WHEN we were young lads growing up in football-mad Dunmanway we had two star Cork players on the junior team, a very good junior team that won seven South West junior A football titles in 11 years plus a county title.
Those two players were Johnny Carroll and John Crowley. Of course there was a host of other fine players like the Youngs, Farrs, Lyonses, O’Rourkes, Collinses, etc., but the two Johnny’s were the real heroes.
To every man, woman and child in Dunmanway they were icons, super-stars but they were our own. And how they delivered on the pitch.
Every game, big or small, first round or final, league or championship, they were there and they led by example. You knew when the going got tough and the chips were down, Carroll and Crowley would be in the thick of the action, spurring on the rest of the team, doing more than three men’s share.
They took punishment at a time when junior football was hard and tough, were often black and blue coming off the pitch but never with their heads bowed.
Maybe we were impressionable teenagers at the time but to us, those players were like gods and we all dreamed of the day we would fill the jersey just like them.
Both are still safely with us, bodies now well-battered and a little bent and we were reminded of their gear deeds last weekend when South Kerry won the county final replay after extra time.
We listened to the game on Kerry radio on the way home from the ladies’ game in Bantry and what caught our attention was the contribution of South Kerry’s three Kerry stars, Bryan Sheehan, Declan O’Sullivan and Killian Young.
They were outstanding, carried the team on their backs and when the chips were down, they
delivered yet again.
Back in the days when Sheehan was playing for UCC, we forecasted he would be a Kerry star one day. It took him a while to deliver on the talent but now he is playing the best football of his career. O’Sullivan is going through the pain barrier for club and county and his bad knees were in bits on Sunday but he kept going to the bitter end and delivered the cute, fast free that resulted in the winning point. Just like the time I watched Johnny Carroll playing for Dohenys with a cast on his broken arm.
What struck me about the contributions of these Kerry stars was the absence of similar performances from our present Cork footballers when they play with their clubs.
As things stand, we don’t see much of the Cork stars with their clubs anymore, which is depriving all young budding players of their leadership and example.
Too much inter-county training, too many matches, too much talk about burn-out. When these players do eventually turn up on championship day they rarely contribute what we would expect of them.
But if the Kerry stars, who are much busier than Cork on the inter-county front, can contribute like the Kerry players on Sunday, why can’t our Cork players? Of course there are exceptions and I would rate John Hayes of Ross, Donal Óg Hodnett of Rossas and Mark Collins of Castlehaven as exceptions.
If one were to look back on the recent county senior final and replay and you were a stranger from another county asked to pick the Cork stars from the 30 plus players involved, could you do it? It was generally the Cork fringe players, or non-Cork players, who dominated both games.
We saw it in the recent Kelleher Shield final where the top player on view was Kevin Davis, yet to make the Cork senior panel.
As erratic and unsuccessful as Cork senior hurlers are right now, the individual players do seem to deliver for their clubs, like Lehane did for Midleton in the final a couple of years back – the best individual performance we have ever seen in a hurling final – and Callanan for the Glen this season. But for some reason our footballers haven’t been shining lights on the club scene? Why not?
Have we been picking the wrong players for Cork all along, players who make the Cork minor and U21 teams and are almost automatic then for the senior squad, instead of players who are actually the stars for their clubs, even if they never wore the Cork shirt at underage?
The problem with that now is the conditioning programme the young Cork players are going through from U14 upwards. It is definitely creating a physical gap between the ordinary club player and the inter-county player.
What we want and what we need are Cork footballers who will stand out on the pitch for their clubs, will be available for more than a couple of championship games every season, and will be an inspiration for all the young players who idolize them.
Johnny Carroll, John Crowley, Teddy Holland, Dermot Kehily, Dan Murphy, Jimmy Gabriel, Seamus O’Donovan, Donal Hunt, Declan Barron, Tony Murphy, Dermot O’Donovan, Seamus Davis, Kevin Kehily, Eamonn Young, Bobby Evans, names that stand out in the long history of Carbery football, and we could name dozens more. They were always club men first and foremost, Cork players as a result. Cork football badly needs men like that again.
– Slán go Foill