The Leeside legends series: Cooney was a basketball Demon in a classic era

The Leeside legends series: Cooney was a basketball Demon in a classic era

John Cooney in action for Team Britvic in 1982 against Neptune.

WHO is the country’s ever greatest basketball player?

When basketball followers throughout the country discuss this question, the name of John Cooney is always mentioned.

Throughout his 23-year playing career, Cooney was the essence of the ideal basketball player. He was fearless, competitive, accurate and selfless.

Cooney who hails from Mount Nebo Avenue, Gurranabraher was a neighbour of another basketball legend in William ‘Mono’ McCarthy his former teammate at Blue Demons.

John began playing basketball with Iona Boys Club at the age of 11 and in 1969 he led them to their first U14 All-Ireland title.

That Iona team included players like Domnick Dalton and Walter McCarthy and that team were unbeaten right up to the Minor grade as they won every league and tournament they competed in.

When Cooney was 16 years old, he became the first player to represent Cork at U16, Minor and Senior level in the one season.

In 1970, he played for Ireland against Wales in an U15 International a game they won 60-34 and amazingly Cooney amassed 42 points of the Irish total.

He then went on to captain the Ireland U18 team in the European Championship whilst also gaining senior caps in that season.

Outdoor training at Wyse's Hill, where the 1974 Demons champions team was forged. Sean Murphy (4), Aidan Horgan (6), Dominic Dalton (14), John Cooney (5), Andrew Houlihan (10).
Outdoor training at Wyse's Hill, where the 1974 Demons champions team was forged. Sean Murphy (4), Aidan Horgan (6), Dominic Dalton (14), John Cooney (5), Andrew Houlihan (10).

Then came a move that Cooney looks back on with great satisfaction when in 1973 he joined Blue Demons. The class of Cooney soon revitalised the club as they won the National League the first Senior National title to come to Cork at this level.

Many of the old basketball fans will remember the year of 1980 with satisfaction as the American professional players were allowed to play in the Irish leagues. 

This had an immediate effect on the sport as crowds flocked to see the games at the Parochial Hall as people queued for up to two hours before tip-off.

Back: Rich Cotton, Andrew Houlihan, Tim McCarthy, Wayne Williams, Gerry Wheeler, David Beckom, Peter Coughlan. Front: Fred Richmond, Tom Wilkinson, Sean Murphy, Joe Coughlan, John Cooney.
Back: Rich Cotton, Andrew Houlihan, Tim McCarthy, Wayne Williams, Gerry Wheeler, David Beckom, Peter Coughlan. Front: Fred Richmond, Tom Wilkinson, Sean Murphy, Joe Coughlan, John Cooney.

The first Americans recruited by Demons were Wayne Williams and David Beckom as their combination with Cooney proving irresistible as they won the National League in style.

In 1982 Blue Demons became the first team to win the British and Irish Federation Cup and again Cooney was at his best right through this championship.

After hanging up his boots in 1988 Cooney led the team to the National League title the following season.

In 1990 Demons replaced Cooney as coach on what he later described “as the most disappointing day of my time with the club”.

Many of the Demons faithful were furious with the people who made that decision and after been out of the game for three years he returned fully recharged to coach North Mon.

The following season the cash strapped club were relegated to Division 2, but Cooney remained on as coach and in 1995 they became the first Division 2 club to win the National Cup.

Warming up in 1983.
Warming up in 1983.

John looked back on his playing days at Iona paying tribute to his former coach.

“I think at that time Michael Healy was ahead of his time when it came to coaching and he produced some great players at the club."

When it came to Americans Cooney reflected on the brilliance of Jasper McElroy as he was a hero at Demons during the golden era of the 80s and his former teammates William 'Mono’ McCarthy, Gerry Wheeler and Joe Coughlan also came in for special mention.

Jasper McElroy about to score a basket for Blue Demons at Neptune Stadium in 1986.
Jasper McElroy about to score a basket for Blue Demons at Neptune Stadium in 1986.

Cooney pointed to his first All-Ireland U14 win with Iona and Demons Federation cup win as the two special moments in his chequered career.

John recently retired as a Trade Union official and in the early years of the noughties watching Shane Coughlan nail the winning free throw in the 2003 cup decider gave him great satisfaction.

John Cooney resides in Ballyvolane with his wife Linda and they were blessed with three children Jeremy, Jonathon and Lyn.

The true class of John Cooney was never in doubt as his skills and honesty won him many friends over the years.

Those who saw him play were privileged to have witnessed a remarkable talent.

FACTFILE: 

Dawn Milk Blue Demons, 1989-90, won the men's national league. Back: Peter Coughlan, Geoff Barrett, manager, Briain Burke, Kieran O'Sullivan, Diarmuid Looney, Jasper McElroy, Paul Fitzgerald, John Cooney, coach, Dommie Mullins, assist manager, Finbarr Manning. Front: Francis O'Sullivan, Timmy McCarthy, William McCarthy, Tony Foley, Kieran O'Leary, Mark Scannell.
Dawn Milk Blue Demons, 1989-90, won the men's national league. Back: Peter Coughlan, Geoff Barrett, manager, Briain Burke, Kieran O'Sullivan, Diarmuid Looney, Jasper McElroy, Paul Fitzgerald, John Cooney, coach, Dommie Mullins, assist manager, Finbarr Manning. Front: Francis O'Sullivan, Timmy McCarthy, William McCarthy, Tony Foley, Kieran O'Leary, Mark Scannell.

John Cooney began his basketball career with Iona Boys Club in 1965 at Blarney Street.

Cooney scored 42 points for Ireland in 1970 in an U15 International when they defeated Wales 60-34.

John played at U16, Minor and Senior with Cork in one season.

Cooney coached Demons to win the National League in 1989, a year after his retirement.

John coached the North Mon to win the National League in 1993 and the National Cup in 1995.

The Mon became the first Division 2 team to win the coveted cup and promotion in the one season.

The Cork All-Star basketball team with referees and team officials, before their exhibition game with the Neptune All-Stars. Back: John Cooney, Denis Hennessy, Kieran O'Sullivan, Greg Creagh, Dave Beckom, John McHale, Seanie Murphy, John Houlihan; front: Jim Hannigan, Mark Scannell, Mick O'Leary, Kieran O'Leary, Tony Foley. Picture: David Keane.
The Cork All-Star basketball team with referees and team officials, before their exhibition game with the Neptune All-Stars. Back: John Cooney, Denis Hennessy, Kieran O'Sullivan, Greg Creagh, Dave Beckom, John McHale, Seanie Murphy, John Houlihan; front: Jim Hannigan, Mark Scannell, Mick O'Leary, Kieran O'Leary, Tony Foley. Picture: David Keane.

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