THE late and great Christy Coughlan was taken from us far too early but his contribution to his club, Na Piarsaigh and to Cork minor and U21 teams was immense.
He won every honour with his beloved Na Piarsaigh and although still in the infancy of his career, he was marked out as a great leader and inspiration. And that came to pass on a never to be forgotten Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh when he led the club to its first county senior title in 1990.
The Barrs were the vanquished team that day, a day when grown men wept openly as the old trophy was taken up to the homes of Farranree. Couglan led by example that Sunday afternoon, a teak-tough defender who never gave anything less than 100%. He first came to prominence playing Féile hurling with the club and his potential was evident then.
Ballyhea were the runners-up on that Sunday.
Down through the years, every club produces players who could be described as unsung heroes, players who might not graduate to collect the bigger prizes on offer on the national but who gave their all in pursuit of club glory. The former Na Piarsaigh star did feature on Cork national league teams after a hugely successful innings at minor and U21 with the county.
Na Piarsaigh has a rich history of producing players that would serve the club with great distinction as they went from young boys to men who gave massive service.
Christy Coughlan was certainly one of them and there is no greater prize available to any player than climbing the steps after captaining your club to county final glory. He did that and that great day in 1990 will stand the test of time. He was often described by opposing forwards as one of the toughest they ever encountered, a player who always delivered when the need was at its greatest.
Few would argue with that assessment. Sadly, he passed away suddenly in 2002 leaving a rich legacy behind.
IT says much about the maturity of Shane O’Neill that he was called upon to make his Cork championship debut in the wake of ‘Semplegate’ in 2007.
With Dónal Óg Cusack, Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín all suspended after an incident in the lead-up to the quarter-final clash with Clare, Cork’s much-vaunted defence needed reinforcements for the semi-final against Waterford.
Part of a talented underage group in Bishopstown, O’Neill won two county minor and two county U21 medals as the 2006 Premier Intermediate championship – the club would go close to a maiden senior title in 2012 only to lose out to Sarsfields.
For Cork, he picked up a Munster minor medal in 2004 and was part of the provincial U21-winning team in 2005 and 2007. Having been added to the senior squad towards the end of the 2005 campaign, he won an All-Ireland senior medal, however it’s not his most storied possession.
“I couldn’t tell you where it is,” he said.
“I can remember one of my friends saying at the time that it might mean a lot to me in the future and I suppose you think that Cork will always be there and always be competing. I did get another chance to win a medal, in 2013, but obviously not as many opportunities as I would have liked.”
O’Neill would win another provincial medal in 2006, the year before his breakthrough, and was a key member of the team that reached the 2013 All-Ireland final – losing to Clare after a replay – and won the following year’s Munster title. By that time, he had also served two years as team captain, in 2011 and 2012.
While another All-Ireland medal remained elusive, O’Neill never gave anything less than his all for the cause – still a fan at heart.
“When I was brought on to the panel in 2005, I was still a Cork supporter and I had been to all games that year as a fan, either on the terraces with the lads or in the stand with my family,” he said.
“I was absolutely overawed. I was trying to learn and take in as much as I could, without trying to burn the ear off them, either.”