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It would be nice to have a player of Con Martin's abilities in the Villa squad today.
Despite the fact that this is a football blog, lets talk about baseball for a second. On every baseball team, you're going to find at least one utility infielder. This player can usually play three of the four infield positions, and can possibly play the outfield or first base as well.
Football has its fair share of utility players as well. Carlos Cueller was probably played more at right back in his time at Aston Villa, more than he was at his favored center back. And he was pretty good at it. Ciaran Clark played midfield quite a lot while Gerard Houllier was at the club. But both of these shifts are fairly subtle. Well, at least they are in comparison to the different positions Con Martin could play.
Cornelius Joseph Martin was born March 20, 1923 in Dublin, Ireland.
Martin spent his early life playing another football. Gaelic football. In 1941, he helped Dublin win the Leinster Football Championship. (I have no idea what this means.) However shortly after this, he was stripped of his medal by the Gaelic Athletic Association after it was discovered that he was playing football for Drumconda. (The "GAA" had a ban on players competing in 'foreign sports.' Dumb. Anyway, he would later get the medal back.)
Martin started playing football while serving in the Irish Air Corps and was signed by Drumconda, as a center back. After playing several years there, he moved to Glentoran in 1946. It was at Glentoran where Martin started to get noticed.
In 1946, Martin made his international debut. For two separate national teams.
At the time there were essentially two Irish national teams. There was one organized by the FAI. (The team of Richard Dunne today.) And one organized by the IFA. Today, the IFA is the Northern Ireland version of the FA, but at the time, they were technically a second Irish national teams. And the two teams often competed for players. (Just guessing, but the existence of two separate teams may have something to do with the stuff that came to a head near the end of Martin's playing career.)
While on duty with the FAI team, Martin was noticed by Manchester United scouts. As a goalkeeper, and not at his favored center back position. In his second game with the national team, Martin was drafted in at goalkeeper, due to his Gaelic football background. Martin kept a clean sheet and Ireland historically won away in Spain 1-0. This impressed Manchester United enough to offer him a contract as a goalkeeper. He turned this down in favor of going to Leeds United, as they offered him a contract to play the outfield, and in 1947 he went to Elland Road. At Leeds, Martin played center back, left back, left half (winger in modern day terms), and inside forward.
After a season in Leeds, Martin was bought by Aston Villa for £10,000 in September 1948. He was signed to play center back, but spent a lot of time playing right back in his first season at Villa. In the next couple seasons, Martin became a fixture in the Aston Villa defense.
In the 1951-52, Martin started out the season playing mostly at left back. But starting goalkeeper Joe Rutherford was injured part way through the season, and Martin was inserted in goal. Martin played 27 games in goal that season, as Villa finished 6th in the First Division. The following season, Martin returned to center defense. Martin remained at Villa through the 1955-56 season, making 213 appearences in all competitions.
After leaving Villa, Martin went to Waterford for a couple seasons, and spent a short time as player manager at Dundalk.
Two of Martin's sons also played professional football. Mick played for Manchester United, West Brom and Newcastle, amongst others, while Con Jr. played for several Irish teams. Martin's grandson, Owen Garvan, plays for Crystal Palace and was an Irish U21 International.
In an interview with Irish radio station RTE, Martin said: "I had a wonderful career. I have very fond memories of all those players I played against and with, players like Stan Mortensen and Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney. I won a lot of trophies and a lot of medals. I look back on it with fond memories."
We don't quite have enough players to make a full Holte History XI yet, but if we need to play a five-a-side game, we now have quite a lot of flexibility with Con Martin in the fold.