Liam ‘Chunky’ O’Brien holds a special place in the hearts of all Gaels. He played the game with an extraordinary freedom of expression. His flamboyant and inspiring performances often enriched and enlivened a Sunday afternoon.
Thankfully for Kilkenny, many of these performance took place on September Sundays in Croke Park.
Chunky (surely a misnomer) loved the big stage. His performances in All-Ireland finals testify to this truth. The mesmerising solo runs with the sliotar balanced precariously on the bás of his hurl as he dodged his way through despairing opponents is one of the 1970s’ enduring sporting memories. If Chunky gave the impression of being as vulnerable as a street urchin, underneath that façade was a teak tough athlete. He was deceptively resilient and could take harsh punishment and come smiling through.
This trait would be of invaluable service after his retirement when he had to fight another battle against a far more dangerous opponent. Showing the courage of old, this battle too was won. And even though the hard knocks did not cease, he still has come smiling through.
Maith an fear Liam.
(Extract taken from ‘The Stripy Men’ GAA book 2008)
BY NIALL SHERRY
Kilkenny and the wider hurling world are in mourning following the sad news of the passing of a true Kilkenny legend
Liam ‘Chunky’ O’Brien died peacefully at St Lukes hospital in Kilkenny on Monday of this week.
The news broke across the city On Tuesday, with Kilkenny GAA posting the following message online and via their social media sites:
“Kilkenny GAA is deeply saddened today on hearing the sad news of Liam ‘Chunky’ O’Brien’s death. He was an immense hurler for Kilkenny winning 4 All-Ireland titles in the 1970’s and 7 Leinster titles. He also had a stellar career with his club James Stephen’s winning 4 Kilkenny SHC titles”.
His club added that “Liam was the ‘prince’ of midfielders and served his club and county with great distinction in the 70’s.”
Chunky represented the black and amber 26 times over an 11-year period. during his county career, he amassed an amazing scoring total of 4-73. Simply wow!
Liam O’Brien would start his early years with Newpark Sarsfield’s, before moving to the ‘Village’ in 1969. This move would see the gifted hurler flourish and go on to pick up many honours for both club and county.
As a midfielder, O’Brien was best known for his poise, powerful solo runs and accurate finishing. ‘Chunky’ would form one of the best midfields in hurling history alongside Frank Cummins, winning three of his four Liam McCarthy medals from centre-field. His fourth All-Ireland winning medal was claimed from a wing-forward role – and boy did he shine in the final – scoring 1-7 against the Tribesmen of Galway.
Like many Gaels, for ‘Chunky’ it was first and foremost about the club – and the James Stephen’s club is certainly the better for O’Brien’s legacy with the ‘Village’. Two All-Ireland club titles would be gained along his illustrious career.
‘Chunky’ would also be the recipient of 4 All-Star awards and the coveted ‘Hurler of the Year’ accolade in 1975.
Rest easy ‘Chunky’ – No doubt there will be a huge crowd at the gates to greet you.