Remembering former Creggs and Roscommon footballer, and Tremane hurler, the late Martin Joe Keane

By Tony Conboy

While I was aware that Martin Joe had been ill, I was surprised and saddened when I was contacted by John Kelly on Friday night, November 4th, and learned that he had passed away.

I had known Martin Joe for decades, one of our earliest encounters being when Creggs defeated Athleague in the 1963 minor championship at Athleague. They had a fine team but were ultimately defeated by a star-studded Castlerea side in the final.

Martin came from a sporting family in Rosmoylan, Creggs. His two brothers, Johnny and Seamus, were top class sportsmen. Johnny was a cyclist of note, coming second in the prestigious national competition ‘The Rás Tailteann’ circa 1960. His brother Seamus would be widely known as a Gaelic player, a Creggs rugby player since the inception of Creggs Rugby Club, a cyclist, a boxer, and also a long-term hurler with Tremane.

  Martin went to secondary school in St Mary’s College, Galway, but came to Roscommon CBS for his final two years. This is where I became friendly with him, being on his ‘school league’ team.

He travelled to Roscommon town by scooter, train (from Donamon), and car to the CBS, early evidence of a man with calm determination. After the CBS, he joined the Gardaí and spent some years stationed in Dublin. Throughout this time, he was of course on the Creggs teams, and also Roscommon teams, starting with the star-studded but ultimately unsuccessful minor team of 1963.

His first taste of a big national win came as a member of the Roscommon Junior hurling side, when they won the 1965 All-Ireland title against Warwickshire in St Coman’s Park. That game is remembered especially for the fact that Gerry O’Malley finally got an All-Ireland medal with that victory.

  The high point of Martin’s county football career was with the great Roscommon U-21 team of 1966, who defeated the firm favourites Kildare in Croke Park to take the Clarke Cup.

Creggs entered a junior hurling team in 1967, and it is from that foundation that he and his brother Seamus joined the Tremane hurling team, who came to be a dominant force in Roscommon hurling through the 1970s. The Keane brothers were ever-present in Tremane’s three-in-a-row of ‘72/’73/’74. The highlight of Tremane’s endeavours was their shock victory over Galway champions Kiltormer in the senior Connacht final at Athleague in February 1977 (for ’76). Martin Joe was centre-back as he had been for Roscommon Juniors’ All-Ireland ‘home’ hurling final of ’71 where they lost to Wicklow.

After his time in the Gardaí, Martin went into business in Galway with a string of vegetable shops under the name ‘Country Fresh’. I got back in touch with him again there, as along with Tony Regan, I remember being enlisted in Martin Joe’s pre-Christmas surge for a short time.

While Martin Joe was hugely loyal to Creggs, he joined ‘Father Griffin’s’ Club in Galway City for a short spell. Griffin’s won the Galway Championship in ’72 and added the Connacht title for that year. Thus, when Martin Joe won a Connacht title with Tremane in ’77, he held a unique record as winner of club provincial medals in both codes.

After the U-21 win of ’66, he was a regular member of the Roscommon senior team. Oddly, it was a short barren period for that team. However, in 1969, Connacht won The Railway (Interprovincial) Cup, defeating Munster in the final. As a result, the team was invited by John Kerry O’Donnell to play New York in the Cardinal Cushing games in May in New York and Boston. The games ended level.

Martin Joe was part of the panel who participated in those games, with Pat Reynolds and Dermot Earley being the other Roscommon players. Martin Joe dropped out of inter-county football in the very early 1970s but continued to play with ‘Father Griffin’s’ – and then back to Creggs – and with Roscommon and Tremane hurlers. In 1974, Creggs, with the Keane brothers at midfield, just failed to win the senior county championship, being defeated by a richly talented Roscommon Gaels. It was still a highlight for the club after a fine campaign.

In business, he sold on his vegetable chain and purchased a Garden Centre on the Headford Road in Galway City. Probably recognising the opportunities presented by the expanding city through Oranmore and beyond, he sold the Headford Centre and opened a Garden Centre at Kicolgan at the intersection of the Gort and Kinvara roads. This was, and remains, a very successful enterprise.

Martin Joe is mourned by his wife Mary Teresa, his daughter Kathy, his son Kevin, brother Seamus, and sisters Beetie and Rosaleen. Martin Joe led a full life in sport, business and with family. He will be remembered by his many football colleagues, especially from that 1966 team, also the Tremane hurlers and Creggs footballers of the 1960s and ‘70s.