Kerry Sporting Great Laid to Rest - John C. Cooper

February 25th, 2010
by Weeshie Fogarty

We laid John C Cooper to rest last Friday. John C. one of my great boyhood sporting heroes. Growing up in the Killarney of the fifties and early sixties I adored John C. He was one of the men who engendered in me that passionate love, respect and admiration for Kerry football, or I should say the greatness of all Kerry sport because John C. was one of the outstanding all round Kerry sportsmen. Superb footballer with his club Killarney Legion, with Kerry at minor, Junior and senior level, star golfer, rugby player, county championship winning boxer and superb competitor at both snooker and billiards. And most importantly of all a true gentleman, always ready to chat and talk, discuss Kerry football and he always inquired about the progress of his club.  Family, friends and old sporting team mates gathered around the grave in beautiful Adhadoe last Thursday morning as his coffin was lowered to his final resting place. Few noticed the bitter cold March winds whistling around the graveyard as memories of a great Kerry sporting son flashed throught their minds. The scene for John C's final farewell was magnificent. Truly fitting for one of Killarney's sporting sons. Carrantuohill and the McGillicuddy Reeks coated in a mantle of snow, the winter sun shimmering on the still waters of the lakes and his beloved Killarney town nestling in the valley below easily distinguishable through the winter haze.

John C. Cooper was years ahead of his time as a sporting hero. He played with the Legion seniors at just fifteen years of age and while small of stature, he was just five foot six in height, he was huge of heart and in his prime was as hard as bell metal and a virtual ball of muscle. His brother Tommy also represented Kerry at minor, junior and senior level and in 1947 John C was selected for the Kerry minors at his favorite position of wing fordward.  Lighting fast with a beautiful side step and deadly finish he was in scintillating form as Clare and Cork were defeated in Munster, however Mayo proved too good in the All Ireland semi-final winning 0-7 to 1-1. The following year he was also selected on the minor side as Kerry collected their fourth provincial title in a row. Once again however defeat was their lot as Dublin triumphed 2-7 to 0-8. Some of his team mates on those minor sides included, Johnny Foley, Donie Murphy, John Dowling, John Trant, Jim and Mick Brosnan and Bobby Miller.

John C's. brilliant form was immediately spotted by the Kerry Junior selectors  and in 1949 he won his All Ireland medal as Kerry swept to the title defeating Tipperary, Cork Waterford, Wicklow, Down and finally Lancashire 2-14 to 0-6 to register a record seventh title in this grade. On rout to victory they ran up a massive score of 7-53 in the process. And John C was one of the stars of that magnificent victory. Others  Legendary players who lined out with him on that winning side included Sean Murphy and his brother Padraig, Liam Fitzgerald was in goal, Paddy Batt Shanahan, John Dowling, Mixi Palmer and the late  Tom Long (Dingle Town) captained the side.  It appeared that the young Legion star was destined for greatness and the senior selectors were also of that mind. John C was chosen for the league panel the following year. However it was not to be as the nameless, faceless men of the Kerry vigilante committee reported him for attending a rugby Ball in the Great Southern Hotel Killarney. This was the era of the infamous "Ban" and if you were seen attending a match or dance organized under the auspices of the so called foreign games (soccer, rugby) then suspension was your punishment.
John C was handed a twelve month suspension and as he himself told me in a lengthy interview many years ago, "I was completely disillusioned with the GAA and after that my heart was never in Gaelic football, they destroyed my love of the game, that was one of the main reasons why I never perused a place on the Kerry senior team.". He won two senior football county championship medals, one as a sub with his club in 1946 and then together with his brother Tommy in goal he played a huge part in Killarney's 1949 victory over John Mitchels.

He helped The Legion to three minor, one junior and two senior East Kerry victories.  His athletic prowesses were not confined solely to Gaelic football however. As a juvenile he won a Kerry County Championship boxing title and while at school in Rockwell College he was the star of their senior rugby side as he continuously turned in dazzling displays at out half. He later played in the same position Killarney. 

Basketball was booming in the Kerry of the fifties and John C took to this great sport like a duck to water. The now demolished Town Hall in Killarney would be packed to the rafters for all the big games, inter county and local.  At that time all the best Kerry footballers combined both games with little or no difficulty.  I have vivid memories of him playing for the all conquering Killarney United team as they swept unbeaten to championship glory both in the town and at county championship level. He was like a rubber ball on the floor and his spring from a standing position was as good as any I have seen. The United so called because they were a combination of town rivals Legion and Crokes. Tadghie Lyne, Danno Keeffe, Murt and Sean o Shea and John C. The best club side I have ever seen.  They swept all before them and John C also won two Munster championships with Kerry. Names such as Dominic Moriarty, Paddy Culligan, Donal Prendiville, Niall Sheehy, Jimmy Redpath, Tadgh o Reilly ruled the back boards of Munster as the sport grew and grew in popularity. John C. was in my opinion up to Irish International standard in basketball.

This great sporting story of my hero goes on and on. While still a young man he turned his attention to golf proving his tremendous versatility by becoming a scratch golfer in 1959. This enabled him to compete at Woodbook i n the Irish Hospitals Pro-Am Tournament. He carded four superb rounds as he won the armature section beating a host of professionals in the process. His great love for golf and the Killarney courses continued right up to the time of his final illness and he spend many a happy day whiling away the hours in the place he loved best by the lake side course in the shadow of the majestic mountains. John C's father Tom was famous for his production of the film The Dawn, entirely produced in Killarney. He was chairman and county board representative for The Legion and also served as joint treasurer of the county board.

In my opinion John C Cooper was one of Kerry's finest all round sportsmen. His story surly confirms this. He was one of my favorite people and I will miss meeting and chatting with him as he rambled around the streets of our town. My club awarded him the Hall Of Fame some years ago and at the moving of the remains both Wednesday and Thursday a guard of honor comprising The Legion and Killarney Golf and Fishing Club flanked the hearse. His cousin Kerry football legend Johnny Culloty delivered a fitting grave side oration as we bid farewell to John C. There are very few Kerry sportsmen of whom we can say "we will never see his likes again". John C Cooper was one of these chosen few. To his wife and family and close relations we extend our deepest sympathy.

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