Jackie is a gentleman to the last as Lurgan legend gifts his medals to football crazy Jay
Belfast Celtic and Glenavon legend Jackie Denver made a heartwarming final gesture to a young football fan just weeks before he died.
Jay Beatty, from Lurgan, the mascot for his beloved Celtic Club (Lurgan No 1) was thrilled when 87-year-old Jackie, also from the Co Armagh town, sent him down a winner's medal to look at last month and two Belfast Celtic medals to keep.
The nine-year-old, who has Down's syndrome, counts them among his prized possessions.
Jay was also excited to be selected as the mascot for Celtic in their big Champions League clash against Cliftonville at Solitude last week.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon, a fellow Lurgan man, had Jay training on the pitch with his players last Wednesday following the heartwarming medal gesture from Jackie.
The passing of Jackie on Sunday means that only Jimmy Jones, of a famous threesome with Wilbur Cush who helped Glenavon take the Irish League Championship out of Belfast for the first time in the 1951-52 season, is still alive.
Jackie, whose wife Patsy died a few years ago, is survived by his children Alan, Alex, Pamela and six grandchildren. His funeral service will be conducted in Shankill Parish Church in Lurgan tomorrow at 2pm by Canon John Moore and he will be laid to rest in Lurgan Cemetery.
Alex said: "I never saw my dad playing, he had retired before I was born, but I am constantly told what a wonderful player he was and how he and Billy Cush, his cousin, and Jones fitted in so well together.
"Jimmy isn't too well these days, but his son Trevor is hoping to get him to the funeral."
Belfast Celtic Society chairman Padraig Coyle paid tribute, saying "Irish football has lost a legend and a gentleman".
"Jackie battled bravely for years against serious illness but never lost his passion for the game," he added.
The football veteran had a memorable career at Belfast Celtic and with Glenavon.
"He was the best uncapped player to come out of Northern Ireland," journalist Gordon Hanna said.
Ironically, both Jones and Cush won Northern Ireland caps.
"Glenavon, managed by Jimmy McAlinden, were 10 points ahead of the field in that title-winning season," added Hanna.
"They inspired a great team which is remembered to this day."
Celtic historian Martin Flynn said: "Jackie was special for Celtic and equally special for Glenavon afterwards.
"He and Jones remained firm friends in their retirement and Jackie was proud that his son Alex also played for the Lurgan club and later was involved with their junior academy.
"When there was a Celtic or Glenavon event or ceremony you could be sure both of them would be there, and both sets of fans were always delighted to see them.
"It was a great sadness for both of them that the other 'Musketeer', as the three of them were nicknamed at Mourneview Park, died prematurely years ago."
Jackie joined Celtic from Shankill Young Men in Lurgan and with Jones, who also began his career at Celtic Park, helped manager Elisha Scott win many trophies before that dark afternoon in December 1948 when Jones was attacked and injured during a pitch invasion at Windsor Park. Celtic toured the USA in 1949 but left the Irish League soon afterwards.