Photo: Western People/Ronnie Naylor (from The Green Above The Red)
As has already been noted here on the site, the death occurred on Saturday morning of Ballina Stephenites and Mayo stalwart Willie Casey. An unused substitute at the age of nineteen in the 1951 All-Ireland final (he’s on the extreme left in the front row, next to the besuited Jackie Carney, in Ronnie Naylor’s iconic photo of that team above), Willie represented his county with distinction in the Fifties and Sixties.
An All-Ireland winner as a teenager (though, like Dr Mick Loftus and Paddy Jordan, he wasn’t to get his Celtic cross until as late as 2007), Willie hadn’t even played for the seniors before tasting Sam Maguire success with the county. A fortnight after that All-Ireland final he made his senior debut, lining out at corner-back (the position he played in most often for the county) in a National League match against Kerry in Tralee.
That 1951 success wasn’t his first national title with the county as Willie was also a member of the 1950 Mayo junior team that captured the All-Ireland. Still a minor then, he didn’t feature in the victory over London in the final, a match played in Ballina that October.
It was in the summer of 1953 that Willie made his senior championship debut for the county. He came on as a substitute for the injured Paddy Prendergast in the Connacht semi-final against Sligo that year. With Prendergast still unavailable due to injury, Willie made his full debut at full-back in the Connacht final at Hyde Park, where the county went down narrowly to Roscommon.
For several years after that Willie featured regularly on the Mayo team, mostly in the full-back line but also as half-back. In 1962, however, he lined out at corner-forward in a Connacht championship preliminary round match against Sligo at Charlestown. The match ended in a draw but Willie – whose selection in the forwards, according to the match report in the Western People, “caused a sensation” – contributed two points to his side’s tally. Playing again at corner-forward in the replay two weeks later at Markievicz Park, he pointed once more but Mayo lost by a point.
His final year in the colours was 1964. Back in his customary corner-back position he played for the county for the final time in that year’s Connacht final. Sadly, once again it was a day that ended in defeat, as Galway claimed the spoils at Tuam Stadium in a year where they won the first of what would became a three-in-a-row All-Ireland winning run.
There’s a nice tribute to Willie in today’s Western People (available in the print and digital versions), which was of help to me in putting together the above facts and figures on his inter-county career.
Willie Casey’s funeral mass takes place this morning (11am) at St Muredach’s Cathedral, Ballina, with burial afterwards at Leigue Cemetary. May this great servant of football within the county rest in peace.