1951 was a momentous year for Killarney basketball. Local historians
recall that the very first game of basketball took place in November of that year in the old Killarney Town Hall featuring the likes of Eamon O'Donoghue, Ben Campion, Johnny Culloty and Paddy Culligan. September 1951 was also a very significant month that year as it marked the birth of Paudie O'Connor, a basketball player who went on to revolutionise the game in Ireland and set exceedingly high standards for everybody else to follow.
The son of Dan and Mai O'Connor, Paudie grew up at No. 1 O'Sullivan’s Place, Killarney. Former neighbour and friend Weeshie Fogarty recalls an interesting story about the small green area in the neighbourhood with one timber telegraph pole in the centre where Paudie and his brothers Séamie, Mike and Benny erected a hoop on the pole. Paudie climbed on top of his brother Séamie's shoulders and attached the hoop to the pole and it was there that he honed and polished his amazing shooting and scoring skills. Facilities improved when St Mary's Parish Hall opened with a proper indoor basketball hall and a young Paudie O'Connor soon emerged as the most exciting talent on the Killarney and Kerry basketball circuit during the 1960s. In his late teens and early twenties, Paudie spent his summers in the USA attending basketball camps under the guidance of former NBA player 'Pistol' Pete Maravich and American coaching legend Dean Smith.
Paudie won various county championships with the Busby Babes in the late 1960s and in 1969 he starred for the he Kerry senior and minor basketball teams that won All-Ireland titles. During the 1970s, St Vincent’s Killarney was the main team in town and began to establish themselves as one of the top sides in Ireland; they were consistently challenging for honours in national tournaments and leagues.
Following Paudie's death this week, Séamie O'Connor recalled some of his proudest moments playing alongside his brother on the basketball court. One was on a St Vincent's team that defied all the odds to beat a star-studded US Navy team at a tournament in Sligo in 1972. Killarney were led by Lawrence O'Donoghue (RIP), Seán Coleman (RIP), Paudie and Séamie O'Connor, Billy Healy, Tom Looney, Tim Regan, Rory O'Flaherty and James O'Connor.
Another fond memory that Séamie recalled was when the Kerry senior basketball team defeated Cork in the 1974 Munster final in the Parochial Hall with three O'Connor brothers lining out for Kerry. The late Cork Examiner photographer and Killarney native Louis MacMonagle captured the historic photo after the match of Séamie, Paudie and Mike O'Connor.
In Irish basketball circles, Paudie O'Connor is best remembered for leading the Killarney initiative that brought the first professional American players to play in the national league. To glamourise the game and make it more appealing, Paudie argued that the showmanship and slam-dunking skills of the Americans would bring basketball to a new level in Ireland. Despite objections from the governing body and other clubs across the country, the first American basketballers, Greg Hugely and Cornel Benford, arrived in Killarney in September 1979. Two months later, Brian Ulmer replaced Benford and St Vincent’s clinched the National League and Championship titles in the 1979-80 season.
By this time Killarney were playing their home games under the Gleneagle banner in the new St Brendan's Gym and were also participating in the Federation Cup, a competition for British and Irish clubs. Crowds of 800 people squeezed into St Brendan's at the time to see Killarney dominate and bring Irish basketball to a new level in the early 1980s.
In the 1981-82 season, Killarney won the double and were agonisingly pipped by Doncaster in a thrilling Federation Cup final in the Sem. A controversial call on the final buzzer that gave the English side two free shots to win the game is still talked about to this day. Talented Americans Tony Andre and Arnold Veasley completed a very formidable first five line-up alongside Paudie O'Connor, Tim Regan and Andy Houlihan. Indeed, in an invitational tournament in Cork at the same time, Killarney, led by Andre, Veasley, O'Connor, Regan and guest American Mike Pyatt, were defeating teams that contained five American players.
With other teams following the lead set by Paudie and investing heavily to recruit top quality American players, Killarney's dominance at the top was challenged and began to decline in the mid 80s. Paudie retired in 1986 and moved to the USA shortly afterwards with his American-born wife Marty and daughter Morgan.
A few years in New York was followed by a move to Las Vegas where Paudie set up O’Connor Golf Tourism, bringing high profile tours to Ireland and to Scotland every year. Basketball legend Michael Jordan was his most famous client to come here on a golfing trip in May 1999. The six-time NBA champion and his entourage stayed in The Aghadoe Heights Hotel and explored Killarney as well as playing golf in Killarney, Tralee, Ballybunion and Waterville.
In Kieran Shannon's book 'Hanging from the Rafters', which documents the golden age of Irish basketball, former Irish Basketball chief administrator Noel Keating described Paudie as the 'greatest Irish basketball player ever.
Former Basketball Ireland President and Marian Dublin player Paul Meany, who had many battles on the court with Paudie, tweeted the following about Paudie this week: “Sad to see Paudie's untimely death. Definitely in the top five Irish players who have ever played basketball. Also Mr Basketball in the 1970s in Killarney where his creativity and innovation brought the National League into a totally different space. May he rest in peace'.
