A football and hurling colossus

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 20th June, 2012 4:00pm

A football and hurling colossus

The legendary Gerry O'Malley recalls his GAA life and times to the Westmeath Independent.

He is one of the greatest footballers never to have won an All-Ireland medal. He is known as 'the Great Gerry O'Malley', and as what newspapers of the 1960s called - 'a football colossus'.

The St Brigid's man, Gerry is a giant in the history of Roscommon football and his legendary deeds are still fondly remembered and recalled across Connacht.

O'Malley lined out in the county jersey of Roscommon from 1947 straight through to 1964.

Tales of his pitch prowess have filtered down through generations to players who were not born when he was in his heyday.

Many believe his best performances were in the Connaught finals of 1952 and 1962. In '62, he was in centre field, and led Roscommon to a one-point win over Galway, and he was captain when the Rossies played in the All-Ireland final, against Kerry.

As well as representing Connaught in inter-provincial football, he also lined out with the Connaught team in the Railway Cup hurling competition.

Now retired in Dublin, Gerry O'Malley returns often to the midlands to visit family in his native Brideswell, and friends in the two counties of Westmeath and Roscommon. His most recent visit was a few weeks back, when he attended the unveiling of the Marist statute in Athlone.

He is a past pupil of the Marist College on St Mary's Place, and Brideswell NS, and in the primary school he was fed on a diet of hurling. He brought his hurl down to the school every Monday, and back home every Friday.

"Mr Patrick O'Sullivan from Kiltoom was our teacher, and he was mad on hurling, and he used to say to me, give up that auld football game, and stick with the hurling," said Gerry laughing.

Despite being known nationally as the great footballer, Gerry's first love was hurling, and he joined Four Roads in 1945. However his first competitive match with the Four Roads club was minor football.

At half-time in the minor football match, he picked up a hurl and his ability was spotted by one of the Four Roads hurling selectors.

"And I went on to play for more than 20 years with them," said Gerry.

"I'm proud of that and we won a lot of championships, and in junior hurling, the biggest thrill we ever got was to win against Galway juniors."

He won the senior county championship with Four Roads in 1945, played with the Roscommon junior football team in 1946 and then he was on the Roscommon junior hurling team, playing Galway in the Connacht junior final of 1947.

Gerry was the youngest of his family, and sadly his six siblings are now deceased. He had two sisters Maureen and Christine, both of whom went on to become doctors, and another sister, Grace, who was a teacher in Wexford and three brothers, PJ, Fay, who also played hurling, and Eddie.

Gerry's footballing talents were discovered by an earlier Roscommon football legend - Jimmy Murray of Knockcroghery.

"Jimmy Murray got me onto St Patrick's, and I got training with them, and as a result then I was picked on the junior team, and then I got on the Roscommon junior football team, and then I was promoted by Jimmy to the St Patrick's senior team in 1947," said Gerry.

He left in 1952 and joined St Brigid's who had been started by the late Jim Morris. Gerry got Bill 'Stonewall' Jackson to play with them, and Eamon Donoghue, from Ballyforan, who had earlier played with St Patrick's alongside Gerry.

Gerry helped St Brigid's win three football championships during the 1950s, and a fourth in 1963, and in 1969 when he was training the team.

Gerry had been playing hurling with Four Roads, while he was studying first in University College Galway, and then in University College Dublin, where he was working for a Hons. Degree in Agricultural Science.

He lived for a time after college in Wexford, and he hurled for Gorey, and said that his time there improved his hurling.

"When I was in Wexford, I hurled and played football there, and improved my hurling there," he said.

In November 1947, Gerry played his first senior football match with Roscommon.

Gerry is a lifelong teetotaller, and is roughly seventy years a pioneer. He laughs at being given the title, 'legend'.

"A legend?" he laughs.

"I don't know if I was a legend, but I think I was up there with a few well known lads, like Mick Carley of Westmeath football, and Jobber McGrath of Westmeath in hurling, both of them were very good at their game."

The secret of Gerry's prowess on the pitch was that he was fit, and trained often, and made sure he got plenty of rest.

"I went to bed at 11.30 at night, and I would not drive down to training, because I wouldn't put stress on myself, and I can't understand lads today, driving eighty miles each way," he said.

Gerry said that he read the game fairly well, and always spent time concentrating on where the ball might come.

"I had good speed, and I would always be watching and I would be anticipating where he would kick the ball, and then I would be like a greyhound out of the trap, and it worked sometimes," said Gerry O'Malley laughing.

"'Anticipation' would be the word to describe it, to see where it would come, and then I went for the ball, and even if it broke from my hands, I'd get it on the break. I had long arms, and that helped me."

Gerry met his wife, Mary, in Dublin, and the couple have two sons, Niall and Conor. Mary is a nurse, who comes from Timahoe near Portlaoise. Niall played county minor football with Dublin, and Conor got a soccer scholarship to America.

Gerry does have an All-Ireland medal, though with Roscommon junior hurlers when they defeated Warwickshire in the 1965 final.

"It doesn't bother me that I didn't get the All-Ireland in football, because I enjoyed it all, although it bothered me on the day of the All-Ireland in 62, that I didn't give it my best, but I had got a belt early on in the match," said Gerry.

Gerry's groin injury in Croke Park that day led him to be treated in the Mater Hospital that evening. A reporter at the time said the injury ended the chance of an All-Ireland medal for Roscommon.

'Roscommon's chances of victory were hampered when their lion-hearted captain, Gerry O'Malley, after sustaining an injury in the first half was finally forced to retire to the bench early in the second half which virtually eliminated the prospect of Roscommon making any sort of a comeback,' said the newspaper report.

After his injury at the 1962 final, Gerry didn't play again until Spring 1963, and he then played a few matches in the league, and then unfortunately injured his hamstring, and played only 20 minutes in the 1963 championship.

"I got very few injuries over the years, and anything I had ever got was down to me over-training," said Gerry.

Gerry had retired from play in 1968, and shortly afterwards was asked to return to St Brigid's, and while he said he wouldn't, he eventually agreed to come back and train the lads, helping them to win the Roscommon championship in 1969.

"I brought the boots for the final against Roscommon Gaels and I was kind of on stand-by without wanting to go in, but I wasn't needed, and I'm delighted that they won it without me, because I was training them at the weekend," said Gerry.

Gerry went on to train the Roscommon county team lads in Dublin in 1970/71. He was living full time in Dublin at this stage, and working throughout north county Dublin as an agricultural advisor.

In 1972, Gerry trained a Dublin football team, St Maurs, and they won a junior championship, and the Dublin Intermediate championship. He finally ended his active involvement in training in the early 1980s.

The Roscommon GAA supporters club gave Gerry a Hall of Fame award in 2009 and in his heyday in 1961, Gerry was chosen as the footballer of the year by the Association of Gaelic Sports journalists in a countrywide ballot.

In recent times, he became Hon. President of the Roscommon GAA county board.

As a newspaper said of him during the height of his career: "He was an inspiration to any team, and a football colossus."

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