April 16, 1993
One of the most exciting Leeside players of all time. The Youghal man was a gifted opportunist with superb close control.
Sean O'Leary's instinct for scoring goals and simultaneously being in the right place at the right time made him a hugely important cog in many a Cork senior team between 1971 and 1984. He was, in my opinion, one of the most exciting Leeside players of all time and the unpredictable nature of his game was that defenders were always at loggerheads as to what he would do next.
Short and stocky, he was a gifted opportunist and his superb close control in tight situations was primarily what set him apart from other players. One has only to look back now to Cork's famous All-Ireland Centenary victory in 1984 to illustrate this point in the best possible manner. It was Sean's last season in the vivid red jersey but what a way to bow out. Indeed, at the beginning of that season who would have thought that he would suddenly emerge as the hero and his great scores at vital moments relieved the agony of those two catastrophic defeats of 1982 and 1983 when Kilkenny confounded the critics by taking successive titles at the Leesiders expense.
It all began with a great display against Offaly in the Centenary Cup semi final at Thurles, when he scored four magnificent points from play. This was a vital victory for Cork and the Youghal player followed this up with three more in the final against Laois at Croke Park. Then came the championship and the goals started to flow rapidly. Against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds, Cork were finding it difficult to contain a rampant Shannonside fifteen before 32,237 spectators until Sean pounced for a late first half goal after John Fenton's penalty was saved.
This was the goal that broke Limerick's supremacy and John Fenton and Pat Hartnett did the rest in a gripping second half. Then came the Munster Final and something went out of Cork's play after Tipperary took over the second half and went four points up with only six minutes left. However, the Reds recovered for Fenton to score a point and Tony O'Sullivan, unchallenged, lashed home the equalising goal.
Then it looked as if Tipp were going to get a vital score when Michael Doyle was in an ideal position to pick his spot but as he crossed to a colleague Denis Mulcahy made perhaps one of the most important saves in all his life by belting the ball a mightily distance out the field. A couple of Tipp players seemed to be under the dropping ball but it was Tony O'Sullivan who eventually sent in a speculative shot that goalkeeper John Sheedy could only beat back into play and there was the warrior himself, Sean O'Leary to put the finishing touch to one of the best Munster Finals in years.
Sean didn't play in the All-Ireland semi final when Cork beat Antrim by 24 points but again made a name for himself in the final at Thurles by scoring two of the most important goals as the Rebels went on to defeat Offaly by 3-16 to 1-12. "Yes, it was a great occasion for us after losing twice to Kilkenny but the match itself was a bit of an anti-climax and a dead affair really. It was a humid day and with all the Centenary celebrations, never really got off the ground. Offaly had their chances early on and could have scored two goals. Then after we got back into it, they struggled and that was it," says Sean, who is manager of the agricultural division at Woodchester Bank in Lower Glanmire Road.
At 5ft 8in and 13 and a half stone, in his playing days he was pound for pound, the most explosive and exciting player of that era and it is fair to say that along with Ray Cummins and Charlie McCarthy, the trio formed one of the best balanced and most lethal full forward lines in the history of the game, and that is saying something when you think of Paddy Barry, Liam Dowling and Christy Ring of an earlier period.
Said Cork's coach, Fr. Michael O'Brien a few years after his retirement, "His contribution to the Cork team was inestimable. I would commend him most of all for his outstanding goalscoring ability. He proved more than anything else what forward play is all about."
Even in his teens, O'Leary's career had quantity and quality and it was his commanding, cool and inspired forward play that clinched two All-Ireland minor championships for Cork in 1969 and 1970. Playing at top of the left on both occasions he was a dominant figure in every game,e and I can still visualise the Youghal hercules leaving the Galway backs stranded in the 1970 decider - a game that yielded him a personal tally of 2-2.
He was only 19 when he wore the senior jersey for the first time by coming on as a sub for Fr. Michael Waters in the 1971 Munster semi final against Limerick at Thurles. "I remember being marked by Tony O'Brien who was coming to the end of his days and after some switches, Jim O'Brien then came on me. Limerick won by two points (2-16 to 2-14), but it was a game we threw away," he says.
A grandson of Tom O'Mahony, who won an All-Ireland medal with Cork in 1902, Sean frequently lined out in defence as a young player and played most of his colleges hurling at wing back with St. Colman's, Fermoy. "I played in that position too with Imokilly in the Dick Barrett Shield when we beat Blackrock and Glen Rovers to win the under 14 championship. I can recall Martin O'Doherty playing for Glen on that occasion." Sean's father, the late Seamus, also distinguished himself as a player and won a county junior football medal with Midleton in 1939.
He had four tremendous seasons in the Cork under 21 jersey - 1970 to 1973 - winning All-Ireland medals on all occasions except 1972. In October of 1973 he had a real tour de force when notching up 2-14 out of his county's 2-16 to defeat Galway by double scores in the All-Ireland semi final at Pearse Stadium. "T'was played after cork beating Galway in the All-Ireland football final and there was a bit of a buzz around with Brian Murphy and Jimmy Barry Murphy on the side," continues Sean, who holds nine provincial senior medals won during the years 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983 and 1984.
1972 is a year worthy of note because he played in his first All-Ireland senior final and helped his beloved Youghal reach the county final, where they put up a great fight before going under to Glen Rovers. "What I remember most from that season was the great comeback we made against Tipperary. We were nine points down at half time and Noel O'Dwyer even got another point straightaway after the resumption. Gerald McCarthy scored two goals in the replay to give us a great victory."
Cork won the first of their five successive Munster titles in 1975 but were shocked by Galway in the All-Ireland semi final. Nevertheless, after that his set backs were well and truly behind him and he collected three All-Ireland medals on the trot against Wexford (1976 and 1977) and Kilkenny in '78. He slotted over the winning point in the first round win over Tipp in '76 - a game he feels Cork were lucky to pull through - and was forced to come off injured in the subsequent All-Ireland final when Cork romped to a 2-21 to 4-11 win over the Slaneysiders.
The '77 decider was another acid test for Cork who almost had to line out without O'Leary, who received a belt of a sliothar on the nose in a puck around before the game. Sean takes up the story: "I had to go back into the dressingroom to be treated by the team doctor Con Murphy and we were there a little longer than anticipated. Then in walked the late Christy Ring who was rather uneasy as time was running out. He looked at me and said 'come on, it's time to go out and anyway, it isn't with your bloody nose you're playing."
Married to Geraldine, the couple have two boys, Tomas and Ciaran and a girl, Aideen. His sister Mary was also a well known camogie player and interestingly holds the same number of All-Ireland senior medals (four) as her distinguished brother.
Of all the goals Seanie O'Leary got, the one which gave me the most pleasure were the four he scored in the 1982 Munster Final against Waterford, with impeccable accuracy and craft. This equalled the same number recorded by Limerick's Eamonn Cregan in the 1976 decider at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, when Cork won by 3-15 to 4-5. He is currently coach to the Cork under 21 team, a position he also held last season.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
16th April 1993
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