FROM THE ARCHIVES Pictured before the 1996 All-Ireland SFC Final at Claremorris GAA club were, left to right: Henry Dixon, Seamus O Malley (Mayo captain, 1936), Johnny Farragher (former Mayo footballer) and Noel Connelly, former Mayo captain.
LEGEND has it that, as Mayo captain Sean Flanagan prowled the dressing room prior to the 1950 All-Ireland Final, he looked each of his charges dead in the eye and asked them, “What are you going to do to make sure we win today?”
A fair and honest question, one could say, especially in the circumstances.
It may have been 70 years ago, but you’d expect the responses then to be not an awful lot different to what might be said today; ‘Do your job’. ‘Beat your man’. ‘Win your private battles’.
When he got to centre-back Henry Dixon, the reply was short and sweet; “There’s only one ball, and I’m going after it!”
Of course, this yarn may be just that. Henry has passed and so cannot confirm nor deny.
But, for those who knew him, the answer resonates with the type of no-nonsense man he was. As a teenager in Claremorris Golf Club, I was fortunate enough to play with Henry many times. It would have been quite understandable for a man of his standing, both as a person and a sportsman, to not want to share his quiet time on the golf course with a moody teen. But, sure enough, wherever our paths inevitably crossed, he always offered me the opportunity to join, and I, certainly aware of who he was, reverently obliged.
Off the two of us would plod for nine holes. An odd couple. I knew enough to only speak when spoken to, and maybe Henry understood that, as he often made it easy for me, initiating soft chat to make me comfortable.
The “one ball, and I’m going after it” mantra served him well on the golf course, too. He was as economical with his swing as he was with his syllables. He’d hit it, and go after it.
The objective was clear. If I learned anything from him it was probably that nine holes of golf could be played with the most minimum of fuss.
Looking back, It struck me, given the timing of our unlikely partnership, how his conduct around me and others says even more about his character.
This was the mid-nineties. In Mayo. This was peak Mayo Football Mania! There wasn’t a town in the county that wasn’t painted green and red. There was murals.
There were poems penned and songs composed.
Players were feted like Gods. Even I tried to take advantage of the adoration economy, trading off my surname, trying to pick up any breaks going.
And then there was Henry Dixon, far from all that noise, walking down the sixth fairway pulling his golf cart behind him, a few clubs in the bag.
IF the first tee in Claremorris was where Mayo teams were picked, and the demise of rivals plotted, Henry was never part of that. A double All-Ireland winner. Wore number six both years. That chat wasn’t for him.
I can imagine the wry smile he’d allow himself, hearing the distant sounds of tables thumped by armchair experts. For all I knew he marked his golf ball with one of his two Celtic Crosses. If he did, he wouldn’t have told me.
What he did tell me once, was of a time he had a match in Dublin “of a Sunday”.
He spent the Saturday morning in the bog turning turf, but left early, cycling to Claremorris to meet his lift. Some breed of a communications ‘faux pas’ befell him, resulting in him having to cycle as far as Athlone to meet another lift.
Cycled to Athlone. The day before a match “in Dublin”. I wish I had the balls then to ask him the hundred questions that’d I’d ask him now. But, for all my immaturity, I knew enough to understand that if Henry was speaking, it was best to leave him speak, and not ruin the moment with my feeble curiosity.
I learned later that Henry made his senior debut for Mayo at 30 years of age, in 1948.
He had soldiered many years for the Mayo juniors, at a time when the Juniors were treated as the county ‘B’ team. He was a cattle man, and wore it.
He had the knack that cattle people have of being able to read people, and suffered few fools. I like to take that one as a compliment.
I think of him often. His pub in Claremorris, which, needless to say, was a no-nonsense den of old schoolness, has changed stewardship a few times since his passing, but still bears his name. ‘H. Dixon’. I think of him each time I pass it.
A man of a different time. A study in humility and modesty. Who could have easily sped up or slowed down whenever he saw a solitary teenager carrying a golf bag in Claremorris.
He never did. The gesture was silent, but profound, as I knew enough to know who Henry Dixon was. He didn’t ever have to tell me.