O'Connor, Thomas (‘Gega’) (1918–97), Gaelic footballer, was born 3 November 1918 in Upper Main St. (or ‘Goat St.’), Dingle, Co. Kerry, one of a large family of James (‘Jimmy’) O'Connor, a publican and farmer known as ‘Tom Dick’, from Dingle, and Mary O'Connor (née McCarthy). Educated at Dingle CBS, he played in the Kerry Colleges Championship in 1935 and 1936, winning in the latter year. He also played at minor level for Kerry, losing the 1936 All-Ireland final to Louth. The following year he made a sensational senior Kerry debut in the 1937 All-Ireland final replay against Cavan, when he came on as substitute. He had impressed in a trial match and had been invited to join the panel so late that he was not even named among the substitutes, and took to the field wearing the number 22. One anecdote suggests that even the radio commentator referred to the mystery man as ‘Gorman’. O'Connor went on to win four more All-Ireland winners medals (1939–41, 1946) and played in the losing finals of 1938 and 1947, missing Kerry's defeat to Roscommon in 1944. In 1939 he captained Kerry to victory against Meath when his Dingle clubmate, Sean Brosnan (d. 1979), was unavailable to play due to a septic throat, although Brosnan did lead the team on to the field. Forced to change from their traditional green and gold jerseys, Kerry wore the red and white of O'Connor's Dingle club, who were county champions.
O'Connor's most memorable contribution in a Kerry jersey was probably the one goal and two points (exactly half the Kerry total) he scored in the second half of the 1946 All-Ireland final against Cavan. Two goals in the last five minutes by Kerry forced a replay; the last-gasp equalising goal by ‘Gega’ from a pass by Teddy O'Connor has been termed ‘as breath-taking an equaliser as Croke Park has ever seen before or since’ (Years of glory, 112). In the replay O'Connor scored four points from frees and set up both Kerry goals as they won by 2–8 to 0–10. His final appearance in an All-Ireland final was in the famous 1947 final against Cavan in the Polo Grounds in New York. Played in searing heat and on a smaller-than-usual pitch, O'Connor got the opening point and went on to score another goal and a point in the first half, as well as having a goal disallowed when he was called back for a free. He scored another point in the second half but the loss of key players, the effect of the heat on an ageing Kerry side, and the general excellence of Cavan, all contributed to a 2–7 to 2–11 defeat. O'Connor also won a Railway Cup winners medal in 1941, and played in losing finals in 1940 and 1942; he played in the drawn final of 1949, but missed the winning replay. At club level he won five county football championships with Dingle (1938, 1940–41, 1943–4). He was also a fine hurler, and played in a county championship final with Dingle in 1941.
O'Connor was a wiry player, light and hardy with an impressive shooting ability. In addition he was a great motivator of the players around him. His great friend and team mate at school, club, minor, and senior county level, Bill Casey of Lispole, says that he got the nickname ‘Gega’ because he was as light and quick as a gig (Kerryman, 7 Mar. 1997). Although he was widely regarded as one of the best-ever centre half-forwards, he was a very versatile player, playing in All-Ireland finals in the half-back line, midfield, centre forward, and ‘top of the left’ in the full-forward line. O'Connor was also an accomplished free taker, although for some years Murt Kelly was Kerry's first-choice dead-ball man. He was also a champion boxer, winning a Munster middleweight title in the early 1940s.
Initially O'Connor worked as a clerk with Kerry county council, later becoming an insurance salesman. He emigrated to the USA in 1949, where he continued to take an active part in GAA affairs in New York, playing and winning a number of championships with his local Kerry club. He was the oldest surviving captain of a Kerry All-Ireland winning football side, when he died suddenly 25 February 1997 at his home in Belle Arbour, Rockaway, Queens, New York; he is buried in St Charles cemetery, Farmingdale, New York.
He married Josephine (née Leen) from Ballymacelligott, Co. Kerry; they had one son and three daughters.