Fr Bertie a giant on and off pitch

HOW do you record the passing of a giant? Most especially, how do you record the passing of a giant who only ever saw himself as just a man of the people?

Fr Bertie Troy would have blushed at any attempt to lionise him, but let there be no doubt, this man was special.

It wasn’t just the fact of his achievements as coach to a variety of Cork hurling teams, great as read those records. Six Munster and four All-Ireland minor titles between 1966 and 1971, four Munster and All-Ireland U21 titles in a row between 1968 and 1971 (inclusive), then the senior three-in-a-row, 1976/77/78, the last time it was achieved in hurling. That’s a monumental record in such a short period for any coach, enough to ensure that the name Bertie Troy will ring through hurling history forever.

But here’s the thing — Bertie Troy couldn’t have cared less about such recognition. Hurling gave him a place in history, but hurling didn’t define him, nor did hurling confine him.

“A gentle man, and a gentleman,” that’s the most recurring description of Bertie by those who knew him best. Fr Pakie Lawton is the current pastor in Newtownshandrum, Bertie’s native parish.

He recalled yesterday: “He was best known as a hurling coach, but there was far more to Bertie than that. The impression given sometimes is that he only loved hurling and hurlers but he was a very deep character, a very spiritual man who had a deep love for people in general.”

Fr Lawton had a real knowledge also of Bertie the hurling guru as the Killeagh native boarded at St Colman’s College in Fermoy for his Leaving Cert year, a school in which Fr Bertie was then a teaching priest and already establishing his reputation as a hurling coach.

“He never taught me, nor was he in charge of the Harty team that year, but he did coach me with the Cork minors and U21’s (Pakie won a minor All-Ireland in 1969, and U-21 in 1971). He was a fabulous trainer, a great motivator and he’d get the best out of you. It was Cork hurling and there would be no softly-softly approach, things had to be done right, but he didn’t come down on you like a ton of bricks either.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by John Horgan, the colourful corner-back on that three-in-a-row side. “I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him. He was a very quiet man but he’d still get his point across. He was great to size up a situation; you’d think he wouldn’t be taking any notice but he was very sharp, very quick as well to act on it and do what needed to be done. I’d say he was a bit of a traditionalist in that he wouldn’t stand for any nonsense in the way hurling was played. He liked it direct, first time, the old Cork way. If you had a bad game he’d pull you aside, let you know, but he’d give you a good gee-up – ‘There’s always the next day,” that kind of thing. He was a gent.”

One who probably knew Fr Troy better than most was Chris Morrissey.

Chris was a decade or so behind Bertie in Newtown, never actually got to play with him; over the following decades, however, they were in constant contact and the respect grew.

“I saw him play with the intermediate team here with his brothers Bob and Richard. He was a good hardy hurler, not nearly as stylish as Richard but he was a hard man on the field. Half-forward, that was his position. He played three years with St Colman’s, won a Harty Cup with them his third year before making his name as a coach.

“But he never forgot Newtown; he nearly lived at home, came back on a regular basis, never missed a match no matter where Newtown were playing. He never lost his love for the club, never, and he had a big bearing in Newtown winning its first county U-21, in 1973, when he took Newtown’s case to the Munster Council after we were thrown out after an objection by Bandon,” Morrissey adds.

In the last ten years, as Newtown have gone to unprecedented hurling heights, no-one got more pleasure from their success than Bertie Troy. Said Morrissey: “He never missed any of their matches, would get more excited than anybody, but he never interfered and always kept his distance. And that was the mark of the man — you had to nearly force him into coming forward, but once he got involved in anything, it had to be done right, you could be sure of his full commitment. He was a keen judge of hurling and hurlers, a great reader of play, and had a great attitude.

When Cork beat Kilkenny in 1999, Jimmy Barry-Murphy was quoted as saying he was very influenced by Fr Bertie’s attitude to playing Kilkenny, which was to keep the ball moving above all else. He said they had played Wexford in the All-Ireland finals of 76 and 77, but on the third year, when Kilkenny won out in Leinster, Fr Bertie immediately changed the whole emphasis of the Cork training. Jimmy Barry tried to have that same impetus in 99.

Says Morrissey: “He was also very innovative — he was the first fella I ever heard to advocate the hand-pass, how much safer it was than a hurley pass and how much more accurate.

“It developed a lot more since, but he was the first to see the potential.

“He was invaluable to the club here in so many ways, a huge loss. Time moves on, doesn’t it?”

So it does, and sweeps all before it, big and small.


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