A LEGENDARY figure in the history of Irish, British and Spanish football is belatedly being recognised for his achievements as a player and manager, thanks to the efforts of a Banbridge man. Willow Grove resident, Alan McLean, has been instrumental in the campaign to have the ‘forgotten Irishman’ Patrick O’Connell honoured – 57 years after his death. O’Connell played as a defender, most notably for Belfast Celtic, Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City and Manchester United.
He has the distinction of being the first player from the Republic of Ireland to play for Manchester United and to captain the team. However, the Irishman is probably best remembered for managing several clubs in Spain’s La Liga. In 1935, he led Real Betis to their one and only league title. The following season, with La Liga suspended due to the Spanish Civil War, O’Connell is credited with saving Barcelona from financial ruin by agreeing to take the club on a tour to Mexico, Cuba and North America, a trip that made them financially viable again.