GAA Football

John O'Reilly: a true Gael of strength and vigour

Willis Marshall

The south Armagh village of Camlough will come to standstill today for the funeral of one of its adopted sons, John O'Reilly, who devoted his entire life to the promotion and welfare of the GAA.

A native of Crossmaglen, he served as President of the Ulster Council from 2001 to 2004

Current president Michael Hasson said John held office at a time “when Ulster was leading the way on the the GAA football fields”.

“He was Armagh county chairman when his native Armagh reached the All-Ireland final in 1977 but as Ulster President he had the honour of witnessing them winning the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time in 2002.

“The following year he had the distinction of seeing two Ulster counties in the All-Ireland final - something that never happened before and hasn't happened since - when Tyrone won their inaugural title.”

Intelligent, articulate and strong-minded, John remained one of the great mainstays of Armagh and Ulster GAA.

He worked with many leading GAA personalities including former presidents, Peter Quinn, from Fermanagh and Monaghan's Sean McCaigue.

As a footballer, he played his first game with Crossmaglen in 1952 and was a member of the senior panel throughout the Fifties in the company of such household names as Frank Kernan, Hughie and Eamon Casey, Gene Larkin and Brian Morgan.

When his playing days ended he made an immediate transition into administration, and was the Crossmaglen Rangers' chairman from 1963 to 1967 and again from 1969 to 1971.

While in office he was surrounded by some very able and dedicated clubmen such as John Martin, Tommy Cassidy, Brian Morgan, James Duffy and Gene Larkin.

He was elected chairman of Armagh County Board in 1977 and remained in the post until 1981.

He was re-elected in 1988 and 1989.

Again he was lucky in those years serving with people of the calibre of Gerry Fegan, Pat McMahon, Alf Murray, Joe Canning and Tommy Lynch.

He succeeded Gene Larkin as delegate to the Ulster Council and Gerry Fegan as Central Council delegate.

He was also involved with the running of the county team and back in 1966 was a selector, as one from each county division, along with Pat McMahon and Felix Hamill.

In 1972 John was appointed chair of the Armagh League Board and held the position for five consecutive years.

At that time the county team was at the bottom of the pile and it was people like John O' Reilly and Peter Makem that led the renaissance.

Since his election as Cross chairman in 1963, John has been a major personality in the GAA.

He has served almost continuously over that long span of years, representing club, county and province with a well acknowledged measure of all-round ability and outstanding commitment.

He also served the Association as chairman of the Appeals Committee in Croke Park.

As a lifetime devotee of the game itself, he never missed an All-Ireland final since his first in 1953 which his beloved Armagh lost to Kerry.

But it was his 50th, in 2002, that was most special, watching Armagh revenge that earlier defeat by the Kingdom and capture the Holy Grail for the first time ever.

Along with his good friend, the late Paddy Lynch, from Camlough, he travelled to games for 36 years.

In 1963 he married a well known Camlough musician, Angela Farrelly, a member of the popular Clippertones Showband and went to live in Camlough.

In 2012, his wife received the Papal Award for her contribution to Liturgical music within the parish of Lower Killeavy and has been a involved in music at St Malachy's Church, Carrickcruppen for over 50 years.

He was an exemplary family man, a devoted husband, father and grandfather and in his latter years enjoyed nothing better than the company of his grandchildren.

In business, John was also very successful having been involved in the wine and liquor trade for many years.

His incessant love for the GAA and all it stands for and the sterling service he so consistently rendered underlined his true worth.

His undisputed organisational powers was reflected by his smooth and unerring approach.

An expert at taking the heat out of a matter, a bastion in times of crises, his wise counselling matched his confidence in his own ability which he used to the full in all situations.

The GAA will never be deprived of strength and vigour as long as there are zealous and honest workers like John O' Reilly, a gentleman to the core.

He was a man of action who got things done, highly respected everywhere because he was totally straight and fair-minded, a true Gael who had the overall welfare of the Association at heart.

That perhaps sums up his legacy and contribution to the GAA more than anything.

John's Requiem Mass will be celebrated in St Malachy's Church, Carrickcruppen at 12 noon today followed by interment in the adjoining cemetery.

Predeceased by his son Brian some years ago he is survived by his wife Angela, sons Garrett and Kevin, daughters Frances Hannaway, Maureen McGleenon, Deirdre Donnan, Grainne McAlester, grandchildren, brothers and sisters and entire family circle to whom most heartfelt sympathy is extended.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.

By Joe McManus

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