BY TOM LYONS
IT was the year of golden goals, 1971, and none more spectacular than the one scored by Denis Cotter in the dying seconds of the South West junior A final in Dunmanway.
Bantry, with the young blonde dynamo Denis Cotter making a name for himself in the forward line, had won the South West junior A football titles in 1968 and 1969, after a lapse of many years, with a team of stars including Donal Hunt, Declan Barron and Dan Dineen.
A young and coming Bandon team deprived them of three-in-a-row in the 1970 semi-final, going on to win the title. A new South West rivalry was born and the showdown arrived the following season in the final in Dunmanway.
A huge crowd crammed the Sam Maguire Park to watch the clash of champions and it looked like Bandon were about to retain their title when they led by three points with seconds left on the clock. Those of us privileged to be there that day will never forget what happened next. The Southern Star the following Saturday described it so well.
‘The crowd had begun to file away and some hundreds of the huge attendance must have been outside the gates of Sam Maguire Park last Sunday when they were halted in their tracks by the sound of a tremendous roar, a salute to the tremendous feat of Denis Cotter of Bantry whose goal had given his team a chance to fight again.’
As ‘Carbery’ put it afterwards – “The game seemed destined for a tame, unspectacular finish when Denis Cotter burst on the scene and taking a neat pass from Brian Williams, rounded three men, going at electrifying speed, and even from the word go it was apparent that this fair-haired opportunist was going to make Bandon pay for letting him off the hook, and Robert Wilmot had not a chance in the world when he crashed the ball to the net for one of the finest goals seen for many a long day, comparable to Donal Hunt’s in the county senior final in 1968.’
Bandon did go on to win the replay in a thriller in extra time but the sight of Denis Cotter tearing through the Bandon defence that day will forever remain lodged in our bank of football memories. The same Denis Cotter was to go on to become not only one of the Blues greatest servants but also a Bantry legend.
Hard to believe now that Cotter was almost lost to the Blues. As a youth he was sent to Castleknock College where rugby was the game and when he attended UCC, rugby was his first game. He was good enough to play with Munster, little wonder with his lightning speed and spectacular running. Strangely, it was an injury picked up in a Gaelic game that eventually finished his blossoming rugby career.
He was also playing Gaelic in UCC and was on the 1973 college team that beat Carbery in the county final. In that game he was marking his fellow clubman, full back Pat Coakley, but during the game picked up a knee injury that never really cleared up afterwards.
The previous year, 1972, it was Declan Barron who produced the magic goal in the semi-final in Skibbereen to snatch the game from Bandon with the second-last kick of the game and Bantry went on to beat Dohenys’ second team in the South West final, before lifting the county title against Adrigole in Skibbereen. And thereby hangs another tale of the bold Doc.
Playing with Munster, he was under orders not to play Gaelic, but the Doc was first and foremost a Bantry man. Nothing would stop him from wearing his beloved blue jersey in a county final. For the final that day in Skibbereen, two photographs of the Bantry team were taken, one for the newspapers with the Doc not in it and a second for the club itself with the Doc included. He was a proud Blue that day as he won his county junior medal.
The Doc returned to Bantry as a GP in the mid-seventies and soon became engrossed in every aspect of town life, not least the GAA club, where he took to the administrative and coaching sides of the club. The eighties was a quiet decade for the Blues as the old stars slipped into retirement but a new bunch was on the way up through the underage ranks, led by Damien O’Neill, Michael Moran, Mark O’Connor, Niall Twomey, Padraig O’Regan, Des McAuley and Stephen Dineen.
The nineties was to be Bantry’s greatest decade on the GAA fields and towering over it all was the figure of the Doc as he took the young, talented players under his wing, and with the aid of a few astute mentors, moulded them into a winning combination. Two county minor titles, two county U21 titles, an intermediate title and then, the holy grail, when the first-ever county senior football title was won in 1995, with the Doc as manager. A second senior title followed in 1998, with the Doc as selector, and they were heady days indeed for the Doc and Bantry Blues.
The past 20 years have seen a decline in the fortunes of the Blues but not in the involvement of the Doc. He felt a duty of care for all the players not only on the field of play but also off the field as he organised seminars on injury care and well-being, as well as overseeing the physical development of the club itself, with many dedicated Blues to help him along. Right up to the very end he was involved in the care of the players, especially the younger players coming through.
Denis Cotter was Bantry Blue through and through and his fame as a GP saw him serving a huge clientele from well outside his area while his deep interest in the town itself saw him publishing five books about the history and the characters of Bantry. He, himself, will surely be the central character in the next book about Bantry. It would not be untrue to describe him as the ‘Uncrowned King’ of Bantry, as evidenced by the huge crowds that turned up at his removal and funeral Mass.
But it is Denis Cotter the footballer, the GAA man, we will always remember and the sight of him careering through defences at blinding speed, his blonde hair flowing in the wind, will forever be part of our memories of a great Blue and a great man.
To his family, friends, the Blues GAA Club and the people of the town of Bantry, the heartfelt sympathies of all who were privileged to know him go. Certainly, ní bheidh a leithéad arís ann. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam uasal.