THE LATE lamented Liam ‘Chunky’ O’Brien was to hurling what another late great, George Best was to the game of soccer.
In many respects, they were kindred spirits.
Both were naturals.
The Belfast boy who so often lit up Old Trafford was a wizard with a big ball.
Our son of his city followed in the hurling footsteps of his talented dad, the late Paddy ‘Chunky’ O’Brien.
He was a chip off the old block as his plumber father had graced the hurling fields of Ireland with Éire Óg and Kilkenny as he chawked up All-Ireland honours.
Young Chunky who so often ignited Croke Park, Nowlan Park and many other stadia, was simply the best.
He was pure class when it came to manipulating a small ball, aka a sliotar.
What Chunky and George had in common was that they were sporting geniuses.
Neither player was the prodigy of any particular coach or coaching system.
Both could have been described as raw material that matured naturally as brilliance beckoned.
At a time when they were in their prime, the sporting icons would certainly have shared the title of the darlings of the terraces.
LIAM WAS OUT OF THIS WORLD
Best was amazing.
Left foot, right foot, head, mazy dribbling, super goals.
Liam was out of this world.
The St Fiacre’s Place boy who served his time with the now defunct Newpark Sarsfields, went on to greatness with Kilkenny and his beloved James Stephens.
He was the prince of so many aspects of the small ball game, an artisan with flair who, akin to our present hero TJ Reid, baffled and bewildered as his hurley stick became a magic wand.
He was the real deal of his time when it came to hurling acumen.
Right side, left side, on the ground, in the air, he scored goals and points to amaze even the most critical of hurling puritans.
But perhaps it was the solo run that will always be remembered as his piece de resistance when his gargantuan but so subtle exploits on so many green swards are spoken fondly of for generations to come.
When in full flight he would have given the amazing cheetah a good run for his or her money.
EAGLE-EYED PUBLIC RELATIONS GURU
Chunky didn’t invent the solo run.
He perfected it.
What was amazing was that as he careered past defenders, he would have been carrying a hurling ball on his trusty stick for god only knows how many yards before shooting a wonder score.
Had an eagle-eyed public relations guru been on the ball, a then fledgling Chunky could have unwittingly been catapulted to business fame and fortune.
He would have revelled in the title The UHU Man.
For, it was as if the sliotar were glued to his hurley and despite the best efforts of hardy boys from Tipp and other counties, there wouldn’t be a bobble from the ball.
Chunky was a hurling magician as he performed majestically, with super skills, deft touches, sleight of wrist and turn of body that so often left opponents flailing in frustration as the roof of Croke Park was threatened with blast-off.
CHUNKY: APPRENTICE AND MASTER CRAFTSMAN
He loved hurling and the countless thousands who followed the small ball spectacular, friend and foe, loved our Chunky, the craftsman who was both apprentice and master.
He played hurling with a passion when he wore the jerseys of Sarsfields, Kilkenny or James Stephens.
He didn’t know any different.
He played from the heart.
He was an ace performer, the king of trumps, the joker in the pack, and like superbly talented people in many walks of life, he was a world class entertainer.
Like his fellow hero, George Best, Liam Chunky was a cracking soccer player too.
He played for Evergreen mainly and then Emfa for a time and again he was a natural.
He was a class act.
Whether or not he would have made it on the world stage as a big ball star no one really knows.
WOULD NEVER HAVE SWAPPED SMALL BALL
But the poser, we have no doubt, will get a fair airing from Gabby Maher and his fellow Village sporting aficionados as they sink a few pints of Arthur Guinnnes.
Regardless of what the consensus is, Chunky would never have swapped the small ball he loved for any other field game.
He was talented at handball too and no doubt would have been a dab performer at any other game he tried his hand at.
He was a special one who will never be forgotten.
He will always be remembered as one of the greatest ever to wear the black and amber.
Perhaps what made him such a huge favourite was that as well as being a consistent man of the match for thousands of men, women and children, he was also a gentleman, quietly spoken, inoffensive and refreshingly warm son of our county, a caring family man.
HOW IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HOW MANY
Those who know their onions in the world of Gaelic Games will remind of all the honours that Chunky helped to bring to club and county.
Yes, trophies are always significant, even important, but we would prefer to dwell on how he won them rather than spend time counting.
Chunky passed away at St Luke’s General Hospital after a battle with illness. He was 72.
It would be a privilege to be a fly on the wall as Gabby and pals recall the heroics of a player they loved and will always cherish.
Imagine finding a space on a similar wall when Liam meets his great friend of so many years, former Garda Sergeant, the late Kierney Brennan of Castlecomer when they meet St Peter for a chat about hurling.
Now that would be worth listening to.
The esteem in which Liam Chunky was held can be garnered from the wonderful respect and admiration he received from so many of his tough opponents, notably Tipp warriors from another time.