BACK in December 2014, it was my pleasure – along with John Horgan and Finbarr McCarthy – to cover the last game in the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Ciarán Cormack and Seán Powter powered St Francis College, Rochestown to a 2-14 to 1-8 victory over Midleton CBS in the semi-final of the O’Callaghan Cup, with Cormack scoring the last point in that iteration of the venue. Of course, the report that appeared was less focused on the match than an elegy for the stadium, and it ended thusly: “On leaving, the last person seen was the man with the most stories to tell, ubiquitous groundsman Tommy Lynch. As it always was.”
Tommy, who died this week at the age of 91, had seen it all in four decades or so of service to Cork GAA but – underlining perhaps why he came to be so well-trusted in his various roles – he wasn’t too keen to talk about himself or his job. Any requests to interview him were politely declined, as he focused on doing his work well, without seeking plaudits.
Former Cork County Board chairperson Tracey Kennedy can’t ever remember a time where Tommy wasn’t present in the background.
“He liked what he did and he liked the people he spoke to,” she says, “but he didn’t want the limelight at all.
“I’d have been in and out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh for years as a club secretary, so I presume I must have met him back along then as there would have been a lot of interaction with the office – we used to have to bring in cheques and that kind of thing and he was there because he was always there.
“I don’t remember a specific introduction but he was always there, whether it was Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Páirc Uí Rinn – which he never referred to as anything other than ‘Christy Ring Park’ – there was a sense of ubiquity, he was part of the building, part of the furniture.
“It was the same when you went to matches elsewhere, he’d always be around the dressing room getting things ready and so on. He was just part of matchday and part of every event at the stadium.
At Páirc Uí Rinn, the first-aid room just inside the door on the right was where to find Tommy if you needed something – for a club game where you might be the first press person arriving, he would take great care to point out which key among the massive throng on the keyring was needed to open the press box.
It was fitting that he was such a part of that venue as well as Páirc Uí Chaoimh, given the small but important role he played when the county board purchased it from the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
A blind bidding process was done through solicitors and so, as Frank Murphy revealed in 2014, when the time came to announce what had happened, Tommy was sent to the AOH.
“We had a meeting of the executive here on the Tuesday night and they were briefed on the decision,” he said.
“There was a board meeting at 8.30pm so before we informed them the property had been bought, we sent our groundsman, Tommy Lynch, with a letter to the secretary of the AOH to inform them that we were the new owners of Flower Lodge. And that was the first intimation they had who the new owners were.”
In 2005, during Seán Kelly’s tenure, Tommy was honoured with a GAA President’s Award and the citation that appeared in the media at the time almost did him a disservice: “Tommy Lynch has been involved in Cork GAA for close on quarter of a century, looking after the playing gear for the various county teams, as well as filling the role of chief groundsman at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Páirc Uí Rinn.”
Like so many true servants of Irish sport, the majority of the work was unseen, but the kind that is truly appreciated by those aware of it.
“He instilled a sense of confidence in you,” Kennedy says, “because you knew that he knew everything.
“You never had to worry about any of the little things that needed to be done because Tommy would just have it all under control.
“I’d just like to send my condolences to his family and friends as he is a huge loss to them.”