A brilliant sportsman and great leader

Seamus Duke

The first time I came across Conor Connelly wasn’t in Roscommon, it was in Longford. I was news and sports editor in Shannonside Radio at the time, and when St. Mel’s College in Longford began to do well in the Leinster Championship in 1994, I was at most of the matches. In almost all of those games Conor Connelly was man of the match, or a contender for that honour. Playing in midfield, he had a mighty engine, and was an inspirational leader. It didn’t take a genius to work out that Conor would play at the very highest level.

On that St. Mel’s team Conor played midfield alongside Martin Flanagan, who was another fantastic player, and one of Westmeath’s finest ever. Between them they formed a fantastic partnership. The manager of that brilliant team was Declan Rowley.

“Conor was in every way the perfect student. He was incredibly passionate on the field of play and he hated to lose. He was a great leader and an inspiration to those around him. Not only was he a brilliant sportsman and a great footballer, he was a fantastic student, intelligent, grounded and a lovely lad. He was a fantastic ambassador for our school and we were very proud of his achievements on and off the field. I have been shaken to the core by the news of his sudden death. We shall remember him fondly here in St. Mel’s” Declan told me on Monday last.

The comments of Declan Rowley sum up the contribution that Conor Connelly made not only to St. Mel’s and Roscommon football, but to his native Creggs – and indeed in everything he did. He was incredibly passionate and dedicated to everything he put his hand to.

Most of the focus in connection with Conor’s career with Roscommon will centre on that never-to-be-forgotten day in 2001 when Roscommon won the Connacht Senior Football Final. However, in the semi-final against Galway in Tuam that year Conor also had a fantastic game. Seamus O’Neill was the deserved man of the match that day, but Conor was not far behind. He was everywhere and gave a fantastic pass to Frankie Dolan for Roscommon’s second goal.

His passion and determination ensured that he got into trouble with referees from time to time, but that was part of the package you got with Conor. He gave it everything every day he went out, regardless of who he was playing for.

After playing for Creggs, Conor went on to play club football with Michael Glavey’s when his family moved to the area. Later, came a stint with St. Jude’s in Dublin. Subsequently he married Claire and they settled in Ballycumber, Co. Offaly and he was a very popular member of the community there, not alone in GAA circles but in the village and parish.

I am also aware that in terms of his work as a solicitor Conor helped out many people over the years, many of them former colleagues and teammates. Since the tragic news came last weekend, many of them have told me of the work he did quietly and confidentially over the years.

Since he moved to Co. Offaly I hadn’t met Conor as often as before, but since I went to work in Midlands 103 I’ve heard nothing but glowing reports about his popularity in the Ballycumber area.

Just three weeks ago I met Conor at Tom Lyons’ party at Roscommon Golf Club. He was in great form and as friendly as ever. How things can change so quickly.

Conor gave Roscommon supporters many moments of great pleasure watching him. I am eternally grateful to have known him. Conor was a thorough gentleman.

His loss to Roscommon GAA, to his friends and colleagues and everyone who knew him, is enormous, but it pales in comparison to the loss to his wife Claire and their young children Caragh, Rossa and Owen.

To his heartbroken parents Jimmy and Nora – who were so proud of him – and to his brothers Robert, James and Darragh, his sister Sharon and to all in the Connelly and Quinn families, I want to extend my deepest sympathy on their loss.

Ni bheidh a leitheid an aris.