‘Lonely’ hurling coach took his own life

One of the country’s top hurling coaches who took his own life was “lonely” following the breakdown of his marriage a year earlier, an inquest heard yesterday.

Cork City Coroner’s Court was told that Fitzgibbon Cup hurling legend, Paul O’Connor, aged 49, who lived at Highfield Lawn in Bishopstown, wrote a note outlining his funeral arrangements before he was found dead in his house on the morning of Oct 20 last.

The alarm had been raised by his teaching colleagues at Ursuline Convent in Blackrock after he failed to show up for work for the second day in a row.

The inquest heard how Mr O’Connor, a father of two and a Na Piarsaigh clubman, who coached UCC’s Fitzgibbon Cup hurling team, had been at work at school on Sept 18 and attended the U21 city hurling final in Páirc Uí Rinn that evening.

In a deposition, John Grainger, who sat next to Mr O’Connor during the game, said he was in good form, and his usual self.

Mr O’Connor went to the Courthouse Tavern after the match and had three pints. Bar manager Donal Harnedy said he was drinking alone, that they chatted about UCC hurling and the forthcoming Fitzgibbon Cup season, and that he was his usual self.

“He was really looking forward to the next season. He said there were a few new players coming through. He was excited about that,” said Mr Harnedy.

Ursuline teacher Niamh Murphy said he did not show up for work the next morning, and did not contact anybody. She texted him and the school phoned him, both without reply. She phoned him later and left a voicemail. She said she was worried about him.

When Mr O’Connor failed to show up for work again on Sept 20, Ms Murphy and another colleague, Sr Jean, drove to his house. They contacted his GP and friend, Dr Paddy Crowley, who met them there along with Cork hurling star John Gardiner.

Mr O’Connor’s car was parked in the drive, the blinds were drawn, and the lights were on.

Dr Crowley contacted the gardaí, who decided to force the front door open.

They found Mr O’Connor’s body upstairs.

Detective Sergeant Tim Murphy said there was nothing of a suspicious nature in relation to the death.

He said he found a note on the stairs written by Mr O’Connor outlining his funeral arrangements, and that the last outgoing text from his mobile phone was sent at 10.11pm on Sept 18 to a contact named Kate.

Dr Crowley told Dr Cullinane that Mr O’Connor had had a difficult year following his separation from his wife, Kate.

“The separation had created anxiety. It weighed heavily on his mind. I would say that he was lonely,” said Dr Crowley.

However, he added that Mr O’Connor had embarked on a new fitness regime ahead of the Fitzgibbon Cup season and that he was proud that he had lost weight.

However, Dr Cullinane said she had heard enough evidence to record a verdict that Mr O’Connor took his own life.

“He was an exemplary sportsman and an exemplary member of the teaching staff at the Ursuline Convent. His death is a tragic loss to his family, his friends, and the community,” she said.

A skilled midfielder, Mr O’Connor was one of the greatest Fitzgibbon Cup hurlers. He was named on the Fitzgibbon Team of the Century.

He won a Dr Harty Cup medal with the North Monastery in 1980, and a county minor double with Na Piarsaigh in 1981.

He played in the five Fitzgibbon Cup finals that UCC won between 1982 and 1986 and captained the ’86 team.

He played senior hurling for Cork in 1987, 1988, and 1989 and won medals with Na Piarsaigh in 1990 and 1995.

He also coached UCC’s Fitzgibbon Cup team which won the treble from 1996 to 1998.

* Samaritans: 1850 609090.

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