Ten years ago today, the great Tommy McConville sadly passed away at the age of 67.
One of our club and town’s most iconic figures, Tommy Mac wore the Dundalk shirt on 580 occasions – a club record – during a career that spanned three decades at Oriel Park, starting in 1964 and ending in 1985!
He won a total of 17 winners medals with Dundalk, including three League of Ireland titles, three FAI Cup winners medals, two League Cups, a League of Ireland Shield, two City Cups, three Leinster Senior Cups and three LFA Presidents Cups.
A host of individual awards were bestowed upon him, including the Soccer Writers Personality of the Year in 1981-82, and he also represented his country on six occasions.
His funeral in the Church of the Holy Redeemer was a who’s who of Irish football as hundreds of people came out to pay their respects.
Mac’s coffin was draped in the black and white colours of a Dundalk flag, along with the maroon and black of Rangers, the Dundalk Schoolboys League club where he started off back in the early 1960s.
As well as football, Tommy also had a love for GAA and members of his beloved Clan na Gael, where he won a Louth Senior Championship medal in 1995, acted as pallbearers.
Before he was taken to his final resting place in Saint Brigid’s Cemetery, Kilcurry, Mac’s funeral cortege stopped outside Oriel Park, the scene of some of his most magical moments.
One of McConville’s former Dundalk teammates – and best friends – Dermot Keely was at his pal’s side when he died and speaking in the days after Tommy’s passing, he said he had nothing but great memories of his time with Mac.
“I didn’t know him before I went to Dundalk but we clicked,” said Keely. “We became bosom – and boozing – buddies! The word legend is bandied about too much – but Tommy was one.
“I don’t know how we were friends because we were chalk and cheese”, he added. “You could have my funeral in a phone box and you’d need two churches for him! Genuinely, you would not find anyone with a bad word to say about him.”
Martin Lawlor, who spent 15 years at Oriel Park with McConville, forming part of a formidable Dundalk defence, described his old pal as a gentleman.
“I tend to think of him firstly as a man and a human being,” he said of Tommy. “He was an absolute gentleman, a very wise man and treated everyone in a way that proved humanitarianism was a key factor in life.
“From people in high positions to the kids on the streets of Dundalk, he was as much a friend to everyone and we would often visit special needs people too so as a humanitarian is predominantly how I see him.”
“On the park, he was accomplished and a leader, a thinking man’s footballer,” continued Lawlor. “I think it is a common opinion across football people who could have made such decisions that he could have played at a higher level but Tommy being Tommy, he was happy in Dundalk.
“He was always happy when he was playing at home and mixing in with the people here but he unquestionably had the ability to play at a higher level and proved it at international level and in the European Cup many times.
“The man was a legend in many respects and he could go and win a cup final or league but could walk down the street in town the next day as if nothing happened.
“He just endeared total respect from people and was a man of the people, which is how he will be remembered. Without a doubt, he will be remembered as one of Dundalk’s greatest ever players.”
Martin’s brother, Mick Lawlor, also paid tribute to one of the League of Ireland’s finest.
“Tommy was one of the most graceful players of my generation,” he said. “He was a George Best type, last into the dressing room and the first thing he’d do was pick up a programme and have a read. He was so nonchalant, on and off the pitch, but he was good enough to be.
“He was so comfortable at League of Ireland level, the only thing that really excited him was European nights and we had lots of them against teams like Hajduk Split, PSV Eindhoven, Porto, Tottenham and Celtic.”