Player for Mayo team that won two finals in early 1950s

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

John McAndrew: Born July 8th, 1927 Died January 3rd, 2013John McAndrew, who has died aged 85 in Birmingham, played at wing-back and midfield in the revered Mayo All-Ireland-winning football teams of 1950 and 1951. Like many of that team, education and emigration played a central role in his life.

The fascination with the team who epitomised football splendour in mid-century Ireland endures in part because no Mayo team has won the Sam Maguire since and also because they were an exceptionally interesting group of men.

From Pádraig Carney, the “Flying Doctor”, to Seán Flanagan, whose political career burned as brightly as his football captaincy, the Mayo team of that era dominated football for a brief, audacious era before the demands of life took many of them elsewhere.

John McAndrew’s story was typical of the era.

He was the youngest of six children born to Thomas and Cassie McAndrew in Kiltane, Bangor Erris. A bright student, he attended St Muredach’s College in Ballina. He was studying in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin when he won his All-Ireland and two league medals with Mayo.

He first came to the attention of Mayo trainers Jackie Carney and Gerard Courell when he won his first of four county championship medal with Crossmolina in 1949, having cycled the 20 miles from home to play in the match.

His brother Pat had already established himself on the Mayo team in 1949 but had emigrated to the US (and later to Perth, Australia) to pursue his medical career.

His absence from the bonfire nights was a lifelong source of regret to John.

Mayo’s wins were feted on both sides of the Atlantic and a nerve-racking journey to New York (a cabin door was not properly secured) for an exhibition game made McAndrew extremely reluctant to fly afterwards. It was 1997 before he finally made the trip to Australia to see his brother.

After graduating, he accepted an offer to work as a general practitioner in Shropshire and then ran the practice at Old Hill, Sandwell, for 40 years.

Through his practice, he got to know Jack Walker of Blackburn Rovers and treated several Aston Villa players, but Gaelic football and greyhounds remained his primary sporting passions.

He retained a strong interest in Gaelic games and was quietly dedicated to promoting the game in the midlands, serving as life president of John Mitchells GAA club, chairman of the Warwickshire board and selected as fullback on the Warwickshire team of the century.

Monica Henry, who ran the post office in Bangor, kept him notified about reunions of the 1950-51 teams and he attended most of the All-Ireland finals in which subsequent Mayo teams appeared.

“He was always anxious that they win one, but I never heard of ‘the curse’ until this year,” his son Seán said.

There are several versions of the “curse of ’51” in which it was decreed that no Mayo team would win an All-Ireland while the 1951 team remained alive. When Seán McAndrew was leaving Croke Park after Mayo’s loss to Donegal last September, he fell into conversation with a Mayo fan who mentioned the curse to him.

“He didn’t believe me when I told him Pat McAndrew was my Dad,” Seán said. Thankfully, the majority of the side were blessed with longevity.

Paddy Prendergast, Pádraig Carney, Mick Mulderrig and Peter Quinn all survive their friend and former teammate. McAndrew was described as “one of the greatest Gaels we have ever had in Britain”. He was predeceased by Bridie in 2006 and is survived by Seán, their only son – who took his son to the All-Ireland final this year.