Kilkenny legend Liam ‘Chunky’ O’Brien dies, aged 72

1975 Hurler of the Year won four All-Irelands and club All-Irelands with James Stephens

Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

The death has taken place at the age of 72 of Liam ‘Chunky’ O’Brien, one of the great names in Kilkenny hurling. Born in 1949, he went on to win four All-Ireland medals in the 1970s plus club All-Irelands with James Stephens. In 1975 he was named Hurler of the Year.

His decorated career at senior level took shape despite a conspicuous lack of success at underage level, but he went on to become part of the phenomenal Kilkenny team of the early 1970s, which won three All-Irelands in four years, prompting legendary coach Fr Tommy Maher to claim his team as “the greatest in the long history of hurling”.

Chunky O’Brien was a powerful centrefielder, who earned three successive All Star awards in that role as well as fourth at wing forward after his last All-Ireland winning season in 1979.

He gave a dominant display in the middle together with Frank Cummins in the 1975 final, prompting Paddy Downey on these pages to praise opponent John Connolly for “keeping Galway in the game” for the first quarter but that he “could not stem the tide” once “Cummins and O’Brien turned on the power for Kilkenny”.

A postscript to that final was he had had two teeth removed on the day before and a doctor had to be summoned in the middle of the night “to stop a gum haemorrhage”. He nonetheless put in a superb individual performance.

Likewise in his last final in 1979 when lining out at left wing forward, he again raised his game for the big day, according to The Irish Times report.

“O’Brien finished with 1-7 of the winning total, a highly satisfactory performance by a man who must be numbered among Kilkenny heroes. His best display in the black and amber for quite a long time was highlighted by three points from play scored in vital moments of the second half.”

The late Joe McDonagh, who captained Galway that day, said on being elected president of the GAA in 1996 that he hadn’t prepared a victory speech since the one effectively “torn up by Chunky O’Brien”.

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