GAA legend pays tribute to local ‘hero’
Swinford and Mayo GAA legend Dr Pádraig Carney described the late Garda Robert McCallion as ‘a hero’ as a new pitch was poignantly rededicated to the memory of the late garda in Swinford on Sunday.
There were emotional and poignant scenes as family, colleagues, friends and locals witnessed the unveiling and blessing of the Robert McCallion memorial pitch in the presence of Garda McCallion’s father Bob, mother Nancy, brother John and sisters Deirdre and Noreen.
Fr Dermot Meehan and Fr Derek Gormley blessed the pitch and the new Michael Davitt stand as more than 1,000 spectators watched on during what was a momentous and emotional day for Swinford GAA club.
Garda Robert McCallion died tragically from injuries sustained whilst on duty in Letterkenny, County Donegal in April 2009. Sadness, shock and grief swept through his native Swinford and Letterkenny at the time and his loss reverberated around Mayo and the entire country.
On Sunday Swinford played a garda team in the opening match at the Robert McCallion memorial pitch before James Horan’s Mayo team took on their Donegal counterparts.
‘The Flying Doc’ Dr Carney performed the opening of the original pitch in 1979 and it seemed appropriate that he was back in Swinford on Sunday to mark the reopening of the new pitch and stand. Dr Carney, who won All-Ireland titles with Mayo in 1950 and 1951, flew in from his home in California for the ceremony.
Dr Carney remembered Garda McCallion as a proud Swinford man who paid the ultimate price in the line of duty whilst serving his country.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was present and he joined Fr Meehan, Fr Gormley, Dr Carney and Robert McCallion’s family, friends and colleagues for the ceremony ahead of the Mayo and Donegal challenge match.
Junior Minister for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring also attended the ceremony with Fine Gael TD and former Mayo manager John O’Mahony, while Ballina native and Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Dara Calleary TD was also in attendance.
Assistant Garda Commissioner Mr Jack Nolan represented An Garda Siochána at the ceremony.
Garda Robert McCallion was the winner of an intermediate county medal with Swinford in 1999, and he also represented Mayo at under-21 level. He began playing underage football for Swinford as an eight year-old and he represented the club in a dignified and dedicated manner for more than 20 years.
Swinford GAA chairperson Michael Murtagh praised the dedication and professionalism that Robert McCallion demonstrated throughout his life. He stated, “In all of his endeavours, Robbie gave his utmost. As a footballer, as a friend, with his family, and in his life as a garda, he was a man who set himself high standards.”
Garda Robert McCallion’s father Bob was a member of An Garda Siochána for many years. His uncles John and Daniel McCallion served with the force and Robert’s brother John is a garda stationed in Ballina. Robert was proud and delighted to join the Garda Siochána on February 7 2005 and he graduated as a fully qualified member in February 2007. Prior to his death he was looking forward to a transfer nearer home.
Swinford club colleague and Mayo PRO Aidan McLoughlin said that Robert McCallion made the return trip from Donegal to Swinford for training on the Tuesday before he died as he regularly did on a weekly basis despite the long commute. He was described as being in great form.
Referring to Robert’s great love for the GAA following his death Fr Derek Gormley said, “It was his passion from once he joined the Swinford club at Under-8 level back in 1988. He gave 22 years of commitment to the club. He wore the colours of the parish with pride. He said at a training session in Swinford two nights before he died that he never felt as fit. He was buzzing that night.”
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