Canon O'Brien's influence lives on for UCC and Cork

Sideline personnel on both sides of tonight's clash played under the legendary coach
Canon O'Brien's influence lives on for UCC and Cork

A break in play during last year's Canon O'Brien Cup game between UCC and Cork at the Mardyke, with some spectators viewing from Daly (Shakey) Bridge. Picture: Larry Cummins

During his coaching career, Fr Michael O’Brien guided the fortunes of so many players in Farranferris, UCC, Cork and the various club teams with which he was involved.

Now, with many of those players serving as managers, coaches and selectors, the influence of the Innishannon native lives on. Proteges of his will be involved on the sideline for both UCC and Cork in tonight’s annual Canon O’Brien Cup game at the Mardyke (7pm).

Tom Kenny travelled the ‘Canon route’, entering UCC in 2000 after doing the Leaving Certificate in ‘Farna’. His time at the Mardyke helped to bring his hurling along further to the point where he became an integral member of the side that won Cork’s last two senior All-Irelands.

Now a selector with UCC under manager Tom Kingston, he recalls the tutelage he received from the Canon in his formative days at the school.

“The Canon coached us, with Niall Ahern from Sars and [Cork senior selector] Donal O’Mahony from Bishopstown, from first year all the way through,” he says.

“He would have done a lot in first and second year – we would have obviously played the competitions but we would have trained away the whole time, even after being knocked out.

“He trained us to a Dean Ryan in 1998 and we lost the Harty final in 1999.

“We were youngsters at the time and knew who he was but we probably wouldn’t have realised the significance of him going back and training the likes of us after winning an All-Ireland.

“As we were getting older and understanding what’s what and then moving on from the school, you hear the stories and folklore. I went on to UCC and you learn about the Fitzgibbons and the influence that he had over a lot of players over so many years.”

UCC coach Tom Kenny with players Mark O'Brien and Darragh Fitzgibbon after defeating Sarsfields in the Cork SHC quarter-final at Pairc Ui Rinn in 2018. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
UCC coach Tom Kenny with players Mark O'Brien and Darragh Fitzgibbon after defeating Sarsfields in the Cork SHC quarter-final at Pairc Ui Rinn in 2018. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Such was the track record that the Canon brought that his words carried weight, ensuring that the advice was readily taken on board.

“When you’re part of a successful team and have a successful coach, you appreciate their efforts more,” Kenny says.

“That might sound wrong, but when you win something you always have a better feel about it than when you don’t.

“There were days up in Farna where the weather was too bad and the ‘top Harty’ [pitch] was unplayable and we’d go down into the hall. It might have been the most basic of training sessions but he always made it very interesting.

Such was his love of the game and such was his knowledge, he’d keep you going for 40 or 50 minutes. 

"You might only be pucking a ball of the wall or practising solo runs with your good and your bad hand, handpassing and things like that, but he just had a fantastic way about him.

“There was obviously a big age gap but he still made a connection with all of the players and influenced them and grew their love of the game as well.”


With this being the 10th anniversary of the first Canon O’Brien Cup – it wasn’t held in 2018 as it couldn’t be re-fixed after postponement or in 2021 due to Covid-19 – the game is now a firm part of the early-season calendar.

As Cork gear up for the Allianz Hurling League, UCC are preparing for the Fitzgibbon Cup and so there is a sense of it being mutually beneficial as well as honouring the memory of a legendary figure and raising some money.

“We’re playing Maynooth at home and then UCD away the week after that,” he says, “so it’s an ideal preparation for us in that we should have all our inter-county players available, barring injury.

“It’s a good warm-up, it’s a significant game, there’s a gate for charity and people pay to come in. You get that championship feel down the Mardyke.

“It’s great that it lives on. For people in college in UCC, there’s a significance, especially if you’re from Cork.

“It’s a firm fixture now in the calendar and both sides really buy into it as a meaningful game.”

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