BIRD’S EYE VIEW Supporters unable to attend Westport United’s clash against Oliver Bond Celtic due to crowd restrictions watch on from outside the ground last Sunday. Pic: Conor McKeown
ONE of the side effects of having virtually no sport being played in the country for the last few months is that journalists and broadcasters alike have had to get creative.
While this writer was searching for his own bit of nostalgia to write about, I came across an article a couple of years old. It was a list of every player to last win a competitive senior cap for Ireland, broken down by county.
After finding Mayo, it came as a surprise that the name Ollie Conmy didn’t ring any bells straight away and floating the name to a few other well-versed people, they also drew blank expressions.
When you think of famous International soccer players to have hailed from Mayo, the list isn’t exactly that long. In fact, it’s nearly non-existent. Most famous of all is probably retired ex-international Kevin Kilbane. While technically he wasn’t born in Mayo, he has very strong family connections to Achill Island and never misses a chance to gush about his second home.
Another player that comes to mind is the Westport-born goalkeeper Conor O’Malley, most recently in the news for his decision to step away from professional football. O’Malley was most recently plying his trade with Peterborough United and appeared for Ireland against Celtic in Scott Brown’s testimonial game back in 2018.
The list of Mayo-born players to have earned a senior competitive cap with Ireland is even shorter. In fact, Ollie Conmy is the only man to hold that honour.
Conmy was born in Mulranny in 1939. He lived there until the age of eight, when his parents emigrated to Huddersfield. The player – a winger by trade – got his big break at the age of 18 whilst playing for a junior side called St Paulinius, and was signed by Huddersfield Town, managed by future Liverpool legend Bill Shankly.
But by the time Conmy broke into the first team, Shankly had departed for Merseyside to take charge of Liverpool. Conmy only played three times for Huddersfield, before moving on to the club he would become synonymous with, Peterborough.
He was renowned for his diminutive style and brilliant first touch, and would go on to score 44 goals in 292 games for The Posh.
There had even been rumours that Shankly wanted to bring Conmy into the fold at Liverpool, but Peterborough wouldn’t let him leave and never informed the player of Liverpool’s interest in him.
Conmy made his Ireland debut on March 24, 1965 in a friendly game against Belgium that took place in Dalymount Park. Despite losing the game 2-0, the match report highlighted Conmy for having a really impressive first outing, acting as a link man to the Irish attack.
He would go on to earn another four caps for Ireland, three of them being in World and European qualifiers, playing with famous names such as Don Givens, Eamon Dunphy and Joe Kinnear.
Outside of his Irish caps, his biggest achievement was helping Peterborough reach the FA Cup quarter-finals, beating Arsenal on route to what is still the furthest the club has ever got in the famous competition.
Conmy ended his career at non-league side Cambridge Town and briefly returned to Peterborough to coach their youth team, before retiring to Southport and passing away in 2014 after a long illness. His death was marked by the FAI during Ireland’s home tie with Serbia that year.
His son, Ben, told The Mayo News in 2014 that his father always retained a deep love of his native county and explained that his father gifted his first international cap and a framed article of his debut to Daly’s Pub in Mulranny.
In a county such as Mayo where soccer is beloved, it is a strange feat that we have only had one player to line out competitively for the Boys in Green and that he is probably not as well remembered as he should be. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer for another to come along.