'Jimmy O'Rourke was Hibs': Easter Road hero remembers 'special man' after death of club legend

It’s a dream for any young footballer to meet their idol. But to also play under them, to learn from them, to realise how wonderful a person they are away from the football field – well, that’s something truly very special.

That’s who Jimmy O’Rourke was to a number of Hibs players coming through in the 1980s while the club legend was a member of the coaching staff. He was a tremendous player who they marvelled at from the terraces; a penalty-box predatory who never shirked a challenge if the ball was there to be contested. But he was someone who knew how special it was to play for the Easter Road club and it was a message he passed on in training. Every. Single. Day.

"He was someone who would always give advice. And the one thing I'd really like to say about Jimmy is that he's the one person above everyone else who made me realise what it meant to play for Hibs. He would remind you about what it took all the time. Down in the corridor or out in training: "Remember you play for the Hibs. Remember you play for the Hibs.” It's all you'd hear from him. It's stuck in my head still to this day.”

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Those are the words of Mickey Weir, just one of the many ex-Hibs stars who were shattered on Tuesday morning to learn the club legend had died at the age of 76.

Jimmy O'Rourke pictured in the 1967/68 season. Picture: SNS

"I've been upset all day about it, to be honest, really upset after I heard,” said the former Hibs midfielder. “He was such a big figure to me at a young age, going to Hibs. He would constantly remind me about my talent and that I was good enough to play for the club. Everything I got was thanks to Jimmy O'Rourke and that group, Pat Stanton as well. And it wasn't just me, other players as well. He was affectionately known to everyone at Hibs.

“I know I can talk for Paul Kane and a number of these boys when I say they'll be devastated at his passing.”

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O’Rourke shared a strong bond with many who were lucky enough to know him, but he and Weir had an added wrinkle to their relationship. Both Hibs supporters who grew up in Clermiston, and the mentor would take the protege into training pretty much every day.

“He knew what it meant to be a Hibs supporter from that area who went on to play for the Hibs,” saif Weir. “So he was the first coach I had going into Hibs and he was the one who almost guided me to a career in professional football with his advice and everything about him.

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Jimmy O'Rourke slides in to make it 6-0 to Hibs during the famous 7-0 win at Tynecastle in 1973. Picture: SNS

"He was a great man. He was someone I really looked up to so much and someone I speak about so fondly. He was just a great guy. You wanted to play for him and give everything for him. You had great respect for him. He was a great coach, a great coach. He knew the game inside and out. He would teach you wee things that you couldn't imagine in football. He was an amazing man.

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"But he wasn't just a coach, he was a friend as well. He was a friend to me.

"He was so charismatic, so funny. Everyone will tell you that. He could always make you laugh. He could brighten up your day, could Jimmy. He was so well liked and loved by everyone at the football club.”

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A popular and positive man he certainly was, but he wasn’t a soft touch either. He knew what these young players needed to do to star in the green-and-white and he wouldn’t accept defeat lightly.

Jimmy O'Rourke, left, with Alan Rough and Eric Stevenson after it was announced all three former players would be inducted into the Hibernian Hall of Fame. Picture: SNS
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"I did used to be terrified of him when I was a young boy,” admitted Weir, 20 years younger than O’Rourke. “I used to get a lift for training from him every day. He would live in Corstorphine and I would go and meet him, and he would take me in. Some of the stories he would tell were just amazing.

“If we'd just lost a game of football then I would be scared to get in his car. He would ask what the score was last night. If we'd won he'd talk all the way there, but if you got beat then it'd just be a little bit of chat here and there.”

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For those old enough to remember him play, even if they didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him, O’Rourke remains a hero for what he did on the football pitch. Scorer of 122 goals over his career in Leith, he famously netted what would prove to be the winner as Eddie Turnbull’s “Tornadoes” defeated Celtic 2-1 in the 1972 League Cup final. It was the first trophy the club won for 20 years, and it would be another 19 years before they won another when Weir played a part in Alex Miller’s side defeating Dunfermline in the 1991 final of the same competition. O’Rourke, no doubt, would have been immensely proud.

“He was absolutely deadly in the box. Jimmy didn't miss many chances. But to me, to make your debut in Europe at the age of 16 years old, that takes a lot of doing. That tells you everything about how good he was,” said Weir as he reminisced about O’Rourke the player.

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“His movement was brilliant. You could just put it in the area. And Jimmy was brave. He could look after himself. He was a tough cookie as well. Scoring goals was his domain if you got crosses into him.

“I was very fortunate, very lucky in my opinion, to go into a changing room with Jimmy O'Rourke. Someone who I grew up idolising. In my opinion, there's never been a bigger Hibs man than him. Certainly not in coaching or football. Jimmy O'Rourke was Hibs. That's all he was interested in.”

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