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.
Pharmacy jabs begin today
By Michelle Crean Pharmacists across Kerry – including four in Killarney – are ready to begin giving the Johnson and Johnson Janssen jabs to the over 50s as the latest stage of the vaccine rollout. Kennellys Pharmacy at The Reeks Gateway, Park Road Care Plus on Countess Road, Boots Deerpark Shopping Centre, and Sheahans Pharmacy […]
By Michelle Crean
Pharmacists across Kerry – including four in Killarney – are ready to begin giving the Johnson and Johnson Janssen jabs to the over 50s as the latest stage of the vaccine rollout.
Kennellys Pharmacy at The Reeks Gateway, Park Road Care Plus on Countess Road, Boots Deerpark Shopping Centre, and Sheahans Pharmacy on Main Street will be booking people in groups as each vile lasts just a number hours once opened.
Staff at Kennellys Pharmacy at The Reeks are ready to welcome in their first vaccine participants today (Friday). Each had pre-booked their slot, according to Dispensary Manager Christina O’Grady.
“We are starting today for the over 50s only with the Janssen Johnson and Johnson one dose jab,” she told the Killarney Advertiser.
She said that they have been busy in the pharmacy all week booking people in, however for now, depending on demand and supply available, they’ll be vaccinating people two days a week.
“We’re taking a list of people. It’ll probably be only two mornings a week – it all depends on the uptake.”
Pharmacist Finbarr Kennelly said it’s a great way to give a vaccine to those who may have missed theirs.
“It’s an opportunity for the over 50s who have missed their vaccine for whatever reason. The advantage is that it’s a one shot vaccine.”
Anyone who’d like to book in for their vaccine can call Kennellys on 064 6639427.
Killarney Advertiser – Weekly Jobs Round-Up
€500k to help re-start Killarney’s live music scene
By Sean Moriarty A number of Killarney venues were elated this week to learn that funding to the tune of €500k has been announced to help re-start the town’s live music scene. Of the €1,001,944 in funding announced this week for the county Killarney is to receive over half with funds to assist the Gleneagle […]
By Sean Moriarty
A number of Killarney venues were elated this week to learn that funding to the tune of €500k has been announced to help re-start the town’s live music scene.
Of the €1,001,944 in funding announced this week for the county Killarney is to receive over half with funds to assist the Gleneagle Hotel Killarney/INEC Arena, Celtic Steps The Show, Scott’s Hotel, and Courtney’s Bar.
The funding, announced by Minister for Education and Kerry TD Norma Foley on Tuesday, is in place to assist commercial venues, producers and promoters in Kerry to plan live events over the summer months.
The scheme, managed by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media will support live performances, particularly where capacity for live attendance is restricted due to COVID-19.
The funding will make live performances viable or alternatively make them available online if audiences cannot attend due to restrictions.
“I welcome this funding which will provide an enormous boost to the live entertainment industry in Kerry,” Minister Foley said.
“This money will help to facilitate the delivery of exciting programmes of activities over the coming summer and autumn period. This funding will also provide a vital lift to those talented performers, artists, technicians, creative and performance support staff across the sector, who have not been able to work due to the pandemic.”
Four venues and promoters in Killarney will receive a total of €560,646 in grant aid to help re-start the live music and performing arts industries in the town after months of lockdown.
The Gleneagle Hotel Killarney/INEC Arena will receive €380,822 for live music shows and for the pre-recording of live material from acts of the future.
“We are delighted with this week’s announcement on funding,” Mark Egan, Director of the Gleneagle INEC Arena told the Killarney Advertiser. “We can now look ahead to implementing a programme of events that will provide employment for performers, artists, technicians and support staff many of whom have not had work for months. We have a fantastic, diverse programme in the pipeline and we can’t wait to get the various artists, crews and event suppliers back on site and back to the work we all love. We thank Minister Catherine Martin and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for making this grant available.”
Celtic Steps The Show will receive €84,627 to allow it livestream performances from its Killarney Racecourse Theatre.
For Celtic Steps producer/director David Rae the funding presents more than just an opportunity to get the show back on the road. He will create 43 paid positions from dancers and musicians to sound and lighting engineers and even a COVID-19 Compliance Officer.
He is awaiting further guidance on permission to allow a limited audience attend a Celtic Steps performance but he hopes by early July to have a series of online performances up and running.
“This is what it is all about, getting these people back to work after so long being unemployed,” he told the Killarney Advertiser. “I will need all of these people, from two days before I start to two days after, it is almost like building a festival from scratch and we can’t thank the minister and department enough for this chance.”
Scott’s Hotel will receive the same figure as Celtic Steps for live performances for tourists across the summer.
Courtney’s Bar on Plunkett St will receive €10,570 for a number of gigs that will feature local musicians.
“This is fantastic news,” manager Brian Murphy said. “We have been associated with live music in Killarney for a long time so we are delighted to get the funding and allow live music to continue.”
Like Celtic Steps, he is still waiting for confirmation on the format of the funded gigs.
“It is hard to see a bar gig with an audience going ahead but one of the stipulations of the grant is that if we cannot do a live gig under current guidelines, we have to do it online.”
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