John Martin R.I.P. – A Legend in the annals of Rangers greatness

April 4, 2016

Crossmaglen Rangers and Armagh GAA icon John Martin may have departed this life and gone to join his own immediate family circle but he will also be re-acquainted with the departed GAA fraternity which he once described in an interview ”That’s the thing about the GAA – there may be the odd row but we’re a very close family,” and he will no doubt continue to entertain and regale them with craic and stories in the manner he was accustomed  to and famed for throughout his life having had a very successful career as a player and a manager.

Born at the Square in Crossmaglen, son of an egg-merchant, John married Eileen O’Callaghan, a fellow square resident. Their life together was to be cut short as Eileen died in 1963, leaving behind a family of 6 boys, Kevin, Malachy, Sean, Patrick, Raymond and Michael. Further tragedy was to strike the family in 1994 when son Michael, daughter-in-law, Briege and granddaughter, Leane, were killed in a car-crash.

Despite those crushing blows John soldiered on with life embracing roles as a cinema projectionist, newsagent, cattle-dealer and greyhound breeder combined with his over 70 years of service to his beloved Crossmaglen Rangers. John also represented Armagh as a footballer winning a Mc Kenna Cup medal in 1949 and a Lagan Cup medal in 1953.

John Martin’s contribution to Rangers is immense. He first put on the Rangers jersey in 1944 for the Junior team and in 1946 for the senior and was elected secretary of the club in 1955 serving until 1969. The 1950s was the only decade of the twentieth century in which Crossmaglen Rangers had not won an Armagh Championship. John was appointed selector and manager in 1960 and remained in charge until 1969 winning five Armagh senior championships 1960, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967 and returned for a further managerial spell in 1972 and again in ’88 and ’89. His remit within the club saw him take on less high profile roles as the years passed but right up until his death he was there every Sunday night helping out with the club lotto. John’s enthusiasm, commitment and pride in the club ensured that he would enjoy special status within the Rangers portals and saw him enrolled in their Hall of Fame.

John served his time as team driver for Armagh players and then evolved to stewarding duties for both Armagh and the Ulster Council and often in Croke Park,  saying “It’s one way of getting to see big matches”.

Football aside, John had another great sporting interest –Greyhounds and just as in the GAA he carved out a niche of his own amongst the doggy fraternity. John was regarded as a very shrewd and astute judge and he had bookmakers, dog owners and breeders on their toes for over 4 decades, as he enjoyed both breeding and racing success from one end of the country to the other. Nothing better than ‘a good auld gamble pulled off’ brought that grin of satisfaction and achievement to his face.

When one looks over John’s life one has to wonder just how many hours was in his day. John was a leading member of the Crossmaglen Dramatic Society, a member of the Dioceses of Armagh Lourdes Committee and yet found time to attend the big club games taking place in the neighbouring counties and further afield.

The large turnout for his wake and funeral were a fitting testimony to the high regard in which John and his family are held. Any close associates of John will know that I have left the eternal question to the last. How does John rate HIS sixties men with the all-conquering present sides? Suffice to say that when we all get the call from above, he will be sitting there holding court on that said same subject. It will be an argument that will never be won (especially with John) but can be finished with a neutral perspective by saying that “It could rightly be said of John Martin that he is the founder of modern day Crossmaglen Rangers football, restoring an ethos of victory to the club after the barren decades of the forties and fifties and setting new levels of expectation which were a key to the all- conquering success of the present side.

“I was very lucky to have been involved. It was always special for me to line out with the Rangers and with Armagh. They brought great pleasure into my life”