Death of Co Down ‘hero’ James McCartan Snr is a sad loss for football

McCartan was on the first team to take the Sam Maguire across the Border in 1960

The death of James (Jim) McCartan, at the age of 85, is a sad loss for football, particularly in his native Down, where his memory will be revered for the role he played in the county's rise to success in the early 1960s.

That team revolutionised football and became the first county to take the Sam Maguire across the Border, in 1960, beating Kerry in the final, in which he scored 1-1, and a year later, retaining the trophy, defeating Offaly after a replay. Both finals played to record attendances, the latter of which still stands.

Described by PD Mehigan in The Irish Times as "a brainy 40-yards man whose passes to O'Neill and Doherty have been productive of many winning scores,"McCartan was named back-to-back Footballer of the Year in 1960 and 1961, an achievement subsequently emulated by Dublin's Jimmy Keaveney and Jack O'Shea of Kerry.

A gifted footballer with physical strength and power, he was an ideal centre forward and pivot in one of the best half-forward lines in the game's history, along with Seán O'Neill and Paddy Doherty.


Vital goal

In his report of the 1961 final in The Irish Times Jack MacGabhann wrote: "It was easy to pick out Down's hero. Jim McCartan was the cog which drove the Down forward machine. He inspired their every move and scored the vital first goal, which set his side on the path to recovery.

“His brilliant footwork, uncanny positioning sense and devastating, swerving runs tore gaps in the Offaly defence and through these his colleagues piled up the winning scores.”

Jim McCartan's contribution to Down football went on to include successfully managing the county to an Ulster title in 1978, an under-21 All-Ireland championship a year later and, in 1983, a national league.

His sons played for the county, including James, who won two All-Irelands and managed Down to the 2010 All-Ireland final.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times