BY COIS FARRAIGE
FROM Skibbereen in the west to Courcey Rovers in the east, from Newcestown in the north to Ardfield in the south they came, the veteran hurlers and footballers of the 1950s and 1960s.
Liam Hurley of Courceys had thrown out the idea before Christmas, a reunion of veteran players in Carbery who mightn’t have met each other since their playing days 50 years ago.
The idea took hold and Ahamilla recently was a magical place to be as many of West Cork’s veteran footballers and hurlers got together for a cup of tea, a chat, a shaking of hands and swapping of old GAA stories.
It wasn’t confined to the 1950s and 1960s either, as GAA heroes from the 1970s and 1980s also attended to lend their support. It was indeed a memorable and historic gathering of old Gaels.
It wasn’t just the players who turned up but also officials and board officers who had made it all possible down the years.
Just to shake hands with 90-year-old Denis O’Donovan of Fisher’s Cross, a bowling legend who had played football with Clonakilty senior footballers almost 70 years ago, was an experience we shall treasure. Sitting next to Denis was another bowling and boxing legend, Denis Collins, who had been on the Clonakilty hurling team in 1961, first-ever winners of the Flyer Nyhan Cup.
From Newcestown came two heroes of the parish, Mackey Collins and Dermot Kehily, who spoke on behalf of his club, while Jimmy O’Mahony, rúnaí for 49 years, arrived with his many stories of the great years of the club in the 1960s, when the new club went from lowly junior B to dual West Cork junior A winners and county champions.
There, too, was the ‘Master’ himself, Seán Ó Coileán, a founder member of the Newcestown club, who, however, insisted on having his picture taken with the men of Ardfield, his native place. From Ardfield itself came Frank and Liam White, Michael Collins, Michael Hurley and Fachtna Connolly.
Like Ardfield, most small rural clubs in the 1950s and 1960s were campaigning in junior B and playing out of farmers’ fields, while the town teams dominated the division. Very few clubs had their own facilities in those bygone days as pointed out by Sean deBarra of Barryroe, who served the division as rúnaí for 27 years.
Accompanying him from Barryroe was Vincent Sexton, chairman of the club for 18 years, Paddy Holland and the O’Regan brothers, John and Din. Sean also recalled other officers of the South West Board, no longer with us, who had given years of service to the division like Seán Ó Coileáin, Seán Ó Cochláin and Sean Crowley.
Still hale and hearty after a dozen years as chairman of the board was Denis McCarthy of Kilmeen, who was accompanied by Tom Young, Andy O’Leary, Jimmy O’Sullivan, DJ Daly, Jimmy Griffin and Connie O’Donovan.
Tom Lyons acted as fear-an-tí for the re-union, giving a run-down of the GAA in West Cork in those bygone years and he introduced a player from each club to speak on behalf of the club and we even got a song from Kilbrittain’s Francie O’Brien. Also there from the black and amber were Ollie O’Brien and Denis O’Mahony.
While the talk was mostly of hurling, football was strongly represented with Donie Davis, and Bobbie and Tony Evans coming from Skibbereen, while the legendary Bill Harte of Carbery Rangers, a man who refereed games in every old pitch in West Cork, represented the referees. Kieran Calnan spoke on behalf of Carbery Rangers while from Ballinascarthy came the great Dan Murphy and Liam Deasy.
The days of ‘Round Towers’ in West Cork hurling in the sixties were recalled by St Mary’s Kieran O’Driscoll, along with brother Florrie, Charlie O’Donovan and Tom Doyle, another veteran with a fine bowling history.
Raymond O’Neill, who with his late twin Barry formed a legendary partnership for Bandon, reminded us of the greats of Bandon teams and with him were two of the greatest ever to wear the lily-white jersey, Con Tobin of the sixties and Rob Wilmot of the seventies, along with Denis and Mick O’Mahony.
Making his way from Macroom was Donie O’Mahony, a Newcestown native, who played with a number of clubs in Carbery but gave great years of service to Clonakilty, winning South West hurling medals in 1961 and 1962. Present also from Clon was Connie O’Brien who won hurling medals with the red and green in the early fifties and again in the early sixties while Jim O’Reilly, Harry deLong, Tommy Russell, Teddy ‘Cheeser’ Hayes, John Hunt and Dan Lyons all wore the Clon jersey with distinction.
When 11 players from Dunmanway lined out for either Kilbrittain or Courcey Rovers in a South West final in the fifties, Dohenys decided to field their own team again and in 1958 surprised Courceys in the final, preventing the Ballinspittle/Ballinadee men from recording six in a row.
Representing Dohenys from that team, which beat Kilbrittain the following year, were Michael Farr, Mick O’Brien and Con Coakley, who also won many medals with Courceys. The irrepressible Johnny Carroll represented a golden era of Doheny football when they won seven South West junior titles and a county title between 1956 and 1966.
Of course the team that dominated West Cork hurling from the fifties to the mid-seventies, when they switched to Carrigdhoun, was Courcey Rovers and they had a record 15 South West junior hurling titles to their credit.
Prince among their hurlers was Chris Corcoran, with 12 medals, and he was in great form at the re-union. Liam Hurley, Billy Nyhan, Connie O’Regan, Mick Murphy, PJ Minihane, Michael O’Brien, Denis Paul Griffin and John Nyan were others present who wore the Courcey jersey with great distinction in those golden years.
After a great afternoon of chat and story-telling, the general consensus was that informal re-unions like this should be much more frequent and not left for all of 50 years. It was a job well done by Liam Hurley.