‘Joe was to Gaelic football what Ronaldo is to soccer’

‘Jinkin Joe’ Corcoran, scorer of 20-358 in Mayo inter-county career.

‘Joe was to Gaelic football what Ronaldo is to soccer’

More than half a century has passed since Joe Corcoran jinked into our consciousness.

And there he has remained, a towering figure, distinctive and eccentric, the standard by which those who followed him have been measured.

Sadly, the former Mayo footballer — known as ‘Jinkin’ Joe’ — took leave of us last week.

But the memories he left will have sent a warm glow through all who watched him weave his way through defences. His was the era of Morley and Langan and Prendergast and Carey and Nealon, a team of wide-ranging abilities but fated never to reach the promised goal.

Corcoran would have graced any Mayo team of any era. It is no disrespect to the accomplishments of Cillian O’Connor and company to suggest that the Ardnaree man would have enhanced their endeavours.

He would have brought his feathery touches and originality, to a game that for all its progress lacks the crowning quality that the likes of Corcoran had to offer.

Joe was an Ardnaree man and had never kicked a ball until he was 14 years of age.

It was to golf he was first attracted. His father would bring him to the golf course in the evenings.

He had three clubs — a putter, a four iron and a wedge. And around the greens his father had him putting and chipping. At that he excelled. And would one day become a plus handicapper.

His football interest budded when his mother handed him a new pair of football boots, bought by one of her work colleagues who wanted him to play football. And it wasn’t long until people were raving about this teenager with uncommon ability.

He was a key player in Mayo’s minor journey to the All-Ireland final in 1958 where they were beaten by Dublin.

Joe scored 4-19 in the four matches of the campaign, but only he and Joe Langan progressed to the county senior side.

He played for the county junior team before winning a place on the senior side at right-half forward. Later he would transfer to the other wing where he was equally at home.

‘Jinkin Joe’ they called him for the way he skipped over tackles and dodged the hard man’s boot. In his 96 games he scored 20 goals and 358 points.

Joe Corcoran was dropped from the Mayo team that toured America in 1963. The news rocked the county. He was 23 and was not informed of the selectors’ decision.

Protesting the injustice, Westport’s Padraic Bruen, who had been selected, refused to travel with the squad.

Years later Bruen and Corcoran were again to meet in much different circumstances.

Joe was in the Mater Hospital in Dublin awaiting a triple bypass. There was a six-week waiting list for surgery and his life was hanging on a thread.

Among those who came to visit the former Mayo star was the hospital administrator... none other than Padraic Bruen.

“Leave it to me,” said Padraic, when Joe recounted his condition. The following morning the Ardnaree man was wheeled to the theatre for the emergency operation.

It took considerable persuasion to lure Joe back to football after the injustice perpetrated by the Mayo selectors. When eventually he did return, his performances served only to accentuate the folly of that decision.

But Croke Park on All-Ireland final day was never to echo to his uniqueness. While showered with honours with Ardnaree, Connacht titles in 1967 and ‘69, a Railway Cup medal in’ 69 and a National League 1970 were the sum of his senior county awards.

Writing in The Mayo News last week, Austin Garvin, a friend and golfing buddy of Joe’s for many years, explained where the moniker, ‘Jinkin’ Joe’ had come from.

“It’s a great pity that many of Joe’s greatest ever games were rarely covered on television due to the fact the medium was still in its infancy when he was in his prime,” wrote Austin.

“However, the late and great Micheál Ó Hehir had a great love and affinity with Joe. He and his wife Mary had a holiday home in West Mayo and, as a result, they met him regularly.

“It was Micheál that christened him ‘Jinkin Joe’ a name that encapsulated his brilliant movement and skill.

“Joe was to Gaelic football what Ronaldo is to the game of soccer now.

“When he was at his brilliant best, every Mayo youngster tried to emulate the number 12 from Ardnaree.

“He led the scoring charts in Ireland for many years. He was Mayo’s leading scorer with 20 goals and 358 points until Conor Mortimer surpassed his achievement in 2012.

“However, during Joe’s career, the game was of 60 minutes duration and the ball was much heavier than it is today.

“Joe has also been revered in song,” observed Austin.

“Gerry Guthrie and ‘Paddy Joe’ have recorded songs to mark his magnificent contribution to football, and to Mayo football, in particular.

“When Joe finished playing football he returned to the game of golf, a game he had played earlier on in his career. He achieved a scratch handicap which is quite remarkable in all the circumstances.

“He also reached the semi-final of the West of Ireland Championship and was only beaten at the 18th by former Walker Cup player Garth McGimpsey (Bangor),” recalled Austin.

Most of his success came from golf.

“Renee, myself, my son and two daughters (Joseph, Mary and Catriona) have won a total of seven All-Ireland golf competitions, and I couldn’t win one in football,” Joe once told me.

The death of his wife, Renee, some years ago was a blow from which Joe never fully recovered.

She was only 51, his prop, his confidant. There must have been some joy in heaven last week when the two were back together again.

Seán Rice is a columnist with The Mayo News.

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