It’s 50 years and counting for Skibbereen AFC and to mark the landmark occasion, GER McCARTHY got the thoughts of Michael Dwyer and Ronnie Tanner
IT’S a half-century not out for Skibbereen AFC, and while the club is thriving now, it wasn’t always an easy task.
Over the last 50 years, Skibb have amassed a considerable haul of silverware and boast excellent facilities at their Baltimore Road headquarters. Back in 1967, though, even establishing a soccer club was no mean feat.
Michael Dwyer was one member of a group of soccer-mad enthusiasts that got together to form Skibbereen Dynamos, and he recalls the effort which had to be put in.
‘Skibbereen soccer began back in 1967 when the GAA ban on playing the game was still in operation,’ he says.
‘Naturally, it was difficult to get the club going in those times but a group of us got together to try and get things off the ground. Some of the people involved included myself, Séamus O’Mahony, John O’Neill, Peter Collins and Peter O’Sullivan. It is 50 years ago so I cannot remember every single person that was there at the very beginning but without all of them, Skibbereen Dynamos wouldn’t have happened.
‘Séamus O’Mahony’s father had the keys to the town hall and we held our first official club meeting there. At the start, the number of people willing to get involved was quite small. My best friends in town at the time were Peadar Hayes and Sonny Keohane but if I dared mention soccer when we were out on a Saturday night, I’d get an awful doing!’
The reason Michael Dwyer and his friends persisted through those difficult times was a simple love of the game. Manchester United, hugely successful during that era, were another big influence on the club founders, who chose an unusual name to kick-start their new venture.
‘There was a team in Russia with the name ‘Dynamos’ and we decided to go with that as it was different and a bit radical for the time!’ Dwyer says.
‘The name was actually objected to at our first meeting but thankfully overruled and things moved on quickly from there.
‘We got fierce co-operation from John Neil and he helped us get the use of two pitches out near Church Cross. Our first-ever match was against Clonakilty AFC below in the old rugby pitch in Skibbereen and we drew 3-3.
‘Donal Carey stepped in and sorted out a field for us along the Schull road, just across from where Skibbereen Rowing Club are based. Donal was always very good to us and we used to draw huge crowds to our games once we entered the Cork AUL.
‘There was no West Cork League back then, so we had to play every second week up in the city and that only added to the difficulty with the extra transport costs. Fellas were volunteering their cars and vans to get us to the away games in the early days.
‘We had a very talented team though and went undefeated for two years. We used to take up a collection every Sunday in Skibbereen and people were very good to us. Often we’d get IR£200, which was massive money for soccer in that era.’
Despite the GAA ban, there was a huge appetite for soccer throughout the entire West Cork area, not just in Skibbereen, and the crowds that flocked to watch Dynamos’ games is testament to that.
The club and the game of soccer quickly became part of the town’s fabric and folklore.
‘I have very fond memories of what was a special time to be part of a club that I’m delighted to say is still going strong today,’ Dwyer admits.
‘As for stories, we used to go in to the Maples pub after our matches but we were wondering how we never managed to pick up any women in there. The thing was, we used to have to wash ourselves in the river Ilen behind the pitch after our games as there were no dressing rooms.
‘It was many years later that we finally found out from a few of the women why we weren’t having any luck. The answer? “Sure, we couldn’t go near any of ye soccer fellas what with the smell of the river off ye”!
‘I myself only played very fleetingly with Skibbereen Dynamos. I used to wear glasses and came on as a substitute in my first game only to get a yellow card within a minute of being introduced. Then I got a red card two minutes later and sure the story has always stuck with me.’
Ronnie Tanner is another Skibbereen native whose long association with the town’s soccer club began prior to the Baltimore Road complex being developed into a first-class facility.
‘I first got involved with Skibbereen back in 1981,’ he says.
‘The club was still playing in the Cork AUL at the time and we did well enough in the 1981-82 season, my first year playing with them. Skibbereen got to the Saxone Cup final but lost to Carrigaline.
‘Having been away from the club for a period, I got back involved as club secretary when Skibb took the decision to join the West Cork League in the 1990s. It was a a role I held for a long time until stepping down recently.
‘A lot of my time was spent on helping get our Baltimore Road complex sorted out, a task that involved a huge amount of people and effort before we developed one of the best soccer facilities in the country.
Prior to that, there was very little money in the club. It was only when we began a club lotto in November 1994 that things turned around for us and we were eventually able to develop our own ground.’
Fifty years on, Skibbereen AFC is still going strong and a recent recipient of a government sports grant to further develop their facilities. A productive future awaits a soccer club that owes a huge amount of thanks to their founders.