JOCKS was the centre of our universe. It was where we repaired to each evening when the schoolwork was done, to mend our hurleys, discuss the weekend’s matches, pour over the fixtures for the following week, make sense of the latest controversy in the County Board and, generally, just wallow in the one subject that dominated all our young lives, The Rockies and hurling.
A nondescript, two-roomed cottage on the Ballinlough Road, at the junction with Somerton Park, Jocks was the home of Michael Murphy, a delicate invalid who spent much of his adult life in hospital and entrusted his home to the care of Derry Cremen, a legendary Rockies figure, who held court there every evening and who gathered young hurlers around him like moths around a flame.
Michael was the son of ‘Curtis’ Murphy, another legend and one of the earliest Rockies and Cork hurling captains, and, so, the modest house reeked of tradition and hurling lore and we lapped it all up hungrily.
There wasn’t a decent chair in the house yet we gathered there around the fire, perched on stools, butter boxes or on the kitchen table that dominated the one room open to us – the small bedroom was strictly out of bounds - while Derry – and whatever ‘guests’ happened by that evening - regaled us with stories of sporting deeds of yore, from venues as diverse as Semple Stadium in Thurles, to Aintree in Liverpool or Madison Square Garden in New York. Ryan Tubridy wouldn’t have a cast of characters as diverse or as interesting as those that ‘lifted the latch, opened the door, stepped right in and took the floor’ in Jocks on many an evening.
That was one of the attractions for us youngsters, you never knew who was going to turn up. John Farnan was fairly regular. John played hurling with the Rockies but football with St. Nicks, sister club to Glen Rovers - our nemesis – which immediately made John, a tall, quiet, modest man, somewhat of an oddity in our eyes.
He idolised Kilkenny’s hurlers and hurling and such was his influence that, in the early days of the Blackrock Parish Leagues, all our teams were named after famous Kilkenny club sides. Thus it was that, as kids, we were more familiar with clubs such as Ballyragget, Bennettsbridge and Mooncoin in Kilkenny, than we were with St. Finnbars, Na Piarsaigh or Glen Rovers in Cork City.
John blew our minds one night when he turned up with a large electrical contraption that turned out to be a reel-to-reel tape recorder, complete with a selection of world title fight recordings – remember this was long before TV was ever heard of - and proceeded to fill the small house with the magic that was big fight night in Madison Square Garden, New York. Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, even ‘Two-Ton’ Tony Galento boxed in Jocks that night and, before the night was over, I’d swear we could smell the sweat and feel the crush of the crowd as we were wafted away to mid-town Manhattan for a few glorious, memorable hours.
Tuesday was City Division Board nigh and we’d wait anxiously for the arrival of club delegate, the genial postman, Jack Shea, to arrive with the weekend fixtures.
Jack never believed in writing anything down but could reel off from memory a complex list of fixtures for all the various club teams, complete with times and venues. For deviliment then, of course, the smart alecks among us would proceed to cross-examine – and confuse - Jack on the fixtures: “Jack, is it the under-15s or the Juveniles that are playing the Barrs on Friday night in Togher? Or is that match in Church Road on Saturday morning?
“No, no, not the Barrs; the under-15s are playing Nemo. ‘Tis the juveniles are playing the Barrs and that match is in Church Road on Saturday evening – or, hang on now a minute, no, no, that game is in Togher, alright, I think................” And so the questioning would go on, with Jack getting both rattled and confused, while we were losing track of what he had told us originally, until, eventually, nobody knew what the right story was and we’d all have to wait for Mick Barry’s report on Wednesday night’s Evening Echo, to get the full fixture list.
How often Derry Cremen would admonish us on this carry on but, sure, it was only out of affection for Jack that we did it, albeit it there was a night or two when our board delegate came close to resigning - and we came close to getting a belt from a postman’s buckle.
Jocks resembled a misogynists’ hangout! In all my years there I never remember a woman crossing the threshold. It wasn’t that women were banned from Jocks, ‘twas more a case of there being nothing there for them. Why there wasn’t even running water or a toilet on the premises!
How we managed ourselves, I simply don’t know but I never remember those basic necessities being an impediment to our loyalty to the premises and what it stood for.
To us, it was our very own piece of Blackrock National Hurling Club, here in the heart of Ballinlough, within walking distance of home. Church Road was a bit too far away for us youngsters but in Jocks we got our daily fix of all things hurling in our very own men’s shed.
Jocks is long gone now: there is simply no trace of it today on the Ballinlough Road. Some of us feel that the spot should be marked in some way, a plaque on the wall, maybe, or a stone set in the footpath, but nobody’s done anything about it.
We’ve all moved on now and are busy with our own lives, yet when our paths cross – nowadays, more often at a funeral than anywhere else, remember Jocks was fifty years ago! – the conversation will very often revolve around the characters and friends that populated our young lives back then and are still dear to us today.
Derry Cremen from Dunedin is long gone, as is Billy Daly from Ardfallen, Tom Clancy from Marian Park, Ned Kidney, Dick Hickey, Jack Shea, ‘Pol’ Donovan, Mick and Noel Flaherty, John Farnan, Simon Murphy, Fachtna and Derry O’Sullivan, Mick Curry and, of course, Michael Murphy himself, whose home it was, all imithe ar slí na fírinne.
There are many more, of course, these are just the names that spring to mind now as I write. All are remembered with genuine affection as people that once were close to us, not as ghostly figures from the dim and distant past. I can still hear their voices, remember their mannerisms, see them walking past Jerry Driscoll’s shop or looking out the window of the No. 14 bus as it passes Sundrive. If I was any good I’d get working on that plaque!