Obituaries 2016: Heartfelt loss for Munster in year when Greatest said goodbye

‘Ducksie’ Walsh and Christy O’Connor were among others who were taken too soon

The bell tolled for many sporting greats in 2016, including the greatest of them all. Muhammad Ali – originally Cassius Clay – departed this earth in June and was buried following a processional through the streets of Louisville where he was eulogised by, among others, former US President Bill Clinton and the comedian Billy Crystal.

Such a send-off was perhaps fitting given how Ali brought razzmatazz to pugilism, yet the outpouring of grief that the tragically early death of Anthony Foley brought to the streets of Limerick, throughout Ireland and to the global rugby community was, too, testament to the man known as Axel.

The silent, dignified guards-of-honour as Axel’s funeral cortege took in stops at Thomond Park, his alma mater of St Munchin’s and St Flannan’s Church in Killaloe was evidence of the sense of loss at Foley’s untimely passing at the age of 42.

Decorated player

And such grief was experienced by loved ones all too frequently throughout the year, including that of arguably the greatest handballer of all: Michael ‘Ducksie’ Walsh – who died at the age of 50 – was the most decorated player of all time, the master of the handball alley. The Kilkenny man was a winner of 38 All-Ireland handball titles and was unbeaten for 13 years from 1985 to 1997 in an honour-laden career than included title wins in the United States.

The GAA community lost many influential figures. Joe Lennon (81) was a member of the groundbreaking Down team of the 1960s, the first team to bring an All-Ireland title across the Border. Lennon went on to become one of the foremost thinkers and educationalists and his book, Coaching Gaelic Football for Champions, was considered a pioneering work.

Jack Boothman, from Wicklow, was the first member of the Church of Ireland community to be elected president of the GAA. He served from 1994 to 1997 during which time he oversaw the sponsorship of the All-Ireland hurling championship for the first time. Also in May, another former president, Joe McDonagh from Galway, passed away. McDonagh won an All-Ireland hurling championship with Galway in 1980 and served as president between 1997 and 2000.

In Mayo, the death in a traffic accident of one of the country’s brightest young football talents caused widespread shock. Darragh Doherty was an All-Ireland minor football winner in 2013. He scored 1-2 in that year’s final win over Tyrone.


The death of soccer player Mark Farren, aged 33, from cancer in February resulted in Derry City retiring the number 18 jersey in his memory. Other deaths in the soccer world included that of Cesare Maldini, who was the first Italian to lift the European Cup with AC Milan and who subsequently enjoyed stints as manger of Italy and Paraguay.

"This rain must be St Peter crying," said Brazilian president Michel Temer as he presided over a ceremony at Chapecó airport to mark the return of the bodies of 71 victims of a plane crash in Colombia.

All of the victims – including most of the club’s players – were on a charter flight of Chapecoense football team who were travelling to the final of the Copa Sudamericana.

The perils of cage fighting were brought home in April when Portuguese MMA fighter Joao Carvalho died following a Total Extreme Fighting event in Dublin. Carvalho had taken ill after he was beaten via technical knockout in a fight against Charlie Ward.

Two of Ireland's greatest golfers – an uncle and nephew – both departed. The sudden death of Christy O'Connor Jnr (67) on holiday in Tenerife in January evoked widespread shock. O'Connor was remembered for famously hitting a two-iron approach to defeat Fred Couples in the 1989 Ryder Cup win for Europe; and his uncle, Christy Senior, passed away in May.

And the passing – at the ripe old age of 106 – of South African tennis player Bobbie Heine Miller took place in August. Rated one of the top women tennis players of the 1920s and 1930s, Miller won many titles, including an Irish Open singles in 1927.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times