The death has taken place of one of the GAA’s great footballers. Packy McGarty was one of those players whose commitment shone like a beacon during a 23-year career with Leitrim with whom he was never going to be able to win the big prizes.
Born this month in 1933 in Mohill, he made his intercounty debut at 16 in 1949 and went on to become nationally known as a forward. In the 1950s he and Leitrim had the misfortune to run into an exceptional era for Galway, All-Ireland winners in that decade.
They lost four successive Connacht finals, 1957-1960, and the closest match was in 1958 when Galway won by just two points, 2-10 to 1-11. McGarty played so well that his jersey was in tatters thanks to the attention of the Galway backs.
According to the county website, “the Leitrim Observer humorously recorded: ‘A half-time tip to the Leitrim mentors went unheeded, send McGarty out for the second half without a jersey.’”
At the end he was carried shoulder-high from the field.
He was a key player for his province from early in his career. At 19, he made his way down from Donegal where he worked, to Tralee to make his debut for Connacht and scored 1-4 off his marker, All-Ireland-winning Kerry captain James Murphy.
Railway Cup medals followed in 1957 and ’58 and later in his career, as a panellist in 1967.
There were also individual awards, such as the Centenary Year Team of the Century of players who hadn’t won All-Ireland medals as well as 2000’s Connacht Team of the Millennium.
Having worked in Britain, from where he commuted for Leitrim’s matches in the late 1950s and early ’60s, McGarty moved back to Dublin and opened a shop in Clondalkin.
He played for Seán McDermotts and Round Towers in Dublin but had always said that he would end his playing days with his home club, Mohill, and did so in 1977.
Leitrim county board paid tribute.
“It is with great sadness we learn of the death of Leitrim GAA legend Packy McGarty RIP. Packy passed to his eternal reward last night (Monday).
“Packy McGarty, not only one of the greatest Leitrim footballers to put on a county jersey but one of the greatest footballers of all time . . . he was a great footballer because he embodied all that is admirable in human nature – pride of place, utter dedication, an almost fanatical devotion to the cause of Leitrim football and a complete absence of bitterness.”