‘I got to know my dad through other people's memories’

April 3rd, 2023 3:30 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

The late Mick McCarthy with his son Steven.

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STEVEN McCarthy was only two years old when his father died.

While a grieving town lost its hero and a shattered football club lost its legend in a road accident on February 4th, 1998, Steven and his mom Helen lost much more: their rock.

‘Small’ Mick McCarthy was a dad and a husband. After that he was a footballer – the best O’Donovan Rossa has ever seen. The favourite son of Skibbereen. The only West Cork man to captain his club to All-Ireland senior glory. 

Steven never got the chance to know his dad. Or remember kicking a ball with his dad at Rossa Park or watch his dad play football in his Rossas red or even travel to a football match with his dad.

But Steven still feels a strong connection to him.

‘I got to know my dad through other people's memories,’ Steven explains.

‘I was obviously so young when he died but over the years, whether it’s family or friends, I’ve got to know my dad through the stories that people have told me about him – and I feel that connection to him. 

‘I remember when I was growing up people around town weren’t sure whether they should bring up my dad when they were talking to me, but I wanted them to, I encouraged them because I wanted to know as much about him as I could.

‘I used to watch videos my grandmother had, to see what type of footballer he was, and what made him so good.

‘He was a great character, on and off the field, and I know that from all the stories I’ve heard.’

Small Mick McCarthy pictured with his son Steven.


There is no shortage of Small Mick stories.

He was christened ‘Small’ Mick because there were two Mick McCarthys in his class in school. To avoid confusion, they were called Big Mick and Small Mick. Small by name, he grew to become larger than life; a giant in his hometown.

He was the darling of Skibbereen. 

Small Mick was 27 years old when he captained O’Donovan Rossa to the summit: All-Ireland club senior football glory.

They said it couldn’t be done, but Skibb’s captain fantastic spearheaded that epic voyage – an 11-game adventure that saw the Rossas crowned Cork, Munster and All-Ireland senior champions.

This was well before Steven’s arrival in November 1995, but he has heard all the tales. The Battle of Ballinascreen against Lavey – Small Mick scored 1-9 in the All-Ireland semi-final. The drawn final against Éire Óg in Croke Park – Small Mick kicked 1-8 on the main stage. The glorious replay triumph – Small Mick becoming the first West Cork man to raise the Andy Merrigan Cup, his place in local folklore assured. (And this is just his Skibb story; there are also All-Ireland wins with Cork in 1989 and ’90) 

Steven has his dad’s blue jersey from the 1993 All-Ireland club final. The blue jersey with the white collar, Thornhill T.V in white emblazoned across its chest. It’s the jewel in Steven’s collection of Small Mick’s jerseys. 

‘His blue Rossas jersey is so special, I know how much Skibb winning the All-Ireland meant to him and the huge role he played that season,’ Steven says.

Steven McCarthy has big plans for his dad's incredible collection of GAA jerseys.


Small Mick kicked 6-60 (78) in those 11 games. The Rossas scored a hefty total of 18-116 (170) in their 1992/93 campaign – so Small Mick scored an incredible 46 percent of their scores in that legendary season. Prolific.

‘There are around 30 jerseys altogether, from Skibb to Cork jerseys, including jerseys he wore in All-Ireland finals,’ adds Steven, who has big plans for this collection: he wants to frame them and hang them on a wall when he buys a house. 

Pride of place will also go to a framed set of his dad’s Adidas football boots that Steven has. Those boots are sprinkled with Small Mick’s magic. Steven thinks they’re the boots he wore in the ’93 club final.

He also treasures the photos he has with his dad. A smiling Mick hugging his little boy. A laughing Mick lifting Steven, decked out in his denim dungarees, above his head. Home in Riverdale was filled with fun, and even though life has seen Steven move away from Skibbereen he still feels a strong connection to the town and O’Donovan Rossa GAA Club.

There’s a plaque on the wall outside the clubhouse dedicated to his dad that Steven, when he lined out for the Rossas, would kiss before he played. Steven, seven years old at the time, unveiled it at its opening in late 2003. And Steven, like his dad, lit up Rossa Park, too.

Steven has a pair of Small Mick's old football boots.


Before he decided to chase the dream of being a professional footballer – Steven joined Sunderland’s Academy in 2013 – he was making waves on the football field. Like his dad, he played in attack. He made local GAA headlines in the Star too, like when he was picked for the Cork Sciath na Scol football team that played Kerry in the summer of ’08. 

‘I preferred centre forward whereas dad was at his best in the full-forward line; that’s where he did the damage,’ Steven says.

‘I did play in the full-forward line too but I always felt more comfortable in the half-forward line, whether that was wing forward or centre forward. I wouldn’t have been as prolific as dad.

‘I know I left Skibbereen to play soccer, but football is still my number one; I loved playing football. Everyone with the club has been so good to me. It’s another family.’ 

Those sporting genes Steven inherited are incredibly strong, and saw him snapped by Sunderland. That set in motion his story that now sees him working as a Senior Business Development Executive at Premier League high-fliers Newcastle United FC, but home will always be Skibbereen: the town his father loved, and that loved him back just as much.

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