The real king is gone, but his legend will endure

June 12th, 2023 12:00 PM

By Tom Lyons

The legendary Teddy McCarthy.

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THE real king is gone, long live the king.

Every age brings its own heroes in the GAA, men and women whose deeds on the field of play means their names will never disappear in the annals of the association.

In hurling Christy Ring was our king as we grew up and in football it was the great Mick O’Connell. Then in the late 1980s, as Cork footballers got a grip on finally beating Kerry on a regular basis, a new king began to emerge.

This was the real king because this man was not only a hero in both codes, he was an inspirational icon in the rebel red. His name is Teddy McCarthy.

We were the fortunate ones to be there to witness his brilliant reign and his ascendancy to the throne of immortality in the GAA. It was with the greatest shock and sadness that we found out of the sudden passing of the great Teddy Mac after we had attended the Carbery and Avondhu hurling match in Cloughduv on Tuesday evening. There was no mention of the greatest tragedy to hit Cork GAA since the sudden passing of Christy Ring, I don’t think anybody knew at that stage. What a shock they all got when they arrived home, like me.

Teddy Mac is dead. It was hard to take it in, harder still to believe that the man who was as fearless and as hard as Teddy Mac on the pitch could go so quickly and so young, only 57 years old.

Our icon is gone, the only player ever to win All-Ireland senior medals in both codes in the same year (1990). A football All-Star he won two All-Ireland senior football medals, and six Munster medals. With the hurlers he also won two All-Ireland medals, as well as three Munster titles.

Even as Cork struggle to make an impression in both codes in these times for Cork GAA, we still had Teddy Mac. Nobody could take that from us. He was a Rebel. He was ours. Now the king is gone, what have we left? The memories, yes. Always and forever.

We will always associate him with the art of high fielding in Gaelic football, and in hurling too. Soaring into the clouds over the heads of the Kerry men as Cork beat them for four glorious years in a row under Billy Morgan. Ambrose and Teddy, what clashes of giants of men, nothing held back. He was our god, our answer to years of defeat at the hands and feet of the Kingdom. How the Cork crowd loved him, sang his praises, chanted his name. In Páirc Uí Chaoimh. In Killarney, in Thurles. In Croke Park.

Here in deepest West Cork we loved him more for his football exploits than his hurling but we gloried in both when he won the double in 1990. And we were honoured and privileged to be in Croke Park to witness it happening.

He was a warrior when we needed warriors here in Cork and we never cared how many medals he won. Win, lose or draw, he was Teddy Mac and we loved him.

He wore the green and gold of Glanmire and the blue and white of Sars with the same pride as the red and white. He loved the games, his club, his county. We often watched him presenting medals at functions and had chats with him about the games and he was never less than generous with his time and efforts for clubs. He travelled many miles on coaching duties and many clubs will remember his contribution.

And in our mind’s eye we still hold the image of him soaring into the air to catch the high ball, and his famous comment on one occasion on the famous photograph that shows him miles higher than anybody else, ‘Yerra boy, I was on the way down at that point.’

Teddy Mac will never be down to us who watched him in all his glorious prime as he forged history, winning those pair of All-Ireland medals in both codes. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end, so goes the song. Those great days did come to an end but we were left with Teddy Mac. Nobody could and nobody will ever take that from us as Rebels. Teddy Mac, what a huge loss to the GAA and especially to Cork but even greater to his own grieving family.

Gone but never forgotten, a legend we saw being created in front of our very eyes, Teddy Mac, we salute you, our king. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh do anam uasal agus mile buíochas.

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