It’s 25 years since O’Donovan Rossa brought Skibbereen to a standstill after winning the club’s first and only Cork senior football championship title. KIERAN McCARTHY chats to two key men from that team, Gene O’Driscoll and Joe O’Driscoll, about their memories from that county final win against Nemo Rangers
NOT only did O’Donovan Rossa beat Nemo Rangers in the September 1992 Cork senior football championship final, they also beat the bookies.
The Tuesday after this Skibbereen team won the club’s first, and only, county SFC crown, a bus was chartered from the West Cork town.
A lively gang got on outside the Fairfield House, a bar on Bridge Street.
The destination: Dermot Buckley bookmakers on Main St, Macroom.
The reason: to collect a cheque worth £16,500.
‘You couldn’t make it up,’ laughed Joe O’Driscoll, man-of-the-match from the ’92 decider.
‘Celebrations were starting to wind down a bit but then the fellas that had the money on the bet decided we’d take a bus to Macroom to collect the cheque.’
Ah yes, the bet.
At the outset of that year’s championship, O’Donovan Rossa were rank outsiders, quoted at 33 to 1 to win the Andy Scannell Cup.
‘We were those odds for a reason,’ explained Gene O’Driscoll – a defender, selector and trainer on that team.
‘Skibb hadn’t made an impression in senior up to that. The club won the intermediate in 1985 but there wasn’t much else before ’92.’
No one gave the Rossas any chance, including the bookmakers.
But Skibb believed.
A group from Skibb made up of fans and players pooled £500 together and placed the bet before a ball was kicked in that year’s competition: Rossas to win the Cork SFC.
‘There was 15, 20 fellas in on it, we’d only £10 or £20 each in. It was a mixture of players and fans, fifty-fifty. After we won it, there was a big hoo-ha and not to dare mention that there were any players involved. It was a lot of money, 33 to 1, it paid for the celebrations,’ Joe O’Driscoll added.
At the county final, some Skibb fans wore tee-shirts that said, on the front, ‘Skibb 33-1’, and on the back, ‘They said it couldn’t be done.’
It was done, and in style.
‘We fully believed we were going to win it,’ Gene O’Driscoll recalled.
‘We never contemplated defeat, ever. It’s the only time I ever experienced it in a group.
‘No matter how a game was unfolding, we always had a belief that we were going to win it. It was a strange feeling.’
Not even the sight of a star-studded Nemo Rangers in the county final dented the belief in the Skibbereen squad.
They had already beaten three-in-a-row chasing Duhallow, Imokilly, Muskerry and Aghada to reach the county final, so confidence was high.
They felt this was their year.
‘I remember going up to the county final convinced that we were going to win,’ Joe O’Driscoll recalled.
‘I never had a doubt that we wouldn’t win.
‘I played a lot of matches after where you were wary of the opposition and of some fella you were playing against – but I never had a doubt ahead of that final. I was convinced we’d win.
‘That’s not being cocky or anything, we were going so well, we were playing well, confidence was high and I was convinced.’
Skibb’s reasoning was simple: they felt they had a defence that could cope with any opponent, a midfield that was as good as what was around the county at the time and an attack that could beat any defenders.
They didn’t over think it, they didn’t have to either because they also had the late Mick McCarthy, known as Small Mick, a giant on the football field.
Next February will mark the 20th anniversary since Mick McCarthy’s sudden passing.
He died in early February 1998, a passenger in a two-car crash in Little Island.
A town was heartbroken.
He was only 33 years old at the time.
‘We would have won nothing without Mick. He carried us,’ Joe O’Driscoll said.
Small Mick was the best player to ever wear Rossas’ red.
Along with Anthony Davis, Mick was a superstar on that Skibb team – christening them ‘the terrible twins’ ahead of the county final.
Small Mick was also captain that year, a natural leader on and off the field.
‘He brought the whole team together. He was such a character. He could have the craic with the younger lads the same way he could have the craic with the older fellas,’ Joe O’Driscoll said.
‘He was a gas man, you couldn’t meet a nicer fella.’
Small Mick was also a once-in-a-generation footballer. He was a Cork minor, U21 and senior who won All-Ireland senior medals in 1989 and ’90, and he went on to captain Cork in the ’93 All-Ireland final defeat to Derry.
On his day, he was unmarkable, a forward who had it all.
In ’92, he was 27 years old and in his prime.
‘We had a lot of good players and experienced players in that team – but he was the jewel in the crown,’ Gene O’Driscoll explained.
‘He was as good a club player as I ever played with.
‘The plan was simple: get the ball to Mick as quickly and as often as we can. Everyone knew that but nobody could deal with him.
