A NIGHT to remember for some of the best-known names of Cork GAA on Friday last at the 96FM/C103 GAA Awards Banquet hosted by joint sponsors Rochestown Park Hotel.
Dual star Brian Hayes was the overall winner for his feats in the red of Cork and the blue of his beloved St Finbarr’s.
Hayes' exploits during mid-summer certainly captured the headlines as he led Cork to provincial U20 football glory and then had double reason to celebrate in hurling as Cork won quickfire All-Ireland titles. Mixing both codes in such a condensed time frame during the pandemic demanded huge commitment but the level of performance constantly produced by Hayes was a huge factor in his selection as the overall award winner.
More joy was the follow as summer turned to autumn and eventually to winter and his year just got better and better. Thrilling performances in the latter stages of the club football championship saw the Andy Scannell Cup return to Togher with Hayes a central figure.
His impressive form was to stretch into the provincial arena as the Blues were crowned champions. It could hardly have been much better and with the prospect of another action-packed season developing, Hayes had little time to celebrate his latest individual accolade.
Last weekend’s function was also a memorable occasion for two popular Cork names.
Over the years the winners of the prestigious Kieran O’Driscoll Youth award have gone on to establish themselves as big players with Cork and we have no doubt this year’s recipient Darragh O’Sullivan will follow a similar path.
In the Munster minor hurling championship, Darragh excelled in every outing not only as a defender, but also as a hurler of the highest quality, and was named Player of the Match in the final, while as Cork were crowned All-Ireland champions he was also named on the Electric Ireland Team of the Year.
Apart from his prowess as a defender his ability to score points from long range made him one of the standout players throughout the season.
Since the conclusion of the minor championship, O'Sullivan has gone on to nail down a place on the Cork U20 team who this evening play old rivals Tipperary.
The introduction of the Donal Lehane Distinguished Career Award some years ago has proved extremely popular as it honours some of Cork’s greatest players.
It also acknowledges the late Donal Lehane of the Rochestown Park Hotel, who was a tremendous supporter of the awards since their inception 17 years ago.
While he made his name as a forward his career with his club Fitzgerald actually began as a goalkeeper, winning a County U21 title before graduating to the senior team. He was part of a historic side that bridged a 45-year gap as Midleton were crowned Senior Hurling Champions in 1983 and followed up with Munster glory.
Three more ccunty medals were won, plus a second Munster title and the ultimate accolade, All-Ireland Club champions in 1988 with a St Patrick’s Day victory over Athenry. The fourth county medal was extra special as Fitzgerald was captain of the winning team in 1991.
At inter-count, he first wore the red jersey at U21 level before playing in a number of games in the National League. He became a regular member of the panel in 1985 winning An Oireachtas medal that year as he secured his place on the championship panel, culminating in a first Munster senior medal as Cork defeated Clare in the final completing a five-in-a-row.
His first All-Ireland was won in 1986 and the second arrived in the historic year of the double in 1990.
In all, Fitzgerald won four senior medals, two Munster club and 1 All-Ireland Club. He also grabbed a Railway Cup medal while at inter-county the tally reads two senior All-Irelands, three Munster titles and one National League.
On retiring from the game, he immersed himself in coaching acting with Cork at minor, U21 and senior over the years.
Similarly, his club involvement is as strong today as it was when he first donned the famous Magpies geansaí all those years ago. Last year a special as once again Midleton were crowned county champions with Fitzgerald at the helm.