IT was one of those beautiful summers that are almost a distant memory now.
The old Clonakilty pitch as dry as a desert with half an inch of dust in the goalmouth. A junior hurling match in progress between St Mary’s and some other team.
At full forward for the Mary’s was the big man himself, a tower of a man named John Corcoran. We were standing at the goal, near the dressing room, doing umpire when a fierce schimozzle developed in the square.
Ball on the ground, players hammering into each other, John inside in the middle of it all. The dust was flying and then all of a sudden everybody stopped pulling. The referee ran in, what was wrong? The ball had disappeared.
We looked in the net, no ball.
There we were scratching our heads when John walked up to the referee, put his hand into the pocket of his black shorts and presented the ball to the referee.
‘Is that what ye’re looking for?’ says John, a laugh on his face.
Believe it or not, in the midst of all the schimozzle, he had picked up the ball and put it in his pocket. What a laugh we got out of that one and always enjoyed reminding him of it.
But that was big John, always ready to make people laugh, always serious and then the craic. None did it better.
Last Monday night we had our first CCC meeting of the South West Board for 2016. John had finished his three-year term as chairman of the board in December but we knew he couldn’t just give it all up.
We spoke with him over the Christmas about his intentions and he wasn’t sure what he might do as regards the board but we all knew he’d be back.
He had just been elected chairman of his own beloved St Mary’s for the year and sure enough, he was back as club delegate at the first board meeting two weeks ago.
At that meeting he was elected as one of the three board members onto the Executive. One of those three then becomes a member of the core CCC, with five officers. John was the one, back at the very heart of affairs again.
So on Monday night last we had our first CCC meeting in the Doheny GAA pavilion in Dunmanway, drawing up the formats for the championships and leagues. Started at 8pm, finished at 11.45pm. John was in good form, business-like and full of suggestions and ideas, as he always was. His knowledge of GAA affairs was always second to none, a mine of information. He was too valuable a source to lose from the board and we were all glad to see him back.
At one stage we asked him what his feeling was about the failed attempt to unite his club with Diarmuid Ó Mathúna for 2016?
‘That, my dear friend, is privileged information, not for public consumption,’ was his prompt reply.
At 11.45pm we headed out the door together, our cars parked next to each other just outside. We spoke a few words about how late these meetings go on and my last words to him were, ‘I’ll be talking to you again, John.’
He said something about ‘back to work for some of us tomorrow’, hinting at my easy retired life, sat slowly into his car and that was the last I saw of John. At 2.30pm the following day I got the phone call that left me totally shattered. John had died suddenly at work on Tuesday morning. So full of life a short 12 hours previously, the ‘Big Fellow’ was gone. A light has truly gone out in our lives.
WAS he ever short of a few words, or a lot of words? While other baulked at public speaking, John thrived on it. As chairman of the South West board for the past three years, he had plenty occasions to use his oratory skills and he used them well.
Off the cuff, stand up, give it out, any occasion, any GAA function, any cause, he was never caught short. He was a marvellous speaker in full flow.
Over the past few years he had sharpened up on his Irish and always began every speech ‘as Gaeilge.’ By his sheer size he dominated a room, dominated a crowd, but John was always more than just size.
We got to know him really well over the last three years.
Down the years we were a little wary of his wit, of his capacity to win any argument, to cut you down to size with a few witty words. You took him on at your peril and rarely won. We had some friendly arguments about items I wrote in The Southern Star. He loved having the dig, the bit of craic.
THREE years ago when he became chairman of the South West Board we were surprised to get a phone call from him, asking would we be interested in taking on the new position of Coaching Officer in the Board.
He talked about Carbery hurling needing special attention as he knew it was a subject close to our hearts. Had it been anybody else we would have refused but with John it was impossible to say no. We got roped in and the friendship and admiration for who and what he was really grew from there. We have fought a losing battle for Carbery hurling together over the past three years, the latest at the county convention in December, before he stepped down, and it has cemented a real respect and friendship.
Yes, John was a colossus in every way. His size alone made him stand out but so too did his unique style of dress. He looked the part, he acted the part and he was the real thing. The snow-white dress coat he wore on special occasions, with the matching dickie bow – who else could have carried that with such ease and style?
It was part of what he was, a great character. He stood out from the crowd and he loved being the centre of attention. He was flamboyant, witty and a pleasure to be with. You never had a boring moment in John’s company, that was for sure.
JOHN had a family and a job but in our eyes the GAA was his life. From the smallest club and pitch in his native West Cork to the lofty heights of Croke Park, he graced the GAA scene and left it a better place for having been involved.
The positions he held in the association over the years were too numerous to remember, from his own club in St Mary’s, who will be truly devastated by his loss, to the boardrooms of Croke Park as secretary of the colleges’ third level committee.
He travelled thousands of miles a year to West Cork meetings, county board meetings, Munster Council meetings and Croke Park meetings, never seemed to tire of it all, never complained, enjoyed the company, enjoyed the responsibility. He never did manage to win an officership in the county board, having contested a few elections, but he was still one of the major figures in Cork GAA circles, none-the-less.
HOW will he be missed? He was an officer of the South West Board for the past dozen years and his knowledge of GAA affairs at every level will be sorely missed. He was a walking encyclopaedia on GAA affairs, knowing every fixture and every rule at every level. The rule book never had to be opened at a board meeting because John had the information in his head.
Not only was he all-knowing, but, because of his many connections at so many levels, he often had the information before it ever became public.
One of the most intelligent people it was our privilege to know, he used his knowledge well for the good of the association. He can never be replaced in that respect at board level.
John played the games with his club, won some silverware and was always proud of those achievements, but we will let those tributes to those who played with him. He could remember every game he played, every title won by his club back over the years. His memory of matches and players was incredible and we often referred to his knowledge when in doubt about some GAA event in the past. Now all that knowledge is gone with him.
John’s sad and sudden going has left a huge void in the GAA in West Cork and far beyond. It has left a huge void in our lives because once you got to know John, got to be friends with him, he was always present in your life. His personality made him a central character no matter where he went, his company was always sought after, always a pleasure. While he will be sadly missed by everybody privileged to know him, the saddest loss is to his own family.
WE often heard it said when somebody distinguished dies, “Ni bheidh a leithéad arís ann”. (His likes won’t be seen again). In some cases it is well-merited, doubtful in some more.
There will always be somebody to fill the void left behind but this is truly one occasion when we can honestly say, he might he replaced but he will never be repeated. John was one of a kind and it was our privilege to have called him a friend.
Larger than life, the legend of John Corcoran will grow with the telling and it still won’t tell the full story.
Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar do anam uasal agus go dtuga Sé síoraí na bhFlaitheas duit, a Sheain. Slán, John, I’ll be talking to you again.