DONIE Leahy the ex-Evergreen/Cork Celtic star of the 1950s and '60s was an awesome goalscorer and to the present day he is remembered for his wonderful goals that enthralled the Cork soccer public.
Donie, RIP, was born in Blackpool in 1938 and attended Blackpool National School where he captained their U14 hurling and football teams to two titles.
Like every young boy growing up in Blackpool during that era, it was Donie’s ambition to play with Glen Rovers.
Leahy recalled those disappointing days when he failed to realise his ambition.
“Of course, I wanted to play for the Glen during my youth, but I was simply not wanted, and I was not alone as it was hard for any Blackpool schoolboy to get their chance,” said Donie.
The determination of Leahy saw him change route as, in his own words, he was going to make it one way or another and he duly turned his attention to playing soccer.
Donie began playing schoolboys football at Dunbar Celtic before moving to Evergreen in 1956 and his skills soon came to notice at national level when he was capped by Ireland in his first season.
Donie recalled his international debut.
“I played with some great players at Evergreen and also capped against West Germany were Bobby Brohan, Gerry Lane, Eddie Goggin, and John ‘Bonty’ Lynch and we actually defeated them 3-1 in Germany.”
After Evergreen changed their name to Cork Celtic, the club continued to have some quality players, but despite winning the Top 4 and Shield competitions, the league and FAI Cup always remained beyond the club.
“We had a great squad, but so had teams like Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers, as generally the League of Ireland was a high standard at that time.”
Celtic also competed in the 1964 and 1969 cup finals, but on both occasions, they lost out to Shamrock Rovers.
Leahy was still capable of scoring goals, even against the best, and he represented the Inter-League team 17 times where he was leading scorer with Liam Tuohy.
Cork Celtic had a wealth of talent, but Donie particularly liked playing with Austin Noonan and Frank McCarthy.
“When I look back and think of the players that I played with it, it gives me goose-pimples and I could not say we underachieved as we always gave it everything, but when it came to league and cup honours it was not meant to be for us.”
The standard of the modern League of Ireland player didn’t impress Donie.
“Yes, they are fitter, but I played with far more skillful players as the major problem now is that some of the players think they are superstars at a young age and most of them don’t have the basics of the game. There is far too much soccer on TV and it has not improved the game.”
Donie was also adamant about the different footballs that players had to play with in his time as he reckons kicking old footballs that were made it from pigskin was much harder.
The skills of Roy Keane were also noted by Donie who was full of admiration for the former Manchester United star.
“Roy is the greatest player this country has ever produced, and we had some quality players.”
Roy has a kind trait that, Donie believes, people don’t give him credit for.
“His manner and kindness off the pitch makes him a very special person as he never gloats. What he does for people, his contribution to the children with leukemia and other illnesses is incredible and he does it all in a quiet fashion.”
Injuries picked up during his playing days required Donie to have knee and hip replacements, but his wife Pauline and his five daughters were always proud of their father’s achievements as he was a true family man.
Sadly, Donie passed away on New Year's Eve in 2015, but when this interview was conducted, he expressed some beautiful sentiments about his family and friends.
“I wouldn’t change anything about my life as I have a beautiful family and I have no regrets about my soccer career as I was fortunate to have met some great people and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Brave and kind sentiments from a genuine gentleman.