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John Joe O'Reilly - Cavan Captain 1947 In New York Makes History
Acclaimed in verse and song throughout the land, Cavan’s John Joe O’Reilly became one of gaelic football’s most celebrated players of the 1940's era. As a centre back he had few peers who could claim such legendary status and the Killeshandra native played at a time, when national media gave scant few inches to gaelic games matches.
Gaelic football was in his veins through his father, big John O’Reilly, who had manned the custodian spot for Cavan. After maturing through his local school and later at St. Patrick’s College, John Joe was always destined to be a star Cavan player. With his club, Cornafean, he made a huge impression on the Breffni senior selectors in the early 1940's and as the county dominated Ulster football in that era, he won eleven Ulster senior football medals from 1937 to 1949.
John Joe also won a National Football League medal and had the privilege of captaining successful Ulster Railway Cup teams in 1943 (first ever successful Cavan captain) and 1950. His other Railway Cup medals came in 1942 and 1947.
The Cornafean clubman also savoured the honour of lifting the Sam Maguire on two glorious occasions as the team captain. The All Ireland senior football final of 1947 was the only occasion, that the final was played outside of Ireland, and the pairing would be great rivals, Cavan and Kerry, at New York’s Polo Grounds.
The historic match gave Cavan a victory that would become iconic for John Joe and Breffin supporters. As captain and also as an Army Commandant, John Joe O’Reilly was an officer and a gaelic footballer held in high profile. His untimely death, at just thirty four years old, shocked gaelic fans all over Ireland. He picked up a serious injury from which he never recovered and died at the Curragh Military Hospital on the 21 st November 1952.
The selection panel who chose the greatest football team ever for the G.A.A.’s 1984 Centenary celebrations, placed John Joe in the No.6 shirt.
In 2000 the Millennium selectors also chose the famous Cavan footballer at No.6.
Cavan have a rich history of producing iconic gaelic footballers and John Joe is one of Breffni’s most famous sons.
Derry JF Doody