ONE by one the lights go out on our former football stars. A large chunk of the team of the sixties has passed away . . . barely noticed, almost discreetly. Last week Seamus O’Connor joined that pantheon. Now comes the news of the death of John Nallen.
Only ephemeral expressions of recognition attended their passing, nothing more. Theirs’ is but a dim memory now. Guys who once represented the Mayo dream, now a distant blur in the consciousness. Guys who strove then as mightily as Mayo footballers do now to bridge that unending gap to All-Ireland success.
Ray Prendergast was the first of the team of the sixties to leave, then John Morley followed by Joe Langan, Ray Niland, Mick Ruane, Joe Corcoran, Willie Loftus and Seamus O’Connor. More than half of the team whose duels with Galway in the mid-sixties attracted heaving multitudes to MacHale Park and Tuam, not just from all parts of Connacht, but also farther afield.
John Nallen was of an earlier vintage. His death severs one of the last tenuous links with the last Mayo side to win the All-Ireland senior title in 1951.
As captain of the Connacht title winning Mayo minor team in 1950, Nallen’s star was in the making, too young to outshine any of the dual-stars of the all conquering senior side, but good enough to win a place on the county’s junior team that won the All-Ireland title that same year.
Strangely, his first senior experience was with Galway, with whom he played in 1951, the year of Mayo’s last outright success. But although he lined out with his native county the following year, they were surprisingly beaten by Roscommon in the Connacht championship.
A native of Crossmolina, John won a National League medal with Mayo after beating Carlow in the final in 1954. And later that same year he won the second of eight county senior football championship medals with Tuam Stars where he worked as a bank official.
He won his first Connacht senior medal with Mayo in 1955. In the All-Ireland semi-final they drew with Dublin but lost the replay narrowly.
He captained the team in 1957 beaten by Roscommon in the championship, the talented Mayo man fated like so many others never to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand on All-Ireland day. His tenure with Mayo ran from 1952 to ’58.
There were certain compensations in his eight county senior medals won with Tuam Stars, playing alongside the great Sean Purcell and Frank Stockwell, and of which he himself was one of the brightest stars.
He won a Railway Cup medal with Connacht in 1958. And when transferred to Trim he lined out with the Meath senior side for three years.
Later, the genial Mayo man settled in Cavan, the native county of his wife Maura, and won junior and intermediate county titles with Castlerahan, Ballyjamesduff.
John was uncle of James Nallen, one of the best players ever to don the Green and Red jersey and who, together with his brother Tom, won county and All-Ireland club medals with Crossmolina.