The day Mayo legend Willie Joe Padden togged out for London
We revisit the 1994 day when Mayo great Willie Joe Padden lined out for London against the Green and Red
The legend of Wille Joe Padden is well-known. The bloodied and bandaged midfield maverick of the Mayo team of the 1980s, with a leap that defied logic and a cannon of a boot.
Five Connacht Senior Championship medals with Mayo in 1981, 1985, 1988, 1989 and 1992, he also played in the 1989 All-Ireland final defeat to Cork.
It was the first Mayo team to reach an All-Ireland final in 38 years, and the images of Willie Joe post-Mayo’s All Ireland semi-final win over Tyrone help to secure his iconic warrior-like status.
An All Star in 1985 and 1989, in September 2013 the Belmullet native was honoured on the pitch at Croke Park as a member of the GAA’s ‘Stars of the 80s’ team.
His long career in the red and green spanned from 1977 until 1993.
The Saw Doctors even saw fit to mention him in their song, Hay Wrap. ‘Will Galway beat Mayo? Not if they have Willie Joe!’ the lyric goes.
Perhaps less known, though, is that the great man also once pulled on a London jersey. Yes, he most certainly did.
The date was Saturday 30 April, 1994. PJ McGinley’s side were to face a Mayo team at Ruislip, 24 hours before Jack O’Shea’s Mayo took on Cork on the same pitch in a rematch of their All Ireland semi-final.
For Mayo, it was a chance to avenge the previous year’s 20-point hammering at Cork’s hands in that All Ireland semi-final. Cork went on to lose to Derry in the final.
For McGinley’s men, it was a crucial challenge match as they built towards the visit of Galway to Ruislip in the Connacht Championship quarter-final on 5 June.
Mayo and Cork, and Willie Joe, were no strangers to London. In 1990, they’d staged a repeat of their 1989 All-Ireland final meeting at Griffin Park – home until recently of Brentford Football Club.
Willie Joe played in that one, just as he did in 1992 when Mayo faced reigning All Ireland champions Down in Cricklewood at the home of Hendon Football Club.
Hendon’s Claremount Road ground had also been the setting for Mayo versus Donegal in ‘91. Both coincided with St Patrick’s weekend.
One of the men behind the Hendon FC games was Tommy Goonan of Shannon Rovers. A native of Mayo himself, from Kiltane, Tommy was friendly with Willie Joe and had enlisted his help in promoting the matches. Willie Joe even appeared on the BBC.
Tommy had been elected treasurer of the London County Board in January 1993 and was widely regarded as a “brilliant fundraiser”. He later served as Mayo assistant treasurer after moving back to Ireland in 1995.
Tommy had strong connections with then Mayo County Board secretary John Prenty, now Connacht Council secretary, and the likes of Christy Loftus and Mick Higgins.
He’d initially approached the London board about hosting the matches, but concerns over the pitch at Ruislip staging two inter-county teams at that time of year, saw Goonan take the matches to Hendon FC.
The Hendon games were fundraisers for a debt-ridden London County Board following the building of the new clubhouse facility, and brought in “big funds”. Later in 1992, Ruislip also began to play host.
Between 1992 and 1994 the visits of inter-county teams from Ireland to Ruislip came thick and fast.
And so to 1994. Mayo and Cork were fixed for Ruislip on 1 May. The day before, London would play a Mayo side in a challenge match.
By 1994, Willie Joe’s Mayo career had come to an end. He’d quit for good in the spring of 1993.
Once he found out that Willie Joe definitely wasn’t going to feature in O’Shea’s plans for that weekend, Tommy saw an opportunity.
Willie Joe had been training with the Mayo team, although he hadn’t featured in the league.
Tommy approached PJ McGinley “a couple of weeks” prior to the game with the idea of Willie Joe playing for London as a guest.
“Willie was coming to the end of his playing days with Mayo and he wasn’t been brought over by the Mayo team, so I brought him separately because he had a big following, particularly from the Belmullet area,” recalls Tommy.
“The Irish press had called him the ‘soul of Belmullet’ before the 1989 All Ireland final.”
He added: “PJ McGinley said if I brought him over he could play against Mayo….. he said he would 100 per cent play him on the Saturday evening.”
Willie Joe takes up the story. “I knew PJ McGinley well and just in conversation he said ‘would you play for us as a guest?’.
“I had to think about it, but at the end of the day I’d finished playing for Mayo.
“I would never have done it had I thought it would have upset anyone, or the team’s schedule, but everyone agreed so we said we’d have a go. I said ‘no problem, I’ll play for half an hour’.”
