BY KIERAN McCARTHY
THE clock had ticked past midnight last Friday, taking its first steps into Saturday when my phone beeped.
It was 12.22am.
Not many people text at this hour. It was one of two possibilities – either it’s a family emergency or, as my phone calls him, it was ‘JC Carbery’.
It was the latter.
‘Kieran a chara, just read your excellent preview of the Clonakilty CC v Rochestown game. Please note that Dylan Scannell plays with St Mary’s, not Kilmeen. Regards, JC.’
Instant reaction: Damn, first because of the mistake, and second because JC had just taken the upperhand in our ongoing ‘power struggle’ that has been one of the highlights of my time, almost four years, here with The Southern Star.
Our Thursday phonecalls on Star day became something of a ritual. Anything contentious towards the Carbery board (seeing as he was chairman for the past three years until last December) would prompt a ‘JC Carbery’ call, usually before 10am.
The calls followed a similar pattern.
‘I’m disappointed with…’
And off we would go, again, dancing a tango, as I’d rest against the worktop in our kitchen at home, staring out the hall, shaking my head as John fought the Carbery case, and I fought, as I told him often enough, the unbiased and right case.
One phonecall, in particular, in the wake of ‘dugout-gate’ in March 2015 before the South West U21 A football final lasted the bones of an hour, as John took umbrage with my weekly column that aimed a legitimate cannonball at the Carbery Board following an incident in a local U21 A football semi-final.
It was a heated conversation where neither of us backed down, and if I didn’t cut the call short, we could still be arguing to this day.
He called it a truce. I said he was in the wrong, oblivious to the truth and too stubborn for his own good. Again, he insisted on a truce (and I could picture a rogue-ish smile on his face), but he actually enjoyed the difference of opinion – it challenged him, and he liked that.
And that’s what I admired about him: his passion for the GAA, an unwavering dedication as a keeper of the flame who saw his role as safeguarding and protecting the GAA for the next generation. It was a noble gesture that he saw as his quest, his role as a knight that protected the games he loved.
‘You’re not bad for a Kerryman,’ he would enjoy telling me, before adding his fondness for Dingle and the race meets across the county bounds.
‘I’ve met worse Corkmen, to be fair,’ I’d reply, knowing that in John Corcoran I was blessed to have a local GAA figure not frightened to say what he thought in case of retribution from powers-that-be elsewhere.
He was a gentle giant who did his fighting with a razor-sharp tongue that was more deadly than any pen, but as polished a public speaker as he was – and that can’t be disputed – he was also an able scribe behind a keyboard.
John’s association with The Southern Star goes back many years when he wrote for us, well before my time, under the pseudonym of Cúl Baire, and even last summer, on a weekend where I was short of GAA reporters, I called on a favour: Cúl Baire was asked to come out of retirement.
Any other chairman of a divisional board might not have been as willing to help out, but John was the exception to the rule in more ways than most, this larger than life character whose presence and booming voice turned any audience he entertained into a mob of meerkats.
So, last June, Cúl Baire made a welcome return to The Southern Star sports pages as he covered Muintir Bháire’s 1-10 to 0-10 South West JAFC win against St Oliver Plunkett’s.
It didn’t surprise me that he didn’t keep to the instructions I gave him.
‘Keep it tight, John, around 550 words. I’m tight on space.’
His email landed on the Monday afternoon.
‘Jesus, John, sure that’s well over.’
‘Kieran, feel free to enter it for a McNamee award,’ he replied, so quick off the mark that I had no response.
We’d actually talked before Christmas, before his three-year reign as chairman of the Carbery Board came to an end, that John would, possibly, come on board with the Star as a guest GAA columnist this year.
It was a conversation, we both agreed, that was to be continued after the festive period. He was very keen, and I liked the idea – here was a man who knew the GAA inside out, would ruffle a few feathers and who wouldn’t hold back. He ticked a lot of boxes.
At a recent editorial awayday, on the second Friday of this new year, where we set out the plans for the year ahead, one of sports’ bullet points read: Explore possibility of introducing new GAA columnist (JC).
Sadly, we never got to have that conversation, much in the same way a planned Big Interview with John never came to fruition – that’s one of my big regrets now. We tried to arrange to meet up a few occasions late last year, but John had a schedule that a popstar would do well to rival.
Tom Lyons, on page three in this sports section, captures John Corcoran in all his splendour and magnificence, in words I won’t even try to match, so as a ‘blow-in’ to West Cork, I can offer an unbiased opinion.
West Cork is unique, with its various idiosyncrasies, some I still can’t get my head around, but I did ‘get’ John Corcoran and his importance to the local GAA scene.
You might not have agreed with some of his decisions – I certainly didn’t, and I’m only here four years – but you listened to him and you can’t argue that he didn’t have the best interests of Carbery GAA at heart.
At a time where there are too many ‘yes’ men, John stood out, refusing to bow his head, sit on the fence and follow the herd: that wasn’t his style. Here was a man who took the fight to the hierarchy and who stood up for what he believed in and who was never afraid to speak his mind. He was, as he always said, a keeper of the flame. He carried that responsibility.
He was the general of West Cork GAA clubs, his oratory skills a potent weapon at county board meetings, and at local Carbery board meetings here, as he possessed a knowledge of all things GAA that very few have. He had all the answers, and he liked to remind you of that.
‘But, of course, you knew that already, didn’t you?’ he’d quip, with a smile on his face, knowing full well that you didn’t. Not for the first time, he held the upperhand.
John has left a lasting impression on Cork GAA, and especially Carbery GAA, and the tributes to this great St Mary’s stalwart have poured in.
Brilliant. Knowledgeable. Engaging. Witty. Shrewd. A gentleman. Great character. Articulate. Passionate. Stalwart. Fair. Devoted. Gregarious. A likeable rogue. Intellectual. A friend. The list goes on.
And he has left behind him a strong legacy, among which is the Carbery GAA All-Stars, his brainchild that was held for the first time last November. That is his gift to Carbery GAA, and the current board need to make an extra special effort to ensure the Carbery GAA All-Stars thrive and grow, in his memory. It’s the very least this once-in-a-lifetime man deserves.
Within the GAA, John – the administrator supreme – served as a chairman, a vice-chairman, a delegate, a PRO of various bodies, while he was also a player, a referee, a selector and a manager, and Cork, Carbery, UCC and his beloved St Mary’s have his fingerprints forever etched on their history.
It won’t be the same without him. But it’s not meant to be, either.
John has left a void that nobody can fill, but he should be honoured and remembered for his immense contribution to West Cork.
So now, when my phone beeps, or rings for that matter (he was partial to the late phonecalls as well) in or around midnight from now on, sadly I’ll know that it’s not ‘JC Carbery’.
Thanks for all the help, John, and a great adventure these last few years. It was fun, interesting and never dull. You left an impression on this Kerryman, and while I never (and for good reason!) told you myself, you were one of my favourite Cork men (I couldn’t give him the ultimate upperhand, you see).
Take care, John.
The flame you carried will burn on, like you want it to, but, sadly, it’s burning a little less brightly these days.