, authority and leadership as John Keenan, John Donnellan and Séamus Leydon displayed for Dunmore MacHales.

Seán Purcell played in nine county senior finals and one replay (1962); Frank Stockwell played in eight senior finals (a knee injury kept him out of the 1954 final). Between them, in the county finals of 1947, ’52, ’54-to’60 and 1962, they scored eleven goals and 40 points: Seán 8-30 (0-14 frees); Frank 3-10.

The Mayo maestro Pádraig Carney was a brilliant footballer, equally comfortable at midfield or centre half-forward. He wore the No. 11 jersey in Connacht’s Railway Cup final win (1-9 to 1-8) over Munster at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day, 1951. The attendance was 36,684. Seán Purcell was at midfield alongside Gerry O’Malley, the Roscommon stalwart whose best position was centre half-back.

Connacht Railway Cup football champions 1951. Front row, from left: Gerry O’Malley (Roscommon), Eamonn Mongey (Mayo), Peter Solan (M), Seán Flanagan, captain (M), Pádraig Carney (M), Paddy Prendergast (M), Mick Mulderrig (M). Back row (from left): Eamonn Boland (R), Tim Lynch (R), Ned Keogh (Galway), Henry Dixon (M), Joe Gilvarry (M), Tom Langan (M), Seán Purcell (G), Jack Mangan (G), trainer Dick Hearns (M). Photo courtesy of Michael O’Donohue.

Carney, whose play was always dynamic and who was fearless, did not ever get to play at midfield with Purcell. Not even for the Ireland team who played the Combined Universities in the annual representative series. In 1952, Purcell was at No. 10 and Carney at No. 11. In ’53, Carney was at midfield with Victor Sherlock (Cavan), and Purcell was again at No. 10. The Ireland selection won in both years.

It would have been a dream midfield pairing. Although Seán starred at full-back for Galway in 1954 and at centre half-back for club and county in ’52, he was such a great playmaker (he was once described by the Irish Independent as a “master strategist”) he would have thrived at centrefield, as he did at centre half-forward in 1956. Similarly, while Pádraig Carney played at No. 11 in Mayo’s 1951 All-Ireland triumph, he was unrivalled as an all-action midfielder in the 1948 and 1950 All-Ireland championships and the 1949 National League victory.

In addition to his two All-Ireland and two National League medals, Carney was a driving force in Mayo’s four-in-a-row in Connacht; he won a Connacht minor championship medal in 1946, and he starred for UCD when they won the Sigerson Cup three times in four years: 1946, ’47 and ’49. His place in Gaelic football history as an all-time ‘great’ is secure.

Peter Solan played colleges senior football for St Jarlath’s in 1945, ’46 and ’47, winning Connacht championship medals in all three years and he played in the 1946 and ’47 All-Ireland finals. In ’46, alongside two other very talented forwards, Jimmy Curran (Claremorris) and Michael Anthony Greaney (Dunmore), and with Seán Purcell delivering a non-stop supply from midfield, full-forward Solan scored 0-3 in the Connacht final against Summerhill, Sligo; 1-1 in the All-Ireland semi-final against St Brendan’s, Killarney, and two goals in the All-Ireland final against St Patrick’s, Armagh.

In 1947, Peter Solan scored three goals in the Connacht final against Roscommon CBS; 3-6 in the All-Ireland semi-final against St Brendan’s, Killarney, and 2-1 in the All-Ireland final victory over St Patrick’s, Armagh. Six games in two years: a combined tally of 11-11, an average of over seven points per game, and he was not a freetaker.

For Mayo in the 1948 senior football championship, Solan’s combined tally was 7-5, including 3-1 against Sligo, 2-1 against Galway (drawn game and replay), 0-3 against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final and a goal against Cavan in the final.

In ’49 he scored 5-2 in the Connacht semi-final against Sligo, 2-1 against Leitrim in the final. In the 1949-50 National League late in ’49 he hit four goals against Laois at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. He was a goal-scorer in the 1950 All-Ireland final win over Louth.

Before the start of the 1951 championship, Peter Solan asked the Mayo selectors to leave him out of the team as he wished to concentrate on his engineering studies at UCG (now University of Galway). For the Connacht final against Galway at Tuam Stadium on July 15, Mayo sent a message to Peter that they needed him. He answered the call, cycled to Tuam from Galway city, scored three goals and a point, and cycled back to his student digs.

