home Sports UCC lose hurling icon Paul O’Connor | Stephen Barry

UCC lose hurling icon Paul O’Connor | Stephen Barry

    The trees are tall, the Quad is old and the ivy continues to inch up its walls, however most of the student body’s knowledge about the long and rich history of UCC is limited to a few gardener’s warnings to superstitious students.

    The walls of the Mardyke are equally marked by a tapestry of historic markers. However, few ever seem to stop to take in the black and white snapshots of famous teams and faces, crowds and locations which all tell of a college’s storied sporting history.

    It’s quite possible, likely even, to pass four, five or six years of learning in the college without hearing a whisper of the tales of the World Cup finalists Hungary playing there, as did the All-Blacks, or the day when Yuriy Sedykh and Sergey Litvinov threw the then six longest hammer throws in history, in 1984. Paul O’Connor played there too, you know.

    Normally it is only when somebody passes away that the plaudits ring in. However a unique set of circumstances in the past year meant that the heroics of Paul O’Connor were revisited in the months leading up to his passing; in the year of the Centenary Fitzgibbon Cup and the UCC Sport 100 celebrations, O’Connor was honoured by both as one of college sport’s greatest players and managers.

Paul O’Connor receiving his UCC Hall of Fame award last April from Director of Sport, Christine O’Donovan. Image: UCC Department of Physical Education and Sport – Gerard McCarthy.

    Coming into the college as a Harty Cup winner with the North Mon, he would capture a Fitzgibbon title for each of the five years he spent hurling with UCC. His final year, in 1986, saw him captain the side, leading by example in the final when scoring an iconic point from 86-yards out in Croke Park.

    He played in midfield for the Cork seniors for the following three years. The 1988 Munster final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was undoubtedly O’Connor’s biggest game in the blood and bandage. With his side 11 points behind he proved well able to rise to the occasion, scoring back-to-back points from sideline cuts which kick started a run of scores which saw Cork claw their way back within a goal of Tipperary.

    Alas, Tipperary won that day and his inter-county career was cut short by a cruciate ligament injury in early 1990, which saw him miss out on Munster, All-Ireland and Cork County winners medals. However he did get the chance to atone for the latter, starring in Na Piarsaigh’s second ever victory in 1995.

    Coaching success seemed to have followed naturally, as he led his alma mater to a three-in-a-row of Fitzgibbons between 1996 and 1998 and he had a role to play in his home club’s only other County, in 2004.

    Five years later he was still at the helm for the college, where he added another Fitzgibbon. Then only last March, his UCC side defeated a star-studded CIT team in a thrilling contest in the Mardyke.

    With it being the centenary renewal for the competition on which O’Connor left his greatest mark; it was only fitting that he be included in the Fitzgibbon Team of the Century where he was described as “a steady linkman who was very resourceful in his distribution of the ball.”

    Then O’Connor was added to the UCC Hall of Fame alongside successful football manager Dr. Paul O’Keeffe, only months before his untimely death.

    It was a measure of his achievements that before the All-Ireland hurling final replay the man who coached many of hurling’s top stars, would be remembered as the legendary 10-time Fitzgibbon winner with UCC.

    It would be only fitting if the walls of the Mardyke would in the future whisper of Paul O’Connor’s achievements, if only for those willing to listen.