'Go to that great, big football pitch in the sky': Family's powerful tribute to Limerick sports icon

Fintan Walsh

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Fintan Walsh

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fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

'Go to that great, big football pitch in the sky': Family's powerful tribute to Limerick sports icon

David Weldrick's final farewell took place at Monaleen church this Thursday | Picture: Michael Cowhey

THE FAMILY of the late Dave Weldrick, the former University of Limerick lecturer who died after a drowning accident in Kilkee, have led powerful and emotional tributes at his funeral Mass. 

Dave, 71, from Monaleen, tragically died after he got into swimming difficulty in Kilkee on Saturday morning, prompting widespread sadness across Limerick and the sporting community. 

Dave was the first ever pundit for The Sunday Game on RTE, the coach for Limerick’s first and only All-Ireland senior Gaelic football club title, long-serving PE lecturer at UL, and a stalwart of the soccer referee community. 

His funeral Mass took place at a packed Mary Magdalene Church in his hometown this Thursday afternoon, and was attended by past colleagues, students, team mates, friends and many loved ones.  

Initiating the moving tributes, four gifts and life symbols were brought to the altar by members of the family. 

Announced by Dave’s son Oran, the first gift was his referee’s whistle. 

“He really loved this outlet in life, and the camaraderie amongst those referees meant everything to Dave,” said Oran, who was a top Limerick FC player in the early 2000s. 

The second gift was a book, which represented his father’s intellect. 

“He was a very educated man and a deep thinker and someone who loved to drift off to sleep each night, reading that book he had on the table”. 

The third life symbol was a photo of his eight grandchildren, “his world who he was so prouf of”. And the final gift was a football, brought by grandson James, whom Dave had “earmarked this guy as the future superstar”. 

Delivering a powerfully emotional eulogy, Dave’s daughter Cara spoke with candour and weaved humour into her heart-warming tribute. 

And throughout her moving speech, there were tears of sadness, resounding laughter, and tremendous applause from all of the influential coach’s loved ones. 

Cara said the family were “genuinely overwhelmed” by the turnout at his funeral Mass. 

“I can’t help but smile, thinking to myself of the disbelief in his face at the turnout, as there’s just no way he would have queued in the rain for any of your funerals! That just wasn’t dad.”

“There have been many words used to describe my dad, our dad, over the last few days; legendary, inspirational, visionary, ahead of his time, mentor, straight-talker, coach of coaches, one of a kind. And he was all of these things and more. But I suppose the word that resounded most with me and my family, was that Dave was a passionate man,” she said. 

She said that one of his main passions was sport and exercise, and was “blown away” by a story told by two men who had travelled from Donegal to pay their respects. 

“They described dad coaching the football team in the PE department back in 1978. At the time, the All Blacks were in Limerick and were down in UL conducting a training session. And apparently they stopped the session and went to the sideline of dad’s session just to observe what he was doing.”

During the 13-minute eulogy, Cara was never short of an anecdote to capture the uniqueness of the champion coach and father. 

“There was no such thing as a simple kick around of a ball with my dad. Even when he played in the garden with the grandchildren, there was a white board and a four-three-three formation.”

“I remember a story he told me years back, when dad was involved in underage coaching with Aisling Anncotty, and there was a senior game being scheduled. Some of the senior players arrived and they were standing outside the changing room, which was a container at the time. And they heard a loud voice booming from inside. A high motivational and technical team talk with mention of words such as ‘width’, ‘depth’, ‘penetration’. They looked at each other, astounded, wondering if they were late or whether there was another senior game on. Next thing, the door of the changing room flung open, and a team of six-year-olds ran out,” she recalled, which was met with laughter from every pew. 

Cara said he was dedicated to his family and would religiously phone his sister Marie every Sunday evening, adding that his eyes would always “light up” when any of his eight gandchildren entered the room. 

“He said that the best thing that you can give your children is your time, and that he gave us in abundance.”

“I was once playing in the Munster U21 hockey trials down in Cork, and during the match, the ball deflected from a stick, straight into my mouth. My two front teeth on the pitch, blood spilling from my mouth. As I limped off, my dad ran over. He said: ‘You’re playing a blinder, will you not stay on?’”

And not only was he a consummate coach and educator, he was particularly charitable in the latter years of his life. 

In 2016, he travelled to India for six weeks to help women in underprivileged areas with their literacy. Next month, he was due to fly to Morocco to do the same through the Women’s Empowerment Programme. 

His altruism was local, too. He dedicated much of his time to a literacy programme at St Brigid’s National School. And even up until his death, Dave helped a family of asylum seekers in Limerick city with their English. 

“We had never seen our Dad happier than in the last few months,” she said, adding that he had moved to the Park retirement village which “really transformed him”. 

She said that Dave said to Oran’s friend in Australia: “If I were to be taken tomorrow, I’d go happy.”

She said: “Despite the brutal tragedy of his untimely death, we as a family take great solace by the fact that he was fulfilled and genuinely content.”

Concluding her tribute, Cara said: “I am told that this unbearable pain will ease in time, but even so, our lives are never going to be as good without you in it. So goodbye, our beautiful father, we are so proud to have had you as our dad. We will miss you in every minute of every day. I am not going to say rest in peace, because you didn’t like rest. But I want you to go to that great, big football pitch in the sky.”

Leading the Mass was Fr John O’Shea, who was chaplain at UL from 1975 to 1987, and Canon Gerard Garrett. Fr O’Shea said he was “part and parcel” of the community for 45 years. 

“I am sure that the water is a person’s best friend, and also can be its worst enemy. No matter what, Dave was able to see life and the challenges of life and take them on. Unfortunately that morning, his health overpowered him.

“Little did he think on Saturday morning, he entered the water, that his life would be snuffed out like a candle in the wind.”

The Weldrick family thanked the emergency services and members of the public “who put their life at risk” in their bid to save Dave. 

Sadly missed by his loving children Cara, Oran and Breean, their mum Nicola, his eight adored grandchildren, sisters Marie, Noeleen and Linda, son-in-law Cathal, daughters-in-law Brooke & Laura, other relatives and friends.