Westport United

Founded 1911

Co. Mayo


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“Roma have risen from their ruins! Manolas, the Greek God in Rome! The unthinkable unfolds before our eyes! This was not meant to happen! This could not happen! THIS IS HAPPENING!” (Peter Drury – Roma vs Barcelona 2018 Champions League quarter final)

On Sunday 24th March, 1969, the unthinkable unfolded before the eyes of over 1000 spectators in the Sports Park when Johnny McNally scored what was to be the winning goal in the quarter final of the FAI Junior Cup against the favourites from Dublin, Hoganville. It was not meant to happen, it could not happen, but it happened.

It is with deep regret that Westport United FC has learned of the passing of Johnny McNally, who passed away peacefully at his residence, surrounded by his loving family. Predeceased by his son Gerard and grandson Thomas. Johnny will be sadly missed by his loving wife Carmel (née McHale), sons Ciarán and Declan, daughters-in-law Rita and Máire, grandchildren Adam, Cáoimhe, Grace, Niamh, Seán and Méabh, brothers Dessie and Gerry, sister Agnes, nephews, nieces, relatives, friends and neighbours, with whom we express our deepest condolences.

Johnny McNally came from a family of rich sporting heritage; his father was the legendary Michael "Block" McNally, who played in goal for Westport United in the 1920's and 1930's. Johnny had two uncles who represented the Red and Black, Joe "Bellum" McNally, another star of the 1920s and 1930's and lesser-known star, James McNally, who represented Westport Hearts and Westport United in the late 1900's to 1910's before emigrating to Cleveland, Ohio. From that tapestry, Johnny inherited the McNally sporting talents and grew up in the Cathair Na Mart Estate, known locally as The Cottages. Before the advent of television, the kids in The Cottages would find anyplace to kick a football and the matches would go on until it was too dark to play outside. Everyone from McBride Terrace/Leenane Road, Reek View Terrace, Pearse Terrace and St. Patrick's Terrace, where Johnny grew up would play match after match after match and this led to that was arguably the greatest talent pool that came from The Cottages with players such as Jackie and Austin Foley, the legendary Chris Keane and Johnny McNally but to name a few. Some of the Cottages Golden Generation went onto become the Westport United Golden Generation of the 1960's and when the big breakthrough came through the letterbox at St Patrick's Terrace from the Westport United secretary of the day that Johnny was selected to play for Westport United for the first time, it was a proud moment for both Johnny, and his dad, "Block", who was the goalkeeper some 30 years earlier.

Johnny made his mark once donning the Red and Black, playing as a centre forward, described as tough, brave and bustling; very deceptive of his slight frame. Johnny was known for his pace to get in behind defenders and if there was an opening, Johnny would take a shot on; never afraid to have a go, whether the ball hit the back of the net or the roof of the Pavilion Ballroom, Johnny had the character to keep persevering and he chipped in with his share of goals and won a number of Mayo League titles.

Of all the goals scored by Johnny, none came more famous than the goal against Hoganville 55 years ago, which to this day is the greatest FAI Junior Cup goal to be scored in the Sports Park or any other ground in Westport for that matter. The match was in extra time with the score 1-1 with Tony Browne scoring Westport United's goal in normal time. That goal ranks as two of the most historically important and greatest goals in the history of the Sports Park (the other was Martin Halpin's Connaught Cup winner against OLBC Galway in 1974). It wasn't the actual strike that made the goal so iconic but the spine-tingling celebrations that followed it. McNally's winner into the Pavilion End was greeted with a roar greater than thunder by the Westport supporters and as the players went over to congratulate McNally, the supporters invaded the pitch to join in the congratulations in unbridled scenes of joy and raw emotion and it took the match officials a few minutes to clear the pitch so the match could resume. If such an epic moment in goal celebration ever deserved to be caught on camera, this was certainly one of them, and if it had, there's no doubt it would get replayed over and over again to demonstrate how much that goal meant not only for the team, but the club and also the town.

Unfortunately, within a few years of that famous FAI Junior Cup run, Johnny played his last game for the club, while still at his prime. Johnny was one of the Westport United legends never to have won the Connaught Cup, and if he was still playing, there's every chance he might have got a winner's medal in 1974, and it would have been a fitting chapter to a member of one of Westport's proud sporting families winning a medal that eluded both his dad and uncle back in the 1920's and 1930's. However, Johnny was no doubt proud on seeing Westport United winning the Connaught Cup on several occasions, and while he was a semi finalist on the FAI Junior Cup back in 1969, likewise his uncle James in 1912 (IFA Junior Cup), 36 years after his iconic goal, what was unfinished business back then was the icing on the cake as Westport United won the FAI Junior Cup in 2005 and Johnny would have been proud to see that generation succeeding in a competition that he came so near to reaching a final in. While the goals from Dessie O'Malley and David Cameron are embedded in Westport folklore, Johnny would have took great satisfaction in passing the baton of famous FAI Junior Cup goals to players worthy and deserving of the mantle.

Outside of football, Johnny was a postman, and delivered the mail with friendliness, efficiency and professionalism to all the houses in his delivery area, making him a very popular figure within the P&T, later An Post. Johnny married the love of his life, Carmel McHale from Ballina and settled in Pinewoods. They bore three sons, Gerard, Declan and Ciarán. Sadly, Gerard passed away in April 2020, a loss that deeply affected Johnny and family. All three played underage football for Westport United and Johnny was proud when Gerard won the Connacht U.15 Cup for Westport United in 1989, playing as goalkeeper, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and also when Ciarán was part of the Westport Community Games U.12 team that won the National Bronze Medal in Mosney back in 1992. Declan also was successful at Mayo level with Westport United and Johnny was equally as proud of Declan's achievements. All three were very good underage footballers and there were very high hopes, particularly for Ciarán. Johnny did give something back to the game, helping out Newport Road in the local leagues and he was very popular with the kids growing up in the area.

While Johnny played with a Golden Generation of Westport United talent, boasting Chris Keane, Sean McLoughlin, Tony Browne, Noel Duffy, John Coffey, Ger Smith and more, Johnny remained modest about his playing days. He was never a man that wanted the limelight. The humble upbringing at The Cottages made Johnny a well grounded man and he carried that modesty right throughout his life. The Cottages also gave him the toughness that was needed in the robust style of 1960's/70's football but The Cottages gave him the friends so he could play football with and develop the talent that graced the Sports Park and gave him the one opportunity to score THAT GOAL on March 24th 1969. Tough but friendly, talented but humble , popular but modest, the young boy growing up in an estate that was a workhouse just over twenty years before he was born, understanding the privations of that era became a talented footballer, a master postman and a devoted husband, father and grandfather. Let us all remember his great contribution on the pitch and the the entertainment he brought to bring joy and happiness to his people in the Sports Park. As for THAT GOAL celebration, we will probably never see the likes of it again.

May his gentle soul rest in peace

Reposing in Navin's Funeral Home, Westport (F28 XR61) on Sunday, January 14th, from 5pm with removal at 6.30pm to St. Mary's Church, Westport. Funeral Mass on Monday, January 15th, at 11am with burial afterwards in Aughaval Cemetery. Funeral Mass will be live streamed on www.churchtv.ie/westport. Anyone wishing to leave a message of sympathy for the family can do so by posting on our social media platforms.

House private please

Family flowers only. Donations, if desired, to Palliative Care.

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