Wednesday 21 February 2018

Joe Corcoran - truly man for all seasons

Joe Corcoran (left) with his great friend Fran Ray at the Kennedy Cup in Limerick last month
Joe Corcoran (left) with his great friend Fran Ray at the Kennedy Cup in Limerick last month

John Fallon

Ringsend stood still for two hours on Saturday to bid farewell to one of its most famous sons, but Joe Corcoran's influence extended well beyond the neighbourhood from which he was so proud to hail.

His funeral at St Patrick's Church was a full house, thronged with friends from near and far.

As the club confirmed in its official tribute, Joe was "Mr Manchester United in Ireland" but their longest-serving scout with 41 years' service touched the lives of many people outside the scope of his work with England's biggest club.

Joe's trusting relationship with Alex Ferguson is well known, stretching from right back to the Scot's arrival at Old Trafford in 1986 and into his retirement, yet the fact he started and ended his decades of football service on the sidelines of Ringsend Park exemplified his dedication to the locality he cherished.


It was fitting, therefore, that as Joe reposed on Friday in his Ringsend home replete with Manchester United tie, the hundreds who came to pay their respects were able to gaze out from his back window onto the adjoining park that filled him with joy through his association with Bolton Athletic and then Cambridge Boys.

Members of Cambridge's most famous team, back-to-back FAI Youth Cup winners in the late 1970s, including Gino Lawless and Paddy Joyce, carried the coffin of their great mentor over the Irishtown Bridge to the church - a tradition preserved for fine folk of 'Raytown' recently passed away.

Teams sent onto the pitch by Joe Corcoran exhibited traits symbolic of the man himself - courage, style and with a robust but fair streak to boot.

That United's chief scout Jim Lawlor twice attributed the term competitive to their departed Irish representative provided a clue as to what first attracted his predecessors to the then Huddersfield Town scout.

Aggrieved that one of his Bolton players, Ken McGlynn, had been advised to concentrate on a career in League of Ireland following a trial at United, Joe steered another of his protégés, Jimmy Holmes, away from the clutches of Billy Behan and towards Noel Cantwell's Coventry City in 1970.

As Dublin District Schoolboys League (DDSL) secretary Fran Ray, a constant companion of Joe's, noted yesterday: "That the first example showing that you'd be foolish to cross Joe."

Many tried to during his stint as DDSL chairman between 1987-1999, some claiming that a scout wasn't suitable to hold such an office.

When he did finally retire from the legislative circuit, it was only after an impassioned plea from veteran Waterford secretary Pat Kelly, centring on Joe's invaluable voluntary contribution, fell on deaf ears within the Schoolboys FAI (SFAI).

A decade later, Joe declined an invitation to join the DDSL's board of directors, preferring to be amongst the front line of club activists asking the hard questions of the top table.

In an era of quiet acquiescence at football meetings, his was a rare voice in the wilderness right up to his last months. Recent FAI AGMs would certainly have been less livelier affairs but for Joe's presence.

Despite all his principled standpoints, he was not beyond reproach.

The hairpiece he donned for over 30 years was discarded after a dose of perspective was dished out by a cancer-suffering family friend during a holiday abroad. Upon his return from Florida, Joe sported a new tanned look that would have made Kojak envious.

A man of sharp wit, his easy-going nature made him popular in male and female company alike.

Though Joe had no children of his own, his status of father-figure and 'Uncle Joe' was commonplace. Where families saw problems, Joe visualised solutions. There was no such thing as a lost cause, on a personal or professional level, in his eyes.

It was only natural that he hit it off with Ferguson as they shared so many characteristics - not least loyalty - and there was much more to their relationship than just football.

After the 2009 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown was postponed a day due to fog, necessitating the United boss leaving Dublin for a match, he delegated trackside duties to his wingman.


Fergie's horse, What A Friend, romped home in style, leaving Joe to collect the riches in the winner's enclosure of a racecourse for which he held a season-ticket.

Last November, as a sell-out audience awaited the Scot's arrival at the Dublin Convention Centre to discuss his latest autobiography, Joe was receiving a personal audience of his own at the Westbury Hotel from the man he continued to call "boss".

The aggressiveness of Joe's cancer conspired against the old friends sharing a final moment face-to-face, but they did talk over the phone.

Fergie couldn't attend the funeral because he was away with United on their pre-season tour in America, but he paid tribute to Joe in a letter which was read to the hushed congregation.

Joe did get to spend his final days with his beloved Eileen by his side, albeit his dying wish to marry his long-term partner was beaten by the clock.

The football world mourns Joe, but it will be in Ringsend where his loss will sting most. They'll miss Joe terribly. We all will.

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