Ronan O’Gara’s eldest kids almost stole the show after watching their father receive the Freedom of Cork.
Following the formal part of the ceremony during which O’Gara stressed the importance of family, friends, coaches and teammates, his children Molly, JJ and Rua took to the stage of City Hall and performed a rousing rendition of the French national anthem, ‘La Marseillaise’.
“They’re full blown frogs,” O’Gara had quipped earlier during a panel discussion on his playing career, and his life now as a Racing 92 coach in Paris.
With their dad shouting encouragement from behind, and mum Jessica conducting from the audience, the three children brought the curtain down, as proud grandparents also watched on during one of the most relaxed Freedom of the City ceremonies in recent years.
Earlier, O’Gara had paid a moving tribute to Jessica, to his parents, Fergal and Joan, to his friends, his former coaches and team mates.
With his family looking on — including his brothers Colin and his wife Jennifer, Fergal and his wife Laura, and Morgan and his wife Daphne — he recalled his time at primary school in Bishopstown, and of playing GAA with Bishopstown, and said every coach he had from an early age, right through from his time playing schools’ rugby in Pres before moving to Cork Con and onwards, had helped shape his character.
“There are so many people that have contributed to me getting this today,” he said.
“I just want to reiterate the point that I played a team sport.
“It was wonderful sharing the dressing room with so many great people, and that bond with supporters.
“It’s only when you leave this country that you realise what a special place it is and to come back today was incredibly overpowering, and it reminds me of why I’d love to come back soon.
“I am both humbled and extremely proud to receive this award. I can assure you all, that this is a day my family and I will never forget.”
He said he was especially proud as a sportsperson to follow in the footsteps of previous freemen of the city, and sporting heroes of his, including Roy Keane and Sonia O’Sullivan.
Lord Mayor Cllr Des Cahill said he was delighted to confer the Freedom of Cork on O’Gara who had “inspired, achieved and delivered for Cork” throughout his career.
“But this is not just an award to Ronan. It’s also an award to everyone who helped him in his career,” he said.
“Other sports legends to recently receive the Freedom of Cork, including Sean Óg O hAilpín, Sonia O’Sullivan and Roy Keane, were all nurtured in the same way,” Mr Cahill said.
“They all had natural ability and talent, but that talent was nurtured and fostered by the countless volunteer coaches working across the city.”
He recalled how O’Gara’s natural talent was evident from an early age when, at the age of just 14, he scored a drop goal with his Pres school team to win a Junior Cup competition in 1992. He was among four international players to emerge from the Pres senior school team and among seven internationals to emerge from the Cork Con team of 1999.
“Ronan’s sporting success is well-documented but what we admire is the fact that he is pure Cork,” the mayor said. “It’s been a great journey and we all feel that we’ve been part of it. Thank you, Ronan.”
Soprano Cara O’Sullivan, who sang for Ronan and Jessica at their wedding in 2006, performed the famous Italian ballad O Solo Mio, a song which Ronan had specially requested her to sing at their wedding. She also performed a rousing rendition of the rugby anthem, There is an Isle.
Former rugby greats Alan Quinlan and Dougie Howlett joined Donal Lenihan on stage afterwards for a panel discussion during which O’Gara said he hoped to return to Ireland soon.
Among the guests to attend the ceremony were Housing and Local Government Minister Simon Coveney; leader of the Seanad, Senator Jerry Buttimer; Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin; developer Michael O’Flynn, singled out by O’Gara for particular praise; former Ireland coach Declan Kidney; Today FM broadcaster Ian Dempsey; and comedian Mario Rosenstock, whose O’Gara parody is a key element of his Gift Grub series; Ruby Walsh, Rob and Marion Heffernan; former players Peter Clohessy, Trevor Brennan, Tomás O’Leary, Noel Murphy, Tom Kiernan, as well as Cork Con president, Jerry Holland, and the late Anthony Foley’s father, Brendan.
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