All-Ireland winning coach Archdeacon Michael O’Brien, whose death occurred Friday after a long illness, was described by Cork secretary Frank Murphy as ‘a wonderful priest deeply devoted to his calling’ and a man with ‘very special talents’ in the management of teams at a variety of levels.
He was involved in nine All-Ireland title wins with Cork, at minor, junior and senior level and also enjoyed major success at second and third level with Farranferris and UCC.
Former Tipp star Nickey English, who managed the county to their 2001 Liam MacCarthy Cup triumph praised him for the major role played in his sporting and personal development.
“I had no real idea of the Fitzgibbon Cup.
“I had been a bit player on the Tipperary minor team and very shortly after that I was on the Tipp senior team.
“He made a man of me in the hurling sense, and in many other ways. I was on the Tipperary minor team that won the All-Ireland in 1980 but I would not have been a key player.
“I got on the Fitzgibbon Cup team in 1981 that was his first year. From the very first day I met him, he had magnetism for me. You even felt you were playing for him.”
A key member for five of the record eight-in-a-row sequence of wins, English described the pre-match rituals in the bus on the way to games as ‘incredible’ — recalling that Fr. O’Brien frequently joined in the singing – ‘The Lonely Woods of Upton’ being a favourite!
“No matter how things were going, if you weren’t playing as well as he expected you or wanted you to play, his famous phrase was ‘what are you doing to me!.’
“I owe him a lot,” he said, adding that the late Archdeacon had officiated at his wedding in Waterford and also christened his son Alex.
Sean O’Gorman, a member of the All-Ireland winning Cork senior team in 1990, came under his influence with the county at minor, U21 and senior level, as well as in university.
“He was big into psychology,” he recalled. “With the Canon it was all about the power of the mind and he was very influenced by Christy Ring.
“One of his favourite lines was ... ‘get the mind right.’ He was always big into motivation, and while he came across as a very strong person, at the back of it he was very human.”
Frank Murphy explained that his involvement with Blackrock arose from his time as a curate in the parish and that he had been ‘tremendously active’ in under-age affairs with the club.
“After his time in Farranferris, he returned to Blackrock again and was very involved,” he commented.
“As a coach he had very special talents and was a very honourable and honest man.
“He loved putting out the best players. There was no favouritism — it was always a case to do what was best for Cork or whatever team he was associated with.
“He had a great knowledge of the game, but above everything else he was a magnificent motivator. The spirit he would put into a team even where things were going wrong was quite extraordinary.
“He had a tremendous way about him with players and his motivational talks were extraordinary, particularly at the interval of a game when he was assessing the first half and the encouragement he would give.
“It was very sad that over his last few years his health had taken him from the games he loved. On behalf of the Board and the GAA community in Cork, we extend our sympathy to his very devoted family.”
The funeral takes place today after concelebrated Mass in St. Mary’s Church, Innishannon at noon.
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