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Dublin: 17 °C Saturday 30 August, 2014

The sports personalities we lost in 2013

It was a year in which we said farewell to the likes of Kevin Heffernan, Colm Murray and Con Martin.

Kevin Heffernan

As Dublin marched to another All-Ireland SFC triumph this summer, the Hill remembered Kevin Heffernan. The former Dubs boss — the leader of Heffo’s Army — passed way in January.


Pic: Billy Stickland

Ken Norton


PA/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Former boxing champion nicknamed the ‘Black Hercules’ and considered one of the greatest heavyweights of his era, died on 18 September of a heart attack aged 70. Norton, who suffered a stroke in 2012, was best known for beating Muhammad Ali in 1973, breaking Ali’s jaw in the process and ended his brilliant career with a record of 42 wins, seven losses, one draw and 33 knockouts.

“They called us handsome. Muhammad they called pretty. But the fairest of them all Ken Norton,” said fellow heavyweight legend George Foreman in a tribute.

‘Father of the Year in 1977 one of his sons, Ken Jr. played in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers winning three successive Super Bowls (1992-94 the first two with the Cowboys). Norton Senior went on to appear in 20 films but withdrew from blockbuster ‘Rocky’ where he was due to play Apollo Creed. Humble throughout as exemplified by this quote in his biography: “Of all the titles that I’ve been privileged to have, the title of ‘dad’ has always been the best.”

Tommy Morrison


Pic: AP Photo/Tom Hood

Former world heavyweight boxing champion who was diagnosed with the HIV virus that causes AIDS in 1996 died on 1 September aged 44. Was one of a long line of ‘great white hopes’ in the heavyweight division in the 1980s and 90s but rarely threatened to fulfil that save when he won the WBO world title on points against 44-year-old George Foreman in 1993 only to lose it in his first title defence. Son of a native Indian Morrison claimed to be the great nephew of Hollywood legend John Wayne and went by the nickname of ‘Duke’ as a result. Had numerous run-ins with the law and served time.

Philippe Gaumont


JACQUES COLLET/AP/Press Association Images

Talented French cyclist who epitomised the culture of doping in the sport in the 1990s and early part of this century died after lapsing into a coma following a massive heart attack aged 40 on May 17. Olympic bronze medalist in the 2000 Games in team time-trial and winner of prestigious Ghent-Wevelgem one day race he retired from the sport in 2004 after confessing to habitual doping. Wrote a warts and all book ‘Prisoner of doping’ divulging the tricks of the dopers and remarked: “I doped so I could survive…but I lost a lot in the process.” On his enforced retirement he ran first a cafe in Amiens and then became manager of a brasserie with 33 employees in the northern city of Lens when the Louvre opened a branch of their museum there. Extrovert and bon viveur he commented shortly before his death: “I always lived life to excess.”

Bill Foulkes


Bill Foulkes (left) and Nobby Stilesin 1968. Pic: PA Wire

Former Manchester United defender and a survivor of the 1958 Munich air disaster which killed 23 people including several of his team-mates, died aged 81 on 25 November. A no-nonsense centreback — only capped once by England — made his United debut in 1952 and played 688 times for the club — a figure surpassed by only Ryan Giggs, Bobby Charlton and Paul Scholes. He was a coalminer originally and continued working in the mines even when he became a regular first choice under Matt Busby. Went on to be part of the United team that won the club’s first European Cup in 1968.

“He was as hard as nails, as tough as teak. I was always glad I didn’t have to play against him,” remarked former team-mate Charlton on hearing of his death.

Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin


Pic: Inpho/Cathal Noonan

A former Dublin dual star, Ó Ceallacháin’s voice was familiar to hurling and football fans for decades. He took over the Sunday night results programme on RTÉ radio from his father in 1948 and retired in 2011. You can listen to his last broadcast here.

