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Paddy Prendergast: a Mayo legend

Sean Rice

TWO GREAT GAELS?All-Ireland winning Mayo defender Paddy Prendergast is pictured outside MacHale Park, Castlebar with well-known Mayo supporter Pat Synott from Ballinrobe.?Pic: Sportsfile

Seán Rice

PADDY Prendergast, a precious vision of the past, is being honoured at the Mayo News Club Stars banquet. And what fondness the full-back of another era stirs in our consciousness.
More than six decades ago he ruled. And nothing any other county has achieved in the meantime has diminished his standing as one of the greatest full-backs of all time.
Lee Keegan bears comparison. As the country’s premier player chosen by his peers, Keegan’s distinction is worthy of deification; more so since Mayo are still only second best in the country.
What the men of Prendergast’s era achieved collectively, however, is still the benchmark in Mayo football. And the powerful image of their rise to the top against the odds still ghosts into conversations when exploits of past and present are being debated. Paddy is the lone surviving member of that all-conquering side of the fifties still living in this country; the only other survivor of the first 15, Pádraig Carney, resides in America.
And the Ballintubber native personifies that aura of mystery still emitting from their triumphs. To most people Prendergast was incomparable, their choice as the greatest full-back of the century. No swagger, no shadows, no doubts, simply the greatest.
The formative years were at school in Ballintubber, later at St Gerald’s College, Castlebar, as a midfielder, afterwards with Seán McDermott’s in Dublin while training as a garda in the Phoenix Park, where he came under the influences of great names like Roscommon’s Bill Carlos, Cork’s Con McGrath, Louth’s Eddie Boyle and Mayo’s own Tom Langan.
Dungloe in Donegal was his first posting as a fully-trained garda in the forties and with the local club he impressed as a midfielder. When they reached the county final against Gweedore, the prospects of a thriller engaged the minds of the county as a whole.
He recalled houses in Gweedore with candles lighting in the windows for their team’s success, and a priest blessing the football for the opposition and women at the game praying their rosary beads.
Soon he was lining out with the county team in Donegal at centrefield, playing alongside Mayo man Dr Tom Gilvarry and Tony Rogers, husband of Brid Rogers, former Minister for Agriculture in the North of Ireland.
Telegraph wires were burning in Mayo about his potential and he was called to join Seán Flanagan, John Forde, Eamonn Mongey and Pádraig Carney. And under Flanagan’s chilling scrutiny, wisdom was built.
Sligo in the championship of 1948 provided no omen of football riches, but they struggled through and beat Galway in a replay in the Connacht final.
Collective training welded them into a cohesive unit, built friendships and a sense of loyalty. Hauled out of bed for early Mass, they then did ten or 12 miles of roadwork and three or four hours training in a field in Ballina.
Afterwards, every aspect of play in every position was discussed. Players joined in, teased out their approach to various aspects of play, and how this might be executed. Carney, Flanagan, Langan and Mongey were the great thinkers and they got all the players to think for themselves.
“I knew how far out I could safely pursue play in the knowledge that John Forde would demolish everything on my right side, and that Seán Flanagan had me covered from the left,” he said.
The All-Ireland final against Cavan ended infamously short when Mayo were on the verge of taking the title. But Paddy Prendergast rejects any accusations of a deliberate premature call by the referee.
Their hope of better to come was shattered again the following year when they lost to Meath in the semi-final, a feeling was far worse than the final defeat the previous year. Sound familiar?
But hearts commenced to boom again in 1950 when they retained the Connacht title, and outflanked Armagh in the All-Ireland semi-final to qualify for a clash with Louth in the final.
The final was not long in progress when Bill Kenny, their talented centre half-forward, broke his leg and was carried from the field on a stretcher. His loss was immeasurable, but his spirit inspired them.
“And the rest is a blur of joy.”
Toughened by experience, confident, but never complacent they were back the following year to record another resounding victory in which Tom Langan strode to renown with his performance at full-forward.
Paddy Prendergast personifies that golden era unparalleled in Mayo in well over six decades.

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