Friday 6 December 2019

Obituary: Greg Hughes, GAA player

Mid-century Offaly GAA legend affectionately known as 'The Prince of Full-backs', writes PJ Cunningham

THE ORIGINAL NICE GUY: Legendary football star Greg Hughes won many medals and cups in his long career
THE ORIGINAL NICE GUY: Legendary football star Greg Hughes won many medals and cups in his long career

PJ Cunningham

Greg Hughes, who died suddenly at his home in Lorrha last Thursday at the age of 75, was known as 'The Prince of Full-backs' at a time in GAA history when the position employed an edge-of-the-square-merchant often euphemistically described as the 'hard man' of the team.

The Offaly full-back of the late Fifties, Sixties and early Seventies was a Corinthian in spirit who loved to display the skills of high catching, long kicking and fair tackling but always underpinned with a burning desire to win.

He was the central cog in a celebrated Offaly full-back line of the Sixties also comprising Paddy McCormack and John Egan.

The fusion of the different elements in their play elevated this unit to new heights in the eyes of the GAA nation – as Hughes's style and elan, Egan's power and tackling allied to McCormack's legendary pragmatism in how to deal with enemy forces, meant there was normally only lean pickings to be had for forwards in that end of the field of play.

The trio, marshalled by the great Willie Nolan in goals, anchored the ambitions of a Cinderella county in the transition from perennial losers to a team which could win and contest the major provincial and national honours.

They orchestrated Offaly's first Leinster senior football success in 1960 against Louth and later faced up heroically on four occasions against the all conquering Down team, drawing in their first All-Ireland semi-final before losing the replay – and then suffered a similar fate in the 1961 final when they narrowly failed in front of a record 90,556 fans at Croke Park. They would later have a measure of revenge in winning the Grounds Tournament final of that year against the same opposition.

Hughes, a native of Cloghan, made the full-back position his own from 1959 and was a fixture right up to 1971 – ironically the year Offaly would go on to win the Sam Maguire for the first time.

Having picked up a third Leinster medal in 1969, he suffered the agony of defeat at the hands of Kerry in that year's All-Ireland final (0-10 to 0-7) but was still part of the panel two years later when Offaly, with McCormack, 'The Iron Man From Rhode', by then ruling the roost from the No 3 jersey, beat Galway by 1-14 to 2-8 in the All-Ireland final.

Hughes won three Railway Cups with Leinster, one as captain in 1962. He also won two Meath championships for Kells and district club Gaeil Colmcille's, as a centre-forward in '66 and then at full-forward when he collected his second Keegan Cup medal in early '69 for the previous year's championship.

Greg began his career outside football as a garda in Kinnegad and later managed dance bands in the music business before excelling in the local banking world. No one had ever a bad word to say about him.

As his friend and best man Phil O'Reilly said: "Greg was the original nice guy. You couldn't meet better."

He is survived by his loving wife Kathleen, son Gregory, daughters, Eimear, Trini, Aoife and Niamh, sister Eileen and a large circle of family and friends. His remains are reposing today at Dignity Chapel in the grounds of Portumna Retirement Village, St Brendan's Road, Portumna from 5pm to 8pm and his funeral takes place tomorrow at St Ruadhans Church, Lorrha at 12 noon.

Sunday Independent

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