Our Friend Charlie a tribute by Mike Geraghty
When I first joined the tennis club in the early eighties I knew of Charlie O Connell by reputation only. This guy was a big gruff cranky individual who you wouldn’t mess with. I heard of his comments as he battled it out in some great singles matches with his old sparring partner Jimmy Heverin and even heard some new and interesting suggestions if things weren’t going well. Charlie was never happy if a ball encroached on his court from another and often wondered aloud whether people had any manners either racing across for the ball but the thing that riled him most was if someone dared walk behind the court during a game. “Do they not know the court etiquette?” he would growl.” “Does nobody read the rules of this club”? But in fairness he was right and as Micheal o Moráin pointed out to me in conversation “One minute Charlie might ate the head off you in an argument but the next it was all forgotten.”
Eventually we met in a team tournament and this guy could play so he comes up to the net and first chance I get I lob him he arches up his back, leaps as high as he can but to no avail. “Jesus Christ Geraghty how am I supposed to get that?” he bellows. “You’re not Charlie, that’s the plan and if I can’t get past you I will go over you every time!” That broke the ice and after that we were great rivals and pals. In 1990 Charlie and I contested the Tennis Captaincy and he prevailed. He knew I wouldn’t accept the vice captaincy but he wanted me on his committee. “Listen Mike I know f…nothing about tennis but you do so will you run the tournaments and we’ll run the committee together?” I was delighted and we had a very successful year. In 1991 he approached me again: “Michael(cos apart from my Mother and Donal Dempsey he often used the full version…) I am stepping down as captain now if you want me to stay and help I will but if you want me to go that’s fine too.” I chose the former and got two O Connells into the bargain as Norma joined the committee too. Charlie referred to Norma as The Queen and I have no doubt he invariably obeyed all her commands. I appointed Charlie Tournament Referee for Whit and he became a fixture whenever Tournament Referees or Umpires were needed in the following years.
Charlie was a terrific ambassador for the club and it was no surprise when he became President. Again he faced a tight electoral battle and fended off the challenge of another squash great…Dave Lillis. Charlie brought a very business-like approach to the Presidency from running the meetings on time (which I know Donal Hegarty appreciated) to weekly breakfast meetings with Mike Kelly the bar cum club manager. There was money raised and shoulders were put to the wheel as the club was driven on by a hard but fair taskmaster.
After his Presidency Charlie began to play more tennis and I was surprised when he asked could he join my Tuesday Doubles Crew. I thought these guys might be a bit crazy and unorthodox for this doyen of the club to associate with but the original rebel with a cause fitted in brilliantly. At first the mixture of younger and varying talents didn’t quite know what to make of Charlie. He was always quoting rules to them and there were some right barneys about line calls…. mainly with a lad called Dillon! But he held his own and became an integral part of the crew! So much so that it was Charlie who started our annual Tuesday Doubles dinner in 2007 and he never missed one. He cajoled the lads into coming as a thank you for organizing them all year and every year it’s been a highlight with our player of the year awards a surprise til the last minute. He did wonder how I kept winning but there was always a glint in his eye no more than when he questioned a dubious line call: “Are you sure about that? That’s ok so.” A few years back Charlie got a pacemaker and no joking he got hit on 3 consecutive nights. After the third he called for Dr. Barry O Donovan to check him out. Before he could I shouted “Sure isn’t it encased Baz?” “Absolutely “chuckled Barry semi-apologetically as we brought the big man to his feet. “Ah jeez lads I think I’ll have to give up” he cried. “No chance Charlie now gets ready to receive serve…” was our response and he did. Charlie never gave up, he was very loyal to his friends and he always gave you a straight answer. You will be missed Charlie we all loved you.
Tuesday Nite Crew