BY KIERAN McCARTHY
‘MAESTRO Larry in devastating form’ – that’s how The Southern Star reported on one of Larry Tompkins’ finest hours in a Castlehaven jersey.
He was 34 years old when he fired the Haven to Munster senior club football final glory in December ’97, showing there was still magic in his boots.
The then Cork football manager had stepped back from the inter-county arena by this stage, but his heroics here suggested there was a final kick in him (and there was) – he racked up eight points in Castlehaven’s 1-14 to 1-8 triumph against Fethard of Tipperary in Fermoy.
‘It was one of the best years I ever played,’ Tompkins tells The Southern Star this week.
‘I was pushing on then, was 34, but I seemed to get a second wind. It was brilliant in one sense, having finished playing with Cork to get back down to the grassroots again.
‘Going down to Haven was a break and it was something I really enjoyed. I got back playing good football. When you’ve had a few injuries but then go on a good run, it feels like a new lease of life.
‘After ’96 I had two operations on my back and had been more or less told that was it, so just to be able to come back after that was major. I put one foot in front of the other and kept going. I got a free run and that was a big help.’
Castlehaven needed Tompkins at his brilliant best against Fethard. They had lost their captain fantastic Niall Cahalane days before the game; he was hit with a 48-week ban for an incident in their county final replay loss to Beara in October. The news of the hefty suspension was announced just days before the Munster final; a blow that would have winded them.
‘It was typical Haven; we just got up and got on with it. Of course we missed Niall and the motivation was to try and win it for him. Even though he wasn’t on the field that day, he was still an inspiration off it,’ Tompkins says.
Castlehaven were also without the suspended Dinny Cahalane and David O’Regan for the showdown with the Tipp champions, but the Cork runners-up – they advanced to Munster as champions Beara are a divisional team – rose to the challenge.
It was 0-3 apiece after the opening quarter, Tompkins (2) and John Cleary on target for Haven. The West Cork men stretched two clear, 0-6 to 0-4, when Fethard were awarded a penalty – but Brian Burke’s effort hit the butt of the post, trickled across the goal-line and was cleared. A huge let-off.
‘That penalty miss was huge,’ Tompkins recalls, as Haven led 0-8 to 0-5 at half time, a lead that swelled to 1-11 to 0-6 after 42 minutes. Again, Tompkins and Cleary were the score-getters, the latter with a penalty. Colin Crowley was menacing, too.
In his report Star GAA correspondent Noel Horgan noted: ‘his general performance could be favourably compared with any he has produced in the Haven colours over the years, including his tour-de-force in the ’89 county final victory over St Finbarr’s.’
Even though Fethard did move to within four at one stage, Tompkins and Co dug deep. Munster champions, again. For a third time. Three senior provincial club titles in nine years (1989, ’94 and ’97). Great days for the Haven.
‘I don’t know what it is with the Haven, but they have just got it; it’s in their genes,’ says Tompkins, who joined the club in 1987 and played such a prominent role in their rise.
‘People often asked how did I manage it all – travelling down from Cork, playing with Cork, the journey, building a business. But it was a breath of fresh air, I loved going down to Haven, and that generates from the people there. For me, I saw how much they love the game, it’s unreal, and that suited me because I was mad in relation to the game as well.
‘When I went to Haven, it was a match made in heaven because I was with people like myself. I played for the people down there, I played for the people who said to me that they would die happy to see the Haven win the county. We had magic moments, and the ’97 Munster final was another one.’
Tompkins now hopes the class of 2023 can experience the feeling of being Munster club champions this Sunday, and feels the Haven trait of hard work could plot the course to glory. Like in ’97. Time for a hero to emerge, like Tompkins did on so many occasions.
Castlehaven v Fethard (1997): M Maguire; K O'Donovan, D Cleary, D McCarthy; L O'Connell, B Collins, M O'Brien; A Crowley, L Collins; J Maguire, L Tompkins (0-8, 4f), F Cahalane (0-1); M O'Mahony, C Crowley, J Cleary (1-4, 1-0 pen, 2f). Subs: S Connolly (0-1) for M O'Mahony (47), B Deasy for J Maguire (52).