IN Gaelcholáiste Mhuire AG, they pay the ultimate tribute to the late, great Paul O’Connor by treating hurling as a religion.
When you walk through the front door of the Gaelcholáiste arm of the storied institution you are greeted by walls adorned with pictures of teams and hurlers who did their club, school and county proud.
On Wednesday, two former Cork senior hurlers Martin Coleman and Tadhg Óg Murphy were among the first faces we saw walking along the main corridor during the changeover between classes.
While that duo are the most recognisible hurling stalwarts who teach in the AG, there are a host of other clubs players and passionate supporters of the greatest game of them all, not least principal Donal Ó Buachalla. Other staff members include Neptune and Ireland basketball coach Paul Kelleher and ladies football icon Valerie Mulcahy. Clearly, sport matters in Gaelcholáiste Mhuire.
This Friday the school will host the Paul O’Connor Memorial Blitz for fourth and fifth class pupils when 15 schools and 19 teams congregate across the two pitches at the top of the school. With four groups across two tiers and at least four 20-minute matches for the teams in a seven-a-side format. Every player will get plenty of touches, as it should be for U10 to U12s.
Liam Shorten, the former Cork footballer and ace forward with Béál Áthan Ghaorthaidh, is the driving force behind this year’s event, along with Donal Ó Búachalla, Paul’s family, including his nephew and namesake Paul O’Connor, and Na Piarsaigh club members.
Daire Connery, a sensation with the Cork U17s and minors last year, will be one of the referees. Though a contender to start for the Cork U21s next month against Waterford just before he turns 18, he’s only going into Leaving Cert next year.
You can be sure he’ll appreciate the effort tomorrow because if recent years are a barometer, it will be a feast of underage action, small-sided games with A and B trophies, where Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin will be defending the premier title from last year.
Whitechurch won the B last year and this time move up to the A grade. They actually beat Gaelscoil Uí Riordáin this week in a Sciath na Scol semi-final.
Of course silverware isn’t what the tournament is about, promoting hurling is. And what better way to honour Paul O’Connor?
The former Na Piarsaigh man did it all at every level. His record in the Fitzgibbon Cup with UCC as both a dynamic midfielder and astute coach is unrivalled. He hurled for the College in five Fitzgibbon finals in a row, as captain in ’86, having graduated from the North Mon with a Harty medal in 1980, followed by a county minor double in ’81 with his club, then back-to-back U21 triumphs.
While an injury hampered his progress with Cork at senior level, he contributed richly to his club, who were county champions in 1990 and 1995, with Paulo, as he was best known, Man of the Match in ‘95. Coaching was the natural next step for O’Connor, who – incredibly – was involved in another five victories for UCC from the sideline. He also assisted Na Piarsaigh to the SHC crown in 2004.
Only recently in an interview online, ex-Kilkenny hurler John Mulhall sung Paulo’s praises.
“We were very lucky in ’09 (with UCC), the great Paul O’Connor game on the scene. He was an unbelievable manager.
“He’d won five Fitzgibbons. He was an unbelievable man. He was sound, a great man and you’d die for him.
“His thing was that he didn’t look at the ‘county stars’, he was looking at the ethos of the team, looking for lads who were into it.”
Schools taking part in the Paul O’Connor Memorial Blitz tomorrow:
Scoil Oilibhéar, Scoil Íosagáin, Blarney Street, Whitechurch, Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin, Carraig na bhFear, Gaelscoil Uí Dhriscceoil, Glenville, Watergrasshill: Rathpeacon, St Mary’s on the Hill, Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers, Scoil Mhuire Fatima, Sunday’s Well, Gaelscoil Mhuscraí.
The games begin at 9.15am and are scheduled to conclude with the finals at 1pm followed by the trophy presentations. Paulo’s former team-mate Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and Conor Lehane, who hurled with UCC when they lifted the 2013 Fitz in his honour, will be on hand to dish out the medals.