Purcell and Solan, sensationally effective playing together for St Jarlath’s, were teammates again when they helped UCG win the Sigerson Cup final against UCC at Galway Sportsground on November 26, 1950. They also starred for Connacht, along with Pádraig Carney, in the 1951 Railway Cup final win over Munster. Purcell, Carney and Stockwell played together for Connacht in 1949.

The four great footballers featured here played with and against each other on many big days. They brought honour to their native counties and to the West of Ireland. They played the game at a level higher than talent alone. Intensive research into their playing careers shows it is logical to describe each one of the four as a genius.

If there is a sporting Hall of Fame in the celestial blue yonder, they are commemorated there.
Ní fheicfimid a leithéidí arís.

14 thoughts on “New book celebrates Galway Mayo rivalry

  1. Sorry for going off topic a bit with this question, but I just have to ask.

    I was seated beside a Galway man in Croke Park last Sunday..
    During a half time chat, he casually mentioned that Dr Mick Loftus was born somewhere in Co Roscommon and is in fact a Roscommon native.

    Needless to say, I wasn’t having any of it !!
    He gave me his e-mail address so that I can write to apologise when I get it confirmed elsewhere .
    Can anyone confirm where Mick Loftus was born ?

  2. @Observer2 . Yes I read the obituary, Mick Louftus was indeed born in Roscommon. On the other hand Dermot Early was born in Castlebar (Mick Byrnes Pub) .

  3. Observer2 – your companion at Croke Park was correct, Dr Mick was born in Kiltoom. As his obituary in the Irish Times confirms, his mother died giving birth to his twin sisters and, as his father was a Guard serving in Elphin, the children were sent to Crossmolina to be cared for by his aunt, in his grandparents’ home. Times obituary is here:

  4. I don’t see what difference it makes, tbh. As Leantimes writes above, Dermot Earley Sr. was born in Castlebar but we could hardly claim him as our own, given the distinguished service he gave to the primrose and blue. Likewise, Dr. Mick’s allegiance could never be questioned given what he gave to Mayo GAA on and off the pitch.

    Being born in a stable does not make one a horse, as Daniel O’Connell reputedly said once.

    I myself was born in Galway, but never lived there.

    *Cue banishment*

  5. Full disclosure, It Means Nothing to Me – so was I. Even my passport lists it as my place of birth. Morto.

    I think that quote has also been attributed to the Duke of Wellington in response to someone raising the fact that he’d been born in Ireland.

  6. @ Willie Joe: Ditto, I regret to say. I flew home for one of the All-Irelands a few years back and the Garda at passport control asked me what part of Galway I was from. I had my Mayo jacket on at the time, corrected him fairly quickly. Conversation killed!

    It seems the quote is the subject of some dispute in the historical community.

  7. That sounds like a very interesting read WJ, and hopefully, it has a lot of success in Mayo as well. James Laffey’s book, Will Galway beat Mayo, would have covered some of that period and is also a very interesting read. You mention the strong links Jarlaths had with both Galway and Mayo, and that is very true. Laffey writes, that when Jarlaths won their first all-Ireland in 1947, that although Sean Purcell was the undoubted star, ten of the team, including captain Vincent McHale hailed from Mayo.

  8. I was present at the Tuam launch recently and the Ard Ri was packed to capacity, many Mayo folk included.
    The book is a great read with excellent photos, reports and stories from teams from 50s and 60s both sides of the border. Kevin Mc Stay ( with his strong Tuam connection) John o Mahoney were also in attendance.

  9. There is a lot of crossover.
    Johnny Heaneys father is a Mayo man.
    Robert Finnerty obviously.
    Cathal Sweeney is a grandson of the late great John Morley.

  10. I was in Jarlaths with Sean and Frank junior, both good college footballers and the image of their fathers in that pic…..’Stocky’ as we called Frank jnr sadly passed away in the past two years RIP

  11. For those border people like me, born in Tuam, but from Mayo, if ever this is brought to your attention, can I quote that rather inglorious Irishman, when actually reminded he was Irish- born. He said “Just because you were born in a stable does not mean you are a horse”.
    Just because a person is born in Galway does not make him a Galwayman.

  12. @Big Mike: Indeed, and it cuts the other way too. I believe Keith Higgins’ father is from Galway originally, as was Kevin McStay’s and Liam MacHale’s.

    @Claremorris1951: I’m inclined to believe you, I just now have to convince my father, who loves to react to news of a Galway win with a bit of grigging along the lines of, “Sure you must be delighted your native team is doing well..” etc. etc. You choose your friends, the devil chooses your family, ha ha.

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