HE MAY be gone in terms of coaching teams from the local Cork basketball scene for many a year now, but the impact made by coach John O’Leary still remains today.
A basketball coach ahead of his time in terms of his thinking, O’Leary played a huge role in developing and shaping the lives of some of Cork’s best basketball players with the likes of John Dinnybob’s McCarthy, Kieran Fitzgerald, and the late Martin Aherne to name the few.
John still resides in the family home in Churchfield Gardens, where he lived with his late wife Kathleen, and their three children Barry, Tina, and Terry.
John coached a number of northside teams in the early seventies, and eighties starting with Iona.
He then moved to GH74 before starting CG All-Stars who were from the Churchfield and Knocknaheeny area.
When the All-Stars folded he joined St Vincent’s, again another club based from the Churchfield and Knocknaheeny area of the city.
O’Leary is a very quiet and humble man, however, his knowledge of the game was second to none, from teaching the fundamentals of the game to court awareness, and most importantly he was able to connect with all his players young and old.
John recalls how he first got involved in basketball.
“I started playing with Iona at a young age with Seanie Murphy, Eddie Mackey,” John said.
“We were all encouraged to help out coaching so I coached the U10 team for a couple of years.
“I then took a break from the game and played soccer with Bohemians, a team from Blarney Street.
“I then played with Casement Celtic and finished playing with CIE before I got the urge to go back coaching basketball.
“I joined a local club in 1977 called GH74, and after a few short years, we were competing with big clubs at the time Neptune, Blue Demons, North Mon, and Iona.
“We had some excellent players that played with the club at the time, with Timmy McCarthy, Tony Qulligan, and Willie Nagle just to name a few.”
“Three years later Paddy O’Regan, Sean Thornton, and his wife Christine, and myself formed CG All-Stars.
“Again we catered for all age groups from the Churchfield and Knocknaheeney area.
“We had a number of teams that played in all competitions in the men’s and ladies leagues.
“Again there were some superb players that played for the club were Liam Harte, Cyril O’Leary, Tony O’Brien, and Denis Harrington.
”One of my fondest memories of that time was when we played in the Killorglin Tournament.
“We got to the final and were playing Tralee who had an American playing with them. He was dunking the ball in the warm-ups, and the large attendance was really getting excited.
“I called over Jerry Rodgers (RIP) who was our biggest player standing at 6' 6", and told him to throw down a few dunks to calm the crowd down.
Jerry then gave me a strange look, however, he ran in for a dunk and missed, but took the ring completely off the backboard.
“He turned and looked at me in typical Jerry fashion with the rim in his hand, and said 'You should never have asked me to dunk the ball'.
“The lads all fell around the floor with laughter.
”I achieved a lot in my coaching career, however, winning three gold medals in a row with the Ascension Parish at the Community Games was my greatest achievement.
“We had to find a new team every year, and the kids on all of the teams were superb to work with.”
Kieran Fitzgerald spoke very fondly of John when I was doing this interview.
“I had the privilege of playing under John’s stewardship from my juvenile development into my adult playing days.
“He was a coach ahead of his time particularly in the seventy’s, and early eighties when the game was on an all-time high in Cork.
“John was a great reader of the game, superb man manager, and a calming influence when his team came under pressure.
“He was very unassuming, and not a bit flashy, however, he always had his homework done on our opponents.
“Finally, and more importantly outside of his basketball shrewdness, John is a hell of a nice man,” Kieran said.
John then joined another Northside club St Vincent’s and guided them to a National League Division 2 Top Four Championship victory over league champions Killarney.
“When CG All-Stars disbanded I was asked by Murthy Nagle and Pat O’Gorman would I help out coaching with St Vincent’s.
“The two lads were doing incredible work with the club so decided to join. I coached the National League team, and we signed Lennie McMillan as our American.
“We also had some good local players with the likes of Terry Burns (RIP), Joe Coughlan, Ritchie O’Gorman, Kieran Fitzgerald, and Peter White who were the core of the team.
”When Vincent’s folded because we struggled to source a sponsor I joined Crosshaven to coach their National League team for a season. We had a good season and got promoted to the Division 2 league.
“That was the last club I coached as I decided to spend more time with my family because I was out coaching five or six nights a week."
John now enjoys his retirement and helps out with babysitting duties with his granddaughter Kim’s children, Bobby and Charlie.