Paddy Downey, whose death took place yesterday at the age of 84, was one of Ireland’s best-known and respected sports journalists, whose vivid prose and expertise on Gaelic games enriched the pages of The Irish Times for over three decades.
He was a native of Toormore, near Schull in West Cork and the last surviving founder of the GAA All Stars scheme, started back in 1971.
He was a familiar figure at venues all over the country as the paper’s Gaelic games correspondent, dating from 1962 until his retirement after reporting on the All-Ireland finals of 1994. Previously, he had worked with the defunct Evening Mail in Dublin.
GAA President Liam O’Neill acknowledged his legendary status in the coverage of Gaelic games: “His wit, eye for detail and clarity of prose regularly brought game incidents to life in print for those who had not witnessed them and his passion for football and hurling was evident to anyone who picked up his reports.”
Paddy was preeminent in writing with passion on hurling and football on Gaelic games.
He never played the games himself, being struck down with polio at a young age.
I was fortunate to be a colleague and friend, sharing in travels to the US and Canada on All Star tours, as well as to Australia reporting on the International Rules Series, starting in 1986.
On the occasion of his retirement, The Irish Times carried two pages of tributes and as one of numerous correspondents invited to contribute, I said he was the writer “all aspiring journalists should seek to emulate”.
Edmund van Esbeck, former rugby correspondent with The Irish Times, was one of his closest friends and one of the main contributors to the tribute supplement. “I find it hard to believe that time’s devouring hand has caught up with Paddy’s tenure as Gaelic games correspondent,” he wrote.
The late Con Houlihan was another contributor, saying the pair were “bonded by a love of sport and in felicities of language”. “The King has abdicated — long live the King,” he wrote.
The time he took to compile his reports of big games was evident in the quality of his writing, as then sports editor Gerry Noone noted. Recalling the “first and third Sunday nights every September”, he wrote: “With paper in typewriter, catchline and byline already scribed, he’d sit back, light pipe and puff away while masterminding those silky words that made your All-Ireland hurling and football finals so memorable.”
All of his friends and the many thousands who regularly read his reports would surely agree.
He is survived by his wife Catríona (Ó Ruadhan), sons Pádraig and John and daughter Margaret.
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