Kevin O'Brien, pictured while playing for Wicklow against Offaly in the 1997 Leinster SFC.
Kevin O'Brien, pictured while playing for Wicklow against Offaly in the 1997 Leinster SFC. 

PwC All-Star Legends - Kevin O'Brien

By Kevin Egan

The PwC All-Stars are a unique part of GAA culture, since they celebrate individual achievement as opposed to team success. With the exception of handball and some one-off events such as Puc Fada or Féile Skills, success in Gaelic Games is achieved as a result of collective effort, and celebrated both by the group, and the wider community they represent.

Though All-Star selection is by definition an individual honour, Kevin O’Brien of Baltinglass and Wicklow sees his 1990 award as a success for club and county, as evidenced by the fact that throughout his recollection of events, he only speaks of when “we” won it.

“The way I see it, that night I was very happy to accept that award on behalf of all the players I played with, either for Baltinglass or Wicklow. It was recognition of everything we did that year, winning the All-Ireland club title, going well in the league and championship, and I see it as a way that Wicklow’s progress in general was recognised.

“I’d be a very happy man if I was no longer the only Wicklow player to win an All-Star, and there were ten or twenty more alongside me. Hopefully that will happen.”

O’Brien is certainly doing all he can to make that happen, having poured his energy into Wicklow underage football for several years now. He has just stepped down as manager of the county U-20 side, and feels that this year was another missed opportunity for the county, given the players he had at his disposal.

“I’m good friends with Declan Kelly (Offaly U-20 manager) and we played a couple of challenge games early in the year, really good games that were very close and competitive. We went out and beat Laois in the championship and then couldn’t follow it up with a win over Dublin, and then you see what Offaly went on to achieve. It was a great thing to see for a county like us, but of course you think about what it would have been like to be in their shoes.

Kevin O'Brien has been heavily involved with Wicklow minor and U-20 teams in recent seasons.
Kevin O'Brien has been heavily involved with Wicklow minor and U-20 teams in recent seasons.

“We had chances to win Leinster titles as players too. I think back to 1991, we were waiting in the wings for the winners of Dublin and Meath when they went on their run of games, and it was a strange time, constantly getting ready for a game only to find that it was put back another week, and another one. Then we played Meath, people might say they were drained after all that, but we let them off the hook both in the draw and the replay, we could have caught them, and it’s a credit to them that they went all the way to the All-Ireland final after that”.

Outside of club and county football, O’Brien also had a successful year on the international front, earning his place on the Ireland International Rules team that toured Australia in November of 1990, winning two of the three tests – another aspect to his incredible year that he feels was a factor in his All-Star selection.

“I was looking after some of the journalists on tour, and I’m sure some of them just wanted to look after me in return!” he quipped.

“It meant a lot to me though. When you’re from a county like Wicklow, you’re conscious that you’re representing the county all the time, and you want to prove that you deserved to be there. It’s not really the same if you’re one of five or six from Kerry or Dublin. It went well for me though, I started all three tests, and made some great friends out there.

“When we came home, we all planned to meet up at the All-Star banquet, just as an excuse to catch up! The plan was that myself, Jim Stynes and a few of the other lads would be down the back of the hall, but then we got our invites and I remember I was driving to work that day when the winners were announced by Des Cahill on the radio, and I nearly drove the car into a ditch when I heard!

“On the night itself, Baltinglass were playing Thomas Davis of Dublin in a Leinster club final two days later, so there was a limit on the celebrations, but it still meant a lot to be part of it, to meet all the hurling lads, and of course there was a memorable tour the next year where we played in the Skydome in Toronto. You’re standing there beside famous names like Val Daly, Robbie O’Malley, it was just an incredible experience”.

Now, three decades later, Kevin O’Brien remains hopeful that it’s an experience that will be shared by other Wicklow players as soon as possible.