PETER O’Leary’s Ladies Gaelic Football Association PRO of the Year Award is a deserved accolade for an individual who has dedicated his life to the sport.
The Cork PRO’s ability to disseminate information, almost daily, across multiple social media platforms has earned O’Leary deserved recognition on a national stage.
But the Castletownbere man’s contribution goes far beyond being one of the most active PROs during the past Covid-effected year. Coaching success – with Cork LGFA underage, and Waterford and Tipperary – plus his ongoing refereeing duties mark this year’s national LGFA winner out for far more than his public relation responsibilities.
Yet, news of his award proved to be a bittersweet moment for the Cork LGFA PRO.
‘I got an official email from Croke Park about my award on the same day that Eamonn Ryan passed away,’ O’Leary says.
‘It was only half an hour after I’d been informed of Eamonn’s passing so I wasn’t able to process the news and I decided to park it for a while as my thoughts were with the Ryan family and all his friends and colleagues. It was a very strange feeling because normally you’d be ecstatic about such surprising news. Initially, it all felt a bit hollow that day, if I’m being honest.
‘My take on this kind of thing is that I’m much more comfortable in a team environment. I’m far happier seeing a player win an award and me being a small part of that in the background rather than being singled out. Obviously, at the same time, I’m thrilled and shocked that the LGFA have decided to give me this award as it came completely out of the blue.’
Although humbled by his award, O’Leary put in a gargantuan amount of work to promote club and county over the past 12 months. Covid meant there was never as greater a demand for county, inter-county and underage match information.
To his credit, he kept the Cork LGFA social media channels up to date with useful information, photos, video clips and highlights. That’s no easy task meeting the demands of 10,900 Twitter and over 2,000 Instagram followers on a daily basis. What’s clear is that O’Leary loves his role, although at times it can be incredibly demanding, and is delighted to contribute to ladies’ football’s growing profile inside and outside the county bounds.
‘This past year in particular, it was all about making as much information available as possible,’ he says.
‘People were not able to go to matches so that meant a bigger demand on the PRO role. That’s why a massive amount of people turned to social media looking for team news and score-lines. I tried to get to as many club games as possible. I have always felt that it is important players’ efforts are highlighted no matter what grade or level they are playing at.
‘There was a huge amount of effort involved but I believe if you really enjoy something, you don’t look upon it as work. It was nice, this past year more than any other, to be able to help so many people stuck at home and not able to attend matches. I’ll keep updating the scores and putting out the information until I finally get a bit of sense and eventually move on from the role!’
O’Leary’s decision to attend a fundraiser for the Cork senior ladies’ footballers at Curaheen Park Greyhound Stadium proved a fateful moment in 2005. Cornered by a group of players, the night ended with O’Leary agreeing to help out Johnny Thompson and Tom Creedon with the Naomh Abán ladies club.
‘Johnny and Tom were in charge and I was given the role of trainer,’ O’Leary explains.
‘My first Cork role came about a year or so after that with the juniors. I didn’t have a club at the point so I joined Inch Rovers and manager Noel ‘Dip’ O’Connor. I feel very privileged to be a member of that club (Inch) and we enjoyed some fantastic times.
‘Eamonn Ryan and Noel are the two people that fostered my love for ladies’ football. It was a huge honour to know someone like Eamonn but equally to be able to call Noel a friend. Noel’s record is phenomenal and he’s up there as one of the best coaches in Cork ladies football.
‘I’ve enjoyed so many great days out with Cork but the one constant through all of that time has been the players. If you don’t have the players, you have nothing. I fulfilled many coaching roles with Cork but it was the then chairperson, Robbie Smyth, who cornered me in Rochestown Park Hotel and insisted I take up the PRO role in 2019. I thought I had escaped another meeting without being handed a job until Robbie got a hold of me.
‘Up until then I’d worked with the Cork juniors, senior Bs and in the seniors’ backroom team. I also started the Cork U13 county development team with Dominic Gallagher’s (Mourneabbey) and Mark O’Riordan’s (RIP) help. One of my most cherished memories is the day Cork won the All-Ireland U14 title by beating Galway in Banagher in Offaly. I get much more satisfaction out of playing a small part in helping young players like that achieve their goals more than anything else.’
It is interesting to note that amid all that success with Cork LGFA’s set-up, O’Leary also found time to referee countless matches and coach two other counties. Peter trained the Waterford team that claimed the 2011 Munster intermediate championship. In 2015 he trained the Tipperary intermediates who claimed provincial honours and went all the way to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Few people have put as much time and effort into ladies’ football than O’Leary. National recognition in the form of an award is a fitting tribute to the PRO, coach and referee.