It is sad to report the passing of Joseph ‘Joe’ Donegan at the age of 83, who played for Blackbrook ARLFC and signed for Saints in April 1958.

A tough, forceful second rower, he was a member of the A team that won the Lancashire Combination in his first season with others from Blackbrook that included winger Trevor Simms, centre or stand-off Brian McGinn, front-rower Derek Brown and second-rowers Terry Wilson and Jimmy Measures.

“When the going got tough Joe would stand his corner,” remembers Measures.


“He was always there. Joe was a raw-boned fellow and a fine footballer, with a fair turn of pace to match.”

Joe came from a sporting family. His brother John also played in Saints’ A Team and his other brother Bernard was a renowned local boxer.

In the autumn of 1960, Saints were in real need of some fresh forwards, following the retirement of hooker Tom McKinney, club captain Alan Prescott and the sale of second-rower Brian Briggs to Wakefield Trinity.

In this transitional period, Joe got his chance in the pre-season friendly against Liverpool City on 6th August 1960 and backed it up with a full league debut at Oldham in a 16-4 defeat at Watersheddings a week later.

This was followed by a further game in the Lancashire Cup first round at Widnes on 27th August. Shortly after Saints signed Welsh second-rower Don Vines from Wakefield Trinity, which made competition for places that bit more difficult for Joe, although he continued to give his all with the A Team.

Towards the end of the 1960-61 season, with Saints pressing for a Wembley place, Joe played a couple more games and was included in the Wembley squad, although he was not selected for the final itself.

 The following season, ironically after the departure of Vines, Joe again played in the Liverpool pre-season game and added two more appearances, including a friendly cameo against the visiting American Servicemen in the form of SHAPE Indians, on 7th May 1962, when Tom van Vollenhoven scored seven tries.

His claim to fame is that in 1962-63 he played in Saints’ inaugural First Division match of the new era, at Wilderspool against Warrington in a 13-21 defeat on 6th October 1962.

He returned to Saints first team duty in 1965 and was a non-playing substitute against Whitehaven in a 16-3 win on 23rd January.

Joe was still at the club in the four cups season of 1965-66 when he again was a non-playing substitute in a bruising 15-4 defeat of Champions Halifax on 20th August 1965.

Joe’s son, Austin, also a tough back-row forward [Saints Heritage Number #1012] followed in his father’s footsteps by breaking into the Saints’ team in the late 1980s before joining Oldham and Salford.

Joe, a plasterer by trade, often with fellow-Saint Wilf Smith, belied his tough guy image off the field.

He was well-liked and a popular member of his local community in Clock Face. He was a good bowler and always took an interest in the development of those players coming through at his local Clock Face ARLFC.

Joe was also a regular at the Annual St Helens Players’ Association Dinners.

His funeral takes place at 10.30 am at St Helens Crematorium on Tuesday 11th June.

Obituary written by Adrian Lawrenson and Alex Service