Brian Greenhoff


S&G/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

Former Manchester United and England defender died suddenly aged 60 in May. Capped 18 times by England he formed a reliable central defensive partnership with Martin Buchan for United under the charismatic managership of Tommy Docherty which saw them win the 1977 FA Cup final beating Liverpool 2-1 — his brother Jimmy was also part of the side — having lost the 1976 one in a shock defeat to Southampton. Went on to play for Leeds and Rochdale where he was player-coach but fell out with Jimmy after the latter was dismissed as manager. “It was a little family argument. It’s the only one we ever had,” commented Jimmy, though, bad enough for them not to speak for 15 years.

Con Martin


Pic: Barratts/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

Irishman who played in several positions and nicknamed the ‘yellow canary’ whose appearances for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland prompted a rule change by FIFA died on February 24 aged 89. After Martin’s last appearance for Northern Ireland, his sixth in all while he played 30 times for the Republic, in a Home International against Wales but also counting towards 1950 World Cup qualification, FIFA ruled that turning out for the two sides could not be repeated. His Gaelic football career had also come to a controversial end in 1941, when he was banned by the GAA.

Bruno Metsu

French coach best known for leading Senegal into the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup died of cancer aged 59 on October 14. Instantly recognisable on the touchline with his dapper suits and long hair, Metsu caused a sensation at the 2002 World Cup when Senegal defeated reigning champions France in the opening match. Just months ahead of the World Cup, Metsu also guided Senegal to their only appearance in the final of the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations where they were beaten on penalties by Cameroon. “An important personality from French football has left us. He gave the impression of a man able to convince others that French football had values. He was an example to follow in his convictions and the missions he undertook,” said French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet.

Niall Donoghue


The Gaelic games community was stunned in October when Galway senior hurling star Niall Donoghue died tragically. The Kilbeacanty club man had played in last year’s All-Ireland final against Kilkenny. The club’s posted this tribute to their Facebook page:

You can feel the sorrow, nearly see it. It’s totally calm even the dogs aren’t barking. It’s as if they know. It’s like Kilbeacanty, Galway, the whole of Ireland, Australia and beyond is covered in a blanked of sorrowful, painful, raw emotion. It’s so hard to believe our star, our hero, our idol has been taken from us in his prime.”

Ilya Tsymbalar


John Walton/EMPICS Sport

Highly-gifted Russian international midfielder died of a suspected heart attack aged 44 on December 28. Tsymbalar was one of the stars of a glorious Spartak Moscow squad that won seven titles in the 1990s and was renowned for its skillful passing reminiscent of Lionel Messi’s present Barcelona side. Unlike several of his clubmates like Valery Karpin he never made the move abroad. Capped 28 times by Russia — scoring four goals — he appeared at the 1992 World Cup and Euro ’96. “Tsymbalar had a reputation as the most talented player in contemporary Russian football history,” the state daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote on its website.

Tony Grealish


INPHO/Billy Stickland

The London-born footballer played for Ireland in the 70s and 80s, making 45 appearances, scoring eight goals from midfield. At club level, Grealish made a long career for himself spanning almost 20 seasons in the English lower leagues. Following spells at Leyton Orient and Luton Town, he famously moved to Brighton and Hove Albion and captained them in the 1983 FA Cup Final where they were beaten in a replay by Manchester United. Grealish died in April, aged 56, after a battle with cancer.

Bert Trautmann

Manchester City goalkeeper who played on in the 1956 FA Cup final despite having fractured his neck, died on July 19 aged 89. A decorated veteran of the Eastern Front in World War II, who was later captured having served in Normandy following D-Day, Trautmann was held as a prisoner-of-war until 1948. Trautmann wrote himself into English football folklore after being injured diving at the feet of Birmingham City striker Peter Murphy with 17 minutes left of the FA Cup final — he said the impact felt like a ‘plane crash’ — which resulted in five dislocated vertebrae, one fractured in two, which almost cost him his life. He played on and City won 3-1. “He came to England as a soldier, and thus an enemy, but was later a celebrated hero in the country,” commented German federation president Wolfgang Niersbach.

