The Leeside Legends series: John Coughlan was a true man of steel

The Leeside Legends series: John Coughlan was a true man of steel

The Ballincollig AFC team that defeated Lee Rangers in the League 3 decider at Turner’s Cross 1975. Back: Mick McNulty, Brian Gaffney, Alan Collins, Pat Healy, Jack O’Keeffe, Norman Collins, Ricky Galvin. Front: Jerry Sheehan, Martin Hogan, John Coughlan, Sean Fitton, Pat Young.

THERE mere mention of John Coughlan was enough to strike fear into the hearts of centre-forwards during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Coughlan was a man of steel who played the game with sheer determination and passion.

John was born in Ballincollig in 1933 and still resides there today where his legendary prowess on the field has him still revered by those who know soccer. His family are still it 

He attended Glasheen National School before moving to Ballincollig where he helped them win the Cork U16 football championship.

In his early years, he was also a talented hurler and played with the Cork Minor hurling team that were defeated by Tipperary in the 1949 Munster final.

There is little doubt Coughlan proved a revelation during his early days with Glasheen as he helped them sweep the boards ay youths level.

In true Coughlan style he reflected on those wonderful days.

“I was the first 16-year-old to have free travel in Cork as the bus conductor happened to be the Glasheen trainer.

“A free bus trip every day to school at Sharman Crawford Street was my wages for playing with Glasheen.”

John signed for Glasheen in 1949 and thus started off an outstanding career that was to last for 18 seasons as he helped them win many trophies while playing with the club that included the Munster Minor League and Cup.

After a terrific spell, Coughlan joined Cork Athletic in 1951 and following the liquidation of the club he then signed for Cork Celtic.

Cork Athletic in the FAI Cup final in 1956: Back: Paddy Noonan, Tim Daly, Tommy Collins, Pascal O’Toole, Davie Noonan, John Horgan, Paddy O’Leary. Front: Donie Wallace, Jimmy Delaney (c), Johnny Moloney, Jimmy Murphy, John Coughlan. Picture courtesy of Plunkett Carter
Cork Athletic in the FAI Cup final in 1956: Back: Paddy Noonan, Tim Daly, Tommy Collins, Pascal O’Toole, Davie Noonan, John Horgan, Paddy O’Leary. Front: Donie Wallace, Jimmy Delaney (c), Johnny Moloney, Jimmy Murphy, John Coughlan. Picture courtesy of Plunkett Carter

In John’s own words Cork Celtic were a good team but the opposition in the League of Ireland at that particular time was very high.

“We were a very close team as far as friendship and camaraderie was concerned but despite winning the Top Four a couple of times and the Dublin City Cup we never reached our goal of winning the league or the FAI Cup.”

Looking at the present crop of League of Ireland players Coughlan is not hugely impressed.

“There are some very fit players playing the game right now but to me, the players of 60 years ago like Rory Dwyer of Shelbourne and Paddy Ambrose of Shamrock Rovers were sheer class.

“In our own Celtic team, Austin Noonan and Donie Leahy were outstanding forwards with great brains and flair.”

Cork Celtic in 1962. Back: Donie Leahy, Mick Millington, Kevin Blount, Donie O’Leary, Pat O’Mahony, Mick O’Keeffe, Liam O’Neill (manager). Front: Paul O’Donovan, Georgie Lynam, John Coughlan, Frankie McCarthy, Austin Noonan. 
Cork Celtic in 1962. Back: Donie Leahy, Mick Millington, Kevin Blount, Donie O’Leary, Pat O’Mahony, Mick O’Keeffe, Liam O’Neill (manager). Front: Paul O’Donovan, Georgie Lynam, John Coughlan, Frankie McCarthy, Austin Noonan. 

For many years the old Cork Celtic team assembled for a social drink and in the words of Coughlan, the craic was always great.

The wit of John was widely known in soccer circles as he recalled the day when a former Cork Celtic teammate turned up for training and told trainer Frank Crowley, he had a hamstring problem and could not train.

In a burst of laughter, the trainer replied- “I used to eat the hamstrings when my mother bought the bacon at the Murphy’s Bacon factory so cop on man and just get on with it.”

In 1964 he was presented with the Beamish and Crawford Player of the Year award.

When Coughlan left Cork Celtic in 1965 he joined local Junior soccer club St Mary’s and they swept the boards the following season.

St Mary’s had some class players namely Noel Stokes (RIP), Liam (RIP) and Noel Hawkins but the inspirational Coughlan was the final piece of the jigsaw.

In 1966 he managed the Cork AUL team to win the Oscar Traynor Cup that was deemed a major achievement.

He left St Mary’s to join Ballincollig in 1968 and fondly remembers the contribution the northside outfit made to his new club.

“Many clubs wouldn’t appreciate your contribution but to be honest the lads at St Mary’s were a different breed.

“At that time clubs were struggling to stay afloat but St Mary’s appreciated my contribution to them and gave Ballincollig a set of jerseys and a football to get us up and running.”

In the words of Coughlan money has become the ruination of football all over this world.

“We played the game hard but afterwards if we won, we would spend our one-pound winning bonus on buying the opposition a few drinks.”

For the people who had the privilege to know John Coughlan they always remember him as a character through and through as the former Cork Celtic star is a worthy Leeside Legend.

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