Jim McKeever accepting the Dr McKenna Cup as Derry captain
Derry mourn the loss of 'Gentleman Jim McKeever'
First-ever Footballer of the Year and coaching inspiration passes away.

DERRY GAA ARE mourning the loss of one of their spiritual leaders, Jim McKeever, who has passed away after a long illness at the age of 92.

He was the inaugural Footballer of the Year in 1958 when Derry reached the All-Ireland final, but were beaten by Dublin.

From the same small club of Ballymaguigan that also produced the 1993 All-Ireland-winning manager Eamon Coleman, McKeever first played county football for Antrim minors in 1947 as he was a boarding student at St Malachy’s, where he captained the school to MacRory Cup wins in 1948 and 1949.

A lecturer in St Mary’s University College, formally known as ‘The Ranch’, he moulded the minds of some of the greatest players and coaches in Ulster football, including the likes of Mickey Harte and Tony Donnelly, Malachy O’Rourke, GAA President-Elect Jarlath Burns, Peter Canavan and Paddy Tally.

He was the manager of the team when they won their first Sigerson Cup in 1989 with a relatively miniscule pick of players, but one that included Benny Tierney, Jarlath Burns, Seamus Downey, Malachy O’Rourke and Pascal Canavan.

He pioneered the playing of basketball among students, highlighting the handling and peripheral vision skills. He himself had played on a Belfast basketball team that toured Europe in 1959 and met with the Real Madrid team of the time.

When there was no official ‘manager’ in Gaelic Games, he coached Derry county teams throughout the 1960s and was an official manager when they won the Ulster championship in 1970.

He was also joint manager with Tom Scullion when they won the Anglo-Celt in 1987.

Away from the playing fields, he was county board chairman and a Central Council delegate.

A statement from Derry GAA read: “A proud Derry and Ballymaguigan player, Jim was a modest yet iconic leader. 

“Jim McKeever was a natural sportsman, representing Ulster with distinction in both Gaelic football and basketball. He was the inaugural Gaelic Footballer of the Year for 1958.

“Whether as an educator or as a midfielder he led by example. Jim actively encouraged people to use their talents and be the best they could be. Any team with Jim McKeever in it was a better team.

“Jim had a natural warmth and innate kindness which meant people gravitated towards him. He was affectionately known across Ireland as Gentleman Jim.

“When Jim spoke people listened because they appreciated he was a man of immense experience and integrity.

“Jim’s life was one of service to others. Jim realised whether in his club, community or county he was part of something bigger in the GAA.

“Jim McKeever was a once in a generation player and has left an indelible mark on the history of Derry GAA.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.”

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