Saturday 20 October 2018

Only 20 when he helped Louth to 1957 All-Ireland title

Ollie Reilly 1936 - 2009 Oliver (Ollie) Reilly, of Hunterstown, Ardee who died on April 4th after a comparatively short illness was a member of the Louth All-Ireland winning team of 1957. He was aged just 20 when he played right-back in that final and the second youngest member of the team.

Aged 73, Ollie is the fourth member of that All-Ireland team to pass away, and throughout his relatively short football career he was loyal to his parish team, Hunterstown Rovers with whom he won several honours.

He took ill shortly before last Christmas and his unexpected death which has left his family heartbroken has evoked widespread sympathy within the GAA community for Ollie was a much admired fotballer and a very genuine man for whom loyalty was paramount.

Regarded as one of the best fielders of a ball, Ollie was one of the few players who could contain Kevin Heffernan one of the finest corner forwards Dublin ever produced, and with his life long friend, Patsy Coleman the pair, who patrolled the right side of the Louth defence, had a great understanding for coping with Heffernan and other dangerous corner forwards.

Ollie's passion for football came from his father, Stephen, a Leinster JFC winner with Louth in 1912 and from a very young age he was brought along by his father not just to club games but to Croke Park, making his first visit when he was just 12.

Indeed he was a spectator at the AllIreland final in 1950 which Louth lost, and ironically the defeat was to be an inspiration not just for Ollie in the 1957 final, but for Ollie's mentor, Tom Conlon who played alongside him in the full-back line that day.

Ollie had grown up admiring the talents not just of the great Stabannon full-back, but also Stephen White. It was therefore a dream come true for Ollie to line-out alongside the two players that he admired most.

He started his football career with Ardee minors, winning a MFC medal in 1954, and ironically two other members of that team, Jim Roe and Patsy Coleman were also members of the All-Ireland winning team, while a third, Aidan Magennis was a substitute.

Ollie's performance with the Ardee minors brought him to the attention of the Louth selectors and he was picked for the county minors in 1954, and played for the Louth juniors before making his debut for the seniors against the Dublin team of Heffernan, Freaney and Ferguson in 1955 in a NFL match in Croke Park.

After an impressive debut against the then All-Ireland beaten finalists, Ollie remained a permanent fixture in the Louth team for the following seven years, the highlight obviously being the 1957 All-Ireland win.

In that campaign from the first win over Carlow to victory over Cork in the final, Ollie played almost every minute of every game, the exception being the Leinster final against Dublin when he broke his nose in a clash with Kevin Heffernan. That injury after 20 minutes saw Ollie replaced by another Ardee player, Barney McCoy and he only learned of Louth's victory over Dublin from Michael O'Hehir's broadcast while he was receiving medical attention in the Mater hospital.

It was a testament of Ollie's ability that although he was playing junior football at the time with Hunterstown Rovers that he was able to make the step-up to inter-county senior football, and with Dermot O'Brien, Sean Og Flood, Dan O'Neill, Stephen White and Kevin Behan were the only players to start in the same positions throughout the campaign.

On the morning of the final, he followed his normal routine, driving with the five or six other Ardee players to Dublin, stopping off in Skerries for a walk on the beach. A persistent ankle ligament problem meant that former Louth great, Eddie Boyle had to strap up Ollie's ankle before the final.

He recalled afterwards his abiding memory of the day was the rousing speech given to the players before the match by the player for whom Ollie had immense respect, full-back Tom Conlon. Ollie saw the determination on the great Stabannon Tom Conlon's face when he recalled losing the 1950 final and his comment "the way I feel is that if I break a leg today then I will get up on the other one and play on. I expect everyone to do the same".

Inspired by such words, and relying on the experience of Tom Conlon, Ollie played a significant role in the victory, and remembered afterwards the mayhem as the Louth fans celebrated and remarked that trying to get off the field was harder than the game itself.

He was disappointed that Louth never built on that success, especially their failure to retain the Leinster title the following year, but continued to be part of the Louth panel until 1962 when at the age of 25, following a gall stones operation, he found it hard to regain full fitness. His last match for the county was fittingly against Kildare in an O'Byrne Cup match in Croke Park.

Ollie's decision to resist the overtures of St. Mary's to join their talented senior side undoubtedly cost him a number of Louth SFC medals, but he had no regrets, his decision vindicated when he won a JFC medal with Hunterstown in 1959 when he captained the side from centre-half. He also won Ranafast Cup medals and a Second Division title with his club.

One of the most memorable aspects of the All-Ireland win for Ollie was the scenes in Ardee when they returned on the night following the final at 2 or 3.00 a.m. with the Sam Maguire to be greeted by thousands on the streets of the town.

Ollie who was a very modest man with a great love of family and community was a farmer all of his life in Hunterstown where he was born and lived all his life. He is survived by his wife, Madge (nee Brennan) from Edmonstown, sons, Fergal (Los Angeles) Denis (Dublin) and Colum (Galway), daughter Caitriona Manser (Longford), brother, Sean (Blakestown) and sister, Betty Carroll as well as relatives and friends.

He was predeceased by his brother, Stephen. The other members of the "57 team to pass away are Tom Conlon, Sean Cunningham and Dermot O'Brien.

Ollie's remains were taken to the Church of the Nativity in Ardee yesterday ( Tuesday) for Requiem Mass and burial took place immediately afterwards in Ballapousta cemetery.

Surviving members of the '57 team formed a guard of honour as did members of Hunderstown Rovers.