Wednesday 20 September 2017

Sean Fallon

A native of Sligo, he became a Celtic legend as a player and later as assistant to Jock Stein, writes Brian Murphy

Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, Mick McCarthy and Packie Bonner are just a few of the big-name Irish internationals who have donned the famous hoops of Celtic Football Club in modern times.

But for all of their accomplishments, none of these great players could claim to be held in the same esteem in the East End of Glasgow as Sligo's Sean Fallon.

The 'Iron Man', as he was affectionately known to a generation of Celtic supporters, died on Friday, aged 90.

Fallon's lifelong love affair with the Scottish club was born out of near-tragedy. His sister Lily was saved from drowning at Lough Gill by the son of a Celtic player, Jimmy McMenemy, who was holidaying in Sligo. McMenemy subsequently befriended the Fallon family and on his return to Scotland he sent young Sean a Celtic jersey and a book on the club's history. From that moment, it was Fallon's ambition to play for the club.

Fallon was a supporter who was lucky enough to live the dream. But his route to Celtic Park was circuitous. He played in the League of Ireland for Longford Town, Sligo Distillery and Sligo Rovers, before crossing the Border to play with Glenavon in Co Armagh.

Fallon was 26 when Celtic finally came calling. Convinced that the Parkhead club would not sign him if they knew his real age, Fallon told the Celtic manager, Jimmy McGrory, that he was only 22! Fallon admitted years later that thereafter "I had two passports – one for football and the real one".

He scored an own goal on his Celtic debut in 1950, but by the following season he had established himself as a first-team regular and won a Scottish Cup medal. He scored the winning goal in the 1954 Scottish Cup Final and he also picked up his only Scottish League Championship medal that season.

He won two League Cups medal and secured his place in Celtic folklore by playing on the team that hammered Rangers 7-1 in the 1957 final. A wholehearted and versatile player, Fallon made 256 appearances for Celtic. He was also capped eight times by the Republic of Ireland.

Fallon's name will forever by indelibly linked with the legendary manager Jock Stein. As a managerial double act, only Brian Clough and Peter Taylor could credibly compete. The Celtic team shaped by Stein and Fallon in the mid-1960s went on to win an incredible nine league titles in a row, but their greatest achievement was their victory in the European Cup Final in 1967. Their opponents, Inter Milan, had won the European Cup in two of the last three seasons, but they were thoroughly outclassed by what was essentially a Glasgow and District XI.

When one considers the hundreds of millions of euroteams pay today to import top international talent, Stein and Fallon's achievement in winning the European Cup with 11 locally nurtured players is a monumental coaching accomplishment which is unlikely to ever be matched.

Fallon lived and breathed football. He spent a considerable amount of time at schoolboy and junior games. He was a talent scout supreme. His ability to spot a potential star and his powers of persuasion were instrumental in a host of brilliant young players signing for Celtic, including Danny McGrain, Davie Hay, Lou Macari and Packie Bonner.

He famously missed his own wedding anniversary celebrations because he had been delayed persuading a promising prospect, who supported Rangers, to put pen to paper for Celtic. The name of this schoolboy footballer was Kenny Dalglish.

In 2002, Fallon was awarded the freedom of his native Sligo. In August 2012, he received the accolade of being asked to unfurl the Scottish Premier League Title flag at Celtic Park that his beloved club had secured the previous season. The 'Iron Man' received a tremendous standing ovation. He will be mourned by football supporters everywhere.

Ar dheis De go raibh a ainm dilis.

Brian Murphy is a life-long Celtic supporter.

Sunday Independent

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