‘I need to play this game… even if it’s the last game I ever play. I HAVE to be out there!’

September 28th, 2020 7:31 PM

By Southern Star Team

Larry Tompkins is a Cork and Castlehaven football legend.

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The following extract from Believe: The Larry Tompkins Autobiography, co-authored by Denis Hurley, gives us a fascinating insight into the legendary 1994 Cork senior football final saga involving Castlehaven and O’Donovan Rossa, as Haven hero Larry defied all expectations to line out for the replay


I PROBABLY didn’t feel the rivalry the same as the native Haven lads, but it was clear that Skibb winning the club All-Ireland had hurt fellas.

That Skibb side was a hell of a team.

They had gone up to Lavey in Derry for the semi-final in 1993 and beaten them in a pulsating game, before getting past Éire Óg of Carlow after a replay in the final. You don’t win an All-Ireland by luck.

Even outside of their county players like Mick McCarthy, Tony and Don Davis, Brian O’Donovan, John O’Donovan and the emerging Kevin O’Dwyer in goal, they had solid operators.

There was a crowd of around 26,000 in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on September 25.

The whole of west Cork was trekking to it and plenty more from beyond that. It was a nice day weather-wise and, while it wasn’t a classic match – hardly surprising – it was tense and tough. We looked to be the better team for a lot of it, but a point or two was a big lead.

Niall and I were up against Skinner and Brian O’Donovan at midfield, and we started well but when Mick Mac was fouled for a penalty, Ian Breen got a goal for Skibb to make it 1-1 to 0-3.

Pat Davis nearly got another goal just after that but we responded very well.

I wasn’t at my best from the frees but we managed to get ahead, 0-7 to 1-3, and then John Cleary got a goal coming up to half-time to open up what was a huge lead. Skibb had also lost Tony Davis to a leg injury he had been carrying beforehand, but just before the break, I was involved in a collision and I came off the worst.

The AC joint in my shoulder was gone.

There was no way I was going to come off, so I told them to get it strapped up as best they could. I survived the second-half, but Skibb got on top at midfield and Gene O’Driscoll was putting in a Man of the Match performance at centre-back.

Mick levelled for them with 10 minutes left and then Brian O’Donovan put them in front. We had lost John Cleary to a torn groin, so it was looking like curtains for us.

We got a break, though.

I kicked a free to level with time nearly up and then Niall scored a massive point. It looked like being a fairytale ending, the captain kicking the winner, but there was time for a Skibb free deep in injury time and Mick put that over.

It finished 1-9 each and the Skibb crowd were elated – why wouldn’t they be, as they had come from four down to get a replay.

Myself and John were in ribbons, waiting for an ambulance to take us away. At Cork University Hospital, I asked a doctor how long it would take for my AC joint to recover and he said three months.

‘I need to be back in two weeks!’ was my response.

I was put in a sling and we went back down to my pub.

It was doom and gloom, a bit like 1988, when Cork didn’t put Meath away the first day. We felt we should have won and it looked like John and I were out.

I wasn’t thinking that way, though – I felt I could make it back and I was planning the best way to do that. Noel O’Connor said we’d work at it three times a day and I practically lived out at his clinic in Bishopstown.

Dr Con thought I was mad to even contemplate it.

The shoulder is almost unique in that, no matter what way you go about it, it’s the one area you can’t strap for support.

I didn’t attend a training session for two weeks and I told our manager, Jim Nolan that it wasn’t looking good. Noel was generating a lot of friction to try to speed things up but the shoulder was brutal sore from the treatment.

By the Friday before the replay, I was accepting that I had no chance. I was only able to lift my arm up to my shoulder.

Christy Collins, who was a selector that year, was saying I’d be grand with one arm. Niall was saying the same, but I felt I’d be crazy.

Francis Collins arranged for me to go down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on the Friday to do a bit of practice with a ball. I had had very little treatment that day and I had to stop after a half-hour because it was so sore. Francis said I’d be wasting my time, that I couldn’t carry the weight of the ball.

I rang Jim Nolan and Christy and said that it wasn’t looking good.

That night, John McGerety, a good friend of mine got in touch. He would have been a serious punter and he asked me if I felt he should back Skibb. I told him, genuinely, that I was out, and couldn’t play.

I rested on the Saturday and called out to Dr Con and we talked about my injury. I told him straight.

‘I need to play this game… even if it’s the last game I ever play. I HAVE to be out there!’ He told me I was mad. But he also told me he would see me in Blackrock the next day.

‘We’ll see about it then!’ Dr Con said.

Christy rang and said they were thinking of starting me full-forward.

I was in the pub, gripping and re-gripping a tennis ball, but I still never thought I’d be able for it. On the Sunday morning, Niall picked me up and the shoulder wasn’t as sore. We were congregating at Blackrock again, as we had done in 1989, and Dr Con was there as he had promised.

There was a green area in the estate alongside the club and when I went over there for a kick-around, the shoulder felt better.

Dr Con said that he could give me an injection that would last 20 or 25 minutes, so he would give it to me just before the start of the game.

John Cleary was out; he needed an operation but he was still togged in case he was called upon. There was another huge crowd in the Páirc again, with the official attendance just under 33,000. Not one but two helicopters landed in the showgrounds with special attendees – the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and the president of the GAA, my great friend Jack Boothman.

