In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely pays tribute to the late John McDonogh
They travelled from all parts of the county and country to pay their final respects to a former Limerick hurler last weekend.
To a man who showed great courage on the field and was again courageous over the last year or so in the way that he fought his illness.
John McDonogh was a hurler with St Patrick’s, Bruree and Limerick but, most of all, he was a quiet unassuming man who was held in very high regard by so many people in Limerick and around the country.
I had the great pleasure of chatting to him on many occasions; he was a cool man who spoke with a soft voice and you always felt empowered as you left him. Huge crowds turned out for the funeral over the two days, former and current Limerick hurlers were in attendance as well as many well known people from farming and business. John McDonogh was just 71; he grew up in Clino House, Ballysimon and went to secondary school at St Munchin’s. He was an all round sportsman but won his first medal in hurling in 1956 when St Patricks beat Patrickswell in the City U-15 League Final. Fr McNamee saw his potential as a hurler and brought him out for the game. McNamee was a good judge of hurling and was involved with Limerick minor teams as a selector for many years during that era.
As a corner back John McDonogh had few equals and as a hurler he developed very quickly and was part of the Limerick team that won the All Ireland minor title in 1958. That was a very good team and many of the players on it went on to serve Limerick seniors in the future. John McDonogh was one of them and so was the full back J J Bresnan - both of these men were part of the Limerick defence at senior level for many years. Limerick also contested the minor final in Munster the following year but lost to a very good Tipperary team.
Outside the cut limestone walls of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Bruree many people reflected on games he had played and battles he had won. Paddy Quilligan had played with him at St Patricks and Limerick and he had many fond memories of it, “John McDonogh was a great player, he was strong, fit and brave and very few got the better of him. He was very loyal and always saw the importance of working hard and never giving away a cheap score.”
During his time with St Patrick’s, John McDonogh played in four senior county finals, two in hurling against Cappamore in ’59 and Patrickswell in ’66 while in football he played against Ballysteen in ’64 and Claughaun in ’67 but he would lose all four finals.
He played with the Limerick senior team for ten years and while they did not enjoy much success during his era many will tell you that Limerick had great teams during that time and were unlucky not to record major championship honours. Ned Rea started his life at intercounty level as a defender and for more than five years he was part of the Limerick full backline with J J Bresnan and John McDonogh.
Speaking to me outside the Church in Bruree, Ned Rea said: “In hurling terms John was mean, lots tried to win the battle with him but they failed. He was hard and knew how to look after himself. I remember a National League game we played in Croke Park against Dublin. Mick Bermingham was the first Dublin All Star and they had a great battle, there was much talk about how we would handle him but “Mac” sorted him out and that was that. To this day Mick Byrne asks for him.”
So many of the great Limerick hurlers of the ‘60s and ‘70s were at the funeral, they mingled remembering old games, Ned Rea again: “The 1966 team was the best Limerick team I ever played on, we beat Tipperary who were going for three in a row and lost to Cork 2-6 to 1-7. John was playing that day and did very well, when he went for a ball you could be sure it was coming out.”
Over the years I had met John McDonogh a few times and hurling was always the main topic, he was always interested to hear how things were going with Limerick and if new players were making the breakthrough. When his son Stephen was playing he never spoke much about it but you knew that deep down he was as proud as any father would be. Former Limerick great Eamon Cregan, who played with John told me: “Stephen didn’t lick it from the floor and in so many ways he had the steel of his father.”
The Church in Bruree was packed to overflowing, the Bishop of Waterford William Lee, John’s brother-in-law, was the main celebrant at the mass and was joined by Fr Tony Mullins, the administrator of the Limerick diocese, and 15 other priests. Bishop Lee spoke with great passion about his friend and how he had shown such courage during his illness.
“John always had a great sense of place, he loved the land and he loved his hurling but, above all, he was so proud of his family. I saw him hurling for the first time in Croke Park against Wexford - he was hard, skilful and always a team player. I often heard him say ‘Do the hard things slowly, do them well’. He had so many friends that remained loyal all his life, people like JP and Noreen McManus, Joe McKenna, Eamon Grimes, Liam Hogan and many more.”
Another good friend of John’s, Mick Rainsford passed away a few months ago - I remember writing about him in this column - they were friends for 50 years, they loved to talk hurling and I am sure they will rekindle old memories in their new home. The mass booklet said “In celebration of John McDonogh’s life”, and from what we were told at the mass it was lived to the full.
He valued the simple things in life and was not a man to use harsh words. Outside the Church after the mass I heard a few farmers talk about John McDonogh - they used the word ‘honesty’ on a few occasions as they described how they often bought cattle from him and how he was always fair and honest in his dealings.
The large crowd flowed out through the church gate and on to the street, it was like a fair day, no rush as people took their time to meet the family. The entire family was sought out but from a hurling point of view they waited to shake the hand of Stephen.
GAA funerals are, in some ways, different - it’s like one of the family has died and when that happens that massive show of support is galvanised around the family. It’s seen as a way of saying thanks for all you have given the jersey, the pride and manly way you played the game and never yielding when the need was greatest.
John McDonogh was a team player and did what he had to do for the sake of the team. Funerals are emotional because they bring back memories for the family involved and those attending; each tear that falls reflects a memory of the past.
Many of the people I met spoke of John McDonogh the hurler, the farmer, the family man. It’s said that the greatest thing a man can do is leave memories and in this regard John McDonogh has left the cup overflowing.
John McDonogh was as solid as any one of the eight marble pillars in the church in Bruree - to his family and friends we extend our sympathies on their great loss.
1. Kiely crosshead