Brendan ‘Benny’ Reilly has been described as “a manager’s dream” as tributes continue to pour in for the local man who so tragically passed away on Saturday evening, shortly after starring for club Naomh Mairtin.
The Louth GAA community remains in shock after the well known player, known to friends as Benny, passed away en route home after playing for his club in their 5-09 to 1-10 Cardinal O’Donnell Cup win over Ardee St Marys in Pairc Muire (above).
The former Louth GAA player, who lived in Monasterboice but has family ties to Gudderstown and the greater Ardee area and previously turned out for local side John Mitchels GFC, played 60 minutes in the half-back line for the Martins on Saturday before tragically losing his life.
Just 38 years of age, Brendan leaves behind wife Lisa and three young children, girls Saoirse and Amy as well as two-month old Harry. Harry’s Christening had been due to take place on Sunday. Aside from his playing duties with Naomh Mairtin, Reilly also spent time mentoring the club’s juvenile sides.
Benny began his GAA career lining out for the Mitchels, having come up through all the juvenile levels with the club before making his senior bow aged 17. Still a teenager, he won a Junior league and Championship double in 1998 – playing alongside brothers Barry, Shane and Alan.
He later transferred to Naomh Mairtin in 2008 and this year had helped the Monasterboice men to both the Cardinal O’Donnell Cup final and the semi-finals of the Senior Championship. He played every minute of the Championship campaign to date and was also an ever-present in the league in 2017, aged 38. We were at Pairc Muire in Ardee on Saturday evening to witness Brendan put in an impressive performance, with the veteran playing a key part in the win which left his side within one game of league success.
Speaking to LMFM’s The Michael Reade Show on Monday morning, John Mitchels secretary Gerry Matthews paid tribute to Brendan and explained his family ties to the Ballybailie club.
“It’s a tough time for the Reilly family,” he told host Cathal Dervan. “I know Brendan a long time. There’s a great association with the family. His father Eugene is a founding member of the club along with Christy Byrne and Paddy Halpenny. I know Brendan from a very young age. He had a lovely smile. He had everything a gentleman should have. He carried himself with dignity.”
Described by Matthews as “a brilliant defender,”, Matthews said Brendan is the latest big loss to hit the club in recent years.
“The thing with Brendan was when he left us in 1998, he wanted to play senior football. He wanted to pursue his dream of winning a Senior Championship, like one of our senior players who passed away not too long ago – Stephen Melia. There’s John Curtis, Stephen McCormack – we’ve lost a few people in the last couple of years.
“Brendan wanted to play for as long as he could. This year, with the Mairtins going well, it looked as if he was finally going to get his reward,” he continued.
“It’s a very sad affair. When it comes to it, your local community and someone you know so well, it’s very hard to accept it. He looked after himself always. James Halpenny and Pat Coyle had him [in his younger year] and he loved football. Football was his life. More so now, his wife and family. It’s an awful thing for a family.
“There’s no good timing. They’re a strong loving family and they’ll get through it,” Matthews added.
Former Louth inter-county football manager Paddy Clarke was also on the show and he recalled when Brendan first came into the senior Louth set-up.
“He came onto the team in 1998, it’s amazing to think it was 19 years ago. It was an amazing testament to his longevity and determination that he was still playing at 38. He was a defender through and through. Most of his matches were at corner back. His last match was in 2006 under Eamon McEneaney. That was the famous match with a 15 minute delay to make a point about player welfare.”
Clarke continued, “He got to play in Croke Park. I can remember him still when we took him into the panel. He was star-struck, awe-struck to be on the same panel as some of his cousins, Stephen Melia, Stefan White and the O’Hanlons. He was in awe of these players. But when he was put on he was able to hold his own.”
Clarke also remembered what it meant to the family, especially father Eugene, to see one of their own wear the An Lu jersey. “It’s amazing to think of the joy it brought Eugene when he was picked for Louth,” he said.
“Seven of his cousins had played for Louth. You got 100% match after match. He was a manager’s dream.”
Among the others who have paid tribute to Brendan in the last 48 hours has been Louth County Board chairman and Reilly’s former John Mitchels teammate Des Halpenny. He described Brendan as a “very committed and dedicated player” and said “his ultimately passing will leave a void” in both Ballybailie and Monasterboice communities.
Ardee St Marys chairman Mickey Rooney spoke to ThisIsArdee.ie today and added his voice to the deep outpouring of grief in the area. “There’s no doubt about it, he was a gentleman – down through the years. The Reillys are a great GAA family. It’s hard times for them, especially with a young child that Brendan had. It’s very tough.”
“I would have known him pretty well and I know Alan very well and I know Jimmy well. You get hard to describe it,” he continued. “There’s no doubt, it puts the game into perspective. On Saturday night, he had a stormer. It was hard to believe shortly after he had a heart attack.
“He was the top man for the Martins, he was an ever-present at number 6 for the last number of years. He had an injury at one stage and worked back from that well and he was a rock for the Martins. I know he trained their Under 14s aswell with the likes of Dan Malone and Carl Courtney.
“Hugh Durrigan, our manager, trained the Mitchels and he would have known him well too. He was a tough warrior on the pitch. He was strong. He played the game like I did, but off the pitch he was a total gentleman. That’s a good way to be. Stephen Melia would have been that way as well,” he added.
“From all members of the committee and all players of Ardee St Marys GFC, we offer our condolence to Benny’s family and friends.”
Writing on social media after news of Brendan’s death spread over the weekend, former county teammate Darren Clarke said, “We hugged after our match tonight. Can’t understand life. A friend, a teammate, a warrior, a gent.”
Clubs county-wide have taken to social media to pay tribute to Brendan and offer condolence to his family and friends. Late on Sunday, boyhood club John Mitchels – who this year had Brendan’s nephews Neil and Conor in their team – took to Facebook to write, “Our community and area have been shocked and saddened by the tragic and sudden passing at such a young age, of our former player and clubman Brendan (Benny) Reilly.”
“Brendan’s family have a long and proud association with our club, with his late father Eugene been one of our founding members. Brendan played all of his juvenile football with the Mitchels and progressed to be part of our double winning team of 1998. Along with his brothers Shane, Alan and Barry he lined out at centre half back when we defeated St Brides in Louth Village to take the Christy Bellew Cup back to our community for the second time.
“His displays at club level earned him a call up to the Louth Senior Squad where he wore the County jersey with pride and proved an able opponent. In 2008 later in his career , Brendan made the move to Naomh Mairtin where he continued to display his talents, this time at Senior club level. We would like to extend our sympathies and support to Brendan’s wife and children, his mother Kathleen and all his family at this very sad time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”
Brendan’s body will repose at his home from 2pm until 10pm tomorrow Tuesday (September 19th). Removal will take place on Wednesday morning at 11.30am arriving to The Church of The Immaculate Conception, Tenure. Funeral mass will take place at 12 noon and burial afterwards in Monasterboice Cemetery.
The house will be private on Wednesday morning. Naomh Mairtin GFC ask that those travelling to the Reilly family home in Monasterboice park a the club grounds, where transport will then be provided. Refreshments will also be provided in the club rooms.