ARRIVING into the family home of Sharon O’Keeffe, there was a warm welcome for myself and photographer Jim Coughlan.
And no it wasn’t from the fire that was burning brightly, although Jim did get a bit of a roasting from it when taking the pictures. It was from her family members present which was no great surprise really as that what Sharon was – a warm and welcoming person.
Sharon is the Echo Women in Sport Hall of Fame award winner for 2021, but sadly the award had to be presented to her family posthumously as she passed away in December after her battle with cancer.
Sharon was someone that you couldn’t help but like and her dedication to the GAA and in particular ladies football was second to none. It was an honour to sit and just listen to her family talk about her and share some of their memories over the years, but one thing came out above all else.
Yes, she loved ladies football and GAA, but above everything came family, her husband Michael, parents Catherine and John, children Sarah, Daniel, Gavin and their partners, extended family members, including her brother Daithí, and the apple of her eye - her grandson Jack.
They were the centre of her world and no doubt she is keeping an eye on all of them from above.
Her mother summed it up beautifully when Catherine, better known as Kitty said: “As her parents, we are at a loss to comprehend, even in a small way, how Sharon managed to achieve and do so much while she endured intense suffering, all kept low in order to give.”
That sums Sharon up, always thinking of others before herself and always willing to give and help out no matter what.
Sharon was born in England and along with her parents and brother moved to Kerry in 1977, where she attended Coolick NS before moving on to Presentation Convent School in Killarney.
After completing her Leaving Cert in 1987 she went on a holiday to San Francisco. There Sharon enjoyed many a great chat with her uncle, Frank O’Keeffe, and his wife Kathleen, who would be well-known in GAA circles.
She always had an interest in GAA but Kitty said it was Frank and his family who gave Sharon that “undying and fiery passion for the games she so dearly loved.”
Her husband used to referee at inter-county level, but now he tends to stick mainly to games in his division.
“Sharon had two options really, come with me or stay at home alone and thankfully she decided to come with me.” And so in earnest began her love affair with the game and as the children came along so did theirs.
Though Michael did say there were times he regretted Sharon coming along, especially if Sarah was there as well.
“They would umpire for me and I always said I never needed a referee assessor as between the two of them they would point out any mistakes or decisions they didn’t agree with on the way home,” said Michael.
As a team, Sharon and Michael were instrumental in setting up the ladies football section of Dromtarriffe GAA Club. Sharon soon found herself involved in administration roles within the club.
Word of her expertise in this area made its way to the Cork ladies county board and soon she found herself as an officer.
In her time Sharon was secretary and PRO and her time as the former coincided with the great run by the Cork ladies footballers in the All-Ireland championship.
Whilst the hard work on the pitch was done by Eamonn Ryan, his selectors and the players have no doubt that Sharon played her part, working hard in the background to make things easy for all involved to reach the heights they did.
There have been many great runaí in Cork GAA over the years and Sharon is up there with the best of them. From that role, she moved on to become PRO, again another position she held with distinction until a few years ago.
At the end of that Sharon might have been thinking of taking it easy for a while, but Dromtarriffe GAA Club had other ideas. No sooner had her time with Cork ended, she stepped into the role of PRO of the club.
As an administrator, she has played a huge role in the development of ladies football, first within her club, and then across the whole county.
Sharon spent countless hours sitting at her kitchen table working on her laptop for hours for the good of others and for the betterment of ladies football.
People like this don’t come along too often and in Sharon, Cork and Dromtarriffe simply had a gem.
The outpouring of grief and tributes after her untimely passing in itself showed the high regard she was held in across the county and country.
Leading the tributes Cork Ladies Football chairman Neilus Carroll expressed condolences to the extended O’Keeffe family.
“We both served on the North Cork Board together, Sharon holding the positions of chairperson, secretary, treasurer, and PRO before progressing to county secretary from 2001-2008 and again in 2012 having also occupied the PRO position between 2007-2011.
At all times, Sharon gave 100% to every aspect of the Cork LGFA and in no small way contributed to the great success that Cork enjoyed those years.
“Sharon remained very involved with her club Dromtarriffe, a great supporter to her husband Michael John in his refereeing, taking time to umpire at many a game. Her untimely passing leaves a big void in her local community, Sharon so well respected and treasured,” said Mr Carroll.
That sums Sharon up perfectly and The Echo is delighted to present the Hall of Fame award to her family to honour and remember the great work she has done and the great person she was.