In attendance at the unveiling of a statue of John Joe O’Reilly at Market Square in Cavan, are Former footballers, from left, Phil Murray, Cavan; Ray Carolan, Cavan; Tadhg O’Donohue, Kerry; Paddy Carolan, Cavan; Mick O’Connell, Kerry; Jimmy Deenihan, Kerry; Jim McDonnell, Cavan; and Gabriel Kelly, Cavan.Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Icon Micko sprinkles magic at unveiling of John Joe statue

There they all were, the All-Ireland winning captains in their Sunday best, the legendary players and managers from around the country, the followers, young and old. Cavan greats, too numerous to mention.

Those two sparkling icons, Sam Maguire and Marty Morrissey, gleamed on the stage, the army band were note-perfect, there were tears and laughter and a cúpla focail ó Larry McCarthy. The unveiling of the John Joe O’Reilly statue was an occasion unprecedented in the county town for its combination of pageantry and commemoration, sprinkled lightly with stardust – and, in the middle of what has become a rainy season, even the weather played ball.

The unveiling of a statue of Cavan’s 1947 and1948 All-Ireland winning captain John Joe O’Reilly at Market Square in Cavan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile Photo by Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

The highlight for most, though, was the presence of Kerry’s Mick O’Connell, a revered figure in Irish sport, who made the six-hour journey from Valentia Island to a town he knows so well.

When he spoke, without notes, like a king in command, the town hushed.

“My first game in Croke Park was in 1957 against Cavan in a National League semi-final. Many names have been forgotten since as time passes by but I know for Cavan that day, Jim McDonnell and the Gallagher brothers were playing. Among the Cavan players were a couple of colleagues of John Joe’s, Phil ‘the Gunner’ Brady and Victor Sherlock. So that was a link in my playing days to John Joe.

“The following year, I played in an Ulster vs Munster game here in Breffni Park. I was staying in the Farnham Hotel here and that morning, I met the man I mentioned earlier, Michael O’Hehir. I have great memories of my connection with Cavan from a way, way back and for that reason, I’m delighted to be here today.

“It’s very nostalgic for me. The name O’Reilly is very close to me, my wife Rosaleen was a native of Poles and she was an O’Reilly as well so the name is very, very close to me.

“Walking through the town and its outskirts, it brings home to me that it’s a very special place and it will always be in my mind.

“I’m delighted there is a great turn-out.

“There are very few old-timers here, a lot of them are too young for me. Sport is a great thing, I’m delighted to be here as an ex-sportsman, following in the footsteps of John Joe.”

Arthur Sullivan, one of the main organisers, felt the day could not have gone any better – and Micko’s appearance topped it all off.

“Mick O’Connell is a mystical figure, without equal really in the GAA world, for various reasons, not just his footballing accomplishments but his attitude and approach to everything.

“I think you’d struggle to find a more respected figure in all of Irish life among a certain generation of Irish people.

“I do feel,” he said, “that when he was speaking, I could feel a real sense of magic.”