The late Teddy McCarthy was the only player to ever win the All-Ireland senior hurling and football championships in the same year, when Cork won the double in 1990. But his requiem Mass heard that he wore his talent and fame very lightly and was to be found every Sunday at the back of the church at Mass, “praying quietly and humbly”.
The 57-year-old died unexpectedly in his sleep last Tuesday. Fr Pat Fogarty, the chief celebrant at his funeral at St Joseph’s Church, in Glanmire, Co Cork, noted that it was the “biggest funeral that Cork had seen in decades” – a testament to the love and respect towards the sporting star across the city and county.
The coffin of the GAA great, draped with Cork, Sarsfields and Glanmire flags, was shouldered into the church by a gathering of the county’s other heroes, Jimmy Barry Murphy, Larry Tompkins, Tomás Mulcahy, Billy Morgan, Dr Con Murphy and Niall Cahalane. His sons Cian and Niall were among those who carried the coffin from a nearby funeral home to the church along a route lined by hundreds paying their respects.
Fr Pat Fogarty said that last Sunday following Mass, Teddy and his great friends Tomás Mulcahy and Jim Cashman had travelled to Semple Stadium in Thurles to watch the under-20 hurling final between Cork and Offaly.
“There was great joy and celebration of course on Cork’s victory, and they were welcomed and hosted in a very hospitable manner by the folks in Thurles. On the way back they were discussing future prospects for Cork in a hopeful and optimistic manner.
“And then, my friends, on Monday evening, Teddy was full of pride and joy and had a wonderful evening watching his two sons Cian and Niall representing Passage West in the MacCurtain Centenary cup and they were victorious. He was there with his family and his two adored grandchildren.
“It is incredible to think that today we are here and that Teddy is at the front of the church so we can celebrate his funeral Mass.”
He said McCarthy’s loved ones and GAA fans generally were “stopped in their tracks” by the suddenness of his death.
“ ’Twas like a dark cloud descending in our community here in Glanmire, throughout the county, country and beyond. Bringing with it a wave of emotions. As the reality of the dreadful situation started to sink in, our thoughts and prayers then turned to those who love Teddy most. His family.”
He asked McCarthy’s grandsons, Tiernan and Joey, to “never underestimate the joy and pride” he had in them.
Fr Fogarty told mourners that after he was notified of a transfer to Glanmire, his friends in his home village in Co Tipperary told him: “That is where Teddy is from.”
“He didn’t have to say Teddy McCarthy or Teddy Mac. Teddy was so famous and so admired and respected throughout the country in GAA circles… with famous people, you don’t have to mention a surname.”
The Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy cups were brought to the altar by 1990 football team captain Larry Tompkins and hurling team captain Tomás Mulcahy. Other offertory gifts included the jerseys of Sarsfields Hurling Club and Glanmire Football club, a hurley, sliotar and a football, while lifelong friends and teammates in the 1990 finals, John Considine and Niall Cahalane, presented Cork jerseys.
Fr Fogarty said his fondest memory of McCarthy on the pitch was of him “soaring above the clouds high in to the sky fielding a football, or else grabbing the small ball where other fellas wouldn’t put their hurley”. He pointed out a “wonderful picture” on the coffin of McCarthy soaring above the priest’s own countymen in Thurles.
“Somebody observed to Teddy, ‘God you got to some height’. And Teddy said ‘Boy, I was only on the way down when that [picture] was taken.’”
Meanwhile, McCarthy’s son Cian thanked all those who had supported his family since the sudden death of his father.
“It has been absolutely incredible. We are blown away... to see people from Northern Ireland and all corners of Ireland coming to show their support.”
Cian said that McCarthy adored his grandchildren, with whom he was mellow as he taught them the skills of the game.
“It was great to see because he really took pride in it,” he said. “To see his grandkids getting a kick out of playing games and carrying his legacy to another generation, well, he was really proud of that.
“He would call down and he would be looking at Tiernan and saying ‘greatness always skips a generation’ and he would look over at me then. I used to throw my eyes up and say ‘You never say I played a good game’.”
In his homily, Fr Martin Barry, a Kiltegan father and family friend, said McCarthy was a regular churchgoer who had attended the 10.30am Mass he himself celebrated at the church last Sunday.
“It’s very hard to imagine that we are back again today six days later for his funeral. I would not rate myself to be a very strong and powerful man but at the same time, I don’t cry very easily. But I do admit to shedding a few tears when I heard that Teddy had died.”
He said the dual-star had been known for “the leap into the air” to catch a sliotar or football.
“This was his greatest talent. The press described it in many different superlatives. I remember reading once that Teddy jumped into the clouds and brought the ball down with him. Now, if he jumped into the clouds, he was halfway to heaven,” he said.
“And now Teddy has made a final leap in his life, and he’s leapt into heaven where he will be reunited with his mum and dad, Denis and Mary, and his brother and sister.”
Besides sporting notables and members of the GAA community, the Mass was attended by prominent figures including Tánaiste Micheál Martin; Cmdt Claire Mortimer, aide-de-camp to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Cpt Paul O’Donnell, aide-de-camp to President Michael D Higgins; MEP and former GAA president Seán Kelly; MEP Colm Kelleher; Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Jerry Buttimer; TD Colm Burke; Lord Mayor of Cork Deirdre Forde, and sports broadcaster Marty Morrissey. The Bishop of Cork and Ross Dr Fintan Gavin was present, alongside his predecessor Dr John Buckley.
On Friday evening, GAA president Larry McCarthy paid his respects at the funeral home in Glanmire. He was joined by former Meath manager Seán Boylan, who led the contingent from his county. Other attendees at the removal included rivals of McCarthy’s on the pitch in the late 1980s and 1990s, including Nicky English, Donie O’Connell, Bobby Ryan and Joe Hayes.
McCarthy is survived by his wife Oonagh, his children Cian, Niall, and Sinead, brothers Pat and Denis, sisters Breda, Philly and Mary, grandchildren Tiernan and Joey, daughter-in-law Ciara, mother-in-law Phil, extended family and a large circle of friends.
McCarthy was predeceased by his parents Mary and Denis, brother Michael and sister Ellen. He was laid to rest at Rathcooney Cemetery in Cork. Poignantly, he was carried from the church to the strains of the unofficial Cork anthem The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee.