Johnny O’Connor, a native of Abbeyside, only one of two survivors of the Waterford team that won the All-Ireland senior hurling title for an historic first time in 1948, died peacefully at his home in Ballysheehan in North Cork yesterday morning after a brief illness.
Aged 82 his death leaves 92 year old Andy Fleming as the sole survivor of that historic winning team of 62 years ago.
Johnny moved to Killavullen near Mallow in 1959 as principal of the local national school, a posting he held until his retirement. He made his senior inter-county debut for Waterford against Kilkenny at Walsh Park in the 1946 National League campaign while a Leaving Certificate student in Dungarvan CBS. A year later he played his first Munster senior championship game against Cork, and another year on at the age of 20 he lined out at midfield as the youngest member of the team that defeated Dublin in the glorious win of 1948.
To make it an even more memorable day for the county and for the O’Connor family, his younger brother Paddy played a starring role on the minor team that completed the first leg of the All-Ireland double.
On the club front he won a Waterford junior hurling championship with Abbeyside in 1950 playing alongside his late brothers Paddy and Michael, and he also won senior championship honours in Waterford (Clonea), Dublin (UCD) and Cork (Avondhu) respectively. He also won a Cork intermediate hurling medal with Castletownroche.
He won inter provincial colleges medals with Munster in 1945 and 1946, a Fitzgibbon Cup with UCD, and a Munster Railway Cup medal with Munster in 1955.
While his excellence on the hurling field was probably his greatest claim to sporting fame he was also regarded as a legendary figure in the sport of greyhound racing.
He wrote himself into the annals of history in that sport when he sent out Patricia’s Hope to win successive English derbies in 1972 and ‘73 thus emulating the mighty Mick The Miller.
Waterford County Board chairman Tom Cunningham described him as one of the greatest hurlers of his generation. “The word legend is sometimes used rather loosely,” the chairman said, “but in the case of Johnny O’Connor it sits comfortably on his shoulders.”
He is survived by his wife Nancy, his son John, daughters Regina, Yvonne, and Evelyn, and his sister Alice Marie O’Connor. Johnny will be buried tomorrow after 11.30am Mass in St. Laurence’s cemetery Ballinroad in his native Abbeyside parish.