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Fr. Con Cottrell – The Greatest Hurling Priest Ever

Writes John Twomey


From The Half-Way To Win Five All Ireland Celtic Crosses


Everything starts small and in a rural hillside farm near The Half-Way in Ballinhassig a future hurling Icon was born, one Con Cottrell. Along with his brothers Ben, Michael and John, they were born into a family enriched in Gaelic traditions and particularly the ancient game of hurling. Their father and grandfather had wielded the camán to much acclaim in previous generations. Hurling was surely in their bloodstream.


Schooling

The Cottrells got their early schooling in the nearby Mountain N.S. a great cradle for hurlers over many years and still to this very day. With plenty of encouragement there from the School Master the boys all relished the thought of playing with the local Club in the future. Con’s secondary education saw him enter St. Michaels College, Omeath Co. Louth. In those days all spare time was spent playing hurling & football. From there he commenced studies for the priesthood with the Rosminian Fathers. He played football with the County Louth Club Cooley Kickams and was a member of their Senior side that won the 1937 final.


Returning To Cork

Con Cottrell would now play Club Hurling with Valley Rovers and won a South-East Cork Medal in 1941. He played football with Knockavilla and many people felt that he was as good with the big ball as with the sliotar. 1941 was a ‘red letter year’ for Con as he was called into the Cork Senior Hurling panel. His very first time to don the famous red jersey was in a tournament match with Clare. He never looked back and lined out for the championship team. 1941 saw disruption of games due to an outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease, which curtailed a lot of activities in Munster.


The Provincial Final could not be played and Cork were nominated to contest the All Ireland Series and were much too good for Dublin in the Final. A very first All Ireland for Con and joining him that day playing at Centre field alongside Jack Lynch, was Kinsale’s illustrious son Jack Barrett. It was Barret’s first medal too after many previous near misses. There was a sting in the tail as the delayed Munster Final was eventually played on October 28th against old rivals Tipperary and The Rebels lost 5-4 to 2-5. The All Ireland Crown remained intact and untarnished.




The Paths Of Glory

Cottrell was now a household name locally and nationally. Cork would go on to win All Ireland Titles in 1942, 1943 and 1944, four in a row, what a feat. Joining Con on the team in 1942 was his Valley Rovers. clubmate and neighbour the legendry Con Murphy. He hurled with some of the greats of Cork Hurling including Christy Ring, Jack Lynch, Jim Young, Batt Thornhill, Joe Kelly, John Quirke, Derry Beckett, and the youthful Sean Condon, to name but a few. Munster honoured him too and he collected two Railway Cup winners’ medals.


When Cork won The Senior Football All Ireland in 1945, they invited Con to join the panel, but he was unable to do so. In 1947 Carrigdhoun lost the Senior County Hurling Final to Glen Rovers. Unfortunately, due to illness Con could not take part. If he did the County title could have come down South-East way.




Roll Of Honour

- 5 All Ireland Senior Hurling Medals

- 4 Munster Senior Hurling Medals

- 2 Railway Cup Hurling Medals

- 1 Louth Senior Football County Medal

- 1 South-East Cork Junior Hurling Medal


Fr. Con Cottrell- A Rosminian Priest

Con Cottrell was ordained to the Priesthood in 1947. A new chapter was about to commence in his life. He was to become the second member of the family to become a priest. In 1942 his brother Michael, who studied in Rome was ordained. Michael spent much of his life in the USA working in Illinois and Florida where he left a mighty legacy as a great church and school builder. Michael died on December 8th 1981. There was much to be done and the Half-Way man had the energy, talent and motivation to set out new goals and objectives. As a great Christian person, he strived to help the disabled and disadvantaged. His posting in Dublin’s Drumcondra saw him lead and push the effort for the building of a School for the Blind. This was a huge challenge and fund-raising was a mighty task in those days


Archbishop McQuaid And Jack Lynch

Fr. Con had to spend some time in Liverpool and all the rage over there at that time was Bingo. Everybody was at it and of course it was a new and very successful means for fund-raising. Fr. Con was fully sold on this new phenomenon and, on his return to Drumcondra, had the halls packed with patrons. The money was rolling in. However, the most powerful and most influential man in Dublin, Archbishop McQuaid condemned this ‘game of Bingo’ as a form of gambling and not good for his Christian flock. The Bingo halls were closed. There was a huge demand from the large numbers of patrons to re-open the halls and of course cash flow had dried up.


The ball was back in Fr. Con’s court and the man with the five All Ireland Medals used his head as he did many times wearing the red jersey. He contacted his old Cork team mate Jack Lynch, now a prominent politician and asked him to use his influence, which he did, and the halls were reopened and the money rolled in. Another master move by this mighty man was to seek the goodwill and support of Micheal O’Hehir the Radio Eireann match broadcaster. Michael was only too keen to help and made many references to Fr. Con’s work during match commentaries. There was a great response nationwide. The school was built and many other goals achieved.

Great Work In Cork

The Upton Steam Rally was another wonderful initiative in which he was involved. They garnished in great local voluntary support and the annual Show at Upton was almost unequalled in the Country. Annually it was a ‘must visit’ event for countless families and machinery buffs. He worked tirelessly and there was always some new idea hatched and put into fruition, not least The Home and Respite Centre at the Old Head of Kinsale. Parents and families of the disabled and disadvantaged could get a break and a little holiday too. Fr. Con remembered everybody.


His Cork hurling team mate and friend, Joe Kelly from Dillon’s Cross was ordained a priest too and he would like thousands of colleagues serve in the mission fields. He was posted in faraway New Zeeland.


That Golden Age

Fr. Con Cottrell served his Clubs, his County, his Rosminian Institution and especially the countless people who had depended on his work for a better quality of life. He was true to his great vocation in life, true to his wonderful family, Christian values and true to his own little place, The Half-Way where it all began. Con Cottrell was born on the 2nd of May 1917 and God called him home on 3rd March 1982. Ni Beid a leithead an aris.


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