Edmund Van Esbeck remembers Fred Cogley, rugby commentator and former RTÉ head of sport.
Fred Cogley, who died on June 14, just a few weeks short of his 83rd birthday, made an outstanding contribution to Irish sport in his capacity as journalist and broadcaster.
The attendance at his funeral mass in St Joseph’s Church in Terenure was a testimony to the esteem in which he was held both personally and professionally. The congregation included people from across the whole sporting spectrum in Ireland as well as his colleagues and friends in the news media.
He was born in Dublin in 1934, the only child of Mitchel and Muriel Cogley, and educated at St Mary’s College Rathmines.
He excelled at sport during his school days representing his school in rugby, athletics and cricket. In his second year on the senior cup team he was selected to play for Leinster in the rugby schools interprovincial series and also played cricket for Ireland at schoolboy level.
On leaving school, in the natural order of things, he joined the St Mary’s College Club and that was the beginning of what was to become a lifelong affinity. Inevitably, the demands of his profession curtailed his rugby activity and his playing career with the club was of brief duration, but he was a member of the senior team when the club made its first foreign tour to Italy in 1954.
That he should have chosen journalism was utterly appropriate as his grandfather, after whom he was named, and his father Mitchel were both accomplished journalists.
His grandfather, a notable republican, served time in jail for his principles. Mitchel was for many years sports editor of the Irish Independent and along with his administrative duties wrote about the major sporting events of the day.
It could be said that journalism was in Fred’s blood and indeed as a teenage schoolboy he made his first contribution to the then Radio Éireann.
After leaving school he joined the editorial staff of The Irish Times and three years later he moved to the Evening Herald where he wrote a regular sports column along with his other duties. He was one of the original contributors to the junior sports magazine programme on Radio Éireann in the 1950s that was presented by the former Irish Olympic fencer Harry Thullier. Another young man on that programme was, like Fred, on the foothills of a distinguished career, Jimmy Magee.
Fred subsequently moved to the then Teleifís Éireann and became sports editor in 1963.
By then he had also become the station’s leading rugby commentator and for the better part of half a century his was the voice that came across the airwaves during Ireland’s rugby campaign annually. His first overseas assignment in that role was to reside among his happiest memories. He was one of only three Irish journalists to travel with the Irish rugby team on their first tour of Australia in 1967. It was an historic occasion in that Ireland won the Test match in Sydney by 11-5, only the second time one of the five nations countries had won a match in the southern hemisphere. France had beaten South Africa in 1964 in South Africa.
Fred became head of sport in RTÉ in 1972, succeeding Micheál Ó hEithir.
He covered the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 and subsequently was involved in the administrative element of the coverage of numerous major sporting events including other Olympic Games and the soccer World Cup. By then, his voice was well known to the Irish rugby public through his rugby commentaries and as the station’s leading commentator he travelled widely with the Irish team overseas.
He was in New Zealand and Australia for the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 and subsequently in South Africa for the same event in 1995. He was also in Japan for Ireland’s first tour of that country in 1985. Shortly before that tour he was the commentator when Ireland won the Triple Crown and Championship with Michael Kiernan’s drop goal against England in the last minute and that together with Ireland’s Triple Crown win in 1982 were highlights of what was by any standard a splendid career. Although synonymous with rugby Fred also commentated on golf during his time in RTÉ.
His good humour and pleasing personality made him a most congenial companion on those overseas assignments and he lightened many an occasion with his jokes and anecdotes, often at his own expense.
After he retired from RTÉ in 1999, Fred continued to commentate for Setanta and thus the voice that had become so familiar to the Irish rugby public was still heard. While obviously he will be best remembered for his radio and television commentaries he also through the years made a significant contribution to the written word. He wrote a weekly column for the Sunday Telegraph for several years. In the 1970s he edited Fred Cogley’s Rugby Annual and in 2000 he wrote the centenary history of St Mary’s College Rugby Club, a true labour of love for a man for whom sport was such a central part of his life.
Five years ago, Fred produced a memoir Voices From My Past in collaboration with journalist Des Berry. In that Fred’s wit and wisdom shone through in his reflections on his stellar career.
It was a source of great satisfaction to Fred that his son Niall became the fourth member of his family to embrace journalism as a career. Niall became head of sport in RTÉ before moving to Setanta and subsequently to TV3.
Two years ago Fred’s eldest grandchild, Clodagh, suffered very serious injuries in the Berkeley tragedy. Fred was a great source of support to her as she showed admirable courage and resilience in the face of such adversity.
Fred is survived by his wife Madeleine, two sons, David and Niall, two daughters, Michelle and Denise and seven grandchildren.
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