BY KIERAN McCARTHY, SPORTS EDITOR
WHEN O’Donovan Rossa won their first – and, still, West Cork’s only – All-Ireland club senior football title in March 1993, Dermot O’Sullivan was nine years old.
He was in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on that glorious March Sunday 28 years ago when his local team beat Éire Óg of Carlow in the All-Ireland final replay to be crowned the best club football team in the land.
After the final whistle, Dermot’s father, John O’Sullivan, who owned a butcher’s shop on North Street in Skibbereen, turned to him and said: ‘Remember this day because it might never happen again.’
Prophetic words from John as the Skibbereen team has never reached those heady heights since, and that’s why, too, that magical time for the club ages well. Those glory days are a part of local folklore. Local men became heroes and then legends.
That was a great era for O’Donovan Rossa and the town – and those emotions were revived again this week when Dermot O’Sullivan’s young son Jack received a gift from his godfather: a signed match ball that was used the day Skibb won the All-Ireland title in 1993.
It’s an incredible piece of local GAA memorabilia, but eagle-eyed Dermot spotted something was missing.
‘The only name that wasn’t signed was Don Davis,’ Dermot explains.
One quick call later last Monday evening, and Don signed the ball.
Twenty-eight years after playing a leading role in Skibb’s greatest moment, Don was reunited with the match ball – which, we believe, was a prize in a raffle back then – he played with and he finally added his name to it.
‘I didn’t even know that ball existed,’ Don says.
‘It was very unusual for me because I got very emotional when I saw it. It caught me by surprise.
‘I don’t know how or why I didn’t sign it back in 1993. The only thing that makes any sense to me is that I was a Garda in Baltinglass at the time and after matches or training I would have gone straight back to work again. Maybe when the ball came to be signed by everyone I must have been back in Wicklow.’
Definitely better late than never, and it’s the small details that make this story stand out. There was very little space left on the ball for a signature, but there was one free panel waiting to be signed. Above it, the late ‘Small’ Mick McCarthy, O’Donovan Rossa’s captain that day, had written his name.
‘The only space on the ball where there was no writing was under Small Mick’s name. I couldn’t be more prouder to sign it in the first place and to sign it under Small Mick is better again,’ Don says.
‘I’m delighted to see that ball exists and I’m delighted that the right man has it.’
Dermot O’Sullivan is a former O’Donovan Rossa footballer himself and a GAA fanatic. The Skibb man comes from a GAA-mad family. He played senior with the club and was on the Rossa team that won the 2005 West Cork junior football championship.
‘Those players on that Skibb team that won the county and the All-Ireland were heroes to me growing up and I was lucky enough then that I played with a few of them when they were coming to the end of their careers,’ Dermot says – and now he has a link to the greatest triumph of his local club.
Twenty eight years on from O’Donovan Rossa’s All-Ireland final win and it’s still making local people smile and still evoking great memories and feelings. That’s why sport, including the GAA, is so special. It has the ability to unite and bring people together, like it brought Don and Dermot together earlier this week to sign the match ball.
‘Sometimes we forget what the GAA brings us,’ Don says.
‘At times we think of the negative headlines and give out about this and that, but it brings us so much enjoyment too. It never gets the credit it deserves for what it brings to communities throughout Ireland.’
These days, the GAA – and all sport – is bringing life back to communities as the country starts to pick itself up and get moving again. Kids were back in underage training last week, adults return to training from next Monday, inter-county action makes its comeback this weekend, we’ve had county championship draws and dates mentioned, and it’s all positive. The light at the end of the tunnel is moving closer and getting brighter. GAA clubs are plotting their paths to glory and the big days out, and dreaming of success. Most teams never get there, but some do – and that’s how local legends are born. Like Don Davis. And Small Mick. John Evans. Joe O’Driscoll. Tony Davis. Ian Breen. Kevin O’Dwyer. Gene O’Driscoll. And all the heroes that played their part in Skibb’s success in 1993, as a rural team scaled their Everest.
The match ball from that day will now be kept safe in a new glass box and will be proudly on display in Dermot O’Sullivan’s home. When his son Jack is old enough, his dad will fill him in on the importance of this ball, his own memories from that super Sunday in 1993 and even how, 28 years on, he tracked down one of the club’s heroes to finally sign the ball. This story will live on, passed down to another generation, so these local heroes and their incredible feat will never be forgotten.