THERE’S a distinct American twang to Colin Crowley’s accent these days. Living in New Jersey has that effect. That’s where he is based now but home will always be Castlehaven.
Odds are if he still lived locally he would be, as a flying fit 42-year-old, lacing his boots for the Castlehaven juniors this Sunday in their Carbery JAFC opener. Odds are too that he would twist some defenders inside out. The magic Crowley has never leaves. It was a natural ability that made him stand out all the way up along with Castlehaven.
He was once described as ‘an emerging superstar’ in a Southern Star match report in July 2002. He had just scored 3-5 from play for Castlehaven in a Kelleher Shield win against Nemo Rangers, as the West Cork club rallied back from a 4-3 to 0-2 early deficit.
Man-of-the-match performances were the norm for Crowley. One of his most famous games for Castlehaven was the 2003 Cork SFC final when he, as a 25-year-old, racked up 1-4 from play as they beat Clonakilty. Off the back of that, he was made Cork senior football captain in 2004, but that county final triumph was an important one for him because it helped to banish some painful memories.
‘That final against Clonakilty was a big game, probably one of my biggest, because I was very keenly aware of losing against Erin’s Isle in the 1998 All-Ireland semi-final,’ Crowley recalls.
‘It took years to wrap my mind around losing that game. We should have won. I had a big part to play. I had a chance of a goal late on. If I popped the ball over the bar it would have given us a better opportunity. I went for goal, it hit the post, they went up the other end and got a goal. As a forward, it was instinct to go for goal. I was young, too. So 2003, for me, it was an opportunity to get us back into winning ways.’
In his eyes, he made amends in the ’03 county final, but his legend with Castlehaven is assured. Crowley was a forward who had it all – he was burning fast, strong, skilful, knew where the posts were, was clinical off both feet and has been described as the best forward of his generation around West Cork at the time.
‘A one-man demolition expert’ is how he was described in The Southern Star after he hit 1-5 from play against the Barr’s in a 2002 Cork SFC tie. At club level, and along with his brother Alan, Colin was in a different class to most. They were both driving forces of the Castlehaven team that won the ’03 county title, coming off the club’s 1998 U21 county-winning side. The Crowley brothers were the main men, and like with many clubs, especially Castlehaven, they were maintaining a family tradition. Their father, Denis, was also a standout player in his club days before his football career was ended after an off-the-ball incident in a championship match against Newcestown.
‘He was a very promising talent but his career was cut short,’ Colin explains, ‘but from talking to Alan, it was in both of our minds to perform to the best of our ability and make him proud and try to follow on in his tradition.
‘Football was our lives. For us, it was a way to put everything we had into it. It was like a personal coping mechanism for a lot of stuff that happened. It was everything.’
You get the feeling from talking to him now that absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially this week ahead of the huge senior championship derby against Carbery Rangers. That’s the type of game he relished as a player. His club form was undeniable. A quick call-out on Twitter this week saw Crowley described as ‘lethal’, ‘pretty much unstoppable’ and ‘classy footballer’, but while he left his mark on the club scene, this scoring machine didn’t reproduce that form with Cork.
‘It would have been nice to have taken my club form into inter-county. There were a couple of times when I came close, like against Kerry in a national league game in Páirc Ui Rinn when I scored 2-3. There was lots of competition for places at time,’ he explains.
That night against Kerry, he tormented both Tom O’Sullivan and Mike McCarthy. It was peak Castlehaven Crowley, but a rare glimpse at the highest level. Still, his legend is guaranteed where it matters the most, at home. He credits current Haven senior boss James McCarthy as the biggest influence on his career; from underage to senior, McCarthy coached him.
Life took him to America, but Crowley will always be the boy from Castletownshend who grew up idolising Niall Cahalane, John Cleary, Larry Tompkins and Billy Morgan, then got to play and learn from them all, before making his own name on the football field. Even though he’s on the other side of the Atlantic now, it’s only natural that football still drifts into his thoughts.
‘I think my game would have been suited to modern-day football in terms of work-rate. I like to think my work-rate was high. My goal every day was to not stop running.’