Dublin's Shane Ryan at the GAA Museum with two students. ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Top of the Class

Top marks for the best primary school teachers in Irish sport

We pay tribute to the men and women that shape young minds and have shaped great sporting moments.

JUST ABOUT EVERY student in Ireland can look back upon their primary school years and recall a teacher that was as passionate about sport, and sporting participation, as holding surprise spelling tests or finding gigantic acorns for the nature table.

These men and women would often stay behind, off the clock, coach teams and preach of the blissful simplicity of team sports or pushing one’s self to the brink in the search for sporting glory.

The added bonus came when that teacher happened to be really, really good at sport and would often show up on a Monday morning with tales of epic battles and scars gained in pursuit of triumph. Here are some of the finest primary school teachers to play sports in Ireland.

Gaelic Games

Tomas O’Sé (Kerry) & Stephen O’Neill (Tyrone)

Eight Munster titles, five All-Ireland Football Championships, three NFL trophy wins and five All Star awards for the wing back. The Ventry native plays club football with an Gaeltacht and is teaching at a Gaelscoil in Cork. O’Neill has won five Ulster titles, three All -Irelands, 2 NFLs and was named All Star, in the forward line, on three occasions.

O’Sé and O’Neill clash in 2003. (©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)

Men’s Football: Ian Ryan [Limerick], Gary Sice [Galway], Keith Kelly [Galway], George Hannigan [Tipperary], Liam O’Lionnain [Waterford], Paddy Kelly [Cork], Frank McGlynn [Donegal], Rory Kavanagh [Donegal], Martin O Reilly [Donegal, student teacher in Marino], Shane Ryan [Dublin dual star], Paddy Christie [Dublin]. Currently training in St Patrick’s teacher training college in Drumcondra – Cillian O’Connor [Mayo] and Ferghal Flannagan [Cavan].

Juliet Murphy (Cork – ladies football)

The Reblette star has won seven All-Ireland titles in eight seasons. She has picked up five All Star awards. Three members of the current Cork team, who are all primary school teachers, have 14 All-Ireland medals between them.

Juliet Murphy, Anne Fay INTO President, Nollaig Cleary (also a basketball player with Glanmire) and Laura Mc Mahon of Cork. (Credit: INTO)

Ladies Football: Elaine Harte [Cork], Nollaig Cleary [Cork], Laura McMahon [Cork], Orla Finn [Cork], Caroline Kelly [Kerry], Linda Wall [Waterford], Mairead Wall [Waterford], Emer Flaherty [Galway], Niamh Carroll [Wicklow], Elaine Harte and Niamh Ni Caoimh [both Cork].


Kilkenny’s Tommy Walsh (currently doing his post-grad in primary teaching) tackled by Lar Corbett and Shane McGrath (teacher) of Tipperary. (©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)

Hurling: Shane O’Sullivan [Waterford], Luke O’Farrell [Cork], John Conlon [Clare], Conor Cooney [Galway], James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick [Kilkenny], Richie Hogan [Kilkenny], Paddy Hogan [Kilkenny], David Herity [Kilkenny], Brendan Maher [Tipperary], James Nagle [Waterford].

Brian Cody (Kilkenny) & Ger Loughnane (Clare/Galway)

Cody won three All-Irelands as a player with Kilkenny. He took up the management reins in 1998 and, to date, has led the Cats to nine All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship titles. Loughnane never won an All-Ireland during his 14-year playing career but claimed two NHL trophies with his native Clare. He managed them for seven season from 1994 and led The Banner County to two All Irelands. Both men are primary school principals.

Brian Cody and Ger Loughnane shake hands post-match in 2007. (©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)


Claire O’Connor of Wexford has tasted All-Ireland success three times and one All Star accolade. The sport is popular in the O’Connor family as her sisters, Niamh, Ciara and Eimear, have all represented the county.

Breda Holmes [Kilkenny], Niamh Mulcahy [Limerick], Joanne O’Sullivan (Dublin), Sile Nic Coitir [Dublin - dual star].


Caitriona Casey won a world champion at underage level. The Cork native has been tipped as a future star of the high-tempo sport.


Darren O’Neill, captain of the Ireland boxing team at the 2012 Olympics. The three-time national champion has also won Gold and Silver medals at the European Championships.

O’Neill was a father figure to young boxers Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes at London 2012. (©INPHO/Cathal Noonan)


Geraldine Nolan, Padraig McKinney, Ita Gallagher and Jerry Kiernan.


Kim Daly, who teaches in Scoil Ide Corbally, is a former Irish youth hockey player and currently plays with Catholic institute.


Philip Howard, cycling the Tour d’Afrique, a 12,000km trip from Eygpt to Capetown in aid of Pieta House teaches in St Pauls CBS in Dublin. Paul Curtin is another Dublin-based teacher with a passion for cycling. He is riding from Malin Head to Mizen Head this year in a charitable, fundraising endeavour.

Philip Howard: Cycling the long-haul for a good cause. (Credit: I.N.T.O)


Peter White of Waterford United played with Limerick FC whilst studying to become a teacher. Claudia Hudner is an Ireland youth international.


Katie Tingle represented Ireland in a range of international sailing events.


Galway teacher Gary Thornton recently won the North Pole Marathon. He outdid the other 45 competitors by finishing the 42.195km (26.2 miles) course in a time of 3:49:29.

*Are there any sporting primary teachers we have missed?

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