BY KIERAN McCARTHY
HE’S the former Cavan senior footballer who has the freedom of Skibbereen.
John Brady may have spent ‘only’ three years in the town, but he packed more football achievements in those 36 months than most could dream of in a lifetime.
While he won county, Munster and All-Ireland club senior football titles with O’Donovan Rossa in 1992 and ’93, his part in St Fachtna’s de la Salle’s glory years is the stuff of legend.
Even to this day, his former footballers hold him in the highest regard, as he – along with Joe O’Neill and Con Kelleher – oversaw a golden period at senior colleges level for the Skibbereen school.
In his first year at St Fachtna’s, the school won its second Corn Uí Mhuirí title, and then the following season (1990/91), a second successive provincial title followed before they won the All-Ireland (Hogan Cup).
Those days were as good as it gets, according to Brady, who now teaches at Bailieborough Community School in Cavan.
‘It was an exceptional time because we won two Munster titles and a Hogan Cup,’ he told The Southern Star this week.
‘I was only starting out in my teaching at the time and it was a great boost for my own career to spend those few years at the school.
‘The success we had back then was as big an achievement as I ever had in football or will ever have. They were great times with great people.
‘You have to remember that, for a small rural school, it’s a great achievement to win a Hogan Cup.’
Before the then Cavan senior footballer set up camp in Skibbereen for those three years, he went to school in St Patrick’s Diocesan School in Cavan, which had over 800 students and a strong football tradition.
After that, his studies took him to Thomond College for his third level education and for training.
At college he captained the Advanced Colleges’ team (combined regionals) and in 1988, with Brady leading the way, they won the annual three-way play-off between the gardaí, the combined universities and army teams.
After he graduated, he taught at Moyne and Tullow Community Schools, before he walked in the doors of St Fachtna’s and helped change the school’s, and local, football landscape.
By the time he came to Skibbereen, he had been a Cavan minor for two seasons, an U21 for three years and an inter-county senior for four years. As The Southern Star said at the time, the local GAA ‘was very fortunate to have a player of his skill and calibre’. When he talked, the players listened.
He looks back on one particular match as the turning point for St Fachtna’s – a 2-8 to 1-3 Corn Uí Mhuirí quarter-final win against Coláiste Chríost Rí in December 1989.
‘We beat Chríost Rí, who were the top dogs, in a quarter-final in my first year there, and that gave the team great belief,’ Brady recalled.
‘That’s the game that stands out for me above all the rest in my time there, including the Hogan Cup final, because it was such an important moment for the team.
‘We were complete underdogs against Chríost Rí, who were the kingpins of Munster at the time. But to beat them was very important to the development of the squad because they believed in themselves after that win that they were good enough to beat anyone.
‘They knew after that game that they could win Munster, and they did.
‘There were a dozen of them back the following year so that was a great base for the 1991 campaign. We had fellas who had the experience of the previous season and it took off from there.
‘Winning Munster the first year made them for the following year. That laid the groundwork for the next season. It gave them confidence.’
Against Chríost Rí, Jason Whooley and Pat Hegarty grabbed the goals, Mike McCarthy kicked 0-5 (4f), while, and no surprise here, Fachtna Collins and Pat Hegarty dominated the midfield.
‘We had an exceptional midfield pairing in that team – Pat Hegarty and Fachtna Collins. The two of them were towering figures, well over six feet with inches to spare. They were phenomenal and they were the basis for the team – they gave us a presence and a grip in midfield. That they went on to play for Cork shows how good they were,’ Brady said.
‘They were a really committed bunch, they trained really hard and that stood to them as well.’
After victory over Chríost Rí, Fachtna’s defeated Killorglin in the semi-final, before accounting for North Mon in the Corn Uí Mhuirí final (2-8 to 1-2), to secure the school’s second Munster colleges’ senior ‘A’ crown.
As Brady said, that laid the foundation for the following season, 1990/91, when the Skibb school was untouchable. No matter the opposition, this team found a way to win, thanks in no small part to Brady’s coaching as he put the team through its paces.
‘We were 12 points up at one stage in the 1991 Munster final against St Brendan’s of Killarney. We were much stronger than St Pat’s in the Hogan Cup final. Nobody got to within five or six points of us in that season,’ Brady said.
‘We never got a real challenge throughout, and that includes winning the All-Ireland final, if I am being honest. It was an exceptional young team that had everything and was too good for any team it met.
‘They were very much like Kerry football in terms of commitment – they gave it everything, and as a coach you can’t ask for more than that. It was that group’s commitment and willingness to work hard and improve that always stands out for me; a pleasure to coach.’
He added: ‘A lot of gifted footballers went through that school and it has a tradition that very few schools in the country have. There’s a history there. It was so important to West Cork, and it’s a shame it never added more senior titles over the years.’
As for Joe O’Neill and Con Kelleher, Brady has only kind words to say: ‘Joe was a real character. He was an old school character, in the right way. There was no beating around the bush. No bulls**t. He called it straight. Himself and Con were two characters who I had great times with and who were very good to me during my time. I was very sad to hear of their passing. Two great men.’
He admits it’s been far too long since he visited Skibbereen. A trip must surely be on the cards before the school closes later this year ahead of the amalgamation with Mercy Heights and Rossa College – and that would be a chance to relive his football adventure in the west that included that great spell with O’Donovan Rossa.
He scored 0-2 in the 1992 Cork SFC final win against Nemo Rangers (2-9 to 0-10), before St Senan’s of Clare were dispatched in the Munster final, but he was injured for the famous All-Ireland triumph (after a replay) of ’93 against Eire Óg of Carlow in Croke Park.
In fact, if Brady had taken up an offer to play with Cork, he might have brought even more silverware to the county.
‘I was lucky enough to be with O’Donovan Rossa when they won the county final, but I was injured for the All-Ireland final. From a football point of view, it was a great time for me,’ he reminisced.
‘There were the best years of my football career, by a mile. I loved it. It was just three years but what a three years it was.
‘I could have joined up with the Cork senior panel at one stage. I was asked. They won the All-Ireland in 1990 and I often wonder if I had joined up, would I have made it?
‘You could almost say that Skibbereen is further away from Cavan than London is. It was a five and a half hour trip down in a car, so that was 11 hours for a return trip. But like they say, there’s no place like home.’
His three years in Skibbereen, before he moved on, produced two Corn Uí Mhuirí titles and a first (and only) Hogan Cup with St Fachtna’s, and the first (and only) Cork SFC, Munster SFC and All-Ireland SFC titles for O’Donovan Rossa.
Little wonder why he’s so fond of Skibbereen, and the feeling is mutual.
• Read pages 4-5 for profiles on the 20 players who won St Fachtna’s last Corn Uí Mhuirí title, and only Hogan Cup crown.