Legendary servant of Irish soccer, North and South

Sat, Mar 2, 2013, 00:00

Con Martin Born: March 20th, 1923 Died: February 24th, 2013Con Martin scored one of the goals when an Ireland soccer team became the first overseas team to defeat England on home soil.

The match was played at Goodison Park in September, 1949, and followed the first meeting of the two countries at Dalymount Park in 1946 when England won with a Tom Finney goal.

Martin recalled the sing-song on the team’s journey to the ground: “One of the tunes they sang was When Irish Eyes are Smiling.

“And looking around, I remember saying to myself, ‘we may as well sing about it now, because there won’t be too many smiles after the match’.”

However Martin’s goal from the penalty spot gave Ireland a half-time lead. Peter Farrell’s second-half goal sealed a historic victory, while goalkeeper Tommy Godwin’s clean sheet was the icing on the cake.

After the match Martin, then playing for Aston Villa, and Davy Walsh of West Bromwich Albion, got a lift back to Birmingham with a group of West Brom supporters.

“We stopped at a pub, had a few drinks, bought fish and chips and were home, almost before dark.”

Martin was born in Rush, Co Dublin, in 1923 and played Gaelic football with local club St Maur’s and later with St Mary’s, Saggart. Introduced to soccer while serving with the Air Corps, he went on to play for Drumcondra.

At 18 he was selected for the Dublin senior Gaelic football team and won a Leinster championship medal in 1941. But he fell foul of the GAA’s ban on foreign games, and the medal was withheld for 30 years.

In 1946 he won an FAI Cup medal with Drumcondra.

He next played for Irish League side Glentoran before joining Leeds United in 1947.

Nicknamed “Mr Versatility”, he played in goal and also as a defender, midfielder and forward although centre-half was his preferred position.

Between 1948 and 1956 he made 213 league and cup appearances for Aston Villa.

Capped 30 times for the Republic of Ireland, he also made six appearances for Northern Ireland. He was one of the last players to play for both teams, before Fifa changed the rules in 1953 to end the practice. He joined Waterford in 1956, and after three seasons moved to Dundalk as player-manager.

Following subsequent stints in management positions with Shelbourne and Cork Hibernians, he went into the insurance business.

A useful cricketer as a young man, Martin in later life enjoyed playing golf.

His son Mick captained Newcastle United and was an Irish international. Another son, Con jnr, played League of Ireland football, while his grandson Owen Garvan plays for Crystal Palace.

His wife Vera, sons Mick, Con jnr, Edward and Philip and daughters Mary, Elizabeth and Susan survive him.