Sunday 19 November 2017

Memories flow for John

Dean Goodison

John O'Brien at his home in Gorey with his wife, Sheila, and his Seana Ghael award
John O'Brien at his home in Gorey with his wife, Sheila, and his Seana Ghael award

A recent trip across the pond brought memories flooding back for Gorey native John O'Brien and his wife, Sheila.

Coventry was the destination, where in 1959 the newly-married couple headed off in search of work and found a home with St. Finbarr's G.A.A. club.

The reason for the brief return, all these years later? Well, the couple were invited over for a reception to remember the club's great teams of the fifties and sixties, with players from all over Ireland in attendance.

With the club picking up the tab, it was a trip that the pair couldn't turn down and it proved to be a fantastic night of reminiscing with old friends. The guests might have looked different, 50 years on, but personalities remained the same and a great night was had by all.

'The club was founded in '53. I went at the end of '59,' O'Brien explained. 'There was Senior hurling and football at the time, and Junior too.'

It was a vibrant scene in the middle of the 20th century with the four clubs in the city, as well as others from Birmingham and Leicester, competing for honours.

St. Finbarr's was the leading club at the time. As well as winning six county hurling titles, the club won two Championship of Britain crowns, the equivalent of the All-Ireland Club title, firstly in 1965, beating Brian Boru's of London, and a year later bettering another club from the capital, St. Gabriel's.

O'Brien was the first Gorey man to head over and join St. Finbarr's, but after a trip back to his native county, to play challenge matches against Naomh Eanna and Faythe Harriers with his adopted club, several others got in touch and joined him in Warwickshire.

As well as himself, Niall Collins, Mick Kennedy, Eoin Kennedy, Ned Doyle, John Heffernan and Mick Murphy all followed from Gorey.

Others who also played for St. Finbarr's included Paddy Hickey, Jack Furlong (Adamstown), Charlie Crowe, Tom Timmons (Ballygarrett) and Jimmy Blanche (New Ross).

The club was also home to several notable names from further afield, with Galway greats Finbarr Gantley and Tommy Joe Gilmore also part of the successful St. Finbarr's team in the sixties.

O'Brien himself won an All-Ireland Junior hurling medal with Warwickshire in 1969, beating Kerry in Tralee. In 1970, he played in the Intermediate final against Antrim in Croke Park but lost. He also went on to lose the 1972 Junior final, again with his adopted county, as this time Kerry got their revenge.

'I think it's an ambition every player has to win an All-Ireland,' O'Brien said. 'Another ambition was, I always wanted to play in Croke Park, so the two of them came a year after each other, '69 for the winning one and 1970 for the Intermediate final, even though we lost, I still enjoyed it.'

It has been a struggle for St. Finbarr's in recent years with only under-age and one adult football team remaining. The club has recently moved to new facilities and the committee members, including Wexford man Tom Timmons, are working hard to turn around the recent slide.

Wexford People

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