Nenagh Guardian, May 6, 2017.
The death of Sean O’Meara of Lorrha on March 18 saw the passing of an outstanding athlete and hurler. Born in October 1933, he was the second son of Jim ‘The Private’ and Margaret O’Meara, and one of four children with Paddy older and Kathleen and Seamus younger.
He first played for Lorrha against Shannon Rovers in the under-15 championship at Kilbarron in 1943. Lorrha were slaughtered on the day by an opposition superbly trained by Rev. John Cleary, C.C. Sean as a nine-year old played on goals but gave such an exceptional performance that when Fr. Cleary spoke to the defeated side after the game, he singled Sean out as the only player he would select on the Shannon Rovers side!
After national school in Lorrha, Sean went to Pallaskenry Missionary College, as it was then known. He spent five years there during which he played with the college team. He impressed enough to be invited to play for the Limerick minors but he declined in the hope of getting a call up for Tipperary, which never came. One of the other things he excelled in while in Pallaskenry was running. The prime competition annually was the mile race and he won it three years in a row.
Played with Meath
Following his Leaving Certificate Sean spent a year in the Salesian Novitiate in Burwash, Sussex, U.K. following which he went to Warrenstown Agricultural College, Co. Meath for a year. His hurling ability was recognised when he was selected on the Meath senior hurling team in 1954, which had the distinction of beating Carlow and Offaly, before going down to Dublin in the Leinster semi-final. Playing at centrefield, Sean had as opponents Mick Ryan and Phil Shanahan of Tipperary, who were playing with Dublin that year. In the same year he got a trial with the Meath footballers, who defeated Cavan in the All-Ireland semi-final, before going on to beat Kerry in the final.
Back home in 1955, he played with Lorrha in the senior championship, losing out to Borrisileigh in the North semi-final. In the same year he was selected for the Tipperary hurlers in the Munster championship and for the Tipperary footballers against Cork, but couldn’t play because of injury.
The Offaly Dimension
Later in the year he got a job as an insurance agent in Banagher on condition that he play with the local club, Shannon Rovers, so he transferred to Offaly. He played in the county hurling championship for two years, reaching the county final in 1956, only to be badly beaten by Drumcullen. He also played football with Cloghan, the football end of the parish, and reached the final in 1956, before losing to Tullamore.
Playing with Meath and Banagher brought Sean to the attention of the Tipperary selectors. He made his first appearance against Clare in the 1955 Munster championship, when Tipperary were surprisingly beaten. He played in the subsequent league campaign and partnered John Hough at centrefield in the final at Croke Park, when Wexford came back from the dead after half-time to defeat Tipperary. He was dropped in favour of Mick Ryan for the Munster championship semi-final, which Tipperary lost to Cork after leading by 2-6 to 0-1 at the interval.
National League medal
Sean was back on the team for the 1956-576 league campaign and played at full-forward on the side that defeated Kilkenny in the final at Croke Park on May 12, 1957. He was in the same position for the Munster semi-final against Cork, a game that was lost by the unlikely score of 5-2 to 1-11.
The winning of the league led to a trip to the U.S. in October. Tipperary played New York in the St. Brendan Cup, playing four games in all, one under lights. Sean decided to remain on in New York and was to remain there for ten years.
It was understandable that emigration wouldn’t bring an end to Sean’s playing career. He played with Cork (New York) in football initially, as he had got a job through a Cork connection, and won a championship with them. Later he played with Kilkenny and won a second football championship. But hurling was his first love and he won a championship with Tipperary in 1962.
St. Brendan Cup
Sean was part of the New York team which played Kilkenny in the St. Brendan Cup in the Polo Grounds on June 1, 1958. It was the last Gaelic match to be played in the historic ground and Sean had an outstanding game, scoring 3-6 at full-forward over the hour. It gave him the unique distinction of having won St.Brendan Cups with Irish and New York teams, and in consecutive years. He was to win his third later in the year, when New York defeated Wexford by 3-8 to 3-7 in another final at Croke Park.
In 1960 Waterford travelled to New York and were beaten by a star-studded New York team on a scoreline of 7-7 to 3-4. Playing at full-forward, Johnny had an outstanding game and scored 3-2 off the great Austin Glynn before an attendance of 29,000 people.
During his time in New York Sean made a number of hurling trips to Ireland, wither with New York teams for league engagements or to play with Lorrha. For instance, he played with his native parish in 1965, when Lorrha were beaten a point by Kilruane in the North final.
While in New York Sean married Peggy Egerton, originally from Oldcastle, Co. Meath, in May 1962. The couple had four girls, Margaret, Marie, Olivia and Valerie. All the girls, with the exception of Olivia, have won All-Irelands in athletics and represented Ireland at international level. They were good sprinters, and Marie was a jumper at well. She held the Irish ladies’ record for the triple jump at one stage.
Sean returned to Ireland in 1966 and was on the Lorrha side that won the North senior divisional side that year. He continued to play with the club until 1979, twenty-six years after making his first appearance as a senior with the club. During the same period he won two divisional junior football titles in 1966 and 1971, going all the way to a county title in the latter year.
He remained an athlete all his life, participating in sports all over the country. He took part in the first Dublin City marathon in 1979 and on two later occasions.
He was also involved in G.A.A. administration. He was registrar of the North Board for seven years and a trustee of the county board for four years. Refereeing was another part of his life. He refereed at all levels, divisional, county, Minster (Munster Club final 1977) and All-Ireland levels, and had the unique distinction of refereeing five divisional hurling finals in the same year, senior, intermediate, junior, under-21 and minor. He served as Tipperary representative on the Munster Referees Advisory Council.
Comhaltas played a major part in his life. Ever since Paddy Madden, Canon Martin Ryan and Peggy Wilde started the Irish Nights in the old hall in Lorrha in the 1960s, Sean was involved. He used to travel from Nenagh with his daughters every Friday night and the entertainment played a major part in his and his daughters’ lives. At one stage he was part of a half-set with Bernadette Turner, Tommy and Kathleen Houlihan and they won a number of Munster titles.
An Active Man
Sean O’Meara was always a most active man. During his sporting life he achieved a level of fitness that was exceptional in his time, when hurlers and footballers had a much more relaxed attitude to their physical preparations. He was a robust player who revelled in taking on opponents in physical battle and not many enjoyed coming in contact with him. As a contemporary of his in New York, Johnny Murphy of Cashel, described him ‘ a man you wouldn’t like to run into on the field of play.’ Off the field of play the same energy drove him in his job and his recreational activities. He was never a person to loll about but was ever restless for new activities, new challenges.
It was ironic, and very, very cruel then that he should be partly paralysed following an operation in the Blackrock Clinic in 2003, which rendered him extremely limited in the kind of physical activity he so enjoyed. It was a most frustrating experience for him to have to spend the last thirteen years of his life in such a state.
In spite of this he will always be remembered as a skilful bundle of energy on the playing fields giving his all for Lorrha, Tipperary and New York.