Cult hero Noel O'Leary offers insight into his life off the pitch in new Laochra Gael series

All-Ireland winning defender is one of the eight GAA icons to feature on TG4 in the coming weeks
Cult hero Noel O'Leary offers insight into his life off the pitch in new Laochra Gael series

RIVALS: Noel O'Leary, Cork, and Paul Galvin, Kerry, enjoyed some memorable battles. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

LAOCHRA Gael returns to TG4 this spring for the 21st time and explores eight sporting legends who each have a unique and interesting story to tell.

Cork’s own Noel O’Leary features among the eight Laochra with genuine star quality, as the series reveals deeper, fresh and sometimes unexpected insights into their lives.

While their sporting careers continue to provide the backdrop to the story, we get a chance to explore well beyond the four white lines. Gripping personal storylines will compel viewers to travel towards territory unique to the GAA television landscape.

Noel O'Leary at the launch of TG4's new series of Laochra Gael. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Noel O'Leary at the launch of TG4's new series of Laochra Gael. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

A cult hero with Cork fans, Noel O’Leary will appear in the series finale on March 16.

Rebel wing-back for 14 years, his no-nonsense approach led him to be known for his toughness and as an old-school player whom many came to respect. The part he played in a golden era of Cork football means he is a Leeside legend.

With four league titles, three Munster crowns and an All-Ireland triumph under his belt O’Leary is no stranger to winning. Joy at minor preceded his senior success.

O’Leary first joined the senior team in 2000 for the National League and made his championship debut in 2003 in a loss to Limerick. He then nailed down a place in the team and enjoyed a decorated career.

But behind the public image, Noel had been through unthinkable tragedy.

In the space of a year and a half at the turn of the century, he lost his best friend, his cousin and his brother. He overcame these terrible losses, finding a solace of sorts when he won the All-Ireland in 2010.

The concluding episode of this Laochra Gael series takes a deep dive into the life and playing days of O’Leary, including his infamous clashes with Kerry wing-forward Paul Galvin. This of course includes the memorable right hook that sent him to the line against Kerry in 2009, where Galvin was also red-carded for his involvement.

Noel O'Leary, Cill na Martra, holding off Kanturk's Alan Walsh. Picture: Denis Boyle
Noel O'Leary, Cill na Martra, holding off Kanturk's Alan Walsh. Picture: Denis Boyle

The Cill na Matra man was proud to win two Mid-Cork JFC too and says he credits his success to his junior days with the club.

The tenacious wing-back certainly gave it his all whether it was with his club, at the underage level, or in senior games with Cork. After putting on the red and white geansaí 42 times in the championship, O’Leary will always be remembered as a legend.

Joe Canning:

Leading off in the first episode this Thursday is Joe Canning, one of the most gifted hurlers of all time.  

Canning became the most famous player in the country at a young age and learned harsh lessons about the scrutiny that comes with that fame. With the entire country fixated on Joe’s quest to win the All-Ireland he deserved, all he ever wanted was to make his family proud.

Galways Joe Canning is tackled by Cork's Eoin Cadogan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Galways Joe Canning is tackled by Cork's Eoin Cadogan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Aidan O’Mahony:

Kerry footballer Aidan O’Mahony overcame chronic health problems in his youth to take his place on one of the greatest teams of all time. This episode also explores O’Mahony becoming the first GAA player to fail a drugs test. After a spell in a treatment centre because of his deteriorating mental health, he faced the greatest challenge of his life: rediscovering his love of the game.

Anne Dalton:

Laochra Gael tells the story of Kilkenny camogie legend and one of the greats of the game, Anne Dalton. After heartbreak in three All-Ireland finals, Dalton finally reached the mountaintop in 2016. Another three losses couldn’t overcome the GAA icon as she triumphed again in 2020, with her wife and their three children cheering her on from their home.

Tom Parsons:

Mayo footballer Tom Parsons exploded onto the scene in 2008, becoming a star for the Mayo seniors while still in his teens. This episode leaves nothing out, from being dropped in 2011 to returning for revenge in 2014. Despite a horrific injury in 2018, Parson’s miraculous return a year later emphasises his commitment to his beloved county.

Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Áine Wall:

Áine Wall spearheaded the attack that won Waterford won five All-Irelands in the '90s. Bringing unprecedented success to the Déise faithful, she became a sporting legend. As a result of these heroics, the sport, which had never even been broadcasted when she started out, gained attention and respect. One of the greatest to ever do it, she revolutionised Ladies Football.

Liam Sheedy:

After the death of his father when he was two years old, Liam Sheedy sought refuge on the hurling field, playing for his county at all levels. But he was little known when he became county manager. Nobody expected that Sheedy would win the championship and put an end to Kilkenny’s reign. Returning ten years later, he won another title, again foiling the Cats.

Anthony Molloy:

The fascinating story of Donegal footballer Anthony Molloy has been one of ups and downs. From the beginning, football was his passion but after a serious injury emigrated to America in the '80s. When his mother fell ill, he returned home and recaptured his love for the game, bringing the Sam Maguire to his county. Between the celebrations and retirement, however, he developed a drink problem, and so he embarked on a battle that continues to this day.

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