Born: July 1st, 1965
Died: June 6th, 2023
The opening of a book of condolences at Cork City Hall for Teddy McCarthy, the only player in the history of the GAA to win senior All-Ireland medals in hurling and football in the same year, says much about the esteem in which he was held on Leeside.
The second-youngest in a family of eight born to former Sarsfields hurler Denis McCarthy, Teddy was introduced to hurling and football at an early age, with the Sars pitch just a few hundred yards from where he grew up in Riverstown.
His father died when he was just a few years old, leaving his mother to raise eight children, a fact he acknowledged often when he spoke about how, while they did not live in hardship, luxuries were a rarity. “Nobody has to say how tough it was on my mother. The situation speaks for itself, but she just took us by the scruff of the neck and got on with it... if she went to look for us, we were only down in the GAA field,” he said.
And it was through the GAA that he found himself – playing underage hurling with Sars, football with Glanmire and hurling and football with North Monastery, with whom he won a Harty Cup before lining out with both Cork minor hurlers and minor footballers in 1982.
A dashing player, he followed up those successes by winning three consecutive All-Ireland U21s with the Cork footballers, and he made his intercounty debut for the senior footballers in 1985 at the age of 20. But his debut with the senior hurlers a year later was to prove even more dramatic. Working at Beamish & Crawford, McCarthy displayed the same flinty independence of mind that was to mark his entire career, opting to go on holidays to the Canaries just a fortnight before Cork were to play Galway in the All-Ireland decider – and returning to discover he had been picked to play.
“That was the first holiday I ever had away – I was only 20 and I hadn’t made the team for the Munster final. If I had stayed, there was no guarantee I was going to be picked,” he later recalled after he had collected his first Celtic Cross.
The next two years brought disappointment for McCarthy as Cork lost two football All-Irelands on the trot to Meath, before he added to his medal collection in 1989, when he kicked Cork’s final point as they defeated Mayo, his performances earning him Texaco Footballer of the Year. The following year saw him become the only player in the history of the GAA to win All-Ireland medals in hurling and football in the same year on the field of play, as the Cork hurlers beat Galway by 5-15 to 2-21 while, a fortnight later, the footballers beat their nemeses, Meath, by 0-11 to 0-9.
To win All-Ireland medals in both codes in the one year was remarkable enough. What made it even more astonishing in McCarthy’s case was the fact that he had spent all of July with his foot in plaster, after injuring his ankle in a challenge game. He only returned to training in August. Much of the media focus in the run-up to the football final was on McCarthy, but he was keen to play down his achievement, explaining that once the final whistle sounded, he ran into the dressingroom, as he didn’t want to take attention from his team-mates.
As to his own part in the wins, he was brutally honest. “I was nowhere near match fit in the hurling final, but I at least made a contribution with three points... I reckon the football final was one of the poorest matches I played.”
The dual achievement could have been something that McCarthy exploited commercially, but he was a different animal.
Cork GAA team medic Dr Con Murphy, who knew him for over 30 years, puts it down to character. “Teddy never made any thing of the fact that he was such a huge hero in the GAA – he was modest, easily the most modest sports star that I knew who had achieved so much.”
Football coach Billy Morgan, who first noticed him as a 15-year-old playing the Frewen Cup with North Mon, says his greatest asset was his extraordinary athleticism, including the ability to leap in the air and out-field much taller men. “He was great in the air – I would put him in the same league as a fielder as Mick O’Connell who I would think would admire the way Teddy fielded balls, but his kicking was good too, and he had a great engine to get up and down the pitch. In fact, his all-round game was just very good.”
Teddy was very much his own man, very passionate and he could be argumentative at times, but he was held in such high regard here in Glanmire and all over Cork— Sarsfields player Denis Hurley
Hurling trainer Gerald McCarthy echoes this, pointing to McCarthy’s great strength and his ability to pluck a sliotar from the air. “He was a good all-round player, and he was very wholehearted. He would keep going all day for you. He gave it everything from throw-in to final whistle.”
McCarthy says his namesake was a quiet figure in the dressingroom but when he did speak, his team-mates listened – as happened in 1987 when he interrupted captain Kevin Hennessy as Cork were preparing to play Tipp to announce that “we should do our talking with our hurleys”.
McCarthy variously working as a sales rep, publican and hurley maker and - more recently - as a bus driver bringing children with special needs to and from school. He married Oonagh O’Neill in the 1990s. and took a huge interest in the sporting careers of their three children, Cian, Niall and Sinead.
After he retired from playing with Cork, he continued hurling with Sars and football with Glanmire, before moving into coaching, spending time with Laois and several clubs around Cork. He went to Thurles the Sunday before his death to watch the Cork U20s win the All-Ireland.
Sars club man Denis Hurley said: “Teddy was very much his own man, very passionate and he could be argumentative at times, but he was held in such high regard here in Glanmire and all over Cork. Not just in Cork; the messages we are getting from all over the country have just been amazing.”
Teddy McCarthy is survived by Oonagh, their children Cian, Niall and Sinead, and by his brothers and sisters.