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Visionary gaelic player and coach Joe Lennon left 'indelible impression' on sport

Obituary

Published 25/11/2016

Down captain Joe Lennon shown in 1968 lifting the Sam Maguire Cup
Down captain Joe Lennon shown in 1968 lifting the Sam Maguire Cup
Joe Lennon meeting President Mary McAleese on a visit to Aras an Uachtarain in 2009

The passing of Joe Lennon not only sees a link with the all-conquering Down gaelic football team of the Sixties severed, but robs the GAA of a man who was always deemed to be ahead of his time as a coaching authority.

Lennon, who hailed from Aghaderg just outside Banbridge and was an iconic figure in the local club, played a key role in Down's history-making 1960 All-Ireland title triumph and was very much at the heart of the action again when they retained the crown the following year.

Then in 1968 he captained the Down side that struck another decisive blow for Ulster pride by capturing the Sam Maguire Cup for the third time in a decade.

Even at the peak of his playing career, Lennon was consumed by a desire to see the standard of gaelic football improve.

His manual Coaching Gaelic Football for Champions, published in 1964, became a must-read for those interested in bringing a more insightful perspective to the sport and ensuring its welfare. Lennon's coaching foresight was frowned on by the GAA authorities for several years, but this did not deter him in his ongoing efforts to preach what was a visionary gospel.

Paddy Doherty, one of the greatest of all Down's distinguished forwards, warmly recalls playing with Lennon, who was regarded as a midfield master.

"Joe was an outstanding player. He was very cool, very cultured and played an integral in the team's successes in the 1960s.

"He was a student at Loughborough College in England, but came home for every match. We were very content when we knew Joe had arrived as he gave us confidence, he was that kind of player. He was a deep thinker about the game and about the manner in which it should be played. But he was a superb team player and he took immense pride in representing Down and bringing success to the county."

Indeed, such was Lennon's enthusiasm in games, he occasionally relished the role of free-taker. "But Sean O'Neill and myself were able to do the job for the most part and Joe wasn't needed all that much," smiles Doherty.

Lennon spent the greater part of his working life as a PE instructor in Gormanstown College in Meath and his services as a fitness guru and coaching authority were availed of by numerous clubs. Some years ago he was conferred with a PhD for his research work in identifying and outlining a new branch of philosophy dealing with the important area of legislation in games.

Ulster Council president Michael Hasson paid tribute to Lennon's longevity as a player and his contribution to fostering gaelic football. "To have played at the highest level for over a decade and win three All-Ireland medals in the process speaks volumes for Joe's commitment and dedication," said Hasson.

Incoming Ulster Council secretary Brian McAvoy said Lennon has left an indelible impression within the GAA.

"Only five players from Down, four from Cavan, two from Donegal and one each from Armagh and Derry have taken delivery of the Sam Maguire Cup and Joe was among them," said McAvoy.

He is survived by his wife Ann and family circle.

John Campbell

Belfast Telegraph

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