Monday 18 December 2017

Profile: Brilliant forward won every honour in his long GAA career

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

EVER since the May Sunday in 1976 when Colm O'Rourke, then 18 years old and already looking like a youngster destined for a successful career, announced his arrival on to the senior football championship circuit, he has been a major presence on the GAA landscape.

The confident teenager scored four points as Meath beat Wicklow in Croke Park and, between then and his exit from the inter-county scene 19 years later following the 1995 Leinster final defeat by Dublin, O'Rourke built, and maintained, a career that yielded every major honour in the game.

Born in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, he spent the first eight years of his life in Aughavas, Co Leitrim, before his family moved to Meath in 1966. Leitrim's loss was very much Meath's gain.

One of the best forwards of his generation, he maintained remarkably high standards with club (Skryne), county and province while also winning four International Rules caps with Ireland against Australia. He later managed the Irish team for two Test series.

O'Rourke suffered an early setback in his career, sustaining a serious knee injury during a club game in December 1976, which was later diagnosed as severed cruciate and medial ligaments and a torn cartilage.

Medical science wasn't as advanced then and it was 14 months before he could resume playing. However, Meath were struggling at the time -- indeed it was several years before they made any real impression on the Leinster and All-Ireland scene.

It wasn't until Sean Boylan's fourth year in charge in 1986 that Meath made the breakthrough, winning their first Leinster title since 1970. The All-Ireland title followed a year later, Meath's first since 1967.

It was the launch of a glory period for Meath. Surrounded by such famous names as Mick Lyons, Gerry McEntee, Liam Hayes, Bobby O'Malley, Joe Cassells, Brian Stafford, Liam Harnon, Bernie Flynn and Martin O'Connell, O'Rourke was a leading figure as Meath retained the All-Ireland title in 1988, beating Cork in a controversial final replay.

Meath went on to two more All-Ireland finals in 1990 and 91, losing to Cork and Down respectively. O'Rourke couldn't start the 1991 final due to illness but came on as a sub and was a major catalyst in Meath's brave revival which cut Down's lead from 11 points to two at the finish.

Ignoring illness to help the cause was typical of the attitude that characterised O'Rourke's inter-county career, during which he scored 16-105 in 62 championship games. Earlier in 1991, he had been at the heart of Meath's stubborn resistance during the four-match epic with Dublin in the Leinster championship. That year he won the third of his three All Star awards and was also chosen as Footballer of the Year.

Meath's star began to wane but O'Rourke played on. He retired in 1995. A year later, a new-look Meath won the All-Ireland title.

Never afraid to offer an opinion, O'Rourke's outspoken approach helped launch him as a media commentator on GAA affairs, first with the 'Sunday Tribune' and later with 'The Sunday Game' and 'The Sunday Independent', roles he still holds.

He is principal of St Patrick's Classical School, Navan.

Irish Independent

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