HAVING genes from Fiji and Fermanagh — neither of them hurling strongholds — has proved no bar to a GAA legend getting the highest accolade his adopted city can offer.
“Although I’m not one of you, I’ve become one of you,” Seán Óg Ó hAilpín said proudly as he received the Freedom of Cork to a standing ovation in City Hall in front of more than 300 guests.
Ó hAilpín, who was born on the island of Rotuma, off Fiji, joined illustrious company yesterday as the ranks of Freemen includes two American presidents and another great hurler — former Taoiseach Jack Lynch, who accepted the honour in 1980.
Ó hAilpín, 34, who wore the red jersey for the first time as a Cork minor in 1994, recounted how the people of the city and county had taken him to their hearts.
He said the change in climate and culture was quite significant from his childhood days. It went, he said, from “G’day mate” to “What’s up boy.”
“It was my good fortune to touch down in Cork and I had the additional good fortune to be introduced to Gaelic games. That helped me integrate and become one of the community, for which I am ever grateful,” he said. His heartfelt speech delivered as Gaeilge after captaining the 2005 McCarthy Cup- winning Cork side was remembered by Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, the legendary commentator who coined the famous phrase about Ó hAilpín’s hurling origins.
Ó Muircheartaigh was unable to attend yesterday’s gathering but sent a tribute which was read out by Donal O’Grady, the former Cork hurling manager who also taught Seán Óg when he attended Gaelcholáiste Mhuire, the Irish language section of North Monastery secondary school.
Ó Muircheartaigh said he would never forget the famous speech made by the three-times All Ireland senior hurling medal winner, which he said encouraged many people to become more acquainted with their own beautiful language.
After Cork hurling historian Tim Horgan read out a list of Ó hAilpín’s extraordinary achievements, Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Mick O’Connell, described the city’s newest Freeman as “an inspiration and role model” and praised him for making so much of his time available to encouraging young people to take up sport.
A number of members of the Ó hAilpín family were on hand to hear praise heaped upon Sean Óg, including his mother Emilie, sisters Etaoin and Sarote and brother Teu.
Later Seán Óg said he would never rule out playing again for the county’s senior team, but in the meantime wanted to concentrate on lining out for his beloved club, Na Piarsaigh.
He said in future he would like to take up a coaching role with the club and added he would be honoured if one day he was asked to manage the Cork senior team.
Picture: Cork GAA star Seán Óg Ó hAilpín speaks after receiving the Freedom of Cork at City Hall yesterday. Picture: Des Barry
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