He added: “As it was against Mayo, that only added a bit of spice to the game. If it was advertised that I was playing for London it might create a little bit more interest as well.”
It was unanimous, the Mayo legend would play against his native county, for London. The idea of togging out against his home county didn’t bother Willie Joe at all.
He was 35 at the time and by that stage describes himself as “past it”, but he’d been training away with Mayo up until the end of March and was still in “good shape”.
“I wasn’t picked for the game here, so I more or less said that that was time for me to gang up the boots,” he says.
Willie Joe knew his way around Ruislip; he’d played there on three occasions for Mayo in 1981, 1986 and 1991.
“I remember marking Brian Grealish – the brother of Tony who played for the Republic of Ireland – in 1986,” he recalls.
“And I also remember playing against a guy called Seamus Burke, who was from Glenamoy, in 1981.
“I loved playing at Ruislip because there was such a huge Mayo contingent in London, and anything you could do to bring all of those people together was brilliant.”
He adds: “I knew Tommy [Goonan] well and I used to be over in London regularly. They were trying to raise funds and Tommy was heavily involved.
“Tommy started off this lotto and I was over three years in a row doing things for it.”
Willie Joe flew into London a day or two before the game. The first time he met his new London teammates was in the dressing room before throw in.
Centre back for London that day was Maurice Somers, a former Down Minor who played his football for St Anthony’s in Reading, before later linking up with PJ McGinley at Tir Chonaill Gaels.
“We heard the week leading up to the game that Willie Joe was going to be playing,” said Somers.
“Willie Joe was a great footballer in his day. While nowadays you’d see a boy look to lay off a ten-yard handpass or put a low ball into one of the forwards, Willie Joe used to just hit it as hard as he could.
“You didn’t have the social media coverage you have today obviously – we’d only ever seen him on television. So it was like ‘there’s Willie Joe Padden’.
“He came in the door, sat down, got his jersey, played the game, and then went away off afterwards. He was a really nice fella – salt of the earth.”
London had played eventual Connacht winners Leitrim in a challenge match a few weeks earlier at Parnell Park, the home of Parnells GFC in Kingsbury. Ruislip was undergoing some running repairs.
That came on the back of London’s first-ever National League campaign in 1993/94. It remains the county’s most successful, yielding two wins and two draws.
But a chastening defeat to Tipperary in the McGrath Cup final at Ruislip in April dealt London’s preparations for Galway a major blow.
The Irish World described the 2-13 to 0-4 loss as a “sad day for London’s senior footballers” and “embarrassingly one-sided”.
In the Tipp side that day were John Leahy and Brendan Cummins, who went on to win five All Irelands and eight All Stars between them with Tipperary’s hurlers.
It was also a game notable for a young Tara forward by the name of Ollie Murphy making his first competitive appearance for London. Murphy would go on to win All Irelands with Meath in 1996 and 1999.
Ollie was one of three London senior debutants in that game, the others being Allan Bowe of Round Towers and Paul Gibney of Wembley Gaels.
Gibney, a Kildare native, had played in London’s juniors 1992 All Ireland semi-final defeat to Cork at Ruislip.
Gibney was playing semi-pro soccer for Hendon FC when Tommy Goonan brought GAA to the club’s Cricklewood ground in 1991 and 1992.
He joined Tir Chonaill Gaels in 1995, but later that year moved to Cavan where he played for the county team for two years.
As events transpired, the presence of the green and red legend, who ended up playing the entire game, wasn’t enough to stop London from going down by 1-17 to 1-7 to Mayo, according to the Irish World.
Pat Griffin in his book Gaelic Hearts A History of London GAA 1896-1996 credits London with having amassed one more score, 1-8, and that Mayo led by 1-8 to 0-4 at half-time.
The opposition was made up of players “on the fringe of the Mayo team for the Connacht Championship” reported the Irish World.
Jim Landy topped scored for London with 1-4 (1-2 of that coming from play), while there was a notable mention in despatches for John Collins, Gary Fearon, Liam O’Connor, Paul Gibney and Sean Woods.
As for Willie Joe, “he togged out wearing number nine and played really well,” says Tommy Goonan.
“It was a fine day and a great crowd was there on the Saturday evening. Willie Joe brought his following – he was the draw.
“He marked Michael Coleman of Mayo in midfield and put in a great performance.”
Coleman went onto win a National League medal with Mayo in 2001.
In his book Gaelic Hearts A History of London GAA 1896-1996 Pat Griffin said that “the ageing Mayo star was still a class apart from his London colleagues”.
Willie Joe said: “There was a good competitive edge to it. There was ample opportunity [for the Mayo players to test themselves against him], if they wanted to.
