The news yesterday of the tragic and untimely deaths of Ger Feeney and Donal McEllin on a boating accident off Inisboffin has obviously come as a dreadful shock to those who knew the two friends, as it has to the wider Mayo community too. All accidental deaths are terrible events and the untimely deaths of two prominent local figures merely amplifies the awfulness of what occurred in the early hours of yesterday morning.
I saw Ger Feeney playing for Mayo a number of times (I’ll come back in a bit to the principal memory I’ve retained of him from then) but I didn’t know until yesterday a whole load of other information about him. Such as the fact that he was a brother of Sean Feeney, the County Board Secretary, or that he was father of current county panellist Alan. Neither did I know that the Castlebar Mitchels’ captain, Richie Feeney, is another son and that John Feeney, the captain of Ballintubber (with whom Ger won an Intermediate county medal in 1976), is a nephew. The county final in two weeks time, which pitches these two clubs against each other, would have been a uniquely proud occasion for Ger – with a Feeney destined to lift the Moclair Cup regardless of the result – but it will now be one made painfully empty by his tragic absence.
Ger Feeney won All-Ireland honours with Mayo at both minor (in 1971) and U21 (in 1974) levels and was also selected on two occasions as a replacement All-Star (which, as someone explained to me last night, was as good as an All-Star award itself back then). He made his senior debut for the county in an NFL Division 1B match against Westmeath at Cusack Park, Mullingar, in October 1972. He started that day in the half-forwards but when he next appeared in the Green and Red – the following month against Meath up in Navan – he was at left half-back and it was in that same position that he made his Connacht championship debut for the county, in a runaway defeat of Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon in June 1973.
Ger was a regular on the county side from then until 1981 and it’s from that twilight year of his inter-county career that my clearest memory of him comes. I’ve written about this previously but the story is worth repeating as the vignette in question was crucial to our winning our first Connacht title in twelve years. The match was the Connacht semi-final against Galway at Castlebar and we weren’t given a snowball’s chance in hell of toppling the newly-crowned league champions. An inspired midfield performance from Willie Nally, however, drove us into a position where we had them at our mercy and, in those frantic final moments of the game, it was Ger Feeney who got the score that won the day for us.
Ger came on as a second half sub for JP Kean and with time running out he stepped up to take a free from well out on what is now the new stand side of the ground facing into the Bacon Factory End. We were seated only a few rows back from the sideline and so could almost touch him as he backed up to the fence, readying himself to take this crucial kick. He struck the leather sweetly and the ball seemed to hang forever in the air until finally it started to curl in a wide arc and, to a big earthy roar, it soared over the bar for what we all knew – as Ger would have known too – was the winning score.
Ger’s funeral details are here. May this great servant of football within the county rest in peace.