25,000 looked on as two tribes went to war in the city

October 3rd, 2015 4:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

The men who led: Captains Niall Cahalane (Castlehaven) and John O'Donovan (O'Donovan Rossa) pictured before the 1994 county senior football final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

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Tom Lyons reflects on the 1994 county SFC final between Castlehaven and Skibbereen

1994 was a wonderful year for the GAA in Carbery and for one corner of the division sanity seemed to fly out the window as football fever took over. 

For a few great weeks in September/October we all realised what the days of faction-fighting in Ireland must have been like as two neighbouring parishes glared across the parish boundary at each other, ready to take up their shillelaghs and cudgels and strike a blow for their native place. 

When the late editor of The Southern Star, Liam O’Regan, had to appeal in this newspaper for sanity and commonsense among the supporters, we knew we were experiencing an event in history that would forever live in the memory.

The cause of all the commotion? A simple football match between neighbours, Castlehaven and O’Donovan Rossa. 

But this wasn’t just any game of football, this was the county final and at stake was not only the Andy Scannell Cup but the bragging rights for generations to come.  

There had been great rivalry between the Haven and Rossas since the Haven had joined Rossas as a power in junior football in the early 1970s. 

Their meeting in the 1976 South West final drew a huge crowd, with the ‘country boys’ claiming victory. 

The defeat never sat easy with the ‘townies’ and they had to watch as their neighbours progressed through the junior ranks and then the intermediate, and finally senior in 1979. 

When the Haven contested the senior football final of 1979, Rossas, still mired in junior football, could only watch and simmer.

The eighties saw the Skibb club putting together a fine team that also won its way into senior ranks in 1986 but still their upstart neighbours kept a step ahead by winning their first county senior title in 1989 against the Barr’s.  

Rossas watched and sportingly supported on the big day but a huge determination was growing to get back on equal terms with their neighbours and, if possible, to better their achievement of adding the Munster title to the county. 

The teams met annually in the Kelleher Shield and at times, barely managed to keep the lid on their fierce rivalry, but only once in 15 league and cup clashes between 1986 and 1994 had Rossas managed to beat the Haven.

Rossa’s great day came in 1992 when the 300/1 outsiders took the championship by storm to win the title against all the odds. Now it was the turn of the Haven to stand back and watch as the reds blazed a trail through Munster, equalling the Haven record, and when they landed the All-Ireland club title the following Spring, the delight of all Skibbereen folk knew no limits. 

The Haven had been supplanted as the top team in West Cork and Rossas sat proudly on top of the pile. Simmer the Haven then.


Day of reckoning

The real day of reckoning was inevitable. The league games were merely dress-rehearsals, the championship was the big prize and when the champions of 1989 and 1992, Kelleher Shield winners in 1992 and 1993, the two best teams in the county, came face to face in the 1994 final, West Cork, and in particular the parishes of Castlehaven and Skibbereen, went football crazy. Maybe, just a little crazy too. 

This was the one everybody was waiting for, the one that had to be won. Truly, the honour of the little parish was at stake. 

Every man, woman and child in the area slept and ate football for weeks. The parishes were ablaze with blue and red colours and anything that didn’t move was in danger of being painted. 

Daring escapades were carried out to insert the colours in the most inaccessible places, often in the heart of enemy territory. For a short while it seemed the rivalry might just get out of hand and cause major problems and the possibility of a demilitarized zone between the two parishes became a possibility as the shillelaghs and cudgels were taken down from the thatch and readied for battle. 

But, apart from a few minor skirmishes, cooler heads prevailed and when the battle did come it was on the green sward of Páirc Uí Chaoimh between 30 jersied footballers. The rest of the county watched and waited with bated breath.

And so the big day arrived at last, September 25th, and Páirc Uí Chaoimh had never seen the likes of it. The whole county wanted to witness the most talked-about county final ever played and a record crowd of 23,000 made the journey to the city. 

The Páirc was a sea of blue and red. It was truly the battle of the gladiators and the atmosphere was electric and the noise deafening as Niall Cahalane and John O’Donovan led their troops onto the field of dreams.  


Minor miracle

It would have been a minor miracle had the game lived up to the ferocious hype and expectation that preceded it and it didn’t. Too much tension, too much at stake, the players too nervous but it was redeemed by a hectic finish. 

The Haven led by four at half time. Rossas, inspired by the late, great Mick McCarthy, rallied. In a nail-biting finish, both held the lead. It finished a draw, 1-9 each.

Could anybody have wished for a better result, except maybe the fanatical supporters? 

Honours even, everybody heading west into the sinking sun with heads still held high. The ground had been defended and held. Nobody had lost. The disappointed neutrals had a chance to see a better game next time out and the county board treasurer smiled at the prospects of another bumper crowd.

Well, they did it all again two weeks later. The fierce hype had died down somewhat, both parishes exhausted from the first try. Rumours abounded of injuries in both camps after a battle in which no quarter had been asked or given and injuries did play a large part the second day out, Larry Tompkins and John Cleary for the Haven, the Davis brothers for Rossas.

Yes, the Haven did carry home the Andy Scannell that second day, two clinching points from Edmund Cleary securing a late 0-12 to 0-10 victory in front of a record crowd of 25,000 people. 

How the Haven supporters really celebrated but there was no bragging, no dancing on the neighbour’s grave afterwards because it was generally accepted by the football fraternity in Cork that the original result, a draw, had been the right one.

Irrespective of who won the replay, it was, indeed, honours even for two great footballing neighbours in 1994. They proudly wrote a chapter in the history of Cork football, the likes of which we will probably never see again.

On the Castlehaven team were Mick Maguire, Dinny Cahalane, Denis Cleary, Donal McCarthy, Mike O’Brien, Brian Collins, Liam O’Connell, Niall Cahalane (captain), Dan O’Sullivan, John Maguire, M. C. O’Mahony, Francis Cahalane, Edmund Cleary, Larry Tompkins, Martin O’Mahony, Patsy Cahalane, John Cleary and Mick Burns.

Also on the panel were Vivian O’Callaghan, John Cahalane, Michael McCarthy, Francis Collins, James McCarthy, Lee Miles, Mark Limrick, John Carmen and Brendan Deasy. 

O’Donovan Rossa were represented by Kevin O’Dwyer, John Evans, John O’Donovan, Frank McCarthy, Gene O’Driscoll, Tony Davis, Pat Murphy, Denis O’Driscoll, Brian O’Donovan, Ian Breen, Joe O’Driscoll, Don Davis, Barry Casey, Mick McCarthy, Pat Davis, Colm O’Donovan, Alan Byrne, Neville Murphy, Mick Bohane, Donal McCarthy. Also on the panel were Garry Minihane, Martin Crowley, Niall McCarthy, David Spring, Mark Twomey, Darragh Whooley and Jurgen Werner.

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