DESPITE enjoying a productive spell during the early years in the Duhallow division and winning titles in 1936 and '39, Cullen’s football fortunes lagged for much of the next three decades.
Cullen returned to the big time during the mid-'60s, culminating with a long-awaited divisional championship in 1967. Indeed Cullen swept all before them in a golden season for the club, winning a championship and two secondary competitions, guided by familiar names such as Denis Long, Batt O’Keeffe and Dan Morley.
Many said it was the classiest team to come out of Cullen with their football modelled on the great Galway side that won three in a row of All-Ireland senior titles.
The majority of the side had been part of a groundbreaking Cullen U21 side from the previous season, winners of the inaugural Duhallow championship and featuring a number of players that graced Croke Park.
Interest in Gaelic football had increased thanks to the input of teacher Sean Cooney in Cullen Vocational School. The Mallow resident held the position of runaí to the Duhallow Juvenile Board at the time and promoted GAA games at every opportunity.
That talent flourished at underage level and 1967 captain John O’Mahony recalls Cullen’s victory in the initial Duhallow U21 final against Kiskeam on a Monday evening when Leeside welcomed the Liam McCarthy Cup back to the Rebel county to end a barren 12-year run.
"The previous day Cork had won the 1966 All-Ireland hurling with Gerald McCarthy captaining the team against Kilkenny. A cause for celebration yet for Cullen and Kiskeam, it was back to business on the Monday and the matter of playing in a new championship when Cullen emerged victorious," he said.
Cullen had the pleasant task of putting the first name on the roll of honour and it provided ample evidence of their well being. No ordinary team when the likes of Long, Morley and O’Keeffe pencilled into the starting line.
Of course, Long went on to become a household name for the county and his adopted club Austin Stacks, rewarded with All-Ireland senior medals for Cork (1973), Stacks (1977) and two All-Star Awards.
“I remember when Denny came to play for us in a tournament game, he was clearly unfit but there was plenty of potential to indicate that he had a bright future. What a brilliant career, he performed fantastically for Cullen as he did subsequently for Millstreet and Stacks," said O’Mahony.
Long and club man Dan Morley were drafted into an exceptional Cork minor football panel for 1967. A team loaded with enormous potential, Cork produced it with telling effect to land All-Ireland honours.
Add in the talents of Batt O'Keeffe, a past pupil of St Brendan's College, Killarney and captain of a Sem team to reach an All-Ireland Colleges final in 1963 before enjoying stints on Cork U21, junior and senior teams, later pursuing a career in politics and becoming Minister for Education.
With the club in the limelight, positive confidence permeated through the squad, many of the players based in Cork City colleges trained at the Lee Fields adjoining the Carrigrohane Road.
“We modelled our play on the Galway game of the time with Seán Purcell and Frankie Stockwell lighting up the television screens. Their attacking football was fabulous, always attempting to find a man, away from the lofting a hopeful and heavy football into light forwards where the defender would invariably win possession," said O'Mahony.
There remained the matter of a divisional championship to be resolved, a dominant display helped Cullen brush aside Kiskeam in a quarter-final and from a semi, they sent reigning champions Knocknagree packing thanks to a six-point triumph.
That pitted Cullen up against Boherbue in a Duhallow final where the teams were played onto the field by the Kiskeam Brass and Reed Band. It was fair to say that the subsequent fare on offer fell short of expectations with Cullen securing a 0-9 to 0-4 victory.
However Cullen raised the intensity levels on the restart, county minors Long and Morley worked a fine understanding where driving runs and ball-winning ability allowed Cullen's attack gather a return to emerge worthy champions.
A proud Cullen captain John O'Mahony accepted the Championship Cup from Dan Joe O'Connor, Chairman, Duhallow Junior Board much to the delight of supporters.