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Seanie O’Leary in action for Cork against Offaly in the Centenary All-Ireland hurling final in 1984.
Seanie O’Leary in action for Cork against Offaly in the Centenary All-Ireland hurling final in 1984.
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

The Leeside Legends series: Seanie O'Leary was a goal poacher supreme

YOUGHAL is a town that will always be associated with the name of Seanie O’Leary a hurling legend.

A brilliant goal-scoring forward and later a crafty selector, he was a key figure in multiple All-Ireland titles, as well as enjoying success with Imokilly and Youghal.

The ace goal poacher began his hurling education at St Colman’s College, Fermoy, but his early days in hurling weren’t a bed of roses, with honours few and far between.

St Colman’s lost both Dr Harty Cup finals to the North Monastery in 1969 and ’70.

“I can remember the 1969 final well because it was the years of the secondary teachers’ strike. We were off for about three weeks and the game was played a week after we returned to school. We lost to a good Farranferris side.”

The year of 1969 was good to O’Leary at club level, as Youghal were crowned Cork intermediate hurling champions.

In the same year, O’Leary won a minor All-Ireland medal with Cork and he added to that in 1970 when the Rebel minors defeated Galway.

Youghal reached the final of the Cork senior county hurling championship in 1972 but lost out to Glen Rovers.

All was good at inter-county level for Seán when he helped Cork win the U21 All-Ireland championships in 1970 and ’71.

The Munster senior hurling championship of 1971 saw Cork lose to Limerick in the first round that wasn’t the perfect start for Seán’s senior inter-county career.

The following year was no better as Cork were defeated by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final, but O’Leary managed to win a league medal in 1972.

Noel Skehan Kilkenny (left) making one of his many brilliant saves as team-mate Pat Larkin holds off Cork's Seanie O'Leary.
Noel Skehan Kilkenny (left) making one of his many brilliant saves as team-mate Pat Larkin holds off Cork's Seanie O'Leary.

He had to wait until 1976 for his first senior All-Ireland medal and completed his hat-trick of medals with wins in 1977 and 1978.

Cork almost had to line out without Seanie in the 1977 decider when he received a belt of a sliotar in a puck around before the game.

“I had to go back into the dressing room to be treated by our team doctor Con Murphy and we were in there longer than anticipated.

“Out of the blue in walked the legendary Christy Ring who looked a little uneasy with the minutes counting down to the throw-in.”


Ring looked at Seanie and said, “Come on it’s time to go out, it isn’t your bloody nose you are playing with.”

The next five or six years were topsy-turvy for Cork hurling as Cork lost the 1979, 1982 and 1983 All-Ireland finals, but again he had some consolation with two National League wins in 1980 and ’81.

The Centenary final of 1984 was very special to Seán, not least because he was conscious that he was coming to the end of his hurling career.

Seanie O'Leary celebrates a goal for Cork against Offaly.
Seanie O'Leary celebrates a goal for Cork against Offaly.

“I was very disappointed we had lost the previous two finals and I knew I couldn’t handle losing another one” he recalled.

Quit at top...

“We played well on the day and lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup and that was my swan-song, as I decided to quit at the top.”

Seán took his total of All-Stars to three in 1984 having won them previously in 1976 and 1977. He returned to the sideline with Cork as a selector and helped his county to the All-Ireland again in 1999, having coached Imokilly to county glory first.

Imokilly coach Seanie O'Leary with Mark Landers. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Imokilly coach Seanie O'Leary with Mark Landers. Picture: Denis Minihane.

His son Tomás captained the Cork minors to silverware in 2001 but, despite his promise as an Erin's Own ace, focused on rugby, succeeding with Munster and Ireland.

O’Leary believes there is far more pressure on the hurlers of today to perform.

“We never had to go through with what the players of today have to put up with as some media people seem to pick out a player or two and dissect their performances.”

O’Leary also believes the standard of hurling is in a good place.

“I hear a lot of people commenting that the standard of hurling has gone down but I beg to differ.”

In my time it was Kilkenny, Tipperary or Cork but in recent years Limerick and Clare have come through, along with other counties.

Seán also paid tribute to the coaching skills of Ger Loughnane for bringing Clare out of the doldrums in the 1990s. “When you look back on that Clare team they had superb players in Johnny O’Connor, Seanie McMahon and the Lohan brothers and overall they were a solid unit.”

O’Leary paid tribute to Father Bertie Troy whose record in helping Cork win All-Irelands was second to none

Married to Geraldine, Seán lives in Glounthaune and the couple have three children Aideen, Tomás, and Ciarán.

The Youghal man was a gifted opportunist with superb close control and his instinct for scoring goals made him a vital cog in many Cork teams between 1971 and 1984. His power and match-winning skills made him a braveheart on Leeside.

Seanie O'Leary comforts Ben O'Connor after losing to Kilkenny in 2003. Picture: Brian Lougheed
Seanie O'Leary comforts Ben O'Connor after losing to Kilkenny in 2003. Picture: Brian Lougheed

FACTFILE:

Seanie O’Leary is the holder of eight All-Ireland medals, four Senior, two U21, and two Minor.

He won All-Stars in 1976, '77 and 1984.

Youghal were promoted from intermediate in '69, when O'Leary was a key hurler and a Cork minor, and three years after reached the senior decider. O'Leary later coached Imokilly to the title.

He retired from inter-county hurling at the age of 33 after winning the Centenary All-Ireland of 1984 but was later an All-Ireland winning selector in 1999.

His son Tomás captained Cork to a minor All-Ireland but focused on rugby with Munster and Ireland after.