John Joe was the only man to captain a team to All-Ireland success and raise the Sam Maguire Cup outside of Ireland but there were a lot more highlights to John Joe O’Reilly's short life in which he managed to achieve so much.
The Polo Grounds memory would be the standout moment of his life and for all Cavan people because it was the only All-Ireland ever played outside of Ireland, but John Joe came into the Cavan team at a young age. He won three MacRory Cups medal with St Patrick’s College, Cavan, which was hugely significant in the 1930s.
It was the first time that St. Pats won it and they won three in a row. He captained the team in its last year which was his Leaving Cert year. He also captained the Ulster provincial colleges team which played the other provinces in a very prestigious competition.
He played in his first All-Ireland final in 1937. He made an appearance in the Ulster final and next thing he was playing in an All-Ireland Final and he was very young at the time. He was just 19. He played in the drawn replayed game against Kerry. Cavan lost that day.
He won a lot of Ulster Championship medal, 11 in total which was a lot. Cavan of course were the kingpins of Ulster football in the 30s and 40s. He also played in 8 All-Ireland finals which included two replays. He was lucky to get two All-Ireland victories out of it.
John Joe’s leaderships skills were among his greatest traits and there is no doubt that they stood to him throughout his professional and sporting career.
John Joe’s life was cut short cruelly at the young age of 34 due to a blood clot that arose from surgery on an injury picked up in a game for Curragh GAA in a match against Ardclough in 1952.
He did retire officially at the end of 1951, but he was persuaded to come back again. He was back with the team, working in a coaching capacity, training with them but he never actually made it back onto the field again with one exception – the reopening of Breffni Park on the 8th of June, 1952. He came back for that game. It was accepted that the injury he picked up against Ardclough was the beginning of his trouble.
John Joe continued in his coaching role with Cavan in 1952 and although he was available to line out, he did not play again. Cavan defeated Meath that year in the All-Ireland final and as soon as the game ended John Joe went about his surgery to fix his injury.
He went into the Curragh military hospital and he had the surgery there. He was having a kidney removed and seemed to be ok after the operation. He was in good spirits. Some of his teammates called to see him. He sadly died at 34 years of age.
John Joe’s death was a tragedy for friends, teammates, and both Cornafean and Cavan supporters, but no more so than his wife and young family.
It was a tragedy for everybody but no more so than for his wife and four young children. He got married in 1943 to Olive Rooney and they had four young children. They were all under seven to eight years of age when he died so it was particularly tragic for them, their father being plucked from them at such a young age.
Here at the Bailie Hotel we all salute him.