‘That was an era where there was no massed defences, no double man-marking, it was pretty much one on one. He always had only one guy to beat and no one in club football could hold him.’
Against Nemo, Mick missed a first-half penalty after Brian O’Donovan was fouled – but that didn’t knock him off his stride.
He scored five points that day, four from frees, as he led Skibb to their Holy Grail, with a rousing rendition of ‘Dear Old Skibbereen’ another highlight of the day.
Gone, but never to be forgotten.
The mix in the Skibbereen team was just right, everyone agrees.
There were out and out footballers and there were more traditional, hard working footballers. There were wily old heads and young bucks.
Corner back John Evans was 37 years old, an All-Star defender. Corner forward Neville Murphy was 18 years old, a star of the Hogan Cup winning St Fachtna’s team. Goalkeeper Kevin O’Dwyer at 19 was setting out on his football adventure, Skibb’s favourite Cavan man John Brady was 28, Gene O’Driscoll 29, Anthony Davis 27, as was Ian Breen. Don Davis was 23, the midfield pairing of Denis O’Driscoll (28) and Brian O’Donovan (21), there was youth and experience throughout the team.
‘If you look at the composition of the team, we had a lot of experience in it. There were older guys, some who had played with the county and other fresh young legs, too. The mix was right,’ Gene O’Driscoll says, before casting his eye through the first 15.
‘John Evans was coming to the end of his career. He’d played senior inter-county, seen it all, he was a calming influence in the full back line. You had the young fellas like John O’Donovan and Frank McCarthy, two greats lads. John went on to play with the Cork seniors afterwards.
‘In the half-back line Anthony Davis was an outstanding talent at the time, he had all the football ability. Ian Breen and myself complimented his style, we were more robust and gave Anthony the chance to go do and his thing.
‘Denis O’Driscoll in midfield was the first player on the team sheet every time; he just took opponents apart in every game and they couldn’t handle him. He worked well with Brian O’Donovan who went on to play inter-county afterwards.
‘Pat Davis, Joe O’Driscoll, Don Davis, our half forward line, three footballers, three big engines, they could take guys on and could score. Inside we had John Brady from Cavan to compliment Mick (McCarthy), and Neville Murphy, classy forwards.
‘Everybody brought something to it.’
Joe O’Driscoll agrees. He actually watched a video of the ’92 county final win against Nemo online recently. It brought all the memories galloping back.
‘There were fellas who shone that day, outstanding,’ he said.
‘Frank McCarthy at corner back was absolutely brilliant, he was marking Joe Kavanagh and I don’t think he had a sniff. John Evans was in the other corner marking Colin Corkery. Evans was 37 and Corkery was the coming player in Cork and Evans came out on top, you couldn’t make it up.
‘Our midfield, written off the whole year, was marking Shay Fahey and Timmy Dalton and we completely dominated midfield.
‘Anthony Davis had one of the best games he ever had for Skibb.’
Joe O’Driscoll was man of the match that day, scoring 1-2, his eighth minute goal (he got a fist to an Tony Davis point attempt that dropped short; a fluke, he calls it) giving Skibb the advantage. By the time Brian O’Donovan scored their second goal late in the second half, they had one hand on the cup, and soon they had two, winning 2-9 to 0-10, heroes in every line.
Skibb, by becoming the first club team to ever beat Nemo in a county final, were the new kings of club football in Cork.
The stars had aligned for Skibbereen.
And the party kicked off.
Winning the county final wasn’t the end of the journey, however.
That O’Donovan Rossa team went on to win Munster and All-Ireland senior club titles off the back of their 1992 county final win. Momentum carried them all the way to the top of the mountain. They were the best club team in the country in early 1993 after beating Eire Óg of Carlow after a replay.
But after the highs came the lows, losing the 1994 county final to rivals and neighbours Castlehaven.
Skibb haven’t won a county senior football championship title since.
‘Skibb wasn’t an overnight success story,’ said Gene O’Driscoll, who left his own junior club Tadhg MacCarthaigh to join Rossas in ’87.
‘We’d been trying to win the county for a good few years and it probably took longer than it should have to get there whereas if we had gone and done it sooner, maybe it would have been easier to go back and win it again.
‘We invested all our time in it, we won a county, Munster and All-Ireland, the Holy Grail had been achieved for a lot of us, so was the same hunger there to go and do it again? Maybe not.’
Still, at least Skibb has 1992 and the memories it created. And this Sunday they’ll be honoured at half time in the Cork SFC final between Nemo Rangers and St Finbarr’s, a fitting tribute to a team that turned their dreams into reality.