BANTRY has produced many great footballers down the years but when it comes to sheer class, very few would argue that the elegant, high-fielding Declan Barron was the pick of the crop.
Whether in the blue of his beloved Bantry or the red of Cork, the amiable Deccie won a legion of fans who thrilled at his classic football style, his goal-scoring ability and his immaculate high-fielding.
Many experts would rate him the greatest fielder ever to pull on the Cork shirt.
As he launched his six foot one inch frame lazily into the clouds to fetch the high ones, the crowd invariably erupted and when he scored one of his trademark goals, which he did again and again in the blue of Bantry, the supporters literally fell on their knees in adoration of a talent that will never disappear from the memories of those privileged to see him in his prime.
Deccie’s glorious career, during which he won an All-Ireland senior medal, two All-Ireland U21 medals and two All-Ireland minor medals, as well county junior, intermediate and senior medals, was book-marked with memorable deeds and achievements, a few of which we touch on here.
In the early 1970s a great rivalry grew between Bantry and Bandon in South West junior A football. Bantry won the title in 1968 and 1969, Bandon took over in 1970 and 1971, a classic final and replay, and in 1972 came the big showdown in the semi-final in Skibbereen.
Bandon looked to have that game won until Deccie produced a moment of sheer magic in the last minute from a 21-yard free, his side two points in arrears.
‘We had some great clashes with Bandon in the early seventies,’ Deccie told Tom Lyons in a lengthy interview for his new book, The Quest for the Little Norah.
‘I know people say we’re looking through rose-tinted glasses now but the junior football back then was of a very high standard, as high as the senior today. Bandon had players like Noel Crowley and Jimmy Gabriel and Robert Wilmot. Robert was a real athlete, you just couldn’t keep up with him. I think he did athletics in Bandon at that time.
‘People still talk about that goal in the semi-final in Skibbereen, in 1972 I think. I must admit it was something special. Of course I have to claim it was exactly what I meant to do, top corner of the net.
‘It was an impossible shot really and might come off once in a hundred tries. Nobody got a finger to the ball and I can still see the Bandon players all looking behind to see the ball in the net. They were stunned. It was definitely one of the top scores of my career.
‘I remember Haulie McCarthy, the Star photographer, a great character, used to come up to me before every game and ask, “How many are you going to get today, Dec?” Unfortunately, he didn’t get a picture of that goal.’
Bantry went on to win the county title that year.
Another goal, or non-goal, figures high in Deccie’s memory, the day in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 1976 when referee John Moloney disallowed Barron’s fisted goal in the dying seconds of a classic Munster final replay, a goal that would have won the title for Cork and put an early end, possibly, to Mick Dwyer’s young babes.
‘It was definitely a goal,’ said Deccie.
‘Moloney later admitted he had made a mistake, that it should have been allowed. But even if we had beaten Kerry that day they would still have gone on to dominate football, they were too good to keep down.’
Deccie won his All-Ireland senior medal in 1973 against Galway, under the captaincy of Billy Morgan, and he ended up the game that day playing at centre back, John Coleman having gone off injured.
‘It wasn’t planned. John Coleman got hurt. I had played a lot of underage football with Bantry in the backs, was a more natural back early on, so because of that the selectors took a chance in shoving me back in the final. We won, so it must have worked out alright. I didn’t feel out of place there,’ the Bantry great said.
Modesty wouldn’t allow Deccie to admit he had a stormer in the last quarter in his new position.
The memory that survives in most people’s minds of Deccie is the sheer elegance of his high fielding as he soared above opponents to snatch the leather out of the skies.
‘As regards the high fielding, I never really practised it, it just came sort of naturally to me. I loved catching high balls, clean fielding. But the football we played just wasn’t ignorant catch and kick stuff. It was very precise and we used the ball well,’ he said.
‘I just can’t abide the running, hand-passing stuff they play today. All you need to be is a good runner, there isn’t too much skill attached. It’s definitely not a game I could play.
‘I keep in touch with the games now in the newspapers and television and follow Bantry as the young lad (Declan Jnr) is involved.’
Right through his career Deccie was branded as a lazy trainer, a player who enjoyed his matches but not the grinding work of the training field. He had more than one run-in with selectors because of his perceived attitude.
‘Bantry won the intermediate in ‘75 and went up senior but lost the county final in 1981 to Nemo. They were nearly unbeatable at that time. I was still on the Cork team then but when we reached the national league final in 1980, there was a lot of hassle between the selectors as to whether I should be on the team or not,’ he recalled.
‘Some people thought I wasn’t putting in enough training. What they didn’t take into account was that I was always naturally fit. I played a lot of basketball, we used have great leagues for the winter here in Bantry.
‘I was playing handball, too, and I did a lot of shooting. I never put on weight. Anyway, they decided to put me in corner forward to keep Jimmy Denihan quiet but in the second half I was shifted to midfield. I caught everything, and we won.’
Many experts hold it was Deccie’s greatest display in the Cork shirt.
‘I won my last South West junior medal (his fourth) with Bantry in 1985 when Donal and myself were pressed back into action. We didn’t take too much persuading. We even surprised ourselves when we beat Bal in the final,’ he said.
‘My last football action was when Damian (O’Neill) got an inter-firm team together. Deccie Jnr was playing so I fell in too. Unfortunately, I pulled a muscle and that was that, career over. When I told the lads I had pulled a muscle, I was told that they were now called “hamstrings”.
‘I enjoyed playing football, but then I enjoyed playing other sports as well, like basketball, handball and hurling. I was handy at them all, I suppose when you’re good at one sport, you can manage them all.
‘But I also believe that everybody has their own strengths. You might be good at one thing and I might be good at another. Each to his own.
‘I used to work in Whiddy, took a redundancy package and now I enjoy shooting and just relaxing. We had our day, it was good while it lasted.’
This interview with Declan Barron is but one of many with former great West Cork players contained in Tom Lyons’ new book, The Quest for the Little Norah, which will be launched at a gala function in the West Cork Hotel on Friday, January 23rd, at 8.30pm. All are welcome.