Even though we were nearly into the middle of October, the sun was shining.

We were more composed when planning for the replay. The first day, maybe we got a bit too emotional about the occasion and it drained fellas. Niall would have been disappointed with his performance in the drawn game, for instance, even though he nearly kicked the winner.

We went into the replay thinking that Skibb felt they had it won.

To be fair, a lot of people felt that – there was huge money on Skibb, they were backed into 1/3 by the time of the throw-in, even though they were unable to start Tony Davis. My brothers told me later that when the teams were announced and my name was called out, it gave the Haven supporters a huge lift.

I had the shoulder strapped, just to give it a bit of cushioning if nothing else. Just before the game was about to start, I ran into the dressing-room with Dr Con. He pressed in where the shoulder was really sore and gave the injection.

I ran in to full-forward and I was able to lift my arms above my head; I was like a new man. The first ball came in high, I went up and caught it and that was important in terms of laying down a marker.

I got on the ball a good bit and we were dominant.

Niall was controlling at midfield and Dan O’Sullivan was doing great alongside him.

We were three ahead by the end of the first quarter but it should have been six as we had had some bad wides. I kicked a couple of good dead balls to put us four in front after around 20 minutes but the injection was wearing off – I was back to where I was beforehand, if not worse.

I was very happy with how it had gone overall, though.

Normally, I hated full-forward as I wasn’t a player that could wait for the ball, as you did back then, but we were so dominant at midfield that I was getting a lot of service and laying it off.

Martin Bohane and Mick McCarthy had points for Skibb just before half-time, meaning we were 0-7 to 0-5 in front going in. John Cleary was a rallying force in the dressing-room – in fairness to him, if he couldn’t play he made sure he had whatever positive influence he could. I received another injection and it was like I was on a high again.

For the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second-half, I played brilliantly.

Early on, John Maguire – the goalkeeper in 1989 but wing-forward now, with his brother Mike in goal – kicked in a Garryowen and I caught it out of the sky, turned and kicked it over and that set the tone. I had another point from play and then a free, and we were five in front.

Every time Niall got the ball, he was just looking for me. Paudie Palmer, the commentator on the local radio station, 103FM, said, “To hell or high water, we know where this ball is going”. Skibb were putting different guys on me and they even brought Gene O’Driscoll back in to full-back. I should have even got a goal but Kevin O’Dwyer made a great save.

In fairness to Skibb, they kept battling and that’s why they were such a good team. Don Davis had the ’flu but he managed to get a point and Mick got a couple, and the next minute we were only one up, 0-11 to 0-10.

For six or seven minutes, the backs were under fierce pressure but they defended brilliantly, with Denis Cleary and Brian Collins leading the way. At the end of the day, that’s probably what won it.

Martin O’Mahony, who had played such a role in me joining Castlehaven, put in a ferocious hour at corner-forward as well before he came off just before the end, the tank emptied. John Cleary, torn groin and all, came on for him, and he went back and won a great ball. He couldn’t kick the ball or hardly run, but he gave a good hand-pass out and we worked it up to Edmond Cleary and he kicked the last score. When the whistle blew, it was a great relief as people felt our chance had gone. Definitely, when you win, your pain isn’t as severe!

The place was electric. But when the cup was being presented I spotted one fella with his head in his hands. Who was it, only my good friend, John McGerety. He lost a good few bob that day because of me, I’d guess. But he forgave me after a good bit of time!

Having missed the celebrations in 1989, I was determined to enjoy these. Both Tommy and I went down.

‘Don’t mind the pub,’ I told him. ‘It can blow up for all I care!’

We stopped in Innishannon and there were bonfires all the way to Union Hall. It was an absolutely massive day. People were so overjoyed that, if you had given them the Lotto numbers, they wouldn’t have been as happy.

The first Castlehaven people back west had erected a huge sign on the main road to Skibbereen: at the turn-off for Union Hall… the word ‘Party’ with an arrow pointing left… and one pointing straight ahead for ‘Wake’!

It was an unforgettable night in Collins’ pub, and from there on to Castletownshend. For me, it exemplified this small club with a massive heart, punching above their weight. To beat their neighbours in such fashion, of course people were on a huge high.

Everyone was staying in Christy Collins’ place in Union Hall but when I went to lie down for a bit, I couldn’t get any sleep because everybody was snoring like tractors. I went out on the street at around 5am or 6am and Pat ‘The Barber’ Crowley was sitting on the wall outside. All I could see were bottles, strewn everywhere. We were chatting when Nora Maguire appeared at her front door.

‘Come on in… I was so excited I couldn’t sleep!’ she said.

She cooked us a massive breakfast and the party continued later that day when we got the bus to the Blarney Park Hotel for the lunch. Niall won the Man of the Match award, even though, typically, he said he expected me or Denis Cleary to get it. He would captain Cork for 1995 and I wanted to be involved too. But that depended less on me than on the ever-more-frequent injuries.

  • 'Believe: The Larry Tompkins Autobiography' is published by Hero Books (priced €20.00) and is available in all good local book shops and also online (print and ebook) on Amazon and Apple and all good online store

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