Maria de Villota


Pic: James Moy/James Moy Photography/Press Association Images

Spanish former Formula 1 test driver died from natural causes aged 33 in October in Seville. The daughter of former Formula 1 driver Emilio De Villota, she was the first Spanish female to enter the sport when she joined the Marussia team in 2012 as a test driver. However, just four months later De Villota suffered severe injuries, including the loss of her right eye in a crash while testing at Duxford Airfield in Cambridgeshire, England. Admired for her courage on the day she died she had been due to take part in a conference organised by the “What Really Matters” foundation promoting human values and was due to launch her book titled “Life is a gift” in Madrid a few days later.

Ken Venturi

1964 US Open champion and runner-up in the 1956 Masters who despite having a severe stammer enjoyed a highly successful broadcasting career for 35 years on US television died on May 17 aged 82. Venturi, who prided himself in having Frank Sinatra as his best friend, overcame severe dehydration in sweltering temperatures, at Congressional Country Club just outside Washington, to claim his only major title. “Ken Venturi’s victory in the 1964 US Open remains one of the greatest moments in the championship’s 112-year history,” US Golf Association executive director Mike Davis said.

Henry Cecil


Rebecca Naden/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Legendary horse trainer Cecil died on 11 June aged 70 after a long battle with cancer. Cecil, who was British champion trainer 10 times and trained the winner of the Epsom Derby four times, had a memorable time on the track over the last three seasons with the unbeaten Frankel. Cecil, whose twin brother David also died of cancer, was a much loved character, whose courageous battle with the illness had endeared him further with the public. Indeed when Frankel ran his final race at Ascot in October 2012, the suitably named Champion Stakes, the 32,000 capacity crowd gave him three cheers both before and after the race, moving him to tears.

Cliff Morgan

Former Wales and British and Irish Lions fly-half died on 29 August aged 83. The diminutive fly half from a mining family in the Rhondda Valley joined Cardiff straight from school in 1949 and he went on to win 29 caps for his country between 1951 and 1958 and also captain the Lions. Morgan was notably one of the heroes of the British Lions tour of South Africa in 1955 which was drawn 2-2. After retiring from rugby, he became well-known as a television broadcaster with the BBC and his commentary of the famous Barbarians victory over the mighty All Blacks in 1973 — including the memorable try by Gareth Edwards — has entered broadcasting legend.

Peter Graf


ADAM BUTLER/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Coach and manager of daughter Steffi died aged 75 of cancer in November. Disciplinarian — she would apparently feel the back of his hand if he judged her practice sessions below par — and thus acquired nickname of ‘Papa Merciless’ but his methods produced results as his daughter went on to dominate the women’s game and win 22 Grand Slam events. His claim to an American magazine ‘I think we can afford the taxes,’ referring to why they stayed in Germany came back to haunt him as he was sentenced to three years and nine months in jail for tax fraud in 1997. Fairly chaotic private life saw him divorce Steffi’s mother and marry his daughter’s former babysitter in 1999.

Noel O’Mahony


The man who led Cork City to their first league title in 1993 as well as the UEFA Cup adventure against Bayern Munich. The Leeside native also distinguished himself as a player with Cork Hibs, winning a league medal in 1971 and a couple of cups.

Colm Murray


There was a flood of tributes for former sportscaster Colm Murray when he passed away in July at just 61. His fight with motor neurone disease had been documented in an RTÉ film. Murray, who was probably best known for his passionate love of horse racing, first joined RTÉ in 1978 and worked there until he was diagnosed with the debilitating disease in 2010.

He was “the voice of Irish racing for many years,” An Taoiseach Enda Kenny said in July.

Liam O’Connor

Footballer and All-Ireland final winner Liam O’Connor passed away on 3 December. He was just 58 years old. O’Connor was a member of the Offaly team that defeated Kerry in the 1982 All-Ireland senior football final and it was his pass that set up Seamus Darby for the match-winning goal which ended the Kingdom’s five-in-a-row dreams.

(YouTube: kilkennyfootball)

- additional reporting AFP

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