Cork GAA is mourning the death yesterday at the age of 92 of legendary hurler Willie John Daly, who was the last surviving member of the three-in-a-row team of the 1950s who starred in the attack alongside Christy Ring.
The Carrigtwohill hero’s prowess as a gifted striker of the ball and prolific scorer earned him accolades at national level in the form of National League and Railway Cup medals and the respect of team-mates and opponents alike.
Born in 1925, he first achieved success at club level with Carrigtwohill, winning a county junior hurling medal against Cloughduv in 1948, following up with intermediate medals 12 months later against Newtownshandrum and again in 1950 against Shanballymore, when he had the honour of lifting the cup as captain.
His progress with Cork at inter-county level, after winning an All-Ireland junior hurling medal against London in 1947, was rapid — and highly successful.
A year after losing narrowly to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final, Cork were National League champions when they defeated Tipperary. Five years later he won a second league medal.
The first of the three-in-a-row came in 1952 (a year after he won the first of two Railway Cup medals, the other coming in 1955) and it was gained against Dublin. His Carrigtwohill club-mate Mattie Fuohy played at wing-back and they would be together for the following two All-Ireland victories, over Galway and Wexford, respectively.
Notably, the Rebel treble came after Tipperary had won the previous three titles, beating Cork in the Munster finals of 1950 and 1951. But, indicative of the way the pendulum swung in Cork’s favour, their three All-Ireland victories were preceded by wins over their great rivals in the three provincial deciders.
In later years, after his retirement, Willie John — as he was popularly known — became involved in coaching and steered Cork to victory in the National League final against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds. He also spent time as coach to Carrigtwohill.
In a statement yesterday, the club expressed their deep sadness at his passing, referring to him as “Carrigtwohill icon and Cork legend”.
The statement recalled an interview in the Irish Examiner prior to the county final in which he laid out his philosophy: “In hurling you never back away from anyone. You take on your man toe to toe. It doesn’t matter who he is or how big a name he is. You take no backward step.”
The Carrigtwohill statement said: “It was a mantra he lived by on one of the greatest hurling teams in GAA history. Willie was a gentleman off the field, a great conversationalist. When he was inducted into the ‘Vintage Gaels’ Hall of Fame in 2011 over 200 people turned up to celebrate his career. That night he donated one of his Railway Cup medals for auction which helped raise a significant amount for Marymount Hospice.
“Willie John Daly is synonymous with Carrigtwohill and Cork hurling and will be remembered as a true giant of the game. He will be sorely missed by his friends, his club and his county. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family at this difficult time.”
Cork chairman Ger Lane also expressed his sympathy on behalf of the county board, agreeing that Willie John had attained iconic status.
“He played with Christy Ring and Willie Moore and they were all big men in East Cork hurling. We grew up hearing about them. We never saw them play, but we heard all about them.
“The three-in-a-row team of 1952-’53-’54 was a marvellous team and they helped inspire the teams of the 60s and the 70s,” Lane added.
Willie John is survived by his wife Teresa, daughter Ann-Marie and grandchild Lauryn. He will be reposing today from 5.30pm at Cobh Community Hospital Mortuary with removal at 7pm to St Mary’s Church, Carrigtwohill. Funeral mass tomorrow , at 12 noon followed by burial in St Mary’s Cemetery, Carrigtwohill.
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