Kieran O'Connor sadly passed away on July 15 last year after enduring an incredibly difficult ordeal battling Ewing’s sarcoma. His passing was a tragic loss to his wife Sinéad, his three kids Isabelle, Ava, and James, his wider family, friends, and his beloved Aghada GAA Club.
For those of us who were lucky to share a Cork dressing room and become friends with Kieran, the loss was also heart-breaking. A year has elapsed and the pangs of sadness when Kieran comes to mind are still felt on a regular basis. The first of the All-Ireland winning team of 2010 to pass away, far sooner than any of us could have imagined.
Tomorrow 25 cyclists, consisting of family, Aghada clubmates, and friends, will be accompanied by some Cork teammates as they embark on a 165km trek titled Mizen to Ballin 4 Kieran, heading from Mizen Head in West Cork to Ballinrostig in Aghada, to show their appreciation for the great care and compassion the staff of Marymount showed Kieran and the O’Connor family in his time of need. His brother Pa spoke passionately last week at the launch in Rostellan about the importance of remembering and celebrating Kieran’s life and giving something back to such a worthwhile cause in Marymount Hospital and Hospice.
Remembering Kieran is very important to all who knew him. There were two sides to the Kieran that we knew and loved; the player on the field and more importantly the man away from football.
On the field of play, Kieran was always a fierce competitor. Graham Canty wrote last year about Kieran as a man you’d go to war with. Memories come flooding back of Kieran taking that quite literally in training and internal games. Donncha O’Connor found that out to his cost below in Dunmanway over a decade ago. You learned very quickly not to poke the bear! Kieran always reminded me so much of my clubmate John Miskella, ferociously competitive and combative on the pitch but laid back and good craic off it. The nickname “crank” was thrown about between the two of them; fair to say it was fitting either way. His Aghada teammates would attest to his love of the battle, always the man they tasked with quietening the opposition’s marquee forward.
Kieran was a nightmare to mark in training. Thankfully, for me, he was usually stationed in the corner but he often found himself out at wing-back. To stop Kieran from attacking you would have to start sprinting back a few seconds before he took off. Aghada teammates recall regularly seeing Kieran run the woods in Rostellan close to his home, a dedication to his physical fitness that, combined with his explosive speed, meant he was unrivalled in Cork squads. I can still see and hear the likes of Daniel Goulding and Colm O’Neill flailing their arms and shouting to anybody who’d listen to track Kieran’s run as they gasped for air. Daniel shared with me a memory from that era of getting a call from an absent teammate as to how an A v B game went. Dan’s response was that he was happy he and Kieran broke even, a point apiece.
That Cork team Kieran was a part of from 2004 to 2011 experienced some joyous highs to crushing lows and everything in between. All-Ireland final defeats to Kerry in 2007 and 2009 were followed by reaching the summit in 2010 against Down. Those experiences, the long hours on buses heading to Dublin and further afield for games, nights over in hotels for matches and holidays to Argentina, Brazil, Thailand, and South Africa as well as the many weddings ensured a close bond was formed by the time Kieran departed the scene. Himself and Sinéad were extremely popular members of the group. Childhood sweethearts, they were as nice a couple as you could meet.
On those long bus journeys, Kieran was the go-to for horse racing tips. A shrewd operator with a love of horses and the racing industry, he was often buried in a newspaper when his counsel was sought on the day’s racing. He and some Aghada lads have a horse together called Frere Fontaine and travelled Ireland following his fortunes. The shout-out from his fellow East Cork man Davey Russell after his Grand National victory in 2019 on Tiger Roll would have been very special to Kieran.
It is fitting that tomorrow’s cycle takes place on the weekend of the Munster football final. Kieran, like all of us, were reared on these battles. In a Tour de France-style race my money would have been on Kieran to take both the yellow and green jerseys but given the weekend that’s in it, he may have foregone his competitive nature to avoid those colours and instead enjoyed the craic amongst his own in the peloton. He would have taken particular enjoyment from the sight of his great friend and clubmate Pearse O’Neill in lycra.