Friday 22 September 2017

'I'm very, very proud of where I come from' - Ronan O'Gara given keys to Cork city

Ronan O’Gara
Ronan O’Gara
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

He may work in Paris and have been born in the United States but rugby legend Ronan O'Gara (40) admitted Cork will always lay claim to his heart.

The former Cork Constitution, Munster and Ireland star admitted he was "overwhelmed, honoured and very humbled" as he was awarded the Freedom of Cork in a lavish ceremony in Cork City Hall.

Mr O'Gara told hundreds of well-wishers he was "very, very proud" of where he comes from.

The award, the highest that can be conferred by Cork City Council on any citizen, was presented to the 128-cap Irish veteran in front of his proud family including his wife Jessica and children.

To further underpin the honour, fellow rugby legends including Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Donal Lenihan added their voices to the glittering tributes being paid to the father-of-five.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor Des Cahill, said the honour was richly deserved given how Mr O'Gara has served as an ambassador for Cork and an outstanding role model for children.

“This honour is given for his contribution to rugby on the local, national and international stage, including becoming the record points scorer in the Heineken Cup and in the Six Nations Championship,” he said.

“As well as for Munster and for Ireland, for his leadership, resilience, skill and courage on the field of play, in acknowledgement of the immeasurable pride and pleasure he has brought to his fellow people of Cork, Munster and Ireland, in recognition of his legacy in Irish sport and in civic recognition of the high esteem and affection in which he is held by the people of Cork.”

Born in San Diego in California where his father was working as an academic, Mr O'Gara grew up in Cork where he attended the famous rugby school, Presentation Brothers College (PBC).

He emerged as part of a golden generation of Irish rugby players who helped Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Ireland to incredible success in the 1990s and 2000s.

Having made his Munster debut in 1997, when he finally called time on his Irish career he was the sixth most capped player in rugby union history.

Mr O'Gara won honours with Cork Constitution, Munster, Ireland and was also capped by the British and Irish Lions.

He is currently working as a coach in Paris.

The star has repeatedly admitted his life's ambition would be to someday coach his beloved Munster.

Mr O'Gara joins an elite group of people who have received the Freedom of Cork ranging from US President John F Kennedy, various Irish Presidents, comedian Niall Tobin, sports stars Roy Keane, Sonia O'Sullivan and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.

He said he has no regrets over the timing of ending his playing career and switching to coaching.

“To be honest, it has been a bit of a relief since I retired. The body is still fine but I was putting myself under a lot of mental pressure to perform and to help the team."

"I was pushing myself. That is why when you don’t win it hurts so much. But I think people respected me for that (commitment),” he said.

The star now loves his time in France and has no immediate plans to relocate his family back to Ireland.

Former Ireland and Lions star, Donal Lenihan, hailed Mr O’Gara as "one of the all-time greats of the Munster and Irish game."

The star, having won every honour in the game, has received multiple awards in his native Cork including a special civic reception in his honour.

A special tribute dinner in his honour in 2013 proved a sell-out success with almost 1,000 guests in attendance.

Mr O'Gara remains the record points scorer in Six Nations championship history.

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