Sunday 18 August 2019

Obituary: Jimmy 'Maxie' McCann

Dashing winger won his only senior cap, and scored, in the famous 1956 win over West Germany, writes Sean Ryan

Legend: Jimmy McCann
Legend: Jimmy McCann

Sean Ryan

The death last week of Jimmy 'Maxie' McCann was not only a reminder of a dashing winger of the 1950s, but also, in the week that Ireland lost so heavily in the World Cup play-off, a reminder of how the past is a different country.

Ireland hosted World Cup holders West Germany in a friendly at Dalymount Park in November 1956, and a few years ago Maxie, one of the goalscoring heroes of that stunning 3-0 triumph, recalled for me the team's preparation.

Not for them the week's training the Irish team enjoyed before the play-offs. "It was a joke," Maxie said. "We met on Saturday morning in Milltown and Jackie Carey gave a spiel, and then we played a five-a-side - backs v forwards - and that was it. On Sunday morning we met in the Gresham Hotel, and we walked up to Dalymount after lunch. For lunch, some players had steak, others had cornflakes and others had poached eggs. After the game, we walked back to the Gresham and met the Germans for dinner and the exchange of gifts. At that time, Adidas were only coming to the fore and we got mini-boots with the signatures of all the German players."

Maxie was one of seven League of Ireland players in the team that shocked the Germans, and he was one of three - goalkeeper Alan Kelly and inside-right Noel Peyton were the others - who were making their international debuts. Manchester United wouldn't release Liam Whelan, so Peyton took his place.

At the time, the FAI was strapped for finances and manager Carey, aware of that, refused to accept his fee because he felt he had not been able to give the game sufficient time - a precedent unlikely to be followed any time soon.

A right-winger, it was McCann's goalscoring that attracted the selectors. "I was scoring goals to beat the band," he recalled, "I was the top goalscorer in the Shield and the League and I was picked on that form." Maxie made his mark with Ireland's third goal in the 89th minute, taking a short corner return from Tommy Dunne, and blasting the ball into the net.

The following year he won representative honours with the League against the Irish League and, in four inter-League games, scored three goals. He was also capped at B level against Iceland and South Africa and scored in the 3-2 win in Reykjavik. However, he never got another senior cap.

From Belvedere Place, off the North Circular Road, Maxie started with St Francis Xavier Boys' Club in the CYC League. "At 18 I was brought by a friend to Clontarf and played a season with them. While I was there, Paddy Ambrose was getting over a bad injury and played with us, and he got Paddy Coad down to have a look at me, and that's how I went to Shamrock Rovers in 1951." He played for Leinster against Connacht, scoring three goals, and the following week Coad signed him. Signed as an outside-left, it was as a right-winger that he made his name.

"Rovers played Sligo in the Cup and Christy Warren couldn't get off work for the replay, so they put Liam Tuohy in his place at outside-left and, a couple of weeks later, I went in at outside-right. Tuohy was there for 12 years and I was there for nearly 10 until Frank O'Neill took over."

With the Hoops, Maxie played in four FAI Cup finals, winning two, he won the League three times, the Shield four times on the trot' and the Dublin City Cup and the Leinster Senior Cup. "Rovers had a helluva team, with nine full internationals and two amateur internationals, and something else no one had - Paddy Coad. What a footballer. And he was a real nice man as well."

After his time at Rovers, Maxie played for Drumcondra and Dundalk, and then he and his wife of 53 years, Mary, became big fans of the Irish team, travelling to Italia 90, New York and Miami in 1994, and Cyprus. They were set to go to Poland for the Euro 2012 finals, but Mary died that March.

Maxie, who has been ailing for a number of years, was 83. He is survived by sons Ray, Shay, Davy and Paul, daughter Maria, and his sister Phyllis.

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