GOLDEN DECADE: The best Gaelic footballers of the 1960s

GOLDEN DECADE: The best Gaelic footballers of the 1960s

LOCKDOWN is finally starting to grate, and now in my early seventies, I’m classified as old and vulnerable to all type of disease.

To compound the problem, my employers, the good old BBC have banned me from working in their studies and demanded I shelter from harm for the time being.

I’m unsure whether it’s for my benefit or my listeners.

Readers of my generation, now wrinklies, will saviour the swinging sixties, whether it’s the birth of the showbands in Ireland or seeing their first ever televised All Ireland football final.

I’m sure everyone can remember that period in their life when they felt the freedom and excitement of what might lie ahead.

Add in a spotted face and an extra helping of naivety and that was me as a young teenager growing up in Sligo in the early sixties.

The emergence of Down as a footballing force in 1960 was so unexpected, it was unreal.

The team made a tremendous impact in a golden decade, which saw them win 3 finals. Whenever you talk about Gaelic football of the sixties, invariably the conversation swings around to the Down team.

True, Galway won three consecutive finals in the same decade, with Dublin committing wholesale larceny by robbing them of the unprecedented four in a row.

Galway had tradition behind them and in 1963, their renaissance of pure football was at hand.

But it was Down, previously unheard of, perpetual “also rans”, that flashed like a meteor across the football scene.

They brought a new dimension to Gaelic football with their sophisticated style of power-packed running, short passing and cohesive movement which bewildered the opposition.

The traditional Kerry style of ‘catch and kick’ was out the window.

Here’s my choice of the best footballers of the sixties...


Johnny Culloty, Kerry

Longevity springs to mind when you mention Culloty, who played during the fifties to the seventies. Not the biggest of men, he stood shoulder to shoulder with the best of them.

Johnny Geraghty, Galway

He won his spurs with the Galway minor team of 1960 before graduating to the senior ranks soon afterwards. He was a goalkeeper of rare talent and superb between the sticks.


Enda Colleron, Galway

Enda was Galway’s shining light during a brilliant career, when he won three Celtic crosses, two of them as captain in the sixties.

Paddy McCormack, Offaly

Known as the ‘Iron man from Rhode,’ when football was a lot rougher, McCormack was as tough as nails. He was an excellent player and did a lot of damage with his long-range kicks.

Noel Tierney, Galway

Noel stood out like a giant oak tree in the Galway square. He was old school style fullback and would soar into the sky, oblivious to danger, to make breath-taking catches.

Leo Murphy, Down  

Through the eyes of an impressionable youngster, whose image was burned into my mind. He was a jewel in a very polished Down outfit. Leo was an inspirational player and a prodigious kicker of a dead ball.

Sean Meade, Galway

Sean played in many positions for Galway, usually the pivotal one of centre half. He was inordinately strong. Opponents who tried to match him for strength invariably came out second best.

Bernard Brady, Donegal

The Bundoran man is indelibly linked with the great Ulster Railway Cup side of the sixties. His medal collection was a paltry return for his ability and commitment to Gaelic football.

Brendan Barden, Longford

When Longford won the National League for the only time in 1966, Brendan Barden was a star man. He was an attacking half back who stormed through the opposition with dash and verve.

Pat (Red) Collier, Meath

He strode through the football scene like a giant in the sixties, with his wispy hair style. A tenacious tackler, sweeping defence into attack with intelligent passes to teammates.

Jack Mahon, Galway

Jack played in the pivotal role of centre-half for Galway and Connaught during the late fifties and early sixties. A great man-marker, who was blessed with natural ability and courage.

Mick Carley, Westmeath

A footballer of exceptional talent, who could leap into the sky like an eagle. A big man who distributed the ball cleverly with ease. The Railway cup gave him a platform to exhibit his talent.

Mick O’Dwyer, Kerry

O’Dwyer was a fine player who could harness the power and artistry of the best attackers, yet when switched to the forwards produced some awesome scores.

John Morley, Mayo

A towering figure in Connacht football in the sixties, John could play in almost any position. A good player, always fit, no frills or fancy stuff, and certainly could look after himself.


Des Foley, Dublin

The tall Dublin farmer was equally at home with hurling as football and won two Railway Cup medals on the same day in 1962 in both codes. A stalwart of the St Vincent football nursery in Dublin, Des was an extraordinarily gifted footballer.

Mick O’Connell, Kerry

Gaelic football’s first superstar, even to this day, his name is spoken with reverence whenever the game is mentioned. A classic ‘catch and kick’ player with a brilliant football brain. The greatest footballer I ever saw.


Sean O’Neill, Down

Very little to write about O’Neill that’s not already in print. He had it all: ball control, anticipation; there was nothing he could not do. Superb fielder and excellent passer of the ball.

Tommy Green, Offaly

Known as the ‘Daingean Dynamo’, he was of slender physique, but my goodness could he play. Against physically well-endowed opponents, his deft touches and body swerve left them wondering what had passed them.

Mattie McDonagh, Galway

The only Connacht man to have won four All Ireland Senior Football medals.  A father figure to the three-in-a-row team, strikingly handsome, the John Wayne of Gaelic football.

James McCartan, Down

A brother of centre half, Dan, James was the burly defence-splitting centre forward who created havoc to many a defence. He was the heartbeat of the Down team.

Michael Kearins, Sligo

A genius with a football in his hand, I saw him a lot during the sixties. One of the greatest marksmen the game has ever seen. I never saw him play a bad game; this despite being closely marked.

Paddy Doherty, Down

One of the most natural gifted players of all time. Testimony to Doherty’s ability to turn his hand at any sport, he was almost lost to soccer, as professional clubs in England and Ireland were after his signature.

Charlie Gallagher, Cavan

Charlie was a cult figure, not just in Cavan, but all over Ireland in the sixties, so much so, there was a song written about him, ’Charlie from Coothill’ A wonderful footballer, who earned a special place in the hearts of Cavan people far and wide.

Joe Corcoran, Mayo

‘Jinking Joe’ as he was called, due to his agility on the ball, was a terrific score-getter during a glittering career. The Ardnaree clubman was a balanced player who was adept in using either foot.

PT Treacy, Fermanagh

With a Cinderella county like Fermanagh, it was always difficult to get recognition as a footballer. A tall man who used his strength of mind and body when scything through defences and scoring spectacular goals and points.

Jimmy Hanniffy, Longford

Hanniffy established himself as a leading marksman during a purple period for Longford during the mid-sixties. He made an immense contribution to the football scene in Longford.

Michael McLoone, Donegal

The Ballyshannon native took to football like a duck to water. Although of slight build, he covered every blade of grass with great pace and a bewildering sidestep.

Pat Mangan, Kildare

During his career he played in six Leinster finals but unfortunately fate would decree that he would retire without a medal.  He was a decent player who, at the time, was unlucky to come up against better teams.

So, there you have it, my take on the greatest Gaelic footballers of the 1960s.

A formidable bunch.

After agonising over my selection, you might think I’d be relieved on finishing it.

Not at all, as with all these ‘who’s the greatest’ lists, I was left concerned that I’d inadvertently wronged the many that were close – but not quite close enough to make the final cut.

Henry Wymbs has always had a love of Gaelic football and hurling and played inter-county football for Sligo in 1967. He now presents ‘Irish Eye', a weekly Irish music programme broadcast from Oxford across BBC Radio Oxford, BBC Radio Berkshire and online via BBC iPlayer. Email [email protected]