“But they’d have to take into consideration that I’d been around the block for a long time, and I was still there. They wouldn’t be pulling back and going easy on me.”
Maurice Somers recalls that competitive edge. “Willie Joe got possession and as he played it up the field, one of the young and upcoming Mayo midfielders hit Willie very late with a big shoulder in the back,” he said.
“Willie Joe went f**king mad; he was going to kill him. It was probably just some young Mayo upstart wanting to make their name by hitting the great Willie Joe Padden.”
A good few years later, Maurice bumped into Willie Joe in a pub Ballina, and he reminded him of that day in Ruislip.
Maurice adds: “They said it was only a fringe Mayo team, but they were a good side. It was a mixture of established players and boys out to impress.
“They had a couple of big lads around the middle of the park. Willie wasn’t a big man, but he had a fantastic leap – it almost defied physics how he could get up that high.”
It turned into a “bit of a hiding” for London and Maurice Somers recalls PJ McGinley was “furious” afterwards in the dressing room.
“He wasn’t happy with the commitment in training and we were four weeks out from playing Galway in the championship,” remembers Paul Gibney.
“There was a bag of balls in the room when we came in and he kicked it and flew into a rant….he was going mad.”
Maurice Somers adds: “McGinley was white with temper and dogged us for the performance; we were no good at this, no good at that and we were a disgrace. And then Willie Joe piped up ‘right lads, where are we going on the beer tonight?’.
“McGinley’s face….he was so angry he couldn’t speak!”
Paul Gibney said: “That sent McGinley off again.”
“I don’t remember that one!” says Willie Joe laughing.
On the Sunday, 2,000 people gathered at Ruislip to watch Mayo make it two wins in the space of 24 hours with a 2-15 to 3-8 victory over Munster champions Cork, and in doing so claim the Ronan Travel Cup.
The Cork team was a “pale shadow” of the one beaten by Derry in September’s All Ireland final.
Captain Niall Calahane, Don Davis, John O’Driscoll and Mick McCarthy were the only Cork survivors from the side beaten by the Oakleafers.
A “sluggish” Mayo recovered from conceding 1-2 without reply in the first quarter – Kevin Concannon with a penalty.
But by half-time Mayo had turned the game around to lead by 1-6 to 1-3. Raymond Dempsey with an 18th minute goal.
Kevin O’Brien’s goal from close range brought Cork level, but Mayo got the upper hand in the fourth quarter “with a series of excellent points and a superb goal from substitute Kieran Carey”.
The game itself was a “pretty affair”, but perhaps inevitably lacked the “cutting edge” of a competitive fixture.
“Cork were short a few and [Cork manager] Billy Morgan, who I knew very well, asked if I’d play with Cork, but I passed on that one!” says Willie Joe.
For Mayo, Ray Dempsey hit 1-4, Kevin O’Neill 0-4 and Ciaran Carey 1-0. Kevin O’Brien led the way for Cork with 1-4, while others to contribute were Kevin Concannon 1-0, Fergal Keohane 1-0 and John Driscoll 0-2.
1994 was John Casey’s debut season for Mayo’s seniors – he recalls the “experience” of the weekend more than the games with Cork and London.
“I recall sitting on a bus beside Cork’s Niall Cahalane coming from some function and him devouring a piece of fish! He was very chatty and friendly,” says Casey.
“We stayed in a hotel very close to Wembley and the Rugby League Challenge Cup was on, on the Saturday at Wembley. It was Wigan against Leeds and there was loads of supporters around our hotel. Emlyn Hughes was also staying in our hotel!”
Mayo eased past Sligo in the sides’ Connacht quarter-final by 16 points, only to fall to Leitrim in the final.
Cork retained the Munster title before bowing out in the All Ireland semi-finals to eventual champions Down.
On 5 June, London lost 2-21 to 0-6 to Galway in the Connacht quarter-final at Ruislip – the Exiles had trailed by just 0-11 to 0-5 at the break.
It would be PJ McGinley’s last game as London senior manager, but a year later he guided the Exiles’ junior team to an All Ireland final, where they lost to Mayo in Castlebar.
For Willie Joe, 30 April 1994, at the age of 35, was to be his one and only appearance for London – no Connacht run out against Galway.
“I don’t think I’d have taken it to that level, although I always relished a game against Galway!” he says.
His only regret is that he didn’t get a souvenir London jersey.
“It would have been nice to have the London jersey, but at the time the financial situation in London was pretty tight, so I’d say they weren’t in the business of handing out jerseys!”.
Willie Joe Padden: Mayo and Belmullet legend…….and, of course, London senior footballer.