PwC All-Stars Legends - Larry O'Gorman
By John Harrington
25 years later, Larry O’Gorman’s eyes still dance with emotion when he recalls what it was like to win an All-Star and the Hurler of the Year award in 1996.
Those honours came after an epic summer for Wexford hurling, full of colour and drama, and no-one supplied more of those two qualities than the charismatic O’Gorman.
A dynamic half-back who electrified the crowd with the way he’d win hard ball and burst through would-be tacklers, O’Gorman hurled up a storm in every match he played in that championship campaign and it was no surprise when he was subsequently crowned the Hurler of the Year.
“It was quite an amazing feeling to be honest,” says O’Gorman now. “As a young guy playing hurling growing up all I wanted to do was play hurling. I’ve often said I fell in love with hurling and hurling fell in love with me.
“And then on a personal thing, just to get that All-Star award was great to be even nominated. I was very proud, I had to ring my mam and dad to say that I got an All-Star.
“And they were saying, ‘Well, you deserve it son, you've given so much in your life to it and we're delighted for you.’
“It was very emotional at the time to ring them and tell them that. A couple of days later then I got a phone-call to say I'd got Hurler of the Year. I rang my parents again and, to be honest, I was sort of choking on the phone to tell them I had got it. It was just the icing on the cake.
“I think I was in Waterford when I got the phone-call to tell me and I was so overjoyed and full of emotion that I went straight up home. The two of them were sitting at home and we had a cup of tea and a slice of cake and there was a lovely hug between the three of us.
“My Dad would always say, ‘You'll make it, there's nothing going to stop you.’ Hurling is an amateur sport but he knew the way I treated it. He used to go fishing and hunting and I didn't want to go because I wanted to play with a hurling ball on the little green outside my front door.
“He knew that I had a little dream in the back of my mind somewhere, so to grow up and to get that dream was something special.”
O’Gorman didn’t become an All-Star and Hurler of the Year because of one memorable summer. His elevation to the highest individual honour in hurling was the product of a life dedicated to honing his craft.
“As a young guy playing hurling growing up all I wanted to do was play hurling,” he says.
“As a young kid I wanted to play hurling every day, and I did growing up. I grew up with so many great GAA people around me to be honest; when you have the likes of Tony ‘Sack’ Walsh and the great Willie Goodison who was a great footballer for Wexford and I worked with him as a young lad.
“He used to always give great words of wisdom and encouragement and things like that. So every day I just went around with the hurl in my hand and it just grew and grew and grew, and I just wanted to be a good club man. Thankfully I got the opportunity then to go on and hurl for Wexford.
“You start following the ‘76 and ‘77 teams that got beaten in the All-Ireland by Cork twice, you sort of get that little feeling that hurling is something special, especially when you get to see the games really up close.
“Then that journey just continued on for me and all I wanted to do then was play for Wexford and you get that opportunity. Then you go on and I remember the early 90’s getting beaten in league finals and Leinster finals and I thought to myself this would never happen, and the years are catching up on you really quick and you think you’ll never win some silverware.”
O’Gorman was only convinced that becoming the best team in the country was an attainable goal for Wexford when Liam Griffin was appointed manager at the end of 1994.
A dynamic personality who didn’t lack for confidence himself, Griffin was a gifted man-manager who was able to get his players to believe they had every right to win the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
“He more or less changed the attitude of not just only the players but the whole county, and everyone got behind him,” says O’Gorman.
“We thought this guy was something special. He had special words and he had a special gift for all the players and we really learned an awful lot from him in terms of just life in general and how to approach life.
“And then on the hurling field, what hurling really meant to the people of Wexford, and if you ever went on to win something what it would do for the county in general. This little thing was going on in the back of our heads. Maybe the previous years we weren't thinking upstairs, we didn't have that belief that we were good enough to win.
“We were hoping to win, but Kilkenny and all the great teams like that knew how to win. We struggled with how to win. I think Liam Griffin just changed the whole mindset of the team. Once we got the ball rolling and we started getting the victories, I was starting to enjoy myself then and I really let fly altogether.
“I think I took the shackles off even though I was controlled by Liam in terms of playing my position and playing a good game-plan that he had set up. But, in general, I felt all these years of dedication and stuff that you'd be doing on your own in terms of just wanting to be at the top level, I think it paid off for me because I was hurling with a smile on my face and the pressure itself never really got to me.
“The occasions of not only travelling up to the match but the night before where you were being happy and cheerful and going on this journey and going to Croke Park to play in a Leinster Final and beating Offaly in the Leinster Final was just something special and it brought fantastic celebrations within the county in general.
“Then hopping on to the All-Ireland semi-final and to win the final was just something that I know I'll never witness anything like it again in my life unless I win the euromillions. If it was 100 million I might celebrate with a bottle of champagne, but I don't think I'll ever celebrate anything like the way we celebrated in '96.
“It was just such a special occasion where the players themselves and then the county and every young child and even people in nursing homes, the joy on their faces was something to behold. It's in the song, 'Dancing at the Crossroads', the place went wild.”
A PwC All-Star is regarded as the greatest individual honour in Gaelic Games, but it is more than that because it’s not just the player who is awarded the statuette who feels great pride in the achievement.
Every family member and club coach who has helped that player on his journey to becoming one of the best players in the country takes a vicarious joy in it.
And for players like Larry O’Gorman, winning an All-Star was something to be shared with all those who had raised him up on the pedestal.
“I can only thank my club because they played a major part in terms of all the good coaching that I got as a youngster,” he says. “I really learned from them how to be a good, disciplined guy. You learn an awful lot from good coaches.
“At the present moment I'm involved with the young kids underage and I'm just trying to encourage them to play with a smile on their face and be happy and not to get too agitated or upset when you lose some big game.
“Because one day that little dream will come through, whether you're going to be captain of the Wexford camogie team or captain of a Wexford minor or U-21 team in years to come, this is the way I'll be pushing these kids. Because life in general is tough enough for a lot of kids out there with what's facing them down the line.
“I think sport and especially hurling in my club gives you that opportunity or dream to drive yourself
“Winning the All-Ireland was something special and I can't thank my club enough for what they did for me. I'm involved in a lot of voluntary work out there at the present moment so I'm only paying back in kind the way they looked after me as a kid growing up.”