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Was Paddy Doherty the most naturally gifted gaelic footballer ever to wear the red and black of Down?

Or was Paddy Mo even the greatest player in that famed first All-Ireland-winning half-forward line of Sean O’Neill, James McCartan and himself?

Paddy Doherty pictured with Tony Bagnall
Paddy Doherty pictured with Tony Bagnall

Was he a more important footballer to the Mourne county than Mickey Linden, Colm McAlarney, Tom O’Hare or Greg Blaney?

Who can say.

Football is all about opinions.

And everyone will have their own.

The Making of Paddy Mo, a book I recently wrote for former Meath All-Ireland-winning captain Liam Hayes and his series of publications Hero Books, makes no claims on settling arguments on who was the best.

But it does tell the story of Paddy Doherty’s rise from playing football as a child at Ballykinlar to becoming a triple All-Ireland winner with Down.

The book is laced with comments and stories from other famous Down footballers, such as Sean and Kevin O’Neill, Colm McAlarney, Tom O’Hare, Mickey Cole, Tony Hadden, Larry Powell, Peter Rooney, Val Kane and Kevin Mussen etc.

And indeed Doherty’s views on them.

While I was writing the book I travelled many times to Paddy’s home in Castlewellan, where I was made so welcome by Paddy and his charming wife Angela, to hear the great man’s stories.

They were insightful, memorable and at times amusing.

What did come through to me, and hopefully it comes through in the Paddy Mo story, was that he was a superb character, a strong-willed individual and one who was proud to wear that red and black shirt.

Paddy was always confident of his great natural ability and although not boastful, he knew how important he was to Down and especially his personal contribution to winning that first All-Ireland title - in 1960. And two more after that in the sixties.

In 1961 Paddy was the Down captain when they defeated Offaly in the All-Ireland Final. His acceptance speech was typical of the man … just two words. Thanks Offaly.

Anyway here are just a few excerpts, a few tasters from ‘The Making of Paddy Mo.’

Paddy Doherty said his greatest day in sport was playing in and winning his first All-Ireland Final with Down as they defeated Kerry at Croke Park in 1960.

The great man recalled: “Nobody gave us a chance. Before then Sam Maguire had never crossed the border. Antrim, Armagh and Derry had tried to bring it to the six counties but we were the first to do it.”

“Kerry thought we had no chance against them. But we outplayed the Kingdom. I think in that first All-Ireland Final I had one of my best ever games. I scored a goal and five points points.”

Was he nervous: “Not a bit,” said Paddy. “We got a penalty that day. Sean O’Neill crossed the ball from the right and I was pulled down. I got up, took it and scored. There was silence as I ran up to take it and when the ball hit the back of the net all hell broke loose.”

Paddy was always a joker and funny man and tells the story: “When time was nearly up Kerry’s Mick O’Dwyer asked me how long there was to go. I quipped: ‘365 days!’

“I took a week off work after the All-Ireland victory. I went back the following week but I didn’t queue up to get paid for the previous week, as I hadn’t been there. But the foreman Seamus Fitzpatrick said: ‘Get into that queue. You did enough last week. So I got a week’s wages for playing football and celebrating.

“In one of the Railway Cup finals (with Ulster) I brought a radio with me. Arkle was racing in the Gold Cup and Tom O’Hare and myself were in the dressing room listening to the race.

Referee Mick Higgins came in shouting. ‘For f**** sake boys, come out. The match has started.’ “We were still listening to the race.”

“I was at a concert that Joe Brolly attended and I went up to ask him for his autograph. He gave it to me but followed me down to my seat and quipped: ‘My father said I wouldn’t be fit to lace Paddy Doherty’s boots. He started to lace my shoe, as he did so he quipped: ‘He was wrong; I did it.’

In the book many famous people told their Paddy Doherty stories.

International soccer player and Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill was a big fan, saying ‘Paddy Mo Doherty was a man who made scoring look ridiculously easy. He was a magical player, a genius on the ball who was capable of hitting the target from all angles and distances. Paddy was a player who rarely missed the target.’

Mayobridge legend Tom O’Hare humorously said of him: ‘Paddy Doherty was an absolute madman. But he was also an absolute genius on and off the field. A great character.

When I started with the Down senior team after playing for the Minors, Paddy was always at some auld carry-on. Devilment of every kind. But a great man.

Sean O’Neill and Paddy were both fantastic players and I couldn’t divide the two. It was like Messi and Ronaldo. Two different types of footballers.

Paddy Doherty was the best scoring forward I have ever seen – including the present day footballers who play on billiard tables. When he was taking a free he didn’t set the ball up in a clump of grass, but he just threw it onto the ground where an hour earlier there might have been sheep or cows grazing.’

And he was still able to send that ball rocketing over the bar.’

The 1968 All-Ireland Final Man of the Match Colm McAlarney recalled: ‘Paddy was a deceptive player with that scampering, loping run. But so was deceptive. He covered the ground quickly.

He was instinctively brilliant. A natural genius. His left foot should have had a health warning. It was a lethal weapon. He hit the ball so hard and stingingly’

The legendary Kerry high-flying midfielder Mick O’Connell, a superstar of the skies, shook his head in wonder after crossing over late at night on the ferry to his Valentia Island home after the 1960 All Ireland semi-final. He ruefully remarked to a friend: ‘That Paddy Doherty must be the greatest footballer of all time.’

Warrenpoint’s Larry Powell, a team mate in the 1968 Down All-Ireland-winning side said: ‘Paddy Doherty was one of my all-time heroes. We had an affiliation because we were both left-footed. But Paddy’s was a real left foot.

‘He was a joker-in-the-pack. A great personality. On the way to the 1968 All-Ireland Final in the bus he told jokes the whole way to Dublin, jokes that relaxed the whole team. He then started a sing-song going into Croke Park. What about that for preparation?

‘For me Paddy was one of the greatest gaelic players of all time and will never be forgotten in Down circles. I was privileged to play with him many, many times. He was an inspiration to a younger player like me. A true inspiration.

Down superstar Sean O’Neill said: ‘I was sitting quietly watching what was going on and feeling nervous about my first game in a Down jersey when Paddy came across the dressing room, shook my hand and wished me all the best in my first game. He told me not to worry, and that he and the other senior players would give me all the help and support I needed.

‘He assured me that I was in the team on merit and to go out and show what I could do in a Down jersey. I will always remember Paddy for the welcome he gave me as a young Down footballer starting his career.

Peter Rooney, an All-Ireland winner in 1968, opined: ‘When they made Paddy Doherty, they threw away the mould.’

‘He was my boyhood hero, as were Sean O’Neill and James McCartan. We will never see the likes of them again.

‘They were iconic figures. Paddy and Sean were like soccer’s Messi and Renaldo.’

‘It was quite an honour to share the same dressing room as those two great men and in truth they didn’t treat us as inexperienced teenagers - but as equals.

‘The Making of Paddy Mo’ book is selling extremely well on Amazon.

It’s an ideal present for Down fans and in fact anyone with an interest in gaelic football.

Unfortunately, I don’t have copies of the book for sale.

And in fact I’m not sure if it can be bought in shops around the Newry area.

But it is available on Amazon. WWW.AMAZON.CO.UK

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