Tributes have been paid to legendary Leitrim footballer Pakie McGarty, widely regarded as the best player ever from the county.

The Mohill native had a distinguished 23-year career with Leitrim, making his debut when he was just 16, and won Railway Cup honours with Connacht.

He played in six Connacht finals, losing five of them to Galway and one to Mayo in a career that went from 1949 to 1971.

Former Leitrim chairman and Connacht president Gerry McGovern, from neighbouring club Cloone, said that McGarty, who would have been 88 this month, was an outstanding footballer.

"He wasn't a big man but he could run at defences, had great agility and could pick off scores. He modelled himself a lot on Leo McAlinden here in Cloone who had played for Connacht and Ulster and was a great man to solo. So Pakie practiced and perfected soloing and was very hard to mark.

"He gave outstanding service to Leitrim and continued to come back here down through the years. He came back and played for Mohill towards the end of his career. I remember playing against him one of those years.

"He was a natural footballer and it’s a sad day for Leitrim. It’s the end of an era," said McGovern.

McGarty had the distinction of playing in a National League game against Offaly in 1949 when he was just 16, even though it was another eight months before he made his minor debut for the county.

He was on the Leitrim junior team which was defeated by Meath in the 1952 All-Ireland final and, along with Noel Blessing, became the first from the county to win a Railway Cup medal when Connacht triumphed in 1957.

McGarty moved to England where he worked on building sites and with London Transport but continued to travel home to play for Leitrim and notch up big scores. He played for the Tara club in London.

He moved back to Ireland in 1964 and opened a grocery shop in Clondalkin in Dublin which he operated until he retired in 1998.

He was the only Leitrim player selected on the Connacht Team of the Millennium.

McGarty, who would have been 88 later this month, played for the Sean McDermotts and Round Towers clubs after moving to Dublin and continued to have a keen interest in Leitrim GAA throughout his life, rejoicing when manager John O’Mahony led them to only their second Connacht title in history when they triumphed in 1994.

"He was a super footballer," said Stephen Flynn, secretary of Mohill GAA. "He was a superstar of his time."