The Leeside Legends series: O’Brien was a fantastic footballer for Cork and Nemo

The Leeside Legends series: O’Brien was a fantastic footballer for Cork and Nemo
Killian Burns, Kerry, Steven O'Brien, Cork, Barry O'Shea, Kerry and Seamus Moynihan, Kerry battle for the ball in the 1997 football league final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE.

WHEN Nemo Rangers won the All-Ireland club football title in 2003, it brought the playing career of one of Cork’s finest footballers to an end: Steven O’Brien bowed out after 28 years.

O’Brien, who hails from Father Mathew Road, in Turner’s Cross, began playing with Nemo as a five-year-old, as he attended Coláiste Chríost Rí, and his first success with the school came in 1985.

The Turner’s Cross school defeated Spioraid Naoimh in the Corn Uí Mhuirí Munster Senior Colleges final, and in a sensational All-Ireland colleges decider, they beat Summerhill College Sligo.

“I really enjoyed my time playing football at school and I must say that Brother Colm, of Coláiste Chríost Rí, had a huge influence on my career,” O’Brien says.

Cork football legend Steven O'Brien in action in 2000. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Cork football legend Steven O'Brien in action in 2000. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

After playing with the Cork minor team in 1986 and in ’87, O’Brien was called into the Nemo senior football team. 

He helped Nemo win six Cork County senior football championships, as well as three All-Ireland club titles. 1989 was very special for O’Brien: He won an All-Ireland U21 medal, and All-Ireland senior, national football league, and All-Ireland club championship medals.

“To win that many championships in one year was absolutely brilliant and I certainly look back on that year with a lot of pride, as it’s a record that won’t be achieved by too many players,” O’Brien says.

The following year was also kind to O’Brien: Cork completed an All-Ireland hurling and football double.

Meath, who had inflicted some cruel defeats on Cork, were the opponents on that famous All-Ireland final day and O’Brien recalls the build-up.

“There was a lot of talk in the press about our clash with Meath, because of previous games against them and with the Cork hurlers’ great win. The build-up and the tension gripped Cork for weeks.

“A lot of silly things were said in the press that only added fuel to the fire before the game, but, at the end of the day, we knew that we needed a top-class display to win that final,” O’Brien says.

Meath wouldn’t have won any popularity contests with the Cork supporters, but O’Brien says that the style of that Meath team was based more on aggressive play than dirty tactics and opponents had to be ready to adapt.

Cork captain Steven O'Brien lifts the Munster football trophy. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Cork captain Steven O'Brien lifts the Munster football trophy. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

In 2002, O’Brien suffered the biggest disappointment of his life, when his father, Michael, died suddenly. They had a very close relationship and O’Brien was deeply affected.

“When my father died, it was a shattering blow for me and my family, as he was a Nemo man to the core, but, most of all, he was a great father and friend to us all,” O’Brien says.

St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2003 will long be remembered.

Nemo were on the back of losing their previous two All-Ireland club finals, but, thankfully, they eventually got their reward with a win over Crossmolina, of Mayo.

On the morning after the game, a famous photograph of O’Brien appeared in the national newspapers: He was in floods of tears, the emotion of winning too much for the Cork star.

“I knew for weeks that, win or lose, my body could not go on playing at this level for much longer and I was determined to go out in glory,” O’Brien says.

Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

“I think the tears I shed were for my father, who would have been so proud, if he was alive, to witness this great day.” 

O’Brien also pays tribute to his club, Nemo Rangers, especially the players, and the close mentors, Billy Morgan and Dinny Allen.

“We are not a big club, but we are very united, who work well together with little fuss,” O’Brien says.

Nemo Rangers' All-Ireland club football winning captains: Colin Corkery, Briain Morgan, son of Billy Morgan, Steven O'Brien, Jimmy Kerrigan, Billy Finn, General Manager, AIB, Dinny Allen, Ephie Fitzgerald, and Colm Murphy. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Nemo Rangers' All-Ireland club football winning captains: Colin Corkery, Briain Morgan, son of Billy Morgan, Steven O'Brien, Jimmy Kerrigan, Billy Finn, General Manager, AIB, Dinny Allen, Ephie Fitzgerald, and Colm Murphy. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Few in this city would doubt that O’Brien rates as one of the finest footballers produced in the last 50 years. His skills were certainly missed at club and inter-county level.

A genuine man, whose determined style of play won him many admirers, he was always proud to serve his club and county with pride. In more recent years he enjoyed success on the sideline with Nemo's seniors as well.

Picture: James Meehan/INPHO
Picture: James Meehan/INPHO

FACTFILE:

O’Brien is the holder of two senior football medals, as well as winning an All-Ireland U21 medal, All-Ireland senior, national football league, and All-Ireland club titles, all in the one year, 1989.

He won a Munster Colleges title and an All-Ireland Colleges, with Coláiste Chríost Rí, in 1985.

Managing Nemo to the 2015 county. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE
Managing Nemo to the 2015 county. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

O’Brien retired from football in 2003, after helping Nemo win the All-Ireland club title, when defeating Crossmolina, of Mayo, in the final.

He played football with his club for 28 years. In recent years he was involved as a selector and manager, collecting more titles.

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