Counihan, Conor

22 May 1992

Conor Counihan in his days as a Cork selector
Cork’s Conor Counihan always gives his best

Be it in the club or county jersey

Conor Counihan has been Cork’s centre half back now for almost eight consecutive seasons. Like a determined hunk of a rock defying the raging seas, he has stood at this important post, challenging all comers with fearless intent and extremely dangerous when involved in an attacking sense. He is classed in the same mould of men like Tim Kennelly, Kevin Moran, John Coleman and my ’player of the sixties’ Sean Meade, who won three successive All-Ireland medals with the then great Galway side.

Indeed, many of the opponents who try to sail round Counihan might understand how the Titanic felt after his collision with the famous iceberg and it should aid Cork’s confidence to know that his dependability and guile will be very important for the forthcoming Championship. Conor Counihan is a very modest man when it comes to discussing his own ability. If he plays well he is happy but not carried away and if he plays badly – which is never to my knowledge – you’ll probably find him sitting quietly and trying to figure out what went wrong. That is the sort of perfection that has enabled him to continue for so long. It is eleven years now since Conor originally came onto the Cork Senior side, but it wasn’t until after Imokilly won a couple of County Senior titles during the mid-eighties that he really made his mark. His roots are in Cullen near the Kerry border where his father Ted grew up. All the family are tremendously interested in sport – Brendan played with Aghada for a long number of years – and Conor’s wife is a daughter of the well-known inter-county referee John Motherway.

Conor is now one of the longest serving members of the Cork team and is the only link with the panel that lost the 1981 Munster final to Kerry in Killarney. The previous Autumn he had made his debut in the League after a very successful stint with the Under 21 team. He began his career at Under 12 and 14 with his beloved. Aghada and learned a great deal in those days from a number of tutors who had been through it all before. “Nothing else mattered but football and a few precious events are stored away in my memory. Like the year we went into the final of the Minor county section but went under to Macroom who were captained by Colman Corrigan”, he says.

Unheralded, Conor’s fascinating determination got him a trial with the Cork Minors but when the goalkeeper in a particular game didn’t turn up he was persuaded to line-out between the posts with rather disastrous results. On the day he functioned very well but when tried there again failed to satisfy the selectors and loss out in the end. Nevertheless, the year 1979 was a very important one for the Aghadaman, who will be 33 in a couple of weeks time. Up to then there had been no substantial evidence that Cork would break Kerry’s monopoly in the Munster Under 21 Championship but with players like Mike Healy, Jimmy Kerrigan, Brian Lotty, Ttimmy Dalton, Sean Hayes, Finny O’Mahony, and Brian McSweeney playing to their full potential the Kingdom were finally beaten and although Down won the All-Ireland final meeting there were green pastures ahead.

In retrospect, Conor was extremely happy to be part of the panel and with enormous potential the side went all the way twelve months later when the All-Ireland title was regained after a ten year lapse. And an extremely interesting, and perhaps underrated, side it was too from goalkeeper Mick Creedon to Finny O’Mahony in the left corner of attack. Cork were up against a strong Dublin team parading John O’Leary, Dave Foran, Pat Canavan, Jim Ronayne, whose father, incidentally, came from near Aghada in East Cork, Ciaran Duff and Barney Rock, but Conor and Co. refused to be overawed by the big occasion and the Reds were well worth their 2-8 to 1-5 victory.

The same year the Cork Seniors got a good result when winning the League title from Kerry at Pairc Ui Chaoimh but nothing went right for them in the Championship and they suffered three further defeats at the hands of their neighbours from 1980 to 1982. Counihan made his first appearance against Waterford at corner back in Dungarvin in 1981 but was back on the substitutes bench for the Munster final when Kerry went on the rampage to win, 1-11to 0-3. He played Junior briefly in 1983 and again in 1984 when Cork won the All-Ireland against Warwickshire in Coventry. Anthony Davis, Michael McCarthy, Danny Culloty and Teddie McCarthy were other members of that year’s squad, and it is to their great credit that the above mentioned plus Counihan survived to play major roles in the re-shaping of the Senior football side.

Away from the inter-county scene many voices were heard down Imokilly way when Conor Counihan captained them to win the 1984 County title in sensational fashion. The general view before the game was that the Barrs would win with something to spare but with Counihan having a proverbial blinder in the number six jersey and club colleague Billy Aherne scoring seven scintillating points, Imokilly gratefully accepted their first trophy, two years later they repeated the dose against the same club when a couple of late goals gave them a 2-4 to 0-9 victory.

Conor’s first championship match as captain of his county occurred at Thurles in 1985 when Cork slaughtered Tipperary on a 4-19 to 1-10 scoreline. The Munster final was again played with all the determination and enthusiasm of a typical Cork/Kerry clash but at the finish two goals 2-11 to 0-11, separated the sides. Over the hour Counihan faced all the problems with cleverness and purpose and held Denis ’Ogie’ Morgan scoreless. That day he also became only the second player from East Cork to Captain the Leesiders in a Munster football final – the first was Paddy O’Driscoll in 1958 and ironically the Kingdom were again victorious.

Meanwhile Conor was winning numerous medals in both codes with his club Aghada and a proud moment came when they subsequently lifted the county junior football title for the first time in 1989 by beating Knocknagree after a replay. Since then they have been successful at Intermediate level (1991) and only two weeks ago shocked Carberry in the first round of the senior championship.

The years between the great breakthrough under his leadership in 1987 and ultimate success against Meath in 1990 were full of hard work and physical training. In many ways he holds the proud record of having only two points scored against him during the five All Ireland Finals, including the 1988 replay which Meath won, 0-13 to 0-12. In the drawn game Cork folk will forever argue that the Kerry referee Tommy Sugrue should not have awarded the Royal County a close in free in the dying moments of the tie but quite simply the game was lost much earlier when panic and frustration set in among the forwards. Of course, he’ll always dwell on the 1989 All Ireland final when he won his first senor medal against Mayo, and a remarkable double celebration it was because Cork had taken the League title earlier that year, first beating Dublin (0-15 to 0-12), and then New York over two legs in Gaelic Park. Conor lives for the thunder and excitement of the sportsfield and can be seen week after week urging on various Aghada under age teams. To date he’s had a lifetime of addiction and loves a challenge even in wind, rain or snow. As one club colleague puts it. “he’s the helluva player to have around the place because all the kids look to him as someone special”.

With time sprinting away he wants another All Ireland medal to make up for the disappointment of losing out on the three-in-a-row last year. Sunday could bring him a place closer to that ultimate goal when the Reds entertain Kerry in the Munster semi final. The intimidating sight of Conor will be there along with most of his old colleagues and given the circumstances his contribution will again be of immense significance in deciding the outcome. Also a distinguished hurler, Conor lined out with the Cork juniors in 1989 and a major part in helping Aghada reach last year’s county junior final where they lost to Aghabullogue in a reply. He was a football “All Star” in 1989 and has captained Munster in the Railway Cup as well as playing for them continuously since 1987. After all that drop down to Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday and see for yourself.


Taken from Hogan Stand – 22-05-92

Written by Tom Morrison