Talented sports writer transformed GAA coverage
Paddy Downey:The death last Monday of Paddy Downey breaks perhaps the final link with the generation that pioneered modern newspaper coverage of Gaelic games in the 1960s. Widely respected for the quality of his writing and his scrupulous fairness, he was also personally popular because of his charm, courtesy and conviviality.
His passing also marks the final departure of the journalists who established the annual All Stars awards scheme for football and hurling in 1971.
Within The Irish Times he was an important figure as the person who, encouraged by amongst others Douglas Gageby and his great friend Donal Foley, brought about radically improved coverage of the GAA at a time when the newspaper was moving more into the mainstream of Irish life and building circulation.
He also had a wide interest in other areas, including arts and politics, and was regarded as an authority on the works of Patrick Kavanagh, whose poem In Memory of My Mother was read at his funeral.
A supporter of Dr Noel Browne, Paddy Downey was canvassed to stand for Browne’s party of the late 1950s and early 60s, the National Progressive Democrats. Unable to raise the £100 deposit, his career maintained its by then established trajectory in sports journalism.
Born on August 29th, 1929, to Patrick and Johanna (née Walsh), Paddy Downey spent his childhood in Toormore, a townland near Schull in west Cork. By his early teens he was big enough, more than 6ft tall, to enlist with the LDF, the forerunner of the FCA, even though well below the age limit. But his ambitions to make a military career – his father had been in the RIC – were shattered when at the age of 14 he was struck down by polio.
Formal education became impossible but long periods spent in hospital made him an avid reader, while a broad interest in sport – he was a cricket enthusiast having been introduced to the game by his mother’s family, who were from Inistioge in Kilkenny – gave him a particular fondness for sports writing.
He came to Dublin as a young man in the early 1950s and loved the city. In later years he would always dispute the stereotype of the decade as dreary and dull, as he had found life there thoroughly enjoyable, socialising in the journalists’ pubs and artistic haunts of the time.
A succession of jobs in Gaelic games publications, Gaelic Sportsman and Gaelic Weekly, were supplemented by earnings from correcting crosswords for the Sunday Independent and even a spell selling houses for an estate agent. He had had the misfortune to contract TB in 1952, which disrupted his fledgling career, although he had made a sufficient impression for Cork hurling legend Christy Ring to visit him in hospital on the morning of an All-Ireland final.