Plunkett Carter looks back at Cork’s successes in the Kennedy Cup...
RECENTLY I received a