As the world prepares to say ‘farewell’ to sporting icon Muhammad Ali, former Armagh GAA star Steven McDonnell has revealed that the boxer’s inspiration helped the Orchard County to All-Ireland glory in 2002.
Ali passed away on Friday, at the age of 74, in Arizona.
His funeral will take place this Friday, in his native Louisville, Kentucky, with a global audience of billions expected to tune in.
Killeavy man McDonnell has shared on social media his own thoughts of the passing of a sportsman who was, quite simply and unarguably, The Greatest.
And he has shared too a letter – personally signed by Ali – wishing the Armagh team success in the 2002 final.
Armagh beat Kerry in 2002 on a 1-12 to 0-14 scoreline to bring the Sam Maguire back to the Orchard County.
It was in fact McDonnell who kicked the winning point – in front of an 80,000 strong crowd – and prompted a sea of orange to flood the hallowed turf of the Croke Park venue.
McDonnell – who retired from football in April 2012 – has described Muhammad Ali as “an absolute legend”.
He revealed that the late great world champion had been used many times throughout 2002 as inspiration for Armagh’s All-Ireland campaign.
The final was played on September 22.
And, that morning, a letter from the Ali Foundation – signed by the legend himself – was left under the doors of the Armagh team at Croke Park.
It read: “Dear Armagh player,
“It is with great pleasure that I write to each of you today, wishing you the best of luck at the All-Ireland Football Championship Final. You have already made history and should be very proud of yourself.
“I understand how much this match means to you, and am honoured if I have provided some inspiration to you along the way. But you are also an inspiration, to the thousands of people who will be watching you, and who have followed the Armagh team all season.
“As one who also has heritage from Ireland (my great grandfather, Abe O’Grady, was an Irish emigrant) I know that the ‘luck of the Irish’ is not just a saying.
“Best wishes to you for a successful match.”
He signed off simply with the words ‘Your Countryman’, his name added in black ink.
As the world mourns the passing of Muhammad Ali, we recall his letter to the ’02 Armagh team. Suaimhneas síoraí air. pic.twitter.com/qG1EHRmPnX
— Armagh GAA (@Armagh_GAA) June 6, 2016
Steven McDonnell has described the letter as “a nice surprise to wake up to” on such an important day.
It is something which will always be treasured.
The Greatest. 1942-2016. RIP ????
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