Kieran O’Connor, the former Cork footballer and 2010 All-Ireland winner, has died.
The 41-year-old father of three passed away this morning after a long battle with cancer.
Kieran was corner-back on the Cork team which reached the 2007 and 2009 All-Ireland finals and was part of the panel that ended the county’s 20-year wait for Sam Maguire glory in 2010.
His inter-county career also yielded three Munster SFC medals.
In October of 2017, the Aghada clubman was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
The diagnosis stemmed from a pain in his right ankle, which Kieran initially mistook as the long-term effects of a football career spent marshaling some of the game’s top corner-forwards.
A year or so later, following extensive chemotherapy, as well as surgery at Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas, he was ready to resume normal life.
The cancer, however, returned, with Kieran subsequently undergoing leg amputation.
In the spring of 2019, he was diagnosed with cancer for the third time.
A ‘Friends of Kieran’ committee was established, with various fundraising initiatives undertaken so as to provide financial support to the O’Connor family as Kieran battled his toughest opponent yet. In mid-March of last year, a 5km walk at Aghada GAA grounds drew a crowd of over 4,000 people. Kieran was present on the day, mingling with those who turned out in support.
The GAA family rallied to such an extent that each time an Aghada team went out to play a game, their opponents would present a donation to the fund after the final whistle.
Writing in this newspaper last year, Cork’s 2010 All-Ireland winning captain Graham Canty said Kieran “is a man you would pick to go to war with you”.
“Looking back, there were probably only two values that Cork group lived by from around 2004 to 2013. Hard work and honesty.
“One of the 100 percenters in our group was Kieran O’Connor from Aghada. A man who lived those two values throughout his life, not just when he came into the Cork dressing room. He worked hard, was honest to a fault and would do anything for the group over the course of eight years," Canty wrote.
“When I say war, I’m not using it in a metaphorical sense. I mean if there was an actual war, in the trenches akin to World War 1, life and death stuff, I would pick him to stand beside me. Because you knew what you would get from him; he would fight to the death. He would never leave your side. He would have your back.
“Kieran would do anything for the group. The two values enabled Kieran to deliver time and again for Cork. He was one of our best man-markers and survived in one-on-one combat with some of the best forwards the game has seen. And that was back when we didn’t have a blanket defence to protect him.”
Cork County Board chairperson Tracey Kennedy said: “It was with great sadness that we learned of Kieran's death today. He was a tower of strength on the field of play, and showed that same strength of character and courage in dealing with his illness over the past few years. He will be an unimaginable loss to his family."
Kieran O'Connor is survived by his wife, Sinéad, their children, Isabelle, Ava, and James, and his parents, Pat and Mary.