home Sports UCC toasts greatest sports stars | Stephen Barry

UCC toasts greatest sports stars | Stephen Barry

On a bright and sunny Friday, the same day as the first batch of next year’s Freshers were setting foot on campus, five of Ireland’s top sportspeople were honoured as a part of the college’s continuing UCC Sport 100 celebrations.

They may all have been initiated in different codes but what linked them was far more significant – a history of consistent success which will be remembered long after their retirement.

L-R: Brian Cody, Mary O’Connor, Aidan O’Brien, Ronan O’Gara and Denis Irwin who all received an honorary doctorate of Arts. Image: Diane Cusack

Indeed both Denis Irwin and Mary O’Connor have called it a day from their professional soccer and inter-county GAA careers, but not before they had reaped the maximum amount of silverware that their abundant talents merited.

Meanwhile for Brian Cody, Aidan O’Brien and Ronan O’Gara the hunt for further trophies and records endures.

Hours after receiving his honorary doctorate of Arts, Cody had announced the Kilkenny starting XV which would march onto the Croke Park field for a tilt at the county’s ninth All-Ireland under his reign. Throughout Cody’s reign, he has shown an insatiable demand for more trophies, undoubtedly characterised by his apoplectic reaction to the final free which put Liam McCarthy in cold storage for a few more weeks. While his fellow luminary peers, Messrs. O’Grady and Sheehy, have quit the minute their objective was achieved, Cody has always taken the lows with a steely determination to return to the top table.

Aidan O’Brien is a man who has seen a fair amount of stars pass through his hands at his Ballydoyle base. However that’s not only the horses as O’Brien has seen an incredible number of top jockeys come and go in his time. As each exited little fuss was made as the one cog in the operation was replaced time after time. O’Brien certainly seems to share many of the managerial values and virtues of Cody, who has let plenty of talented hurlers slip away when they became dissatisfied with what the boss considered the greater good. And in the end both manager and trainer just keep on winning, albeit with the rare exception of the triple-crown chasing Camelot in recent weeks.

Ronan O’Gara also strikes you as the sort of character who would make an excellent coach; his recent bewildering failure to exploit a potentially game-winning situation against Ulster, an aberration from his usual ability to scent blood in the championship minutes. A decisive leader and organiser on the field in the game’s most demanding position, O’Gara’s broken records sprout from his ability to lead by being a talisman on the scoreboard.

Whatever about O’Gara, a UCC graduate, Denis Irwin would hardly have contemplated parading along the Quad, to receive an honorary doctorate. Irwin was brought over to England in his teens and didn’t stop playing until he had extracted every last honour from his ability. His total major silverware with Manchester United was 13 and then he gave his final two good years to getting Wolves promoted and maintaining their top-flight status.

It was a similar story for Mary O’Connor, a ladies Gaelic dual star, who totalled 12 All-Irelands in her time. O’Connor initially retired in 2007 but was soon back despite a severe knee injury to achieve back to back doubles in 2008 and 2009. Her career was a promotion for ladies games, something she continues in her work as Acting Ard Struthoir of An Cumann Camógaíochta.

Having honoured some of the South’s greatest sportspeople, it was only fitting that the UCC Sport 100 celebrations also focused on creating the next generation of elite athletes. Over the summer a new pair of elite scholarships sponsored by Roy Keane and Michael Dowling were announced. The celebrations will conclude with the re-opening and dedication of the Mardyke running track.