Con Downey was associated all his life with the publicly owned and community developed Waterbarracks, The Butts community housing area and Kilkenny schoolboys’ soccer.
Con, one of the founders of Kilkenny’s schoolboys’ soccer league, was remembered this week by local Butts families who attended a Family fun Day and watched a memorial match played out between the ‘auld fellows’ of the old St. Canice’s soccer team against the ‘young lads’ of the recently re-formed team.
At the end of the game the Fr. McGrath Family Resource Centre sponsored ‘Con Downey Perpetual Cup’ was awarded to local man David Clifford.
Davie would have been one of the youngsters who Con famously managed to cram into his little blue Datsun- along with ten or so others- to bring to matches.
Con Downey, a Nonagenerian, passed away on Sunday 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.
THE SEED IS SOWN, THE FLOWER WILL BLOSSOM
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’ i.e. 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!!!
CLUB CAPTAIN PAYS WELL DESERVED TRIBUTE TO CON
Following the great and exciting game last week, and having to go to penalties to decide on a winner, the ‘old lads’ were declared winners.
St Canice’s club captain, Tommy Hackett, paid tribute to Con before the Cup was presented by Con’s daughter, Eileen.
Speaking at the Waterbarracks Tommy had this to say: – “Not only was Con fondly remembered by local families and players for his lifetime work for schoolboys’ soccer, but people remembered how often he was there on their doorstep to help families when they were struggling.’
Ollie Falsey, former local Butts resident and now a project worker in the Neighbourhood Hall was one of the local soccer club committee organisers of the event that included children’s field races and many other family fun activities.
Ollie thanked local people for turning out and supporting the event and said, “We couldn’t have made this happen but for the generous sponsorship and support we got from so many people and the Butts volunteers, young and old, who made the family day such a great success.”
Ollie thanked the Fr. McGrath Centre for sponsoring the Con Downey Perpetual Cup and for the treats given out to children at the family event.
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 McGrath Centre which provided so many children’s services to the local community.
And so , not only did Con Downey sow a seed of hope all those years ago but along with members of Con’s family , and hundreds of local people, the Waterbarracks saw Con’s seed blossom.
Speaking to ‘The Kilkenny Observer’, Eileen Downey said it was a great pleasure attending a celebration of community that ticked all the boxes, great people, fun, food and soccer! “It was all the more touching to be invited to represent our dad Con who was all about community spirit, connecting with people and most of all his beloved soccer,” continued Eileen.
Eugene Downey, who also travelled to Kilkenny for the event said that Con would have been in his element in the thick of it all and no doubt shouting from the side-lines as the teams battled it out on the pitch. Having cracked many a ball in the alley close by Eugene continued, “The Waterbarracks and the butts community meant so much to Con, and the family are thankful to everyone who knew dad and who continue to include him and keep his memory alive. Our family cannot begin to express just how much it means to us.” (rumours that Eugene (judge) is threatening to take a twirl on the pitch next year, are being investigated.
OLLIE PAYS THANKS TO COMMITTEE AND VOLUNTEERS
Wrapping up the successful event Mr Falsey offered a special thanks to Mauro from Joe’s Chipper in Dean Street who not only generously sponsored all the burgers, hot dogs and drinks provided to local families but also turned up on the day to cook them himself.”
Ollie also thanked his fellow committee members including Chairman Tommy Hackett, Secretary Jenny Clifford, Peter Dowling, Michael Falsey, Statia Clifford, Oisin Corr, Pax Falsey and Damien Dowling.
He also paid tribute to volunteers Maruo, Shane Kelly and Lisa and Myles Kavanagh Jnr.
Observer note: It would be remiss of The Kilkenny Observer not to pay a special mention to Gertie Downey, Cons wife. There is no doubt that sport and volunteerism dominated the Downey household at Talbots Inch. Gertie was the force behind Con in his many activities on behalf of the St Canice’s Parish Community and beyond. He played and administered soccer all of his life and Gertie was the one who ran the family home. She supported him fully in all of his extensive voluntary activities. If Con was Santa to so many Kilkenny children at Christmas time Gertie was Mrs Clause.