Unique Ballydesmond club with players from both sides of Cork and Kerry border landed a first major title in 1971

Unique Ballydesmond club with players from both sides of Cork and Kerry border landed a first major title in 1971
The 1971 Ballydesmond Junior Football team, winners to the Duhallow Junior A Football Championship. Front Row: Tim Joe O'Connell, Joe Murphy, Sean Kelly, Brendan Scollard, Dan O'Connor, Tim Joe Healy, Joe O'Sullivan, Jeremiah Healy. Back Row: Noel O'Connor, Danno Dennehy, Tim O'Leary, Andy O'Connor, Tim Murphy, Teddy Dennehy, Connie O'Connor.

THE Ballydesmond roar that greeted the full time whistle said it all about a groundbreaking desire for a first time victory at the end of the 1971 Duhallow JAFC. 

At times, Ballydesmond lived dangerously during a competitive championship and facing Dromtariffe in a novel decider, at the end of the hour, the honours went where they deservedly belonged.

An unique club, best known around the country for producing Donncha O'Connor, it draws players, officers and members either side of the Cork-Kerry county bounds forms Ballydesmond GAA. A Ballydesmond delegation discussed the prospects of forming a club in 1964 with the Cork County Board, the new club was soon up and running and it did not take long for silverware to be sampled at novice level.

Captain of the 1971 side Seán Kelly referred to the team entering Junior A ranks for 1968, acquitting themselves well before bowing out to Knocknagree in three games.

“That A grade was much a different proposition than Novice, Newmarket, Kiskeam and Dromtariffe amongst the top teams. Those sides were experienced, well prepared and attired whilst we were relative newcomers, some played with sneakers rather than football boots.

“We were learning from every game, apart from Duhallow, we played in tournaments run in conjunction with carnivals, good as any championship games and hotly competitive," said Seán.

That allowed Ballydesmond build up momentum, progress continued, winning the 1969 Examiner Cup though hopes of a championship breakthrough were shattered in the final by a Newmarket side retaining their title.

Its fair to say that Newmarket's rating was spiraling upwards, the 1970 campaign will be forever etched on Newmarket landing their initial county title. That success opened new opportunities for other teams within Duhallow for 1971, the one certainly was new football champions would be crowned during September.

Ballydesmond could take encouragement from a great run in the Examiner Cup only to falter to arch rivals Kiskeam in the decider. Team captain Kelly added insight to the competitive rivalry between the sides.

“When we played the opposing black jersey, we say red, it drove us on in many a battle but it has to be said, once the last whistle sounded, we were the best of friends."

Having reached two Examiner Cup Finals in three seasons, the big question surounding Ballydesmond fans could they elevate themselves one more step to win a championship under trainer Garda Sergeant Tim O'Keeffe.

“Sgt O'Keeffe based in Ballydesmond came from Killarney and for some reason, he was always on duty on a Saturday night, that ensured fellas kept off the beer," quipped captain Kelly.

Having lost the Examiner Cup Final to Kiskeam, the margin for error was considerably reduced when Ballydesmond faced up to the same opposition in a quarter final to the championship.

On this occasion, Ballydesmond climbed off the canvas to record a narrow win over their great rivals and followed up to better Glenlara to book a place in the decider against 1970 finalists Dromtariffe.

“Those games against Kiskeam and Glenlara were tough, knockout football all through and the venues were packed. Going into the final, we were a bit of unknown quantity, seeking a first time title and coming up against Dromtariffe, a club steeped in tradition," said Kelly.

A novel meeting helped assemble a large attendance in the Newmarket staging, outsiders Ballydesmond appeared to hold far more energy and held an ascendency in most of the man on man exchanges. At midfield, captain Kelly and Danno Dennehy held a ball winning facility.

And a series of positive returns were gained up front, goals netted by Tom O'Sullivan and Andy O'Connor boosted Ballydesmond's cause.

Dromtariffe mounted a terrific comeback, a series of goals set the scene for a tension charged closing that tested the nerves of fifteen history seeking Ballydesmond men. At the full time whistle, those on the field and the enbankment released both joy and relief to a memorable occasion that earned Ballydesmond a 2-8 to 3-3 triumph.

No surprise Ballydesmond supporters rejoiced after an epic journey that earned a reward for a club just seven years in existence.

“We had the talent to win more but its fair to say that probably, we took our eye off the ball. Into the county championship, we overcame Glanmire only to be defeated by a stronger Adrigole side that included Cork star Kevin Jer O'Sullivan," he said.

Inevitably, Ballydesmond had regrets on missing out on reaching a county final yet the team of 1971 came of age to win a Duhallow Championship.

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