Con 'Paddy' O'Sullivan put in the miles to play for Cork

‘Look, put that into the top of your bag and go up to the cross – I’ll bet you that nobody will pass you!’
Con 'Paddy' O'Sullivan put in the miles to play for Cork

Former Cork footballer Con 'Paddy' O'Sullivan pictured with former county board chairperson Tracey Kennedy at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

While former Urhan, Beara and Cork footballer Con ‘Paddy’ O’Sullivan was hewn from West Cork stock, work commitments at Whitegate oil refinery brought him to Cloyne in the 1950s.

Living in Cloyne, he became friendly with Christy Ring and even coaxed the great one to kick a football on the hallowed turf of the local hurling field. Needing a lift back west for a match, Con Paddy also benefited from Ring’s sharp brain.

“In 1958, there were three of us from Beara down there and we had to get back for a semi-final, we were playing Macroom in Bantry,” he remembers.

“We asked Christy for a lift but he was heading somewhere else. At the end of the field, he spotted a broken hurley and he caught up the handle part of it. He said, ‘Look, put that into the top of your bag and go up to the cross – I’ll bet you that nobody will pass you!’

“We did and we hardly there a couple of minutes before a man stopped, he was coming from Churchtown South. ‘Are ye going hurling?’ he asked and so off we went, into Cork. That was the quick thinking of Ring!”

Con Paddy served his county with distinction, winning Munster championship medals in 1966 and 1967 – reaching the All-Ireland final in the second of those years, with Cork falling just short against Meath. He can still recall the first day he put on the red inter-county jersey, for a challenge game against Kerry at the Athletic Grounds.

“I started off with Cork in May 1956,” he says.

“I cycled about 12 miles in the morning to Castletown to get a spin up to Cork. We were playing Kerry and the man that was on me was Mick O’Connell – it was his first day out for Kerry, too. He was going to UCC at the time.

“I played two games that day – in the evening, Beara played Lees in the challenge match up the Dyke. Of course, Lees were three-quarters Beara as well. Back home after that and cycled out to Urhan – it was three or four o’clock in the morning and the birds were signing. I slept that night, let me tell you!”

By the time Con retired after the 1968 season, he had played in nearly every position for his county and province. Not that he would see versatility on the pitch as being a rare gift, but rather a baseline expectation of players playing at such a level.

“I played right through the field,” he says, “and for Munster the same. I finished up full-forward and out the ha’penny gate then!

“I’d play anywhere, it didn’t matter to me. Inter-county players should be able to play anywhere.”

The Cork team which defeated Limerick in the Munster Junior Championship final in 1957. Back: Kevin McCarthy, Tony O'Sullivan, Eoin O'Connell, Georgie McCarthy, Dan Hourigan, Con 'Paddy' O'Sullivan, Joe McAuliffe, John O'Driscoll, Dermot O'Herlihy. Front: Diarmuid O'Donovan, Owen McAuliffe, Jimmy Brohan, Martin Thompson, Willie O'Leary, Dick Troy.
The Cork team which defeated Limerick in the Munster Junior Championship final in 1957. Back: Kevin McCarthy, Tony O'Sullivan, Eoin O'Connell, Georgie McCarthy, Dan Hourigan, Con 'Paddy' O'Sullivan, Joe McAuliffe, John O'Driscoll, Dermot O'Herlihy. Front: Diarmuid O'Donovan, Owen McAuliffe, Jimmy Brohan, Martin Thompson, Willie O'Leary, Dick Troy.

As well as the Cork exploits in 1968, that year saw Con help Beara to win the Munster club championship, having won the county final in 1967 – Urhan won the intermediate too, so there was a double celebration. While there was no club All-Ireland to progress to after the Munster win, a challenge was arranged for the unofficial title.

“Kilbride from Meath were Leinster champions,” Con says. “We invited them down to Beara and they had plenty celebrations the night before so we beat them easily enough! They were very fond of Smithwick’s!”

After his playing days came to an end, Con ‘jumped the wire’ in becoming a steward and over the course of a half-century or so, he set what is surely a unique record, serving as a steward at the Athletic Grounds, the ‘old’ Páirc Uí Chaoimh and now the new stadium.

As well as being on duty for the big games in Cork, he also stewarded on many big Munster Council occasions, including games at Thurles and Killarney.

“The most memorable day was the Munster final against Kerry in 1976 in what was then the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh,” he says.

“Too many people came, it was a frightening day and we were locked inside in the tunnel, we couldn’t get in or out.”

Thankfully, scary days like that were few and far between. While he is retired now, he can look back on jobs well done, on the pitch and on the terraces.

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