EVERYONE involved in successful sports teams understands that teams need star players, but the most successful and consistent teams have players, who know their job, do it quietly, and contribute to the team’s success in various ways, both on and off the court with their personality and ability.
While the star players usually get most of the team’s attention it is often players in the background who do the little things that help team culture that allows the team to produce top performances.
In recent months basketball players and coaches have been saluted here in this paper for their achievements that made me think that success goes right through a squad and should not be all about remembering the great players.
What about the other players who did their bit? They deserve their recognition as well.
In the golden era of Cork basketball, one player that certainly didn’t hog the headlines but was admired and respected by many in Blue Demons was Greg ‘Rocky’ Creagh. He was a great team player as well as a great character.
It all began for Greg when attending Blarney Street CBS under the guidance of the late Brother Quinn that he followed in the footsteps of many quality players to the all-conquering Iona club who dominated Irish basketball for many years.
When you mention some Iona players like John Cooney, Dommy Dalton, Donal Horgan, Jackie Lynch and Walter McCarthy, quality and talent springs to mind as they learned their trade under the astute coaching of Michael Healy.
“I played from juvenile to senior with Iona with a great group of players and after spending a short time at the North Mon school, to my regret I was never academically focused, I left and took up a job at a young age with C & C,” said Greg Creagh.
When Iona folded as a Senior club Greg decided to play with Blarney Street club Gonkers before moving to Celtic under coach John Hayes.
“Celtic had two quality Mormon Americans in Eric Southwick and Kim Sorenson and we had some great games against Demons and Neptune,” added Creagh.
Ironically, Greg’s brother Bill was also a prominent player at Iona and is the present landlord of the famous Joshua Tree Pub on Blarney where many Demons celebrations took place in the noughties following their national successes.
Greg married his late wife Rose and they were blessed with three children Hillary, Lloyd and Carol-Anne.
“Sadly, I separated from Rose, but she was a great mother to my kids and thankfully they are all fine and I am very close to with all my beautiful grandchildren.”
Greg had another daughter called Jennie with partner Jo, but she sadly she passed away in 2016.
Just when Greg thought his basketball career was over, he was encouraged by Blue Demons ace Joe Coughlan to try out while having a pint in the Village Inn pub.
“We had an American coach called Roger Dutremble and when I spoke to him, he told I need to shed a few stone before he would contemplate considering me and I duly followed my dream.”
Greg openly admits he wasn’t up there with the best but has fierce pride in what he achieved so late in his career.
“I am not a fool to think that I was up there with the best Irish players, but I was a big man and when the Americans needed a rest I did a job and felt I was always encouraging the lads on the team.”
Greg is first cousin to the former Neptune and Blue Demons star Tom Wilkinson, but how did he end up with his nickname ‘Rocky’ a term usually associated with boxers?
“We were playing a local derby against Neptune in the Parochial Hall and there was a bit of a skirmish started between the Neptune American Mike Pyatt and Timmy McCarthy.
“I foolishly left the bench and got into a skirmish with Pyatt that saw me getting a two-game suspension, but we soon put it behind us and ended up good friends.”
When Greg was introduced before games the song 'Eye of the Tiger' rang out in the Parochial Hall to the fans' delight.
With players like John Cooney, Gerry Wheeler, Mono McCarthy, Timmy McCarthy and Joe Coughlan in the squad, minutes were limited for but he always felt he had a contribution to make. The year 1986 was fondly remembered as his moment of glory in a Demons jersey.
“It was our cup final and with Mike Kennedy getting into early foul trouble the coaching staff of Andrew Houlihan and Dommie Mullins had faith to put me into the game.
“I nailed a couple of crucial baskets and the rest is history as we ended up winning the cup.”
In the years with Demons, Rocky experienced great moments on the court but looking back at his career it was the friends he made that he holds closest to his heart.
“Look winning was always great but I have to say it was the friendships that I picked up along the way and even now we have a What’s App group chat among the elder lemons of the club.”
Naturally, any grandfather is proud of his children and grandchildren and Blake Murphy, of St Vincent’s, who was an integral part of the 2019 Cork U20 All-Ireland winning team.
“Look, I love all my family. Blake despite is a talented basketball player but also a quality footballer and hurler. My daughter Carol-Ann and son-in-law John Paul are great parents to him as they show encouragement at all times.”
Greg’s other daughter Hillary resides in Manchester and his only son Lloyd is a through and through character.
The present standard of basketball is something that 'Rocky' wouldn’t comment on as he believes different eras are hard to compare.
“We had great players in the '80s and there are some quality Irish players in the noughties all I will say is that the Americans in my time were simply exceptional.”
In his basketball career, Greg ‘Rocky’ Creagh left a lasting legacy, part of the golden era of Irish basketball.