Sunday 8 December 2019

Many tributes to 'gentle giant'

Football star and father of two passes away aged 51

Pádraig Byrne

Stories of a 'gentle giant' and a real master on the field of play were shared over the weekend as Wexford mourned the loss of yet another of it's footballing stars - John Harrington.

John passed away on Saturday, aged just 51, having suffered a heart-attack at his home at Orchard Lane, Ardcavan. He took ill in his sleep at around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning and despite the work of his partner Sandra to revive him and the tireless efforts of the paramedics who attended the scene, John was tragically pronounced dead.

Tributes poured in over the weekend for the father of two, culminating in an impeccably observed minute of silence as the Wexford hurlers overcame Tipperary in their league clash at Wexford Park on Sunday. The semi finals of Wexford Has Talent, a major fundraiser for John's club The Sarsfields, on Saturday night were also postponed as a mark of respect.

Born and reared in the traditional Sarsfields stronghold of Carrigeen Street to parents Dan and Patricia, John's association with his club was to be a lifelong one and he was to be held up the benchmark, serving as a wonderful example to countless young players coming through. In fact, John went on to make more appearances in the purple and gold of Wexford than any other Sarsfields man in history. His association with the club continued long after he hung up his boots and at the time of his passing, he held the role of Coiste na nÓg Chairman, inspiring the next generation of young footballers.

Lifelong friend and Sarsfields club colleague Billy Dodd said that waves of shock rippled through the club and county as the news broke.

'It's unbelievable really,' he said. 'I hadn't seen him in such good form in a long time. He was back out doing a bit of jogging and was looking after his fitness. He was really healthy and happy.'

In terms of the Sarsfields, Billy describes a devoted club man who would do anything to help.

'His whole life was spent with the club,' he said. 'He trained the Féile team there a couple of years ago. He trained the senior team. He trained nearly every team. He got massive respect because of the player he was. He really was a colossus at the club. He'd do anything he could to help. He really did inspire a lot of the youngsters and he worked hard to promote the game and develop an interest among them and to make it enjoyable for them - that was most important of all.'

Renowned for his strength and athleticism on the pitch, Billy describes his friend John as a 'gentle giant' off it. He commanded the respect of countless of opponents and in recent days, several have gotten in touch with the family to offer their condolences, some of the kind words even coming from as far away as New Zealand.

'A lot of ex-players have been in touch in recent days,' said Billy. 'John was one of the toughest in the county, but he was always fair. He let his football and his athleticism do the talking always.'

A fearsome and strong midfielder, John made his debut for Wexford against Limerick in November 1987. Over the following decade he carved out a sterling reputation winning a national league division three medal in 1989 and an O'Byrne Cup medal in 1995. John's family was steeped in Wexford football, his younger brother Paul having played alongside him in midfield on several occasions, while father Dan served as kit-man.

John also displayed significant talents on the hurling field and in 2001, he captained the Faythe Harriers to their last senior hurling title in 2001. In a statement, the club described him as 'a battler, a warrior, a teammate and a friend to so many in the club'.

Away from the pitch, John was extremely well-known through his work as a postman, always stopping with a friendly word for people on his rounds. He overcame tragedy back in July of 2007 when he lost his beloved wife Tina after a battle with cancer. During this difficult time, his friends and colleagues from club and county rallied around John and his two daughters Emma (20) and Ciara (17). In recent years, John settled down with his loving partner Sandra and, after John moved in, the pair set about building their lives together.

A huge gathering of mourners is expected at Bride Street Church today (Tuesday) as family, friends and colleagues bid a fond and final farewell to the man affectionately known as 'Big Harry'.

A guard of honour is to be provided by the Sarsfields, the Faythe Harriers and former Wexford players. This is the second tragedy to hit Wexford football in recent months, following the untimely passing of Scott Doran at the turn of the year; a player John would have lined out alongside on several occasions.

John's funeral takes place today (Tuesday) at 12 noon at the Church of the Assumption Bride Street, with burial afterwards at St Ibar's Cemetery, Crosstown.

He is pre-deceased by his wife Tina and is survived by his loving partner Sandra; beloved daughters Emma and Ciara; parents Dan and Patricia; Sandra's son Niall and daughters Kate and Leanne; brothers Martin, Paul and Noel, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, extended family and a large circle of friends.

May he rest in peace.

Wexford People

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