THE late John Kennedy will leave a large hole to be filled – but also a strong legacy – at Cork City.
Skibbereen native Kennedy, who had been involved with the Rebel Army since 1989, died on Friday.
Hailing from Upper Bridge St in Skibb, he departed for Dublin in 1981 and returned to Cork seven years later. Having been involved in youth and community work, he joined Ógra Chorcaí in 1988 and remained until 2013, when the organisation merged with Foróige, for whom he was still working.
Social-media tributes summed up the trojan work he did, with Ronan Leonard tweeting: “I never thought an empty Turner’s Cross stadium could get emptier. Fare thee well, John.”
Cork City kit manager and former chairman Mick Ring feels that Kennedy embodied that volunteer ethos that keeps clubs like City going.
“We were elected to the board together in 2012,” he says, “and he was the vice-chairman with me then in 2013.
“I would have known John from going to matches since the 1990s but when we went on the board together we became friends, he was at my wedding in 2012.
“John was friends with everyone, he saw the best in everyone. The dedication was frightening, even when his board days were over he went back to the family enclosure.
“He was always the first in, putting up banners and flags, out at every underage game and collecting money on the gate – there was no task that was too menial for John. He rowed in wherever he had to.” Given that he gave so much to City, replacing him will be impossible.
“It’ll take more than one person and probably cost a fortune,” Ring says.
“There was so much that John did that, firstly, people don’t appreciate, secondly they don’t know about it and, thirdly, he wouldn’t want to have got credit for it.
“The untold work that he did behind the scenes, nobody will ever know. I think his legacy is already there with the family closure and there are plenty of good volunteers there, like Pat Sisk, who have stepped into the breach.
“I was getting texts from people in Sligo, Dundalk – he was known all over the league and he’ll be badly missed.
“It’s a pity that we can’t do a proper tribute at the next home game. There’s plenty of other things we can do but 2020 has just been one blow after the other.
“League of Ireland has been tough and to lose someone like this on top of it is really a dagger through the heart.” Those sentiments were echoed by another former City chairman, John O’Sullivan.
“He had a brilliant way about him of making you forget that you were cynical yourself,” he says.
“You could be in the throes of talking about some topic and he had a softly-spoken passion that would ground you again and remind you about why you were doing it rather than the whys or the whats.
“I tried doing the maths on the family enclosure a few years ago – there have been up to 100,000 people, most of them kids, that have passed through since he started doing it in the Brian Lennox era.
“I used to be in the Shed, watching from a distance, watching it build, and then bringing my own kids there. They were mad about him, he was almost like Santa Claus in a green hoodie – the sweets and the drums and leading the cheers, making sure every group that was there felt welcome.
“Cork City are after losing a massive figure but we only got to see one aspect of that because he was involved in youth work and Foróige. I don’t know how he had time to do it with the amount of time he gave to City. He had a way about him and he was massively invested in young people.
“Even City’s presence in the St Patrick’s Day parade down through the years wouldn’t have happened only for John. He’s the only who’d have said that we’re a community club and that we had to push that. A lot of the positive things people associate with the club was down to John.
“I saw a suggestion, and I think it’s a good idea, that the family enclosure would be named after him.” In 2019, a special presentation to John Kennedy by the club marked 30 years of service, inspired by the late Noelle Feeney. It was a love he was sure would last forever.
“I had been to a few City games while I was in Dublin,” he said at the time, “then in 1988 I brought a group of kids from Farranree to a match in Turner’s Cross.
“I met Noelle Feeney, who gave her life to City, and as I attended more games I got to know here and was asked if I would get involved and become a volunteer.
“Initially, it was as a general steward and making teas and coffees but when Brian Lennox took over he wanted the club to become fully embedded in the community and be family-orientated. Since City became a supporters-run club under Foras, that ethos has continued.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs a lot of near misses in the time since but I’ve loved it!
“I always use the phrase, ‘City till I die – and beyond,’ one of these days I will go beyond but I’d like to think that, wherever I’m floating, I’ll still see the games.”