LIKE a ship passing on a busy lane, I crossed paths with Mick Gannon back in 1971. I was working for the summer in Hotel Westport; Mick was playing for the Mayo minors.
The week after Mayo won their All-Ireland title after hammering a stellar Cork outfit containing a then unknown legend called Jimmy Barry Murphy, I met Mick outside Dyars’ shop in Westport. A mutual friend introduced us formally.
Mick was as normal as a bar of chocolate, no big head, and no big deal.
There was something warm about him back then that remained with me for the next forty one years, every time I heard his name. A sniper of a goalscorer, Mick was built more like a soccer player than your archetypal Gaelic goalgetter.
More Alan Clarke than Bomber Liston.
Today’s generation would not be aware of Mick but he actually belonged to a golden era of Mayo youth. The ‘Golden Fleece’ was not attained but a lot of golden apples were born. The All-Ireland minor winning team of 1971 morphed into the U-21 finalists of 1973, completing their All-Ireland win in 1974.
Possibly they came on too well. A rushed judgement of promoting them almost en masse to senior football in 1975 saw a lot of those golden wonders discarded long before their time. Sligo’s historic senior Connacht title was the death knell for the golden boys.
Mick played with, and against, top drawer company.
The Mayo minor team of 1971 possessed John O’Mahony, Ger Feeney, Con Moynihan, Johnny Culkin, Ray McNicholas, JP Kean, Mick ‘Tick’ Higgins, Ger Farragher, Micheal Maloney, Seán Reilly and Mick himself. Noel Joyce from Mulranny was a sub on the team.
Kerry crossed most of those boys a year later in the U-21 final. Their team reads like a ‘who’s who’ of legends. P Ó Sé, Ger Power and Mike Sheehy went on to win eight All-Ireland senior medals apiece. Jimmy Deenihan, John Egan, Paudie Lynch, Ger O’Keeffe, Mikey Ned O’Sullivan and Paud O’Mahoney won a bucketful between them.
Martin Ferris came on as a sub. Martin would have won more but for pursuing a political career that his forefathers would have been familiar with.
Kerry shaded Mayo and Mick that day. The Mayo men were missing ace scorer, Joe Collins from Lacken, who had shot the lights out against Tyrone and a certain Micky Harte in the semi-final. The loss of Joe tilted it Kerry’s way, and the rest is history.
A year later Johnny Culkin saw out the deed with most of those boys on board as Mick missed out with a broken leg around that time. He flirted with senior inter-county football and was a recognised scorer but the injured leg dulled the hair-trigger senses that all strikers live on.
I never knew what happened to Michael Gannon after that. Mayo churns out great white hopes year after year. I recalled him fondly often, thinking him as one of the missing pieces of the jig-saw that would see us over the line at senior level.
Facebook is a great leveller. I tapped into mine and called over to see JJ Costello, the former Mayo ‘keeper. JJ had posted a condolences piece on Michael Gannon who passed away in the USA. I made no connection at first and then I delved. JJ confirmed it was indeed the great Mick.
A man, no a boy, I hardly knew had passed on all too soon. Mick Gannon and his ghost are frozen in my mind on a Westport street all of forty-one years ago.
We were young and the future stretched beyond our wildest imaginations. Many of Mick’s cohorts are already lining out above in the clouds — Richie Bell, Ted Webb and Ger Feeney to name a few.
So Mick Gannon, as I knew him back then for a brief few weeks but whom I never forgot, thank you for what you achieved. Thank you for what you gave the Green and Red. Thank you for representing my age group on the field with distinction.
May he tread peacefully on the floor of heaven tonight. A dheis De ar a anam dilís.
Michael Gannon, a native of Westport, passed away in Chicago last week. A minute’s silence was observed in his memory before the start of last Sunday’s Connacht SFC semi-final between Mayo and Leitrim in Castlebar.