WHOEVER said good guys don’t win couldn’t have known Jimmy Mulroy. Here was a good guy and also a winner – in business, in sport, and yes, in politics. A place in the Dail might have tantalisingly eluded him, but on the other occasions he put himself before the people he was elected. What’s more, he was considered by the then Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, worthy of a nomination to the Senate in the late 1980s.
Jimmy’s death last week at the age of 72 didn’t come as a surprise, but still evoked sorrow among the many who knew him. He’d been suffering from a debilitating illness, and having spent a time in hospital, was returned to his home in Drogheda, just weeks before his passing.
My friendship with Jimmy goes back to the time we played together with Louth seniors. It was strengthened when we joined forces on the management team.
His career had begun before mine and was certainly more success-laden. He played with Newtown Blues, who’d been out of business for a few years prior to scoring a breakthrough win in the 1958 Junior Championship, beating St Bride’s in the final.
After that there was a first Senior Championship win in 25 years when a Frank Fagan-captained side beat Naomh Mhuire in the final played at the Gaelic Grounds. Jimmy was at centre-field that day, and in a variety of other positions over the following 14 years when Blues were supreme in the knock-out competition and in other competitions as well.
Between 1961 and 1974 Blues won the Joe Ward Cup nine times, and Jimmy - along with Liam Leech, Jim ‘Blackie’ Judge and Matt Murphy – collected a medal each time. The four lads are holders of a record that might never be broken.
By the time Jimmy won the last of his medals, playing at full-back in the defeat of great rivals, Cooley Kickhams, he was two years into his first stint as county team manager. His appointment had been made at the beginning of 1973, and to the surprise of many and to my amazement, he named me as his assistant. Liam Leech was chosen as team trainer.
Over the following two-and-a-half years we had lots of fun while always giving our jobs total commitment. It wasn’t a one-man band; when it came to naming panels and selecting teams, myself and Leech were given equal say, and also our opinions were sought along the sideline.
There was no competition success, just a narrow failure to win league promotion and some significant match wins. The 1973 defeat of Dublin stands as Louth’s last in a Championship match with Dublin, and the same goes for the win over Meath, then newly-crowned league champions, two years later.
In each of those years, and 1974, Louth were beaten in the Championship by either All-Ireland title-holders or a team that would go on to win the Sam Maguire. Not much, perhaps, to write home about, but there were enough wins then and during his second spell as manager, in the early 1980s, to make Jimmy Louth’s second most successful manager, behind Mickey Whelan.
His own inter-county career began in November of 1959 – he was a sub for the following year’s Leinster final – and continued until the early 1970s. He was selected for Leinster, playing in the 1974 Railway Cup final, and last year was named on Louth’s best team of the previous half-century.
I last spoke to Jimmy on the day of Charlie McAlister’s funeral, which came just a few days after the death of another Newtown Blues player, Kevin Dawe. Since then, two more of the Drogheda club’s outstanding footballers of the golden era passed on, Frank English and Val Murphy. Val was Jimmy’s brother-in-law, a brother of his wife Chris.
The many hundreds who assembled in Drogheda on Saturday morning were there to pay tribute to a gentleman who traded nothing for his honesty and integrity in his roles as sportsman, businessman and politician. He was also a fine family man who’ll be missed by Chris and her three children.