Sean McCarthy

Born a few miles outside Dunmanway in West Cork in January 1922, “Big Seanie” (a name used to distinguish him from another, smaller member of the Cork United squad) McCarthy played for a number of youth and junior clubs (helping Clifton F.C. to the Munster Minor Cup in 1939 and 1940) in Cork city before signing for Cork United in time for the beginning of the 1940-41 season. The 18-year old made his mark instantly, scoring on his league debut in a 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers at Milltown, and contributing 14 league and cup goals in a season that saw United become the first side from outside Dublin to achieve a League of Ireland and F.A.I. Cup double. McCarthy himself scored one of the goals in the 3-1 cup final replay victory over Waterford, and the following season, he netted 19 times (13 in the league) as United retained the league championship, but were beaten by a determined Dundalk side in the F.A.I. Cup decider.

Despite his club nickname, McCarthy was not quite six feet tall, and was quite a lean player during the early part of his career. Skill, bravery and intelligent positioning were considered to be his most telling attributes. A third league title in 1943 helped to cement Cork United’s place as the greatest League of Ireland team of the 1940s, and McCarthy’s 16 league goals (enough to crown him that season’s top scorer) seemed to confirm him as the top centre-forward of the time. That issue would be put beyond doubt during the following two league campaigns, as McCarthy became the first player to top the League of Ireland goalscoring charts in three successive seasons. In 1944 he netted 16, while in 1945, the striker’s incredible haul of 26 goals in just 14 games (the closest any player has ever come to achieving a season average of two a game) propelled his club to a fourth League of Ireland title in just five years.

McCarthy transferred to the famous Belfast Celtic club in 1945, and amassed a remarkable 56 goals during an eventful first season in the north. As well as winning a Gold Cup medal, the centre-forward was capped by the Irish League, and also by the I.F.A., in a victory international against England (but for the war, McCarthy would almost certainly have been capped by the F.A.I.). He soon sought a move back to Cork, however, and rejoined Cork United in time to score seven goals (from the inside-right position, with Paddy O’Leary being firmly established at centre-forward) in their march to victory in the 1947 F.A.I. Cup. He followed this by topping the league’s goalscoring charts for a fourth time in the 1947-48 season, but Cork United’s subsequent demise prompted McCarthy to emigrate to the U.K. during the months that followed.

Taking up a job at the famous Ford factory in Dagenham, “Big Seanie” began playing Southern League football for Dartford F.C., and somewhat ironically, now began making more money from the game than he ever had before, repaying the club by finishing the league’s top scorer with 21 goals. His displays saw him attract the attention of Bristol City, but a one-year stay at Ashton Gate never really came to anything, and McCarthy returned to Cork in 1950, where he linked up with ambitious Munster Senior League outfit Evergreen United. As part of their inaugural League of Ireland squad in 1951, he soon proved the old magic was still there, and McCarthy’s 15 goals helped the club to an impressive fifth place finish in their debut national league campaign. He was a crucial part of the side again the following year, and helped the club progress to the F.A.I. Cup final, where McCarthy came face to face with many of his old Cork United teammates, now appearing in the guise of Cork Athletic. Denied a third winners’ medal, the forward found himself on the fringe of the club’s plans in the seasons that followed, and by 1956, he had seen his last League of Ireland action. McCarthy would depart for the U.K. again in the late 1950s (again settling in the London area), this time remaining for good.

As well as the quantity of goals that he accumulated in his heyday in the 1940s (he was surprisingly not capped by the League of Ireland until 1944, responding with three goals in three games), McCarthy was also fondly remembered for the quality of his goals, regularly stunning league crowds with moments of sheer brilliance. One instance of his penchant for the spectacular was an F.A.I. Cup semi-final against Drumcondra in 1942, where, with his back to goal, he volleyed the ball in from 25 yards, and reputedly did not even turn around to confirm that it had hit the net (he scored all four in United’s 4-2 victory on the day). A superb individual goal in a league game against St. James’s Gate at the Mardyke, meanwhile, was said to have drawn a flurry of applause and congratulations from his opponents, and from the visiting fans.

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