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The Irish football fan who inspired a community

Cork City star Gearóid Morrissey pays tribute to lifelong supporter John Kennedy who passed away last week.

John Kennedy, pictured centrally holding the photo, passed away last week.
John Kennedy, pictured centrally holding the photo, passed away last week.
Image: Doug Minihane/CorkCityFC.ie

FOOTBALL SHOULD BE about much more than just the players.

At its best, a club can be a source of good in the community, embracing its populace and working alongside them to create a better environment.

Equally as important as the players are the fans — a point that has become particularly pronounced of late with the Covid-19 pandemic largely depriving the sport of live spectators.

In addition, while football is a game that creates stars, it’s often the people whose names we don’t know that can be just as integral to the atmosphere around a club.

And all this is especially true of the League of Ireland, where teams don’t enjoy the riches of their counterparts across the water and who are often hugely reliant on volunteers and the goodwill of their fanbase.

John Kennedy may not have been a household name to most Irish football fans, but it was clear from the array of tributes made, following his passing at the age of 56 last week, that he had impacted many.

Several past and present Cork City players, as well as others affiliated with the club, paid tribute to Kennedy following the sad news.

Flowers, scarves and jerseys were left at Turner’s Cross in memory of him, while the club have also set up an online book of condolences for those wishing to pay their respects.

Hundreds of people lined the streets during the week, many of whom were wearing Cork City jerseys, as they bid an emotional goodbye to Kennedy.

“Always with a smile on his face and a Cork City crest on full view, John Kennedy had a disarming charm,” wrote Niamh O’Mahony, a member of FORAS and a former board member of Cork City FC, in the Irish Examiner.

“The club will continue to honour the legacy John has left behind and the endless work and support he has given the club will never be forgotten,” Cork City chairman Declan Carey said.

Through the Family Enclosure, John organised buses getting supporters to and from almost every away game, and was a recognisable face to all Rebel Army supporters.”

A lifelong Cork City fan, Kennedy had been a volunteer at the club for over 30 years, as well as serving on the Board of Management.

And amid this tragic backdrop, the Leesiders are preparing for their biggest game of the season today, a relegation ‘six-pointer’ away to fellow strugglers Finn Harps.

“It was really heart-breaking and if we can do anything, we’ll do our best to get a result for John,” Cork boss Neale Fenn told reporters during the week.

Yet matters on the pitch will have felt relatively insignificant in recent days, following the passing of one of the most beloved personalities affiliated with the team.

*****

Among the many people mourning Kennedy’s passing is Gearóid Morrissey.

Few current players are more synonymous with Cork City than the 28-year-old midfielder.

After a move to Blackburn Rovers as a youngster resulted in recurring feelings of homesickness and ultimately didn’t work out, Morrissey joined the Leesiders in 2010 and he has now spent almost a decade at the club, with his time there briefly interrupted by a short-lived and injury-ridden stint at Cambridge United in 2015.

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During the Ringmahon Rangers’ youth product’s long career with Cork, there have plenty of good times and bad. They were a struggling First Division side when he originally joined, while he was also a key player in the spectacular 2017 campaign, as John Caulfield’s men achieved a momentous league and cup double.

Currently, Morrissey is experiencing one of the more challenging periods of his time at Cork, as they sit bottom of the Premier Division with seven games to play. An ill-timed injury meant he missed the first few games post-lockdown and it is only now that he is starting to feel 100% fit.

The Mahon native, who was named the club’s new captain at the beginning of the campaign, has had to step up more than ever this season. Several of the club’s more experienced players departed amid a turbulent time at the end of last year, with a number of inexperienced youngsters from home and abroad taking their place. An inevitably difficult and at times extremely frustrating adaptation period has ensued, with recent form indicating the struggle to achieve consistency as a result. 

Amid all this change, one of the few constants during Morrissey’s career at the club had been the presence of Kennedy at games. And he was as stunned as everyone else by the popular figure’s untimely passing.

“I was absolutely taken aback,” he says. “I went to bed early on Friday and late Friday night was when the news came out.

“I woke up, it was in the WhatsApp group. I just saw it and was going ‘no way’. I was completely shocked to be honest. It was a massive blow.

I live in Mahon in Cork and that’s where John was at the heart of it. Anything that went on in the community, he was there starting it and getting it going — any charity event, any youth event for the kids. Anything positive that was happening in the community, he was at the heart of it. Then, at Cork City football club, when I joined them, it was the same thing. Whatever was happening, John was the man sorting it out.

“Anything really that you were giving your time to, John was organising it for other people. That’s just the kind of man he was.

“He was a really selfless and kind man and just one of them people that you were always happy to see.

“You walked through the turnstiles at Turner’s Cross, either on the way in or out, whatever the score may have been, John would always greet you the same.

“He’d shake your hand and he’d say ‘next week’ or ‘well done’, whatever it was, there was never a negative moment with him in my experience.

“I’ve always had a great time with him and I think it leaves a real gaping hole in the community here in Mahon, around Cork and especially in the football club.”

Morrissey and his team-mates will consequently be thinking of Kennedy as they take to the field at Finn Park today.

“I think it puts everything into perspective,” the player adds. “And the fact that everybody comes together, no matter what’s going on, everybody leaves work or whatever it is, just to come together in memory of a great man.

“The whole Mahon community and then the various charities John was involved in, you have the whole football club, it all merged into one. And I think the turnout [for the fitting farewell during the week] was fantastic.

“He deserved every bit of it and more. We applauded the hearse and the family who followed behind it through the guard of honour up the road.

“I just hope it was of some comfort to the family to know how much their dad was loved and how much their family is respected.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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