The late Paudie O’Connor is fondly remembered as one of the greatest players and characters to ever grace the Irish basketball scene and for creating such an outstanding legacy for the game.
Born and raised in Killarney, he captained the senior national team, winning over 100 caps, and in 1977 had the distinction of being the first Irish player to make the All-Star Five of an international qualification tournament.
Domestically he was widely considered the finest player of the ‘70s, the Irish league’s equivalent of Magic Johnson; while every other 6’4” Irish player in those days would play the four or five spot, O’Connor would operate as a point guard due to his remarkable ball-handling, vision and court leadership skills. He famously brought in the first professional Americans to play in the Irish national league, establishing a precedent for other clubs to follow, setting in motion a glorious period in the history of the sport. Towards the start of that era, the club he served as both a player and administrator for – St Vincent’s, Killarney, commonly known as Gleneagle after the ground-breaking sponsorship he helped secure – would twice win both available national titles – the National League and prestigious end-of-season National Top Four Championship (1979-80 and 1981-82).
Paudie was also a tremendous contributor to the Irish women’s game (the Women’s Super League National Cup is named in his memory). He was head coach to the Irish senior women’s team and spearheaded the hugely-popular Pretty Polly tournament that attracted hundreds of female players to Killarney during the ’70s and ’80s. He was one of the most instantly recognisable personalities in his hometown where he was literally the mayor and chaired the urban district council for four years, all while still in either his twenties or early 30s. He continued to play with St Vincent’s right up until 1986 when he then moved to America where he would run a successful golf touring business before unfortunately passing away there in May 2018, aged 66.