Donncha O’Connor: ‘You could stick your chest out about him’

Ballydesmond is not convenient.

Donncha O’Connor: ‘You could stick your chest out about him’

Ballydesmond is not convenient.

It is not on the way to a tourist trap, nor is it handy for a shopping centre you need to visit. If you are making your way from Cork through Kanturk and Boherbue for the little village on the Kerry border you are travelling with a distinct purpose to a specific destination.

Hence the attention being paid last Saturday evening on the R577 through Kiskeam and environs, with the wind picking up and the rain tattooing the car roof. Ballydesmond was the destination because it was honouring its most famous son.

Donncha O’Connor only stepped down as a Cork senior footballer this summer, at the age of 37, but he made his little part of the country famous all over Ireland.

“I got a letter the other night from a fella in the parish,” said O’Connor himself last Saturday evening.

“He said in the letter that he loved to be above in Croke Park and to hear my name called out because then he’d hear ‘Ballydesmond’ called out after it. And at 70, 70years of age that’d give him goosebumps. I’d never have thought of that, obviously, but it shows you what it means to people.”

And what he means to them.

Anyone who knows the rangy forward would immediately recognise his aversion to the limelight. His club were determined to recognise the contribution he made, however.

“It was a bit unusual from my point of view,” O’Connor admitted. “They came to me, a few lads in the club, a few weeks ago and said they wanted to do something. I said, ‘look, the best thing we could do is go back to the village and have a few pints’, but they came back to me then after that and said, ‘we’re going to do something whether you want to or not, you tell us a date that suits you or we’ll have to pick a date and tell you when to turn up’.”

Andy Moynihan, the Ballydesmond chairman, fleshed that out: “He wouldn’t be pushing himself but you can come around him if you have the right man talking to him. We spoke about it for a couple of months and we said we’d organise it.

He’s a great man for the club: it was a huge thing for us in Ballydesmond to have someone on the Cork team.

And the men O’Connor soldiered with rowed in with their support.

They might be scattered all over the county and beyond but they still answered the call Saturday night.

“In fairness, a good shot of them made it,” said O’Connor. “They were good to travel, even if a few of them are just driving down and up. A good few of the lads have kids now so there are responsibilities - I told them don’t be coming out of your way but in fairness to them they made it.”

Why wouldn’t they? O’Connor hit five points in the win over Down in the 2010 All-Ireland final; in the semi-final he hit 1-5 to send Dublin home, including a nerveless penalty driven past Stephen Cluxton.

Memories.

“It all comes back,” he said.

“I’ll be honest, the last few weeks it’s beginning to hit home that I’ve retired. I was at Paul Kerrigan’s stag last weekend and a few of the lads were there but they were early and going away or dropping in late because they had (Cork) training.

“And that made me realise, ‘I don’t have to worry about that now any more’. It hit home. And the night brings it home as well, it brings up the memories.

“The All-Ireland . . . it’s probably the one thing you’d say when someone asks you what stands out, and it’s pretty obvious it was a great day, a great year.

Donncha O’Connor celebrates after scoring Cork’s tenth point in the 2010 All-Ireland SFC final defeat of Down. Picture : Paul Mohan/ Sportsfile
Donncha O’Connor celebrates after scoring Cork’s tenth point in the 2010 All-Ireland SFC final defeat of Down. Picture : Paul Mohan/ Sportsfile

“But really it’s the crack with the group of players - the group that was there a few years back and the current group, both of them. You’re training hard and being serious about your training but you’re also having the crack with each other and enjoying it. That’s something you’d miss.”

The All-Ireland is remembered well in Ballydesmond. Kind of.

“We’re so close to Kerry, it was great to have him on the team that year,” said Andy Moynihan. “You could stick your chest out about him.

“The night he brought Sam Maguire up here in 2010 was a night that’ll never be forgotten.”

O’Connor will miss the chance to see his own crowd, the way he did when he had the red jersey on: “I know you’re not supposed to be looking around the crowd when you’re in the parade before a big game - we were told not to - but everyone does it.

I certainly did it and I saw a lot of our own from Ballydesmond in the crowd when I did. It’s a nice opportunity to acknowledge them.

Despite the nudge of winter in north Cork on Saturday evening there were plenty of reminders of those summer afternoons. The handsome community centre/GAA clubhouse on the road to Rathmore was draped in the club blue and gold, and there were plenty of photographs on screen of the main man.

Afterwards, nudging the car through those narrow roads to reach the main thoroughfare from Mallow to the city, it was easy to think of a youngster making that journey to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for training.

Lowering water. Munching fruit. Rubbing a hamstring ahead of a tough hour, or managing a bruise or two after the session itself. And then again the next night. And the next night. And all the nights running together.

Country roads and a howling winter wind. The hardworking committee men of O’Connor’s club did everyone a favour last Saturday night because they put muscle and sinew on the bare bones of the word commitment.

The lessons aren’t confined to Ballydesmond.

On the road back to Cork the turn-off for Mourneabbey had black and amber colours on it, awaiting the All-Ireland champions.

Another small place. Another set of heroes.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up