GAA Football

Former team-mates remember 'larger than life' Down goalkeeper Martin McCabe

Martin McCabe was part of the Down team that won the 1978 Ulster title, defeating Cavan in the final
Neil Loughran

THE fondness of the memories, forever encapsulated in the mind’s eye of those whose path he crossed, tell you all you need to know about Martin McCabe, the former Down goalkeeper who passed away yesterday.

A Newry Shamrocks clubman, McCabe was between the sticks as Down swept to the 1978 Ulster title, seeing off Cavan in the decider to scratch a seven-year itch as the Anglo-Celt returned to the Mourne County.

Colm McAlarney and Peter Rooney were among the emerging new brigade when a third All-Ireland success of the swinging Sixties arrived in ’68. Ten years later they were the voices of experience in a youthful dressing room as the red and black battled to get back to the big time.

Midfield maestro McAlarney captained the side in 1978, and recalls the major influence McCabe had on the spirit and camaraderie of a team trying to carve out its own place in the county’s illustrious history.

“It’s heartbreaking news about Marty, it really is – he was just this lovable character, a great dressing room presence in the same way Danny Kelly was for us in 1968, or like a Benny Tierney with Armagh.

“He was larger than life, loved by us all. Any pranking going on at training or in the dressing room, Marty would’ve been right in the thick of it. That was just the sort of him, and that was hugely important for team spirit too. People with that kind of personality are invaluable to any successful group.

“And then once he had the game-face on, he was an extremely good goalkeeper. Fearless, brave – as goalkeepers had to be then because they didn’t get the same level of protection as nowadays. Marty only had a brief period with us but in that time he certainly made a name for himself.”

Rooney too has only fond memories of his former team-mate, not least because of some of his antics on the training field.

“Ach Marty was an absolute character. A hell of a good goalkeeper too, but at training he just made everybody laugh. He’d have been up to all the tricks of the day.

“I remember one night we were doing these sprints with weights under our arms, everybody was shattered by the end of it but then you saw Marty was up and back. Everybody was wondering how he was doing it so quick - it turned out he had a pair of gloves tucked in under the arms instead of weights!

“When you were out on the field with him, he just played the game. That was the great thing about him. He didn’t know any of these star forwards he was playing against, and he didn’t care who they were.

“I had great time for the guy. You look at football now and everything seems so serious, it’s so intense, but a guy like Marty just made football fun. You need those kind of characters.”

With each year that passes, the more the glories of yesteryear seem to matter. Not because of the trophies or the medals, but the memories which are treasured above all else.

“There’s a real poignancy to it when you lose someone you played alongside because you tend to look back on those days with great affection,” says McAlarney.

“You become like a band of brothers - those relationships are built up, in what was the time of our lives. You don’t remember these men how they were as they got older, you remember them in their prime. And that’s how I’ll always remember Marty.”

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GAA Football