The death of Joe Lennon at the age of 81 marks the passing of one of the most influential footballers in GAA history. A member of the ground breaking Down team of the 1960s, who became the first county to bring an All-Ireland title across the border, he went on to become one of the foremost thinkers and educationalists in the game.
He was born in Poyntzpass in 1934 and played at centrefield on the first Down side to win the All-Ireland, in 1960. He was brought athleticism and anticipation to the role rather than the then conventional high catching. There was almost an iconoclastic aspect to the team’s defeat of Kerry, football’s traditional masters, in the final before what was at the time a record crowd.
The record was broken a year later as Down retained the Sam Maguire before 91,000 people, beating Offaly.
Just four of those teams survived to play in the 1968 final when Down again beat Kerry. Lennon was captain of that team, lining out at wing back.
By now he had established a name in coaching. His 1964 book: “Coaching Gaelic Football for Champions” was a pioneering work, combining the strands of fitness training, skills development and tactical coaching. He was also one of the key figures in the GAA’s 1960s training programmes for coaches, held in Gormanston College.
Joe Lennon became known as an expert on the rules and was a familiar face on RTE television as well as a frequent contributor to the radio. In 2000 he completed the PhD thesis, ‘Towards a Philosophy on Legislation in Gaelic Games,’ an exhaustive survey of the evolution of the rules of the game throughout its history.
The GAA in Croke Park paid its tribute to one of the country’s most distinguished football figures: “One of the finest Gaelic Footballers of his generation, Lennon won All-Ireland medals with the Mourne County in 1960, ‘61, and finally in ‘68 as team captain. Not only was he a great player, he was also one of the deepest thinkers on the game of Gaelic football.”