FOR just over nine years in the 1950s, Cork Athletic blazed a trail of success just like their predecessors before them, Cork United in the '40s, which kept Leeside clubs to the forefront of national competition.
Following the dissolution of United on October 22, 1948, Cork Athletic was formed and despite finishing third from bottom in their inaugural season, Athletic came into their own the following season, 70 years ago this year, to remarkably come within a whisker of becoming only the second Cork team since United in 1940/41 to land the league and cup double.
The Leesiders began well by going top of the Dublin City Cup table but after losing 6-3 to Drumcondra, interest turned to the Shield competition. Athletic met Transport in the first of their six meetings that season, drawing 1-1 at the Mardyke on October 9, 1949, English born outside-right Jackie Lennox scoring the equaliser in the 52nd minute on his debut after Jimmy Duggan had opened the scoring for the visitors in the 37th minute.
A first defeat on home soil by Shamrock Rovers proved pivotal to the Hoops going on to win the competition but an away win in their first league encounter over Transport at the Carlisle Grounds, Bray, 2-1, a week before Christmas restored confidence in an outfit who weren’t expected to pose a threat.
Dynamic winger Johnny Vaughan scored inside the first minute and secured the points with a minute to go when he turned in Frank Cantwell’s free-kick. The team’s line-out for the opener was as follows: Tommy Healy: Jack O’Reilly, Dave Noonan; Frank Cantwell, Florrie Burke, John O’Grady; Johnny Vaughan, Murty Broderick, Paddy O’Leary, Paddy O’Sullivan, Patens Keating.
A 2-1 defeat to non-league AOH in the Munster Senior Cup Final at Turner’s Cross on New Year’s Day 1950, was followed a week later by morale-boosting 3-1 home win over Shelbourne.
Vaughan was again among the goals with two in the second 45 after Athletic’s Paddy O’Leary and Shels’ Gaynor shared first-half goals. A third win in four outings put the home side level at the top with Shamrock Rovers on seven points out of eight with an away trip to Oriel Park next for the Rebels.
Once again, Vaughan was on the score sheet along with O’Leary to give Athletic an early 2-0 lead. However, the Lillywhites came storming back to inflict a first defeat on the visitors who faded badly in the second half.
A Jack O’Reilly penalty and a late Broderick second saw off Sligo Rovers to set up a top of the table clash with the champions Shamrock Rovers at Glenmalure Park on January 29.
Athletic’s stunning 5-2 win was described by the following day’s Cork Examiner as, ‘Yesterday was a red-letter day in the history of Cork Athletic… Cork shock for Rovers at Milltown’. Vaughan continued his rich form with a hat-trick with Murty Broderick and Patens Keating also on target.
The impressive displays of Broderick, Patens and Paddy O’Sullivan drew the attention of Sheffield United who secured the signings of Patens and O’Sullivan with Broderick to follow at the end of the season. Despite the loss in personnel, Athletic saw off Drumcondra 2-1 in the league and 3-2 in the first round of the cup to again meet Transport in Cork, this time in the league.
After Vaughan and Barney Lester exchanged first-half goals, the hosts outscored the visitors in the second-half courtesy of two O’Reilly penalties to a Paddy Doyle reply for Transport.
Athletic went from strength to strength in league and cup, needing to play twice a week due to an astonishing run of replays. Once again Transport were to be the opponents in the cup final at Dalymount Park. on April 23.
After drawing 2-2 the sides met again three days later and once again played out another nail-biting 2-2 draw, Jim Loughran rescuing the tie for the Busmen two minutes from the end of extra-time.
Before the teams could meet again, the Leesiders sealed the championship on Wednesday, May 3 by scoring a late winner to break the hearts of gallant amateurs, Bohemians. Two days later, Transport prevailed 3-1 to win the cup for the only time and deprive Athletic of what would have been an unimaginable double in only the team’s second season in top-flight football.