BY GER McCARTHY
THE hair may be greyer and the movement a bit slower but the eyes still sparkle when Castlehaven players and mentors recall their memories of 1994.
It is a quarter of a century since over 52,000 supporters filled Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a drawn Cork SFC county final and replay between two of West Cork’s fiercest rivals, Castlehaven and O’Donovan Rossa. Southern Star Sports Editor Kieran McCarthy recalled those matches in vivid detail in a recent edition and what a time it was for West Cork senior football.
History books show that the Haven eventually won out and their squad was honoured at half time in this year’s Cork SFC decider at Páirc Uí Rinn. It may have been 25 years ago but manager Jim Nolan remembers the build up, matches and aftermath as if it was yesterday.
‘There was fierce tension inside the dressing room before the (drawn) game,’ Nolan told The Southern Star.
‘Playing Skibbereen was a big thing but playing in a county final was even bigger. We knew the crowd was going to be huge. We got as far as Innishannon and the traffic heading to Cork that day was incredible. In the dressing room before the game, I thought we were slack enough the first day to be honest. There was more tension after the game with all the injuries that we had.’
Brian Collins was a mainstay in the Castlehaven defence at the time and remembers the importance of both occasions not just to the players but to the club’s supporters as well.
‘I remember the first day that we were a bit nervous and that the occasion got to both teams,’ Collins remembered.
‘I felt that in the drawn game both teams simply didn’t want to lose. I remember in our dressing room before the match that Larry (Tompkins) made quite an emotional speech about Ned Cleary, Dan Collins and others. Those were the people that helped setup our club and it was a big day for them more than anybody else.
‘None of us wanted to let them down. We felt we were playing for all the people that had helped the club rise from junior B to senior that day. So I just felt in the drawn final that we were a bit nervous, whereas the second day, all that was gone.’
Another unsung hero of that era’s Castlehaven team was Mike Maguire. Both a player and selector in 1994, one specific memory of the sheer size of the crowds is burned into Maguire’s memory banks.
‘I felt we were fortunate to get the draw the first day out,’ the Castlehaven stalwart admitted.
‘In fairness, when John and Larry got injured we were getting worried. In the replay, when we knew Larry would be playing, it was a huge boost for everybody in the dressing room.
‘Myself and Jim Nolan along with Christie Collins were selectors back then. We made a decision to put Larry in at full-forward for the replay. I remember we kicked three are four great points straight after half-time which set us up for the win. Skibbereen came back at us, naturally, but our supporters were absolutely fantastic that day.
‘I re-watched the game on DVD recently and, Jesus, the uncovered stand was absolutely full. There was red and blue everywhere. It was something unbelievable altogether. Even that day I knew I would never play in front of such a crowd ever again. There will never be as big a crowd at a county final in Cork ever again. It was something else.’
Whatever about the massive attendances, the 1994 drawn county final and replay involved a who’s who of the inter-county scene. For Castlehaven, Niall Cahalane, Larry Tompkins and John Cleary were already household names while Skibbereen could boast the combined talents of Don and Tony Davis, Gene O’Driscoll plus the late Mick McCarthy.
‘Those two finals were of an inter-county standard,’ Brian Collins stated.
‘Take one look at the Skibbereen team that time, I mean they had a serious team. It was only 18 months since they won a club All-Ireland title. I felt Rossas were very physical in the drawn game and we were a bit surprised by that. In the replay though, we matched them for physicality which was vital to us eventually winning the game.’
‘It was a super win for us,’ added Mike Maguire.
‘The support on both sides was absolutely fantastic not just that day, but throughout the whole year. We knew all the Skibb lads having played together for Saint Fachtna’s vocational school in Skibbereen’.
Jim Nolan concluded: ‘It was a great time for West Cork football from 1989 on in that the country teams really came on. Skibbereen won a county, Clonakilty followed us in 1996 and Bantry Blues won two titles around that time as well. Carbery (divisional) went and win another county soon after that. We helped raise the bar but certainly, other West Cork teams matched it.’