The legendary Jimmy Whan played for Madden, Armagh and Ulster in the unforgettable 1960’s. Jimmy was born in Belfast on the 12th of December 1936 and lived in Manor Street: just off the Cliftonville road. When Belfast was bombed during the war he was evacuated to live with his uncle Pat Joe Fagan and his aunt Kitty Fagan at Lisdrumbrocus. Jimmy recalls it all starting when he went to Madden School.

He would walk with the Rocks and Hughes children, and on the way would be joined by the Grimleys, Molloys, McKenna’s and the Moore’s. On the way home they would play football, creating goalposts in a derelict space not far from the ‘Finger Post’, and using a rag ball which someone had made for them. Eventually they got a proper ball, provided by Wee Paddy Hughes, and this was when they started playing seriously.

In 1949 Jimmy left Madden to go to Greenpark CBS where the approach to football was part of the curriculum. It was structured and organised and as a result it was necessary to have proper boots and togs. Playing here was to be the start of Jimmy’s long and enjoyable career with Gaelic Football and there was one very important thing that he learnt during his time at the CBS which would stand him well throughout his football career: that if you didn’t go looking for the ball, it would not come to you.

Jimmy could never have seen himself as having played for any club other than Madden. As far as he is concerned you are born into a club, which is an integral part of any community, and you will always be recognised as being from that club. Those in charge of Madden Club in the early days; including John McKeown, Tommy Molloy, Jack Belton, Frank Mc Elvanna, Paddy Hughes and Henry Rafferty etc; were totally committed to ensuring that everyone played for Madden.

In the 1940’s many of these men played for Madden and were the backbone of the Club. The strength of the GAA today is due to the work of similar people all over Ireland.

When reflecting on his first big achievement, Jimmy refers to his winning of the Bro Rice Cup – a triumph which he captained his team to. He then went on to win a McMahon cup in 1951 when he went to secondary school. He recalls members of the team including Dennis Bratton, Terry Conlon, Eugene Clancy, Fergus Black and Jimmy McKeown. By 1954 they had a team which was considered capable of winning the MacRory cup. Unfortunately, it was to be an unlucky campaign this year for the team in regards for silverware. For Jimmy however, it had a bitter sweet twist. Along with Dennis Bratton, Jimmy was selected to play on the Ulster Colleges Team and travelled to Sligo to play as a result.
Jimmy’s county career started in 1953 when he was on the minor panel which won the Ulster Title. During these years, Jimmy also spent a short period of time playing minor football for the Harps. At the time there was no minor team in Madden and this was were Jimmy won both of his Minor Championship Medals in 1953 and 1954. He played his first game for Armagh as a right full back on the Minor team of 1954 against Derry.

By his next outing in county colours he was positioned in Midfield alongside Gene Larkin: and this year they were victorious again in achieving the Ulster title. They were unsuccessful that year in their quest for All-Ireland victory, but Jimmy battled on and the following year joined the county junior team. He received nothing in the sense of Silverware this year, but again moved forward and the following year moved on to make his senior debut in the McKenna Cup. He placed at centre half back against Tyrone and marked Jackie Taggart. This was the beginning of Jimmy’s senior county career: one which would last over a decade. He played with some of the most committed and best footballers that had played for any county or club in Ireland. A few players which Jimmy regards as some of the best included John, Micheal and Felix Mc Knight, Sean Quinn, Gene Larkin, Harry Hoy, Brendan Donaghy, Joe Cunningham, Danny Kelly and many many more. During his county career, Jimmy regards his biggest disappointment as losing to Down in the Ulster Final in 1961: a match held in Casement Park. This was the best team which Armagh had produced so far in many people’s opinions, and it seemed almost unbelievable that they failed to win a trophy. In 1959, Jimmy was selected for Ulster. With the exception of 1961, he was present on the Ulster Team until 1965 and collected four winner’s medals during this period.

Jimmy is very proud of what he had achieved during his years as a county and Ulster player, but this did not take away from the achievements which he had made at club level. In 1953, Armagh made there first appearance in a senior All Ireland Final and in the same year Madden won the Junior Championship – beating St Peters Lurgan in the final. This team included Felix, Gerry and Peter Woods, Joe and Peter Fagan, Tommy and Sean Corvan, Pete Grimley, Frank Hughes, John Smyth, Barney Cassidy, Gerry Mc Kenna, Gerry McKeown and Joe Duffy who was the captain. After this success, Madden was slow in making their step up to senior level. They generally finished mid table and held on to senior status. In the early 50’s Art O’Hagan and his three brothers, Jimmy, Austin and Tommy, all moved to Keady Dwyer’s. This was a major blow for a small parish like Madden as players of this calibre would be a huge miss come match day. Around this time Jimmy moved to work in Belfast for a couple of years, before immigrating to Dublin in April 1960 where he joined the Civil Service Club.

Jimmy Whan, in keeping with his greatness as a player, has picked up many accolades throughout his long and illustrious career. A few years ago he was honoured by Armagh City and District Council for his contribution to Sport in the area during the 1960’s. He lists this personally as one of his proudest moments to date.

His full honours list is as follows:

Bro Rice Cup Medal
McMahon Cup Medal
Armagh County Minor Championship Medals
Armagh County Junior Championship Medals
Ulster Minor Championship Medals
Railway Cup Medals
Dublin Senior League Medals
St Vincent De Paul Cup Medals
Duke Cup Medal
Selected on Armagh Millennium Team: Right Half Forward
All Star Award – 1963
Armagh Sports Forum Award (1960’s)