Mourne Maestro Mastered Kerry’s Legendary `Micko`

MEET the Down player, who mastered the mighty Mick O’Connell, and gave the Mournemen supremacy at midfield, in that historic 1960 All-Ireland Final against Kerry, - the burly Glassdrumman school-teacher, Jarlath Carey.

That native of Ballymartin had been thrown in at the deep-end, not having been selected for the county squad during the entire championship campaign. But so successfully did he `bottle up` the peerless Kerryman in that sensational 1960 Final that, in frustration, `Micko` administered an unsporting kick in the backside, when the referee was `on the blind side.`

In anger and desire for retaliation, Jarlath made a rush for his famous opponent. But captain Paddy Doherty intervened, entreating the injured party not to be provoked. Carey contented himself with a tirade of verbal abuse!

Jarlath blamed the media for creating the myth of the magnificent `Micko`; the boat-trips to self-imposed exile on Valencia Island; the failure to turn up at victory celebrations; and the myths associated with the introspective prima donna. Indeed, the veteran broadcaster, Micheal O’Hare, was so carried away during one match, that he even referred to “those who worship at the altar of Mick O’Connell.`

As Jarlath Carey observed: “There was a certain mystique and mystery about O’Connell, whose style and skill were much-vaunted. But the lesson was hammered home by the Down team-management that this was only a human being, with arms and legs like everyone else.

“We devised the tactic of keeping the ball away from `Micko.` But on the few occasions when we both fielded the ball, each of us had a grip of the leather, with the referee having to bounce the ball.”

Only loyalty and dedication had enabled Jarlath to remain in the red-and-black squad, at a time of personality clashes involving the selectors, with whom he did not see eye-to-eye. Despite convincing performances in challenge games, Carey was always dropped for championship matches in favour of Kieran Denvir, whose brother, Brian, was one of the selectors.

Only a series of poor displays by Denvir, especially in the 1960 All-Ireland Semi-Final against Offaly, forced the key switch, which brought Jarlath into the Down side, for the All-Ireland Final against Kerry.

And what a task faced the men from Mourne, as they prepared to meet the legendary `Kingdom` at Croke Park. Trained by the famous Dr O’Sullivan, who had never been in charge of a losing team, the squad in green-and-gold contained such still-renowned personalities as Mick O’Dwyer and Paudie O’Shea, as well as `Tiger’ Lyons, Kevin Coffey, Johnney Culloty and Mick O`Connell. Sympathetic neutrals advised the `dark-horses` from the North to “simply go out and enjoy your big day.”

The Ulster champions had been dejected, suffering a blow to their pride and confidence the previous year, when defeated by Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. That demonstrated what a transformation had taken place in the Mourne-men’s fortunes, compared with the first Down side for which Jarlath Carey had been selected, back in 1953.

And it was a coincidence that the captain of that team was Paddy O`Hagan, member of the side which won the All-Ireland Junior Championship in 1946. They had been beaten by Antrim in the First Round, but a protest was lodged against Jarlath’s Carey’s brother, who was on the Antrim team, but was disqualified because he played for two clubs. So Down went forward!

Another coincidence was that Paddy O’Hagan later became Chief Executive of Newry and Mourne district council, being succeeded in that post by Kevin O’Neill, a dependable defender on the squad which won the Sam Maguire Cup in 1960.

Born into a sporting household, - his father having been an accomplished footballer in Co Antrim, - Jarlath did not really get involved until he became a boarder at St Malachy’s College in Belfast. The students were allowed out to watch such famous Antrim stars as Kevin Armstrong, Sean Gibson, Harry O’Neill and Paddy O’Hara.

In fact, Gibson and O’Hara actually trained the college side, which included Jim McKeever who, at the age of 16 years, was in the Derry senior squad. Kieran Denvir, later to share All-Ireland honours with Carey, also played for St Mal’s.

During the school holidays, Jarlath turned out for the Kilkeel minor side, trained by Joe Donnan, which won the county league and championship. The squad also included John Pat Cunningham Thomas Green, Charlie and Joe Curran.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008