IN THE over 70 year history of Cork senior football finals there must never, surely, have been one to equal the drama of yesterdays (1961) championship decider at the Athletic Grounds in which Avondhu survived by the skin of their teeth to beat Clonakilty 1-7 to 1-5.
For drama it was similar in many ways to this year’s Munster semi-final when Cork miraculously snatched the most improbable of all dying second victories.
The most unusual part of Avondhu’s memorable 1961 triumph was that there was enough burning excitement in the final 60 seconds to suffice for many an hour.
Those seconds were relived again recently when football folk gathered in Crosshaven to pay their respects to Avondhu’s ‘Man of Steel’ Tom Bermingham who passed to his eternal reward after a brief illness.
It was a strange turn of events that saw Avondhu two points up with just seconds to play and looking certain to hold on. Then Clonakilty with the last throw of the dice began an ominous movement ending with a lob into the parallelogram which fell within inches of the goal-line.
A mass of backs and forwards swarmed around the leather and, like rugby players on the try line, many went to ground fighting for the ball. The ref had a monumental decision to make.
A free out and Avondhu were County Champions for the first time.
Despite the strong persistent protests from Avondhu the ref decided on a penalty to Clon which delighted their huge following in the 13,000 attendance. Paddy Clancy between the posts faced Clons marksman Denis O’Leary whose blistering shot crashed against the crossbar.
Seconds later the final whistle blew and ‘Man of the Match’ Tom Bermingham was mauled by jubilant north Cork fans. The Cork Examiner reporter wrote, “in picking the Avondhu heroes one is inclined to think especially of the second half when the greatest stood out all the more prominently.
And there were none greater than Tom Bermingham and Johnny O’Flynn. Bermingham, showing a complete recovery from injury, had one of the best games of his life. In those days the Evening Echo picked their “Sports Personality of the Week”, an award encompassing all sports and Tom was awarded the prestigious honour for his performance in the final.
Three years earlier Tom was on the Kill team defeated after a replay by Stradbally in the Waterford Senior Final. Kildorrery born he represented the Deise in minor, junior and senior football before transferring in 1959 to Fermoy who returned to senior football that year.
They reached the county quarter-final where they went under to Garda by the narrowest of margins. He transferred to Grange in 1961 and went on to play an outstanding role in the development of the fledgling club. During that period Grange contested five North Cork finals, winning two.
With Grange he was a great centre back and his determination, stamina and sportsmanship were legendary. As in Waterford he went on to play junior and senior with the county. In 1966 Tom was full-back on the Cork team which defeated Down in the All-Ireland Junior (home) final before graduating to senior. His blossoming football career was interrupted in the sixties when, as part of Verolme welding contingent, he was secunded to work on the ship building industry in Holland.
On his return he took up employment in Whiddy Island and registered with Bantry Blues whom he represented on the Carbery team which defeated Clonakilty after a replay in the 1968 County senior final. In his match report the Cork Examiner GAA scribe paid tribute to the rock solid Carbery full back line of Dermot and Frank Kehilly and Tom Berminham who played wonderful football.
It was a star studded Carbery team which also included Diarmuid Mawe, Kevin and Norman Kehilly, Teddy Holland, Bobby Evans, Johnny Carroll and Donal Hunt. Tom’s final port of call was to Crosshaven and the old GAA pitch on Church Bay Road, where he made his debut, became the burial ground in which he was laid to rest on 1st October.
Tom, vice-president at the time of his death, was also former chairman and recognised as Crosshaven’s best ever signing. He continued playing with the seasiders until well in to his forties. While with Crosser he played with Carrigdhoun giving him the distinction of representing three different divisions, Avondhu, Carbery and Carrigdhoun.
On and off the field he was an inspiration and during the redevelopment of Crosshaven’s new ground in Camden, completed by voluntary club labour, his hands-on approach and energy motivated the willing band who displayed the great community spirit synonymous with the association.
Tom loved the open sea and swam 365 days a year mostly around the unearthly hour of 7am. He was one of the original famous Myrtleville swimmers. No matter what the elements might throw up, Tom was one of those who found comfort and solace despite facing challenging conditions each day.
In 2017 (Tom aged 77) appeared alongside Tom McCarthy (Sandycove Island SC) and Mairéad Ní Mhaoileoin, all members of Myrtleville Swimmers, in a viral video called “The Invincibles,” in which they were filmed battling the waves. It received over 250,000 views.
Tom always said, “Swimming in the sea gives me the good feel factor”.
A ‘Man of Steel’ he will not be forgotten especially by his wife Kathleen, daughters Kathy, Grace, Edel and family.