The death has occurred of St Finbarr’s legend Bertie O’Brien.
Born in 1951, the dual star is the only man to have captained the Barrs to win both the county senior hurling and football championships, in a career where he won eight county senior medals, six provincial club titles and four All-Ireland club championships. He also served as back-up goalkeeper to Billy Morgan on the Cork senior football panel from 1974-79, winning a Munster championship in the first of those years.
Bertie O’Brien was a remarkable guy, a great player whose strength and resilience were the hallmarks of his game. Those attributes were illuminated in recent years by the manner in which he coped with his illness.
Bertie was a product of the Lough League, in which he hurled with Gillabbey. He attended Scoil Neasáin, the Christian Brothers school on Sullivans Quay. Here he came under the guidance of Br Moloughney, who had a great influence on many Cork stars. After an underage career full of promise, he graduated to play intermediate championship with the Barrs while still in his teens.
Bertie, starring between the posts, helped the Cork minor footballers to All-Ireland success in 1969, beating Derry in the final. He played in his first county senior hurling final in 1971 on a side beaten by Blackrock, but three years later the Barrs triumphed over the Rockies and went on to claim the Munster and All-Ireland Club crowns. Bertie was outstanding in the All-Ireland club final victory over a star-studded Fenians from Kilkenny.
He was in goal when the Barrs bridged a 17-year gap by defeating St Michael's in the 1976 county SFC final and he won a second All-Ireland club hurling medal as the Togher side defeated Wexford champions Rathnure in 1978.
The Blues hit a purple patch in football and recorded further Cork county championship honours in 1979 (Castlehaven) and 1980 (UCC). Their triumphs were sugar-coated as Bertie became a dual All-Ireland club medallist – they beat St Grellan’s of Ballinasloe to become the first, and so far the only, club to have won senior club All-Irelands in both codes. Bertie won his second All-Ireland club football medal when the invincible Blues defeated Walterstown (Meath) to retain their title.
The 1980 county SFC victory was part of a double, as Bertie had captained the Barrs hurling team to beat Glen Rovers in the county final – it was the first time since UCC in 1963 that a senior double had been achieved.
When the city rivals met again in the 1981 hurling final, Michael Ellard of The Cork Examiner wrote that “Barrs skill triumphed over Glen's passion”. Singled out for special mention was Bertie – “O'Brien was truly magnificent, hurling with skill and intelligence.”
A hurling three-in-a-row was completed in 1982 with a final win over Blackrock and that year saw another double, with Bertie skippering the footballers to victory over Duhallow.
Unfortunately, Bertie broke his leg in the SHC quarter-final against Ballyhea in 1983, which effectively brought and end to his illustrious playing career.
However, Bertie did not rest on his laurels. He became active as coach and selector with the Barrs’ hurling and football teams, contributing to the success of many of them. He sat on our both senior hurling and football committees, a member of the hurling committee from 1998-2022, even during his illness. During that time, he served as both chairperson and vice-chairperson. Bertie was certainly a ‘gallant old Blue’.
Bertie will be reposing at Sullivan’s Funeral Home, Turner’s Cross on Friday, March 3 from 5-6pm. Requiem Mass on Saturday at 10am in Church of the Immaculate Conception, The Lough, which will be streamed on https://www.churchservices.tv/thelough.