September 13, 1991
Paddy O'Rourke with '91 Sam Maguire
Down's captain fantastic
September 15th, 1991, is a date which will, no doubt, be remembered forever by present and future generations of Down people, for it is on that date that the famed Red and Black will be appearing in the All-Ireland Senior Football Final for the first time in twenty three years. It will be a proud day in the annals of Down GAA history and no Down man will be as proud as the man who will lead them onto the famous Croke Park that day, team captain Paddy O'Rourke.
An All-Ireland Senior Football medal will complete an amazing collection of medals for the Burren Building Contractor. He is already the holder of two Railway Cup medals, a National Football League medal, All-Ireland Minor and Under 21 Football medals and two All-Ireland Club Championship medals. He now has a golden opportunity of adding the most prestigious medal of the lot to his impressive tally.
From an early age, it was clear that Paddy O'Rourke would be an outstanding athlete. Under the expert guidance of the late Sean Murdock, O'Rourke competed in both Gaelic Football and track and field athletics with his native Burren club. He could have made it in either code but chose Gaelic Football. Paddy O'Rourke was an outstanding Juvenile club footballer and his first taste of Championship success carne when he won a Down Minor Football Championship medal at the tender age of fourteen in 1974. This team was incidentally managed by Barney Treanor, who is, of course, a selector with the current Down team. The following year he played on the Burren side which lost to Newry Bosco in the Down Minor Championship Final, but in 1978 he was to add a second Down Minor Championship medal to his collection, captaining the Burren side, which easily defeated Newry Mitchels in the final. In 1976 he also won a Down Under16 Championship medal with Burren.
At school level, too, he was making an impression and he played a significant role in helping St. Mark's of Warrenpoint to win All-Ireland Under 16 Vocational Schools medals in 1975 and 1976. Things were happening very quickly for the young O'Rourke and much more was still to come.
In 1977, the legendary Sean O'Neill, who won an Alllreland Senior Football medal with Down in 1960, 1961 and 1968, took over the mangership of the Down Minor Football team. They progressed to the Ulster final where they met near neighbours Armagh. It took a late Down point to force a draw in the first encounter at Clones, but in the replay a fortnight later in Castleblayney, Down got home by two points, on a 0-11 to 1-6 scoreline. Mayo were accounted for in the All-Ireland semi-final and Paddy O'Rourke had arrived at his first inter-county All-Ireland final.
Down's opponents in that 1977 All-Ireland Minor final were none other than Meath, and the game was played in Croke Park as the curtain raiser to the Dublin V Armagh All-Ireland final. Included on the Meath team that day were Michael McQuillan and Liam Harnan, but even footballers with such great potential as these could not prevent the Mournemen from landing their first ever All-Ireland Minor Football title. It was a proud Down captain John McCartan who lifted the Tom Markham Cup that day, but it was not to be a "Northern Double" as Dublin put paid to Armagh's hopes in the Senior game which followed.
Paddy O'Rourke had the honour of captaining the Down Minor team in 1978, but their Ulster and All-Ireland crowns disappeared as Down lost to Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final. More All-Ireland glory was to come Paddy's way the following year however, when he played centre half back on the Down team which defeated Cork by 1-9 to 0-7 in the All-Ireland Under 21 Football final, also played at headquarters. Indeed, Burren players comprised the Down half back line on that occasion as Paddy O'Rourke was flanked by Gerard Murdock and Brendan McGovern.
Following the defeat by Tyrone in the 1978 Ulster Minor semi-final, Paddy O'Rourke was called into the Down Senior squad by team manager James McCartan. Down proceeded to defeat Cavan in the Ulster final and in the All-Ireland semi-final Down were drawn against the mighty Dubs. Such was the confidence that the Mourne management had in the young O'Rourke, that at half time he was thrown into the full-blooded battle of Senior County Football for the first time in his career. His performance during his thirty five minutes of play clearly earmarked him as a star of the future.
O'Rourke from that day has been a permanent fixture of the Down team, and in 1981 he captured his second Ulster Championship medal playing a leading role on the team which beat Armagh by 3-12 to 1-10, in an action packed final played at Clones. Armagh were again the victims in 1983, when Down won their fourth National Football League title and Paddy O'Rourke collected his first and, to date, only National inter-county award at Senior level. Indeed, that was a real time of celebration for Paddy, as just prior to Down winning that National League title he married Warrenpoint Lady, Una Powderly, and they spent their honeymoon on tour with The Bank of Ireland All Stars in the U.S.A. (Paddy toured as an All-Star replacement).
After winning two Ulster Championship medals in three years, it took Paddy O'Rourke and Down a further ten years to win another one. In 1982, Paddy was elected captain of Down, but, unfortunately, his Championship debut as captain was not a happy one as the Anglo-Celt Cup, which had been received by his club mate and good friend Tommy McGovern the year before, was lost at the first defence, Down succumbed to the challenge of Tyrone.
The remainder of the eighties did not bring much success at county level for Paddy O'Rourke, but he more than compensated for this on the domestic front. The Burren club of the 1980's will be remembered as one of the greatest ever club sides to grace the Gaelic fields of Ireland and Paddy O'Rourke played a monumental role in helping them to achieve this glory. Between 1981 and 1988 inclusive, Burren won seven Down Senior Football Championship titles, five Ulster Club Championship titles and All-Ireland Club titles in 1986 and 1988, the latter having been achieved with victories over Castleisland Desmonds (Kerry) and Clann Na nGael (Roscommon), respectively. Unfortunately, an accident at work - which certainly would have been much more serious but for the combination of Paddy's athletic ability and the prompt actions of a crane driver - ruled the All-Star out of that
1988 All-Ireland Club final, but he as much as anyone had played his part in getting Burren there, and in particular, he will have fond memories of their great semi-final victory over Nemo Rangers in Middleton.
When the father of three - Orla (7), Ciara (3) and Pauric (1) - leads Down onto Croke Park on Sunday, Paddy O'Rourke will have fulfilled a lifetime ambition. "It is a dream come true to play in an All-Ireland final," he said. "Nothing compares to it. In my early day I was blessed ~, with a lot of success and when I won Minor and Under 21 medals, I thought that getting to All-Ireland finals was easy. Now, I know different, but I have learned the hard way. There were times when I thought that this day would never come, but now that it has I can hardly believe it. It's certainly the best thing that has happened to me in my football career. To play in an All-Ireland final is a great honour for any footballer, but to captain that team is a real bonus. I am really looking forward to the game."
Meath will be difficult to beat and Paddy knows it. Time after time this year the Meath team have shown great character in refusing to accept defeat. Having got to the All-Ireland final they will not throw in the towel easily. Paddy O'Rourke knows that nothing, but the best from Down, will be good enough. At the end of the day it will all come down to whichever team adopts best to the occasion, and if it so happens that Peter Quinn becomes the first Ulster GAA President to present the Sam Maguire Cup to a winning Ulster captain, then come Sunday evening Croke Park will belong to Down and to Paddy O'Rourke.
Taken from Hogan Stand
13th September 1991
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