Tuesday 16 January 2018

Louth mourns the death of football legend Stephen Melia

Stephen Melia
Stephen Melia
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It's a sign of the high regard in which Stephen Melia, who has died aged 53, was held by his peers that, when John O'Leary retired in 1997, he chose the Louth man on his Rest of Ireland team, made up of opposition he had played against in an 18-year inter-county career.

Louth hadn't figured at the business end of major competitions in that period but Melia's consistent excellence convinced O'Leary that he was one of the best players of the era. He played with Leinster on quite a few occasions.

"A super talent, who would have been a big success in any county," was O'Leary's description of a player whose inter-county career spanned three decades (1984-2001).

Versatility was among Melia's many qualities in a career that started with his local club, John Mitchels, Ardee.

However, his biggest club success came with St Joseph's, Dromiskin, where he won a county senior title in 2006. That he was still playing at such at high level in his mid-40s speaks volumes about his endurance.

Paddy Clarke, who managed Louth from 1997-2001, said that Melia's dedication to the game was incredible.

"Stephen was always big into fitness, preparation, mental toughness and whatever else it took to get the very best out of himself. And, of course, that example rubbed off on those he came in contact with," he said.

"When I took over Louth, he was in his mid-30s but made it clear straight away that he was going to play on, which he did. He was a player-selector in my last two years there and was brilliant at that too because of his huge knowledge and passion for the game and for Louth. A great man in every way.

A later developer at inter-county level, Melia didn't play minor for Louth and was 23 years old by the time he made his senior debut.

However, he quickly established himself as a real warrior and went on to become one of the most revered figures in Louth GAA history. He played 179 times for the county in all competitions.

He is survived by his wife Orla, daughter Amy, son Adam, parents, brothers, sisters and extended family.

The Funeral Mass will be celebrated in St Peter and Paul's Church, Balbriggan next Tuesday (10am), followed by burial in Balrothery Cemetery.

Irish Independent

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