Con Downey – An appreciation

The late Con Downey pictured with his wife Gertie. (Photo Pat Brett)
Con Downey, with lifelong friend Mike Kelly, pictured at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of founding of the ‘Kilkenny and District schoolboys League’ ( 1969- 2019)
Photo : Paul Kelly

Con Downey, a Nonagenerian, passed away on Sunday last 28th November. He was 95 years old. He was the last surviving member of Kilkenny AFC which was formed in 1948 when soccer was reorganised in Kilkenny following World War 2. Con, along with a small group of people such as Jimmy McAlister, Billy Walsh, Johnny Bourke, Paul Fennelly, Marty Buckley and Mick Owens took on the responsibility of organising League soccer in Kilkenny for those ‘feeder’ clubs which formed or reformed after the ‘Emergency’. Con played with his beloved Talbot’s Inch initially and subsequently Green Celtic which had been founded in 1942.
Like most of the administrators/players of the day, Con served in several posts including refereeing to help out. Con served the League with distinction. When the League folded due to apathy in 1967-68, Con decided that it was time for a new radical approach to organising local soccer. What had been considered a disaster by some at the time turned out to be a blessing in disguise? When Con retired from playing he set about both forming and coaching a youth team called Ormonde.
Con sowed the seeds of strengthening the underage side of the game in 1969. Up to that point you had just two grades at Under 16 & Minor/Youths – U18. The concept of Kilkenny Schoolboys Soccer was born with Con, Brendan Lonergan, Mike Kelly and Eric Wilcox to the fore. The rest was history as the say. Con will always be affectionately known as the ‘Godfather’ of Soccer in Kilkenny…….what a legacy.
Con was never a stickler for the rulebook or red tape, his motto was to let as many children play the game as was physically possible, even it meant 20 a-side games. He was never a fan of the ‘Dublin Brigade’ e.g. officialdom. He always enjoyed bending the rules a little bit to suit the needs of all the kids who wanted to play the game. Birth certificates were expensive to get in those days!!!
Con’s brainchild of the schoolboy league has paid rich dividends over the past five decades with so many players coming from the schoolboys and juvenile ranks into youths, junior and senior soccer. Domo Connolly became the first Kilkenny Player to be capped at Schoolboy International level for Ireland. So many others were to follow like Jimmy Donnelly, Michael Walsh for example. Michael Reddy (Sunderland) & Seanie Maguire (Preston North End) to mention but some became International players and played professional football in England.
Kilkenny’s success at Inter League level ranks among the best in the country with success at schoolboy, youth and junior levels. Evergreen & Freebooters are ranked amongst the top junior clubs in the country. The list of Kilkenny players who have been capped at International level and who have played senior soccer with League of Ireland clubs is endless now. Con’s pivotal role in all of this success should never be forgotten. The foundations were right and his legacy is being enjoyed by thousands of players across the Kilkenny & District League today.
Con was also renowned for his charitable work in Kilkenny city and St Canice’s Parish in particular. He helped many struggling families in his native parish in many ways. A founding member of Sunday night Bingo at St Canice’s Hall at the Butt’s Green where he helped to raise thousands for so many local families. He was also instrumental in setting up St Vincent de Paul house at the Butt’s Green. He played a huge active role in supporting the Fr McGarth Centre which provided so many children’s services to the local community.
Con was a great humanist too and is noted for his voluntary work in his native parish St Canice’s and is the stuff of legend. He had a particular affinity with the people of The Butt’s. Con enjoyed open access to the people’s homes in the Butt’s. The Waterbarracks soccer pitch was his ‘Mecca’ and he loved nothing better than to see up to forty children playing an impromptu soccer match there.
Con served for many years on the Kilkenny Sports Stars Awards committee, having been invited to do so by his great friend Alderman Tommy Martin, Mayor of Kilkenny in 1974. He transcended all sports and cultural societies and believed in the maxim of ‘Sport for All’ ever before the phrase was coined. He singlehandedly organised the annual Santa Christmas appeal through the columns of the Kilkenny People newspaper. He spent hours on end in the days leading up to Christmas organising the recycled presents for less fortunate children in St Canice’s parish and the wider community.
Con’s legacy to the game of soccer could be best summed up by saying that he had the common touch with people and he never failed in his unstinting support for a game and people that he truly loved and especially his beloved St Canice’s Parish. He enjoyed great success winning several Leagues, Cup and Shield titles on the field of play with Green Celtic. He took great pride in his children’s success in soccer too. He will be sorely missed by his wide range of friends in Kilkenny Soccer as well as his many friends in his native community and further afield.
On a personal note, Con also enjoyed the social side of things, together with his great friend Michael ‘Moc’ Lawlor RIP he entertained us royally on many District League social occasions especially at the League Cabaret nights and Referee outings. He was a truly wonderful character who loved people. Con is now gone to his eternal reward and no doubt he is organising a game in Heaven with the Man above and many of his past great loyal soccer friends, like the late Marty Buckley, Billy Walsh, Terry Cullen, Milo Grogan, Paddy Henderson and Moc Lawlor.
Sincere sympathy from the Kilkenny Soccer fraternity to his children Geraldine, John, Eugene, Eileen, Mary and Una and their families on their sad loss of a wonderful father, grandfather, person and just a great human being. Con was so proud of the achievements of his children both on and off the playing fields. He was predeceased by his beloved Gertie and the late baby Gerard a number of years ago. It was Gertie who enabled Con to do all of his volunteerism with a smile on his face. Con worked all his working life at Mahon and McPhilips, where his leadership talents lead him through the ranks to a management position.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

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