Final salute to Rebel legend ‘Canon’ O’Brien

The sporting community in Cork and beyond turned out in force yesterday to honour the memory of renowned hurling coach Archdeacon Michael O’Brien, whose funeral took place in his native Innishannon following Mass in St Mary’s Church yesterday.

The chief celebrant was the Bishop of Cork and Ross, John Buckley, who was joined by retired Bishop Pádraig O’Donoghue of Lancaster and Westminster (a native of Mourneyabbey), parish priest Fr Finbarr Crowley and former Munster Council PRO Fr Seamus Gardiner, along with a representative group of priests from various parishes, including former Cork selector Fr Denis Kelleher.

From the GAA world, ex-Tipperary manager Babs Keating — his ‘adversary’ in the 1990 Munster hurling final — was amongst the mourners, along with former Tipp stars Pat Fox and Nicky English (a five-times Fitzgibbon Cup winner) and a large gathering of former Cork hurlers who included Justin McCarthy, joint-coach with Canon O’Brien of the 1984 All-Ireland-winning team and Gerald McCarthy, trainer of the successful 1990 side.

In addition to Gerald McCarthy, three other All-Ireland winning Cork captains were present — Ray Cummins, Mark Landers and Tomás Mulcahy.

Munster Council chairman Robert Frost also attended, while chairman Bob Ryan headed a group of officers of the Cork board, along with former chairmen Mick Dolan and Tony O’Mahony.

Declan Kidney, the former Irish rugby coach now director of sport in UCC, was also in attendance as well as representatives from the soccer club in Carrigaline, where the Canon spent eight years.

Aged 81, he was ordained in Maynooth in 1958 and after first ministering in Blackrock, he taught in Farranferris for 12 years, following which he was chaplain to the Navy from 1976 to 1984. Representing the Naval Service as the funeral was Commander Brian Fitzgerald.

Prior to the Mass, Bishop Buckley told the congregation that as a patient in recent years in Nazareth House in Mallow, Archdeacon O’Brien had “carried his cross and suffering with great patience and love”, and had been deeply appreciative of the kindness of nurses and staff there.

In his homily, Fr Crowley said Archdeacon O’Brien had touched people’s lives in over 56 years of faithful service as a priest. Pointing out that he had been a student and trained under him, he said: “As a hurling coach he was so far ahead of the rest, he was the Brian Cody of his time.”

At the helm of UCC, 10 Fitzgibbon Cup titles were won in eleven seasons, while at club level, he guided Ballinhassig to two county intermediate championship titles, Tracton to county junior and intermediate honours, Newcestown and Argideen Rangers to county junior titles. He trained Carrigdhoun from the 70s into the 90s, brought Blackrock to four county finals, winning in 1985 and 1999.

Involved with no less than nine All-Ireland-winning Cork teams, county board secretary Frank Murphy remarked that the senior wins in 1984 and 1990 were both historic, commenting: “The Canon’s intense belief in the tradition and power of the red jersey, his attention to detail and his marvellous motivational qualities were huge contributors.”

UCC’s GAA development officer John Grainger said no one ever associated with him could say “they owned him — not Cork, not Blackrock, not UCC, not Farranferris or the multitude of teams he trained”. “He belonged to everyone as a priest and as a sportsman,” he commented


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