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Armagh GAA giant John O'Reilly leaves rich sporting legacy

Obituary

John Campbell

By John Campbell

The sad passing of John O'Reilly has robbed the GAA in general and Armagh in particular of one of its greatest servants.

The former Crossmaglen Rangers player held posts at every level from club to national status and in doing so played a key role in helping the organisation to expand and thrive.

Modest and unassuming, he applied the principles which had brought him success in business - courtesy, commitment and efficiency - to his myriad of roles within the GAA and became known throughout the length and breadth of the country.

A cultured, dedicated player with Crossmaglen Rangers, he won Armagh senior county championship medals in 1960 and 1962 before going on to earn distinction as an extremely capable administrator.

He served two terms as chairman of the Crossmaglen club spanning the years of 1963 and 1971 before taking up the position of chairman of the Armagh League Board.

He subsequently stepped up to become chairman of the county board, a position in which he served until 1981. During his period in office, Armagh reached the 1977 All-Ireland final in which they were defeated in Dublin.

But if disappointment was John's lot on that occasion, he enjoyed his greatest day on the GAA front when, as Ulster Council president, he saw his native county beat Kerry to claim their only All-Ireland title to date in 2002.

And the following year, still in his provincial role, he was back in Croke Park to see Tyrone lift the first of their three All-Ireland titles by beating Armagh in the only final in history to feature two Ulster teams.

Yet although he was no stranger to the corridors of power, John's inherent modesty and genial demeanour meant that no task was too menial, no mission too intimidating.

He fulfilled his various roles in a quiet, unfussy manner, leading by splendid example and always eager to lend a helping hand wherever required.

He served as chairman of the high-powered Central Appeals Committee and was also elected as an Armagh delegate to Central Council, appointments which helped to make him a familiar figure in the corridors of power.

He married the former Angela Farrelly in 1963 and the couple made their home in Camlough where, with the picturesque lake to the front and Slieve Gullion to the rear, they basked in an ideal location.

A devoted family man, John took great pride in his children's accomplishments and saw them share his devotion to the GAA.

Intelligent, articulate and strong minded, he remained one of the great mainstays of Armagh and Ulster GAA. The Association was always his natural expression in life, his first and last cultural instinct. He has indeed left a rich legacy.

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