Joe Lennon dies: Tributes paid after death of Down gaelic football great

Joe Lennon with the then Irish President Mary McAleese and her aide-de-camp Niamh O'Mahony in January 2009
Joe Lennon and his Down team-mates of 1968 were invited to the then Irish President Mary McAleese's official residence of Aras an Uachtarain in January 2009

Tributes have been paid to Down gaelic football great Joe Lennon following his death on Wednesday evening.

Lennon, born in 1935, played in the Down team of the 1960s which became the first side from the six Northern Irish counties to win the All-Ireland title.

The Aghaderg native helped the Mourne County lift the Sam Maguire Cup in 1960 and 1961 and then captained the side to All-Ireland glory again in 1968.

Lennon's Down managerial stint included lifting the 1983 National League title.

As well as being an outstanding player, Lennon also became renowned as one of the deepest thinkers on the sport.

Foremost authority on gaelic football's rules

He became the foremost authority on the rules of gaelic football and also established the sport's first national coaching course at Gormanston College in county Meath, where he taught physical education for many years.

The Down native's extensive knowledge of the rules was brought to bear in his role as a GAA analyst for RTE television for many years, which is many ways was the beginning of TV punditry within the sport.

His book, Coaching Gaelic Football for Champions, became a seminal work within GAA after it was published in 1964 and in 2000 he was conferred with a PHD for a thesis which was entitled, 'Towards a philosophy for legislation in Gaelic Games'.

A statement on the GAA's official website described Lennon as "one of the finest gaelic footballers of his generation" and expressed "deepest sympathy to his wife Anne and the entire family circle".

"Truly, Joe Lennon was one of the brightest minds in the history of the GAA," added the GAA statement.

Down GAA said that they had learned of Lennon's death "with great sadness".

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Joe Lennon dies: Mourne great had 'marvellous football brain' says Pete McGrath

Lennon 'at heart of Down's footballing revolution'

Former Down manager Pete McGrath said Lennon was "at the heart of the football revolution" started by the Mourne County in the early 1960s.

"He played at midfield in 1960 and '61. He wasn't a particularly big man physically but the fact that he could play in that pivotal position meant he was always using his head," added McGrath.

"Then he was one of the four players that stayed on until 1968 when Down won the All-Ireland and he was captain.

"Joe was a radical thinker in many ways. He put an awful lot of thought into the science of gaelic football.

"His coaching manuals in the 1960s and into the 1970s were so instrumental in bringing gaelic football forward.

"He was a man who was a lifelong learner and was a tremendous example to all young people growing up in county Down in the 1960s."

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