Irish and Munster rugby legend Ronan O’Gara last night said he was “humbled and honoured” to receive the Freedom of Cork, writes Eoin English.
Lord Mayor Des Cahill managed to get his nomination over the line last night after all but two councillors joined a rolling maul in support of the move.
Mr Cahill, inside his own 22, said he wanted to honour O’Gara, 39, for his immense contribution to rugby at all levels over many years — from school and club level in Cork to province and international level, where he was capped 128 times for Ireland.
“We are a city of sport, we love sport, and it has been some time since a sports person was conferred with the freedom of the city,” said Mr Cahill.
The legendary No 10 is the sixth most-capped player in rugby union history. He is also Ireland and Munster’s record points scorer.
Raised in Cork, he lived on the city’s southside before his move to Paris to take up a coaching role with Racing 92.
Thanks to the people of Cork who have always backed me. Proud of where I come from. Very humbled and honoured. ⚪️🔴⚪️🔴🇮🇪.— Ronan O Gara (@RonanOGara10) February 13, 2017
Fianna Fáil councillor Terry Shannon got his tackle in early and said he knows O’Gara, his family, and relations, and didn’t want to personalise the debate, but wanted to express what he described as a “principled objection” to the conferring of the award on an annual basis.
“It is being given out every year, it is being given out too often, and I think it has diminished the status of the award,” he said.
Party mate Sean Martin, who conferred the freedom of the city on Roy Keane and Sonia O’Sullivan while mayor in 2006, was close on his shoulder to offer support.
Several councillors tackled them on their stance, broke through their arguments, and began to run with the mayor’s proposal.
Fianna Fáil’s Tim Brosnan said Cork is a great rugby city, and that the honour would be embraced by all involved in the sport.
Party mate John Sheehan (FF) said O’Gara deserved the honour. The ball was passed wide to Fine Gael’s Joe Kavanagh, who described O’Gara as a worthy recipient who should be recognised for his contribution to the sport, as the debate drove over the 10m line.
It looked as if Sinn Féin’s Thomas Gould had knocked on when he said he felt the honour was being handed out too often. But when he said he would support O’Gara’s nomination, given his “iconic status as a sports figure”, the proposal was in sight of the try line. “It’s about time we recognised the rich heritage of rugby in Cork and Munster,” he said.
Sinn Féin’s Mick Nugent backed the proposal with a Zebo-style flourish, and said: “We all saw the debate in Dublin City Council last week around given the freedom to Obama. At least we’re giving it to a Corkman.”
The ceremony is expected to take place in May or June.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.