The last time I met Liam Gilmartin was about five years ago at a function in the county. About five years before that I decided to do a radio documentary for Shannonside with the surviving members of the Roscommon team which won senior All-Ireland football titles in 1943 and 1944. For that project, I spent a couple of hours with Liam at his home in Raheny and it was a chat that I shall always remember.
People in Roscommon GAA will know Liam’s story. He was a magnificent player who captained Roscommon to win the All-Ireland minor title in 1939. He was one of the stars of the Roscommon senior team when they won the All-Ireland senior title in 1943. They repeated the feat in 1944, beating Kerry in the decider. Liam was a magnificent midfielder who had been on the Roscommon senior team from the age of 18. Incredibly, he was never defeated in a championship game playing for Roscommon at any grade. His last game for Roscommon was that final against Kerry in 1944.
In 1945, Liam was struck down with TB. He spent many months in hospital. At that time in this country TB was a killer disease and it was touch and go as to whether Liam would survive to the end of 1945. But survive he did – and it is absolutely amazing to report that he outlived all his colleagues on that team, living to the age of 97. He was immensely proud of his Ballymurray and Roscommon roots and of his achievements on the football field. Liam lived well over 50 years in Dublin and he loved the Dubs too. What a coincidence that on the day after he passed Roscommon and Dublin met in a big league game in Dr. Hyde Park. It was surely written in the stars.
I know that many of us in the GAA are constantly accused of living in the past, but Liam Gilmartin is the last link to the magnificent team that Roscommon had in the 1940s. The passion and love that many people have for Gaelic Football in Roscommon was generated by the deeds of those mighty men and subsequently passed on through the generations.
I never saw Liam Gilmartin or any of his colleagues play football but I remember my late father telling stories of great games from the ‘40s and ‘50s when Roscommon were at or near the top of the football pile. Their deeds are part of Roscommon folklore and will never be forgotten.
Liam Gilmartin loved Gaelic Football right to the end, although he was not shy about giving his view as to faults in the game. He did a brilliant interview with Dermot Crowe in The Sunday Independent in 2011 in which he decried the cynical edge that was creeping into the game.
“Nobody should say ‘well we won, it doesn’t matter how we played, we won’”
“I don’t hold with any of the common tactics used to gain unfair advantage”
The above are just two quotes from that interview which received widespread acclaim throughout the country and was an accurate reflection of a man who at all times played hard but fair.
Now all those men who represented our county with such great distinction have passed on and it is truly the end of an era. They brought great honour to Roscommon over the many decades that have passed since then. To Liam’s family I extend my deepest sympathy. May he rest in peace.