Mayo icon Paddy Prendergast remembered as a ‘football God’ at funeral

In his eulogy to his father, Mark Prendergast remembered a ‘football God’ and how ‘everyone wanted a piece of Paddy P’
Mayo icon Paddy Prendergast remembered as a ‘football God’ at funeral

Mayo flags fly from the hearse carrying the remains of Paddy Prendergast, the last surviving member of the Mayo team to win the All-Ireland in 1951, arriving at St John’s Church, Tralee for Mass. Pictures: Don MacMonagle

To the strains of ‘The West’s Awake’, the green and red draped coffin of Mayo football icon Paddy Prendergast left St John’s Church in Tralee, Co Kerry, at the end of his Funeral Mass.

The 95-year-old Ballintubber native died in his adopted home of Tralee at the weekend and is the last member of the Mayo team which won the county’s last All-Ireland in 1951 to pass away.

Prendergast was full-back on the Mayo All-Ireland-winning teams of 1950 and ‘51 and he was remembered at his funeral as a warrior, a man with a magnetic personality, a proud Mayo man, and a great family man.

In his eulogy to his father, Mark Prendergast remembered a ‘football God’ and how ‘everyone wanted a piece of Paddy P’.

“He had that charisma, that magnetism. He was the everyman’s man.

“He will be greeted at heaven by his brothers and sisters and his teammates from 1951 who will ask him ‘Paddy, what took you so long?’”

He said as a family ‘we worshipped him’ and he spoke of Paddy’s love for his wife Irene, his children, and grandchildren.

His good friend in Tralee, Seán Lyons, also a Mayo native, said in a eulogy that Paddy’s memory will live on.

Sean Lyons, left in scarf, who delivered an oration at the funeral of Paddy Prendergast.
Sean Lyons, left in scarf, who delivered an oration at the funeral of Paddy Prendergast.

“As long as Mayo grass is green and Mayo blood is red, one name will always be like thunder spake … Paddy Prendergast,” said Lyons.

Lyons recalled showing Paddy a picture of the team of 1951 at his last visit to see him before he passed away. He asked him what he thought of when he saw the picture.

“Friends. Men who would walk through a stone wall for you. Men who when they pulled on the green and red stood together and feared no one,” recalled Lyons.

“And I said back to him: ‘And you more than any of them Paddy’. He just smiled,” added Lyons.

His Funeral Mass was attended by Mayo GAA chairman Liam Moffatt, and Tony O’Connor, chair of Ballintubber GAA Club.

Paddy Prendergast was a native of Cranmore, Ballintubber and as Seán Lyons said at his funeral, “he never forgot his roots”. He was particularly proud of the latest Mayo footballers from Cranmore, brothers Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor.

His inter-county career actually began with Donegal before Mayo, when he was based in Dungloe as a garda. However, a powerful letter from Mayo player Liam Hastings convinced him to declare for Mayo in 1948.

“Liam Hastings wrote me a letter that long,” recalled Paddy in 2013, stretching his hands two feet apart to demonstrate. “He was able to write one and he spoke about marching around Croke Park in the red and green and this is our future.”

Piper Eamonn Walsh plays a lament as the remains of Paddy Prendergast are carried shoulder high draped in the Mayo flag as the funeral leaves St John’s Church.
Piper Eamonn Walsh plays a lament as the remains of Paddy Prendergast are carried shoulder high draped in the Mayo flag as the funeral leaves St John’s Church.

It was strong talk considering Mayo had not won a Connacht title since 1939 but Hastings and several other players had written a letter to the county board and local papers the previous year which was, effectively, a rallying call for the game in the county.

Mayo would win the next four Connacht titles and two All-Irelands.

Indeed, Prendergast felt they underachieved, arguing they should have won ‘at least four All-Irelands’, referencing the controversial All-Ireland final defeat of 1948, where the referee reportedly blew up early with Mayo a point down to Cavan, as well as semi-final defeats in 1949 and ‘55.

The bonds made in those years were very clear anytime any of that team spoke.

“It was a very special time … The best part of it was they were a very special group.

“It is hard to bring it up with so many of them gone, especially with our team, we were extremely close,” said Prendergast.

Their bonds were cemented in Mrs Gaughan’s guesthouse in Ballina where they met for a fortnight every year for what was effectively a training camp. They trained during the day and carried out forensic analysis in front of a blackboard in the evenings.

Paddy Prendergast was very effusive in his praise for the footballing and general acumen of his teammates.

However, he was more reticent when talking about his own footballing prowess.

Seán Rice, the doyen of sports journalists in Mayo, would have been in his teens in 1951, and is clear about Prendergast’s abilities.

“As a full-back, Paddy was exceptional. Seventy years after winning his second All-Ireland senior football medal, the Mayo man is still regarded as the prince of full-backs,” wrote Rice in a tribute in this week’s Mayo News.

That he was a member of the last Mayo team to lift Sam Maguire was not an honour Prendergast was happy with; he yearned for a Mayo team to take over the mantle.

He watched his younger brother Ray play full-back for Mayo in the 1960s and 1970s and from his Kerry base, he was a frequent supporter at Mayo games, from league games in Castlebar to All-Ireland finals in Croke Park and everything in between.

Every year that passed stretched the gap to ‘51 and Prendergast often referred to following Mayo teams over the decades as his own ‘Via Dolorosa’. That is Latin for ‘way of grief’ and refers to the route in Jerusalem upon which Jesus carried his cross on the way to his crucifixion.

Speaking before the 2013 All-Ireland final, he was very hopeful about the possibility of Mayo winning.

“It would be marvellous. It would be like your dreams coming true, really, do you know? After all the barren years, the disappointments and, as I’ve said to you, my Via Dolorosa, after all that, it would be magical,” he said.

Unfortunately it was not to be and Paddy passed away not long after Mayo’s latest All-Ireland final defeat.

There is no avoiding the topic of the infamous curse. The tale goes that the Mayo players disrespected a funeral in Foxford on their homecoming in 1951 and that either a priest or a woman put a curse on them that they would never win another All-Ireland as long as any member of the team was still alive.

“You want to see them winning one to end the nonsense,” he said in 2013. “I don’t know who the hell started it out, probably somebody who was talking about Biddy Early (an apparent curse on Clare hurling undone by the All-Ireland success in 1995) or something and decided ‘we’ll produce something for Mayo as well’, rubbish like that.”

Instead, he felt Mayo’s failings were more self-inflicted than anything else, citing a number of selections made over the years and critical of some selectors, even in their All-Ireland-winning years, picking players based on being from their area rather than on ability.

He took up work with Shell, after leaving the gardaí, and moved to Tralee. He recalled fondly his regular trips to Dingle to meet with Kerry legend Paddy ‘Bawn’ Brosnan and he was a very popular figure in the Kingdom.

He is the last member of the 1951 team to pass away. Dr Mick Loftus, a former President of the GAA, was a sub on that team and is the only surviving member of the panel still alive.

Paddy is mourned by his wife Irene, children Petra, Siobhán, and Mark, grandchildren, sisters, extended family and friends.

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