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Ballinrobe’s ‘famous five’ brothers

Sean Rice

A FAMILY TRADITION Luke, Tommy, Seamus, Paddy and Jack O’Malley.

Seán Rice


T HEY were Ballinrobe’s famous five, a band of brothers at the heart of Mayo’s ascent to football prominence in the period known as the Glorious Thirties.
Time has long run out on the lives of the O’Malley brothers ­– Seamus, Paddy, Luke, Jack and Tommy –­ and scarcely a soul still exists to recount the magnificence of their contribution to the grandeur of those years.
But their names live on in the torch they have passed on, and in the records reserved for the legends who blazed the trail of Mayo’s colourful rise to the top more than 80 years ago.
In terms of achievement, Seamus (the eldest of the five sons of Luke and Ann O’Malley of Levalley, Cloonacastle) leads the pack. He came out of  retirement to captain the all-conquering Mayo side of 1936. Remarkably, he was secretary of Mayo GAA Board at the time.
As centre back he was a pillar of reliability, strong and astute, attributes that left no one in doubt about the wisdom of his decision to make a return, or about the significance of his input to the overall team performance.
His journey home with the Sam Maguire cup, after their final victory over Laois, is part of the folklore of our association. Unable to get Monday off from Meelickmore School, where he taught, Seamus brought the cup that morning to school ­– on the carrier of his bicycle –­ to the absolute delight of his pupils. Later, in the evening, he joined his teammates in Ballyhaunis
when they arrived home by train.
Seamus won every honour in the game with Mayo. He also won the Sigerson Cup with UCG in 1932. Thirty years later, his son Michael was also honoured with similar Sigerson Cup success at the same university, and a further 30 years later,­ in 1992, ­ his grandson Niall Finnegan repeated the achievement.
He played club football for Ballinrobe, Castlebar Mitchels and Claremorris, where he lived and on whose grounds is dedicated a stand to his memory. The roundabout entering Claremorris is also named after the Mayo captain, a further indication of the respect in which he was held by the community.
From a strong republican background, the energy Seamus expended on the football field was equalled only by his singular activities in the War of Independence. Yet his republican convictions did not shadow his loyalty to GAA colleagues, and at election times Seamus was known to accompany Henry Kenny of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s Seán Flanagan on their canvass for votes.
Having retired, at the age of 32, he continued to promote the game, and Irish culture in general, right up to his death in 2007 at the ripe old age of 97.
In addition to his Sigerson Cup success, Michael O’Malley, son of Seamus, won a Hogan Cup medal with St Jarlath’s in 1960 and also featured on numerous occasions with the Mayo senior team.
In 1934 Paddy had a hand in the winning goal for Mayo in the National League final. He was also on the winning league side of ’35 and the holder of a Connacht junior medal. An accomplished athlete, Paddy also was Mayo cross-country champion in the 1930s.
Luke swelled the list of family accomplishments as a consummate sportsman. Like the rest of his siblings, he played for many years on the Cloonacastle team and later with Claremorris and Swinford. He also lined out in goal for the Mayo junior team.
His daughter Margaret won gold at Community Games in badminton and high jump at different levels. His son Conor helped St Colman’s College team to win the Connacht schools championship in 1980.
In winning league and championship medals, Jack O’Malley also shared in the limelight of those glorious years. He was regarded as the most stylish footballer of the family and a forward of some repute for his county.
Shortly after his marriage, Jack moved to Thurles, where he played inter-county football for Tipperary. In Waterford, where he later resided, Jack developed an interest in Waterford United soccer team at the invitation of Mayo man Tom Tuohy, the team doctor.
Jack’s daughter Marian won a Special Olympics gold medal in badminton. Another daughter, Aileen, won acclaim in Munster tennis.
Tommy, the youngest of the five brothers, togged out with Mayo minors and Cavan senior football teams, and later went on to coach and manage teams in the local Ballinrobe GAA Club.
Tommy Junior emulated his father as a gifted minor, under-21 and senior footballer for Mayo. He captained the senior side in 1975, won a Railway Cup medal in 1973 and Connacht championship in 1981. His college exploits in football and as a member of the Irish international basketball team are legendary. His list of awards would fill this column alone.
Not all the achievements in the O’Malley clan are given due recognition in this piece. Other sons of Tommy ­– Gerard, Pádraig and Eugene – ­ have won county honours with Ballinrobe. Daughter Maura played national league basketball with Galway Democrats for many years and, having retired from playing, founded the Claregalway Basketball Club.
To this day Eugene Junior carries the proud family flag in Ballinrobe football, where it all began over nine decades ago with those five remarkable men brought up on a farm in Levalley. All had qualities that command respect in any generation ­– loyalty, kindness, dignity, dependability, and dedication. But it is their massive contributions to the sporting life of the county, for which they will be best remembered.

Hurlers enjoy their day in the sun
OUR under-21 footballers set the example. In reaching the summit of their competition, the hurlers have followed suit. What chance now our senior footballers? 
Followers in Croke Park on Saturday were ecstatic as team captain Brian Hunt pumped the blue, balmy air with the Nicky Rackard Cup, won deservedly and so proficiently.
A goal beautifully engineered by their exciting full-forward Kenny Feeney turned a game that seemed to have been slipping from them following Armagh’s lightening start to the second half.
But Mayo stuck to the task with undiminished zeal, recovered their confidence (most notably after Feeney’s goal) and, with cracking courage all over the field, found the right moment to streak ahead  ... and to remain ahead.
It was a great day for the undervalued and unsung hurlers of Mayo and it is to be hoped that this ancient and most skilful of games will enjoy wider popularity in a county where football is king.

Richard Lyons remembered
RICHARD Lyons, a native of ‘The Colony’, Louisburgh, who has died, was a member of a well-known football family who won recognition for their contribution to club, college and county success.
A retired member of the Telecom Éireann staff, Dick, as he was popularly known, lived at Rathbawn, Castlebar. He played football for Louisburgh and Castlebar and was also past president and past captain of Castlebar Golf Club.
He was a popular, quiet and unassuming man, and news of his death at the home of his daughter, Marie, in Askelaun, Louisburgh on Saturday was met with sadness by all those who had the pleasure of knowing him.
Old colleagues and members of Castlebar Golf Club formed a guard of honour at his funeral on Monday to the local cemetery after Mass in Killeen Church.

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