Paudie, who didn’t smoke or drink, was described by his lifelong friend John Keogh as a man ahead of his time, a proud Killarney man and a wonderful ambassador for Killarney and Kerry.
Basketball was his true sporting love but Paudie O'Connor was also an outstanding football talent with Dr Crokes and was tipped by many to make Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry golden years squad during the mid 1970s. He played a number of challenge and National League matches for Kerry and once formed a midfield partnership in a tournament match for Kerry with his Dr Crokes and St Vincent’s basketball teammate Lawrence O'Donoghue (RIP).
Paudie, however, was different to many of those around him. He felt they were merely thinking in terms of All-Irelands whereas he was thinking of the international and global stage. He went on to win over 100 senior caps for Ireland as well as captaining his country. He played in three pre-Olympics qualifying tournaments and also had the distinction of being selected as the only Irish player ever on a European All-Star five in 1977.
Paudie is still widely spoken about as the greatest Irish basketballer of all time. Standing at 6’4”, he stood out against all other point guards in that era where he ran the offense with precision and controlled the pace of the game. Basketball was always first choice sport for Paudie.
In a tribute, Weeshie Fogarty said the game of basketball completely owned Paudie and he never saw such dedication by any one person to his chosen sport.
Paudie never lost touch with Killarney, returning home once or twice every year. His brother Séamie confirmed that he was due to return again in the next few weeks. During their regular phone conversations, Paudie loved to hear the sporting news from Killarney, particularly the exploits of Dr Crokes and Kerry while he also had a keen interest in the fortunes of Scotts Lakers, who were captained by his nephew Philip this season.
Outside his sporting interests, Paudie was also well known in Killarney as the youngest ever Mayor and member of Killarney Urban District Council from 1974 to 1985, serving as Chairman in 1978, 1980, 1982 and 1984. He was also a Kerry County Councillor from 1979 to 1985.
Paudie O'Connor's funeral is due to take place in Las Vegas on Monday May 7. A memorial service will take place in Killarney at a later date. Predeceased by his parents Mai (1987) and Dan (2001), and brother Benny (2009), Paudie is survived by his daughter Morgan O'Connor Marro and her mother Marty, brothers Séamie and Mike, grandson Luciano, son-in-law Marcello Mauro, sisters-in-law Fidelma and Peggy and nephews Patrick, Richard and Philip O'Connor.
Dancing classes set to unite communities
By Michelle Crean There’s no language barrier when it comes to dancing – which is why one local group is organising classes to unite communities. KASI, the Killarney Immigrant Support […]
By Michelle Crean
There’s no language barrier when it comes to dancing – which is why one local group is organising classes to unite communities.
KASI, the Killarney Immigrant Support Centre, has teamed up with dance instructor John Moriarty to teach both Ukrainians and multiple cultures living in Kerry Irish set dancing steps from next week.
The first class will take place on Tuesday evenings, starting next week (September 27) at St Mary’s Parish Hall at 6.30pm and all are welcome to join.
The idea is to help Ukrainians living in Killarney and Kerry to come and have fun and get to know locals better, KASI coordinator, Marilyn Catapat-Counihan, explained to the Killarney Advertiser.
“We have a women’s group for all ages where we do crochet, sewing and art and crafts, where they can talk which is good. I had the music on and they were dancing. I asked if they would like to do dancing classes so I organised it with John Moriarty who is well known in Killarney.”
She added that the women are very excited to learn set dancing and get to know other people from the area.
“Sometimes when you meet new people the language can be a barrier and when you’re dancing everybody is moving. He will open it to everyone so there’ll be integration, it’s fun as well. They are all very excited.”
To find out more contact John on 086 1579381.
Multiple Sclerosis Walk celebrates 20 years
By Sean Moriarty The rising cost of fuel is already having a negative effect on charity events with some limiting numbers. On October 9, the annual Multiple Sclerosis South Kerryv Walk […]
By Sean Moriarty
The rising cost of fuel is already having a negative effect on charity events with some limiting numbers.
On October 9, the annual Multiple Sclerosis South Kerryv Walk takes place over the Old Kenmare Road.
First run in 2002, this year’s event will celebrate 20 years since its foundation but two years were lost as a result of the pandemic.
This year’s walk will be limited to 150 people – three coach loads – so event organisers can cut back on running costs.
It will only be possible to participate in this year’s event if walkers pre-register.
“Walkers must raise at least €40 to make it worthwhile,” organiser John O’Shea told the Killarney Advertiser.
“Spaces are limited, 150 people equals three coaches and we need smaller coaches to get into the start of the Old Kenmare Road as that is just a bog road. We have limited numbers for cost and operational reasons.”
Mr O’Shea thanked event sponsors O’Callaghan Coaches and The Gleneagle Hotel for their support of the event.
Registration forms can be obtained by calling John on 087 2348824.
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