The reappointment of Brian Cody as senior hurling team manager was good news for Kilkenny followers, writes Nickey Brennan.
Just as the best manager in the game continues on his relentless journey for more titles and trophies another icon manager was laid to rest in his native Inishannon in Cork.
Archdeacon Michael O’Brien was affectionately known as ‘the Canon’. He had a hugely impressive coaching record in Cork hurling with a number of clubs, St Finbarr’s, Farrenferris, UCC and his native Cork at senior level.
My first contact with the Canon was the 1971 All-Ireland colleges final between St Kieran’s College and St Finbarr’s (Farrenferris). This was a 13-a-side final. Brian Cody was one of the Kieran’s defenders.
Two years previously St Kieran’s received a drubbing from Farrenferris (5-15 to 2-1). A couple of us had played in that final also, so we were determined to atone for that defeat in 1971.
During his tenure in charge of many hurling sides, the Canon was often compared to Kilkenny’s Monsignor Tommy Maher. Both men of the cloth travelled similar routes through their respective colleges before graduating on to the inter-county scene.
They had a lot in common. Both were methodical in their approach to team preparation. The emphasis was always on mastering the skills and executing the delivery of the sliotar as quickly as possible and to the best advantage of the team.
Both impressed on their players the need to think quickly, be alert and always be focused.
The Canon coached Farrenferris to five Harty Cup victories between 1969 and 1974. He was also the coach in 1972 when Farrenferris gained revenge for their loss a year earlier by defeating Kieran’s by 3-7 to 2-5.
Likewise he was the winning coach in 1974 when Farrenferris again defeated St Kieran’s, 2-11 to 1-12.
Archdeacon O’Brien’s prolific coaching skills were also sought by UCC. He enjoyed a hugely successful stint with the college, winning eight consecutive Fitzgibbon Cup titles.
During his long association with UCC the Canon built up a particularly close relationship with Nicky English. The former Tipperary player and manager captained UCC to win the Fitzgibbon Cup in 1985.
English remained a close friend and he will be particularly sad at his passing.
One of the highlights of his career was coaching Cork to defeat Offaly (3-16 to 1-12) in the 1984 Centenary All-Ireland final in Thurles. Given the significance of the occasion, that victory was cherished.
The Canon had to wait six years (1990) before he won another All-Ireland title when Cork defeated Galway in a thrilling game, 5-15 to 2-21.
The Munster final of that year delivered a mighty game between Cork and reigning All-Ireland champions, Tipperary who were trained by Michael ‘Babs’ Keating.
Prior to the game ‘Babs’ talked about ‘donkeys not being capable of winning derbies’, a reference to what he felt was Cork’s inability to overcome Tipperary.
The shrewd Canon used those ill chosen words to good effect.
What more motivation did he need? His rabbit out of the hat act on that Muster final day was to play newcomer, Mark Foley, who scored 2-7. I recall the Canon being interviewed afterwards. His impish grin said more than any words could.
During the Canon’s time in charge of Cork he coached some of the finest hurlers ever to play the game. His man-management skills were legendary. No player was left in any doubt as to what was required. You ignored him at your peril.
I met Archdeacon O’Brien on many occasions. He was ever gracious. Despite the great rivalry with Kilkenny, he greatly respected the skill of Kilkenny players.
Although Archdeacon O’Brien had not been well for some time, his passisng is a great loss. All hurlers, particularly in Cork, will mourn his passing.
His achievements do not match those of Brian Cody, but when great hurling managers are being discussed, the Canon’s name will rightly feature. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam.