Classic county hurling finals: Killeagh didn't look back after 1995 junior victory

Classic county hurling finals: Killeagh didn't look back after 1995 junior victory
The Killeagh team that lifted the 1995 East Cork Junior Hurling Championship and went on to county glory later that season. In 2001 they then made the step up to senior.

EVERY club across the GAA landscape has aspirations to playing at the highest level of the club game in their county.

For some that aspiration is realised and they become a fully established senior team.

Of course, to achieve that there has to be a starting point and that means winning their county junior A championship first. Subsequently, they have to go on and win the county intermediate championship.

It’s 25 years ago this year since Killeagh won the Cork County JHC, defeating Ballinhassig in the final. Six years later, in 2001 they triumphed in the Cork County IHC, defeating Mallow in the final.

Back in those days there was just one Cork intermediate championship, unlike today when there’s the premier grade as well.

That 1995 team comprised many fine hurlers, including Joe Deane, then a minor, Mark Landers, Bernard Rochford and Damien Irwin, who played for Cork at every level.

Killeagh's Damien Irwin clears the ball. Picture: Gavin Browne
Killeagh's Damien Irwin clears the ball. Picture: Gavin Browne

Three of them went on to win All-Ireland senior medals with Cork four years later, one of them captaining the team. More about that later.

One of the players who contributed handsomely on that team 25 years ago was Niall Crowley, now the club’s senior manager and he has fond memories of the year, now a quarter of a century ago.

“Yes, that was the starting point for the club to rise to senior ranks. Winning a junior county, particularly in Cork, is never easy and it certainly was not easy back then.

“We had lost two East Cork finals two years running to Castlelyons and to Carrigtwohill so when we won it in 1995 it was a case of being third time lucky.

“We beat Sars, Castlelyons, Castlemartyr and Watergrasshill in the final and there were obviously great celebrations afterwards.

“However, we knew that this was an opportunity to go further, try to get up to intermediate level in Cork.”

Team coach that year was Sean O’Brien from Midleton, a member of a great Midleton team of the ‘80s and a coach of great renown who had success with many clubs.

“Sean O’ was a very good coach, a great motivator too and I would say ahead of his time back then.

“He got the best out of the players and played a very important role that season. We had very good selectors too; Neighbour Foley, John Fitzgerald, Joe Fitzgerald and Pat Lynch, all great Killeagh club men.

“I would say that it was one of the best junior teams to win a county. We had Mark Landers, Joe Deane who was a minor back then, and our goalie, Bernard Rochford was only 16, that would not be allowed now.

Killeagh goalkeeper Bernard Rochford comes off his line to win the ball. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Killeagh goalkeeper Bernard Rochford comes off his line to win the ball. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“They were great lads and little did we know that four years later they would bring the McCarthy Cup back to Killeagh, Mark as the captain in that 1999 year.

“We had very good club hurlers like Dick Walsh, Ger Scully, Mattie Treacy, Tomás Fitzgibbon, Brendan Walsh, my god they were top-class players.”

On the road to the county final, the East Cork champions defeated Na Piarsaigh and Kilworth before facing Ballinhassig, another strong, traditional junior club side, in the decider.

“Yes, without doubt, they were always tough. I remember the final vividly, two players were sent off early on, one from each side and we had to put Mark Landers back centre-back.

“It was a great move by the coach and selectors because he played a fantastic game and we went on to win it.

Youghal's Brendan Coleman battling Killeagh's Mark Landers. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Youghal's Brendan Coleman battling Killeagh's Mark Landers. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“It was a massive occasion, going back home afterwards with the trophy and we knew that we were capable of going further.

“And we did, winning the intermediate title in 2001, we beat Mallow in the final after a replay and suddenly we were going up senior.

Joe Deane on a run. Picture: Gerard McCarthy
Joe Deane on a run. Picture: Gerard McCarthy

“For a club like ours that was a fantastic achievement. We have retained our senior status since and it was all down to winning that county junior title 25 years ago now. My god it’s hard to believe it’s that now but it was certainly a great era in the club.’’

And for the dedicated clubmen behind the scenes, it was a very special time too.

“Absolutely, here in Killeagh we always had good people at the helm, men like Junior Scully, Ray Rochford, he’s a selector with men now in the senior team, Tommy Seward, Tommy was chairman in 1995, and, of course, the late and great Tom Fitzgibbon. 

"When we won the intermediate title in 2001, we had Waterford’s Johnny Brenner in the team and he made a huge difference. I was chairman myself that year but, of course, that success could not have happened if we hadn’t won the junior county in 1995.

“That team had a great backbone, Bernard Rochford went on to become a great goalkeeper, Mark went on to captain Cork to an All-Ireland and Joe became one of the country’s all-time great forwards.

“It was great to be part of that team, to play alongside them. I had previously won two west Cork junior football medals with Bandon and going on to win with Killeagh was something I am proud of.

“A lot of those lads are still involved and if they are not, they are great supporters. We had great times back then.”

n The Killeagh team in that 1995 county final was: B Rochford; P Walsh, N Crowley, L Fitzgerald; I Lynch, D Irwin, D Walsh; L Kelly, G Scully; M Treacy, M Landers, B Walsh; A Leahy, T Fitzgibbon, J Deane.

Mark Lander,s Joe Deane and Bernard Rochford with the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1999. Picture: Mark Kelleher
Mark Lander,s Joe Deane and Bernard Rochford with the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1999. Picture: Mark Kelleher

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