Canon Oliver Hughes
Inspirational football coach and former president of St Jarlath's College who valued team spirit over individual glory
In the week of the All-Ireland Senior and Minor Football Championship finals, the GAA has been mourning the loss of one its most illustrious coaches and inspirational team mentors, Canon Oliver Hughes, who died in his native Co Galway last Tuesday. He was 66.
Parish Priest of Corofin, north Galway, he was a native of nearby Killererin, but he will always be associated in sporting reminiscences with St Jarlath's College, Tuam: the premier Gaelic football nursery in the history of the game, as winners of the blue riband competition for second-level schools, the Hogan Cup, a record 12 times.
Fr Hughes's Hogan Cup record remains a cause of great pride for the renowned Tuam college, and constitutes a large part of his sporting legacy.
Tall, with good fielding ability, he played as a defender for St Jarlath's in two All-Ireland finals, helping to win the 1961 final against St Mel's, Longford, while in 1962 he was on the losing team against St Mel's. Ten years later, he was back at St Jarlath's, as a teacher (mainly of French), and by the time he retired, 31 years later, he had coached four very talented teams to Hogan Cup glory, winning the All-Ireland titles of 1978, 1982, 1984 and 2002.
He was college president when the eleventh title was won in 1994, under the management of Joe Long, a member of the teaching staff, and Fr Hughes felt it was very gratifying for the school that star members of the 1994 Hogan Cup victory, such as Padraic Joyce, Michael Donnellan, John Divilly and brothers Tomas and Declan Meehan, helped Galway win the Sam Maguire Cup in 1998 and 2001.
As a team mentor, he was primarily motivated by a desire to inculcate in young players a love of the game, and as a Gaelic football coach he was chiefly concerned with skills development. He derived as much satisfaction from observing young players master the basics of the game as the winning of medals. He preached the virtues of a team ethos rather than the pursuit of individual accolades or glory, and he believed that the values of sportsmanship and fair play could never be compromised.
Fr Hughes was also regarded as a fine teacher, an outstanding college president, and a priest who daily lived his ministry with exemplary piety, humility, care and consideration for others. His exceptional leadership, wisdom and calm, reassuring presence will be much missed.
At the concelebrated funeral mass last Friday morning, the homily was given by Archbishop Michael Neary, and the chief mourners were the deceased's brothers John and Tom, sisters Mary, Pearl, Nuala, Majella, Angela and Regina; their families, relatives and a wide circle of friends.