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Ballina won Big Jack’s heart

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ALONE WITH HIS THOUGHTS The former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton was a regular visitor to the Ridge Pool in Ballina over the years. Pic: Sportsfile

Mike Finnerty

MANY of us were reared on stories of Jack Charlton’s fondness for the Ballina area, and his love of fishing on the River Moy since his time as the Republic of Ireland manager.
But in the days since Charlton passed away last Friday, a plethora of lovely memories and some great stories about some of his visits to North Mayo have been retold once more.
The former Mayo footballer David Brady got the ball rolling on Saturday morning when he tweeted about the aftermath of Ballina Stephenites’ All-Ireland club title win in 2005.
“On the night of homecoming, there’s Big Jack outside his house waving a flag,” recalled Brady. “So loved in Ballina that even the salmon came up to say hello to him. RIP Jack”.
A glance at The Mayo News archives from that time 15 years ago provided some more background to Brady’s recollection of the legendary Irish manager coming out to greet the all-conquering heroes.
“One of the big things that time, I suppose, which puts it into perspective … there was a World Cup winner on the road into Ballina with a flag in his hand, Jack Charlton,” Liam Brady told our reporter, Daniel Carey back then.
Tommy Lyons, the Stephenites manager, continued: “Jack Charlton was on the side of the road. And it was one of the regrets I had … because we were running so much behind time and we had so many stops … probably the only regret I have coming back from Dublin that night was, that we didn’t stop the coach. “Jack was there with his wife and there were three of them there. And he had his Mayo, or Ballina, flag, waving it, at the end of his drive, at Moy Heights.
“He wanted to be part of it. He was a man that had won a World Cup in soccer and he had managed Ireland, and still, he was part of the grassroots of the GAA, and he soaked in English soccer and everything, but still, what he saw on that particular day and from the day before brought him out of his house on a March night to basically salute as a club in his adopted town.
“So that stood out, as you said, Liam, hugely.”
‘Big Jack’ had bought a house in the Moy Heights estate in 1991, and was a regular visitor to the area for years as it allowed him to pursue one of the great loves of his life — fishing.
In 1988 the former England World Cup winner had filmed a promotional TV programme for Bord Fáilte around the lakes of Conn, Cullen and the River Moy.
It was reported over the weekend that he sold his Ballina holiday-home back in 2014.
Over the last few days one yarn after another has emerged about how Jack Charlton had made himself at home in Ballina as the years rolled by.
From fishing with Judd Ruane to taking part in Ballina Festival events and fundraisers, including joining in the craic when pigs and geese were raced on the streets of the town.
On Sunday the Irish Times referenced an article for the ‘Hooked on the Moy’ magazine, edited by John Geary, where Jack ‘outlined some decades ago how he fell under the spell of the river Moy when he first arrived in Ballina after trying other angling locations in Donegal and Sligo’.
“After stopping on the bridge at the Ridge Pool we saw several spring salmon being landed in quick succession on the fly…we knew we had arrived in an anglers’ paradise…next year’s destination (fishing) was decided in seconds.”
Enough said.
The Gearys used to run the Pontoon Bridge Hotel, and John recalled Jack being a regular visitor to their home on the shores of Lough Conn, once bringing Kevin Moran along for the spin.
A fishing pool – where Big Jack landed a 12lb salmon at Coolcronan, Foxford – has been named after him, and the Ballina Town soccer player, Mark Duffy, who is also a well-known county councillor,  has also suggested that the footbridge on the River Moy, one which overlooks the Ridge Pool, could be named in his memory too.
Regardless, Jack Charlton left his mark on that corner of our county.

Mike Finnerty

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