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Farewell to 'The Flying Doctor'

Sport

A MOMENT IN TIME Mayo captain Seán Flanagan (centre, left) and Padraig Carney (centre, right) are pictured with the Sam Maguire Cup after winning the All-Ireland in 1951.

AND now there’s one. The death of Padraig Carney in California has removed all but one of the living links to Mayo’s dual All-Ireland winning side of the early fifties.
In a team of stars, Carney was among the brightest, noted in particular for his accuracy, his speed off the mark and his ability to deal with whatever situation arose on the field.
Only Paddy Prendergast, who lives in Tralee, and regarded as one of the greatest full-backs of all time, remains. Dr Mick Loftus who was among the subs in 1951 is also, thankfully, still with us.
Padraig Carney became known as ‘The Flying Doctor’, an epithet that stuck after Mayo had him flown home from America for the league final of 1954. It was his final game for Mayo. At 26, the end of a short, glistening football career.
Nine years earlier, as a 17-years-old, he made his senior debut for Mayo in a challenge against Galway in Charlestown kicking a point with his first touch of the ball.
The following year he was back in the minor team and winning a Connacht medal with the county. That same year (1946) he was a member of the county’s senior side beaten by the great Roscommon team of that era, lining out at midfield alongside Henry Kenny of Mayo’s All-Ireland conquering team of 1936.
By the time a rejuvenated Mayo got to the All-Ireland final of 1948 Carney, at 20 years of age, was already a star on the national stage, having won Sigerson Cup medals with UCD two years in succession.
His honours-laden trail would eventually include All-Ireland senior medals, a Connacht minor, four Connacht senior and three Sigerson Cup medals.
His haul also comprised success with the Combined Universities, a Connacht Railway Cup medal, and county football medals with Castlebar Mitchels while working as a doctor at the town’s county hospital.
Born in Treenagleragh near Kiltimagh, but reared in Swinford, the medical student was determined to make it to the top at Gaelic football. At St Nathy’s College his football ability surfaced and was recognised by Mayo when selecting him at the age of 17 for senior football.
Self-motivated, he would spend hours alone practising free kicks, sprinting and running with the ball. As a young doctor in Castlebar he continued that regime, alone, in the grounds of St Mary’s Hospital, kicking, kicking, kicking.
The ’48 All-Ireland final, his first, was to end in controversy. Full time was called by the referee with some three minutes of playing time remaining, and Mayo’s Peter Quinn preparing to punch the ball over the bar for the equalising point.
A minute earlier a close-in free-kick from Carney was illegally charged down by a Cavan player which went unpunished by the referee.
Mayo had every right to feel hard done by.
But the blossoming of his career had yet to come. With a record of 11-198 in 55 league and championship appearances, Padraig is ranked seventh on Mayo’s all-time scoring list, all that achieved more than sixty years ago.
He qualified as a doctor in 1951 and worked in Cavan, Castlebar and Charlestown. Having married in 1953, Padraig and his wife, also a medical doctor, emigrated to New York in 1954.
He continued to play football in New York and later moved to Detroit where he won a US Midwest championship with the Mayo club there.
In the late fifties the Carney family, including his mother and father moved to California where Padraig established a very successful medical practice.
He once described wild talk of a curse brought down on Mayo football by a priest as ‘contrived nonsense’.
Only those of his era will fully appreciate what an All-Ireland meant to Mayo folk in those spartan years. Carney and his colleagues were an emblem of a time when that notable achievement, and our endeavours to emulate them, kept us out of harm’s way.
We might not have known them personally.
But still we miss them.

Seán Rice

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