Sunday 19 January 2020

Obituary: Fred Cogley

Third generation sports journalist who joined RTE and became 'the voice of Irish rugby', writes Liam Collins

Fred Cogley: Completed 49 seasons as a commentator. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Fred Cogley: Completed 49 seasons as a commentator. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Fred (Frederick) Cogley was 'the voice of Irish rugby' in the pre-professional era when the Interprovincial series and the four-yearly internationals, including the Triple Crown, were the highlight of the rugby calendar.

But following his death last Wednesday at the age of 82, a look back at his career also reveals an impressive record as a sports journalist, covering 11 Olympic Games, 12 World Cups and 49 seasons as a rugby commentator, since his first broadcast on Radio Eireann as a schoolboy.

Sport and reporting were in his blood. His grandfather, also Fred, was a news reporter and publicist for the Republican, during the War of Independence and Civil War, ending up in The Curragh prison for his troubles. His wife, the exotic Madam Desiree 'Toto' Bannard, a theatrical Parisian, made a similar journey to the women's prison in Mountjoy Jail. Released, she later introduced Hilton Edwards and Michael MacLiammoir to Dublin's theatrical circles.

Disillusioned by De Valera's decision to enter the Dail, they left Dublin and Fred's father Mitchel Cogley was born in Chile. The family returned to Ireland and after school at Synge Street, Mitchel joined the sports staff of the Irish Press on its foundation in 1931. He later worked for the Sunday Independent before being appointed sports editor of the Irish Independent in 1943, a position he held until his retirement in 1975.

Born on June 27, 1934 his son Fred was educated at St Mary's College, from 1942-1952, where he played rugby and cricket and had a wide-ranging interest in all sports. As a 16-year-old he persuaded Eamonn Andrews, who was then presenting Sports Stadium on Radio Eireann (situated in the GPO in Henry Street), to broadcast an item of interest to 'the young sports fans'.

He grew up in Effra Road and later Kenilworth Square in Rathgar, Dublin, where his mother Muriel was a well-known figure. Fred later reminisced about the 'village' atmosphere of the time in his memoir Voices From My Past. After leaving school he became a trainee sports sub-editor with The Irish Times and later with the Evening Herald, where one of his colleagues,'the voice of racing' for many years, Noel Reid, said of him: "He had a remarkable kindness, he never said a bad word about anybody."

Although his father was a GAA and boxing writer (and was the only Irish-based newspaper reporter to cover the All-Ireland football final between Cavan and Kerry in New York in 1947) Fred, although interested in all sports, quickly established himself as one of the foremost commentators of his generation on rugby. With the foundation of RTE in 1962 he joined the sports department, which then had six people.

His memoir was described as "an elegy to a bygone era" as Fred lived by his father's dictum that in reporting sporting events "if you didn't play well you weren't mentioned". That said, he did manage to incur the wrath of the Irish international team touring Australia in 1967 when he wrote in an Evening Herald column, after they beat the home side in the First Test but lost the second, that their performance was hampered because they had celebrated "not wisely, but too well" following the first victory. As a non-drinking Pioneer all his life, Fred managed to survive the perilous and sometimes heroic drinking feats of press colleagues and, indeed, rugby players of the era.

As well as being appointed head of sport in RTE, he presented Sports Stadium between 1973 and 1997 and was recognised by many as 'the voice of rugby' during that period. He retired in 1999.

Continuing the family tradition, his son Niall was also head of sport in RTE before moving to Setanta and later TV3. Fred Cogley died just two days before the second anniversary of the Berkeley tragedy in San Francisco (in which his granddaughter Clodagh was critically injured, but managed to win much acclaim and admiration afterwards by her determination to recover and live life on her own terms).

Fred Cogley, who lived in Terenure and is survived by his wife Madeleine and their children David, Niall, Michelle and Denise, was buried in Kilmashogue Cemetery after his funeral Mass yesterday.

Sunday Independent

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