29 Sept 2022

Louth handballer Joey Maher was a world champion

Inside Track

Louth handballer Joey Maher was a world champion

Joey Maher.

No, it hasn't abated, you know, the chat about Louth's best-ever sportsperson. Twice over the past week, Inside Track has been offered the names of two worthy candidates. One made it in handball, the other in boxing, and no marks for guessing either, or both.

They have a life-size sculpture erected to Joey Maher in Drogheda, and though it was many years before this most wonderful of characters was the pride of many alleys throughout the world, the other 'runner', Tom Sharkey, has his exploits recalled whenever there's a chat in his native Dundalk about boxing in times past.

It was a south-Louth enthusiast who threw Maher's name into the ring the weekend before last, appropriately enough at Dundalk Stadium, where they practice the sport, greyhound racing, which Joey turned his hand to, very successfully, when his handball days were over. He sent out a few champion longtails, Maple Champion, a dour stayer, chief among them.

Joey, of course, was a champion himself, many times over. He began his career by winning a 1956 Irish junior title. After that he won Irish singles senior championships in both hardball and softball, and teaming up with townsman, Fintan Conefry, won national doubles titles. He also had many wins in the National League.

His greatest achievement, however, came on his move to Canada, where he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - Mounties to you and me, the chaps immortalised by Nelson Eddy as he played opposite to Jeanette McDonald in Rose Marie. (You don't hear Indian Love Call on the wireless nowadays, not even on Lyric. Jim Ryan might oblige on his Sunday programme)

Having won Canadian and US championships, Joey became the first Irishman to win a World title, in 1967. He returned home after that and immediately got back to winning more Irish senior titles, bringing his total in both disciplines to twelve. His achievements won him a 1969 Texaco trophy, the first time a handballer was recognised in what was at the time Ireland's most prestigious award scheme.

Joey died in 2016, over a decade after he, your writer, and that wonderful promoter of Dundalk underage soccer, Gerry Gover, shared a stage at a get-together for DkIT Students, organised by Michael Heeney. The craic was mighty, anecdotes flying all over the place, with the best of them coming from the Drogheda man. It was a privilege to be in his company.

We'll get back to Tom Sharkey at a later stage.      

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