I PLAYED some of my best rugby against the All Blacks. Not that I was found wanting against the Home Nations, let me say, just that the New Zealand jersey seemed to bring out the best in me.
As a 12-year old, a day spent climbing in Beaumont Quarry with the gang was never complete without a visit across the road to Cork Con’s grounds in Temple Hill.
‘Twas like entering Disneyland! Amazingly, the dressing-room door was always unlocked and we’d tiptoe inside like Alice into Wonderland.
There were varnished benches to sit on, proper hooks to hang your clothes and, could you believe it? — mats scattered around the floor on which to clean your boots!
We, who had been used to a railway carriage below in Church Road, with nails driven in the walls as clothes hangers, were amazed at the opulence.
They even had a few rugby balls tucked away under the bench ready for the next training session.
But the piéce de résistance for us kids was the tiled room, just off the main dressing area, with silver dishes in the roof that cascaded water when the taps were turned on. We had never seen anything like it.
We stood in awe at the deluge as the room slowly filled with steam and then argued among ourselves as to who was going to risk getting soaked by daring to run back in again to turn it all off.
Ignoring the Eleventh Commandment — “Thou shalt not play Foreign Games — we’d gather up the balls and trip down the steps onto the pitch and get down to some serious rugby. We’d ruck and maul and scrum and line-out like the best of them and then make a mad dash for the line to touch down and win another game for Ireland.
Funnily enough, despite being a prolific try-scorer for my country, I just couldn’t handle conversions.
I’d line the ball up just like Tom Kiernan did; I’d have one of the lads lie flat on the ground and hold it with his finger tip; why, I might even pause to pull a handkerchief from my pocket and blow my nose, as he was wont to do, but I just couldn’t get that stupid ball over the bar.
Looking back now, I suppose the great ROG himself would have difficulty kicking those conversions while wearing sandals!
At the bottom of the Con field, over the boundary ditch, was Flower Lodge – the original Flower Lodge, that is – where the AUL played their junior soccer matches. Teams like Glasheen, Bridewell, Cobh Ramblers, Ringmahon and St Mary’s did battle there and, boy, did they take their soccer seriously.
The pitch itself was not the best at the time: from the bottom goal, on the Ballinlough Road end, you could barely make out the top of the far goal, such was the warp in the field.
Like ourselves in Church Road, the dressing rooms were two railway carriages but, unlike us, theirs were passenger carriages — with seats — while we had to make do with a goods wagon.
My favourite team was Albert Rovers, for no other reason than stalwart, Jimmy Kelly, would always say ‘thank you’ when I kicked the ball back to him after it going wide. By such are the loyalties of a 12-year-old won over.
We’d often stand on the ditch and have our choice of matches — facing one way we’d have Cork Con in full flow, while, if there was a lull in the action, turning around, we’d have the best that the Cork AUL had to offer.
The entrance to this sports emporium was up a lane from the Ballinlough Road, alongside Murphy’s Pig Buyers, as it was then.
I’ve seen their yard with hundreds of pigs milling around, being loaded or unloaded into lorries, segregated into pens or ushered into housing to be kept overnight before being shipped away again in the morning.
The noise was deafening and the chaos complete but, in the middle of it all, imperturbable, would be old Mr. Murphy, affectionately known as ‘Mikus’, complete with hat and stick, barking directions and slowly bringing order on the mayhem until the yard was clear once again and order restored.
Over the years the business morphed into Murphy Transport under the sure hand of ‘young’ Micheál, a terrific character whose endurance behind the wheel of a truck was legendary and whose prowess in the corner with the Rockies was instrumental in returning the county championship to ‘The Village’ in 56 after a 25-year absence.
The Murphy Transport lorries carry the green & gold livery of the Rockies (Well, if JP McManus can have his horses carry the green & gold of South Liberties………..) and to this day, no matter where on the roads of Ireland I pass one of their trucks, there is always something reassuring knowing that, no matter where we both are heading at that moment, sooner or later – the Lord willing — we’ll both be back home safe in Ballinlough again.
As I ventured up that lane one Sunday morning I was met with the shocking sight of the famous ‘Boba’ Geaney, still in his St. Mary’s playing kit, head covered in bloody bandages, being escorted off to hospital by two club mentors. “What the hell….!” I continued on, only to be met, two minutes later, at the entrance to the field, by the similar sight of his brother, Jerry, likewise covered in blood, and he, too, being carted off to hospital.
Many years later, by this time on very friendly terms with both of them, I met up with Boba – what a character! - and, over a cup of coffee in the Liberty Grill on Washington Street, I ventured to ask him what had happened that morning, which was still vivid in my memory.
He beckoned me across the table towards him and, glancing furtively over both his shoulders before speaking, he leaned forward and whispered solemnly: “Kevin, we were talking when we should have been listening!” before bursting out laughing and would tell me no more.
I looked in on the South Africa game on Saturday evening and, watching Jonny Sexton with his shoulder pads, and his GPS and his kicking tees, he wouldn’t have lasted kissing-time with us in the pavilion corner in Con all those years ago!
As for Tom Kiernan, why, if he had the use of kicking tees back then, ROG would only be remember as a useful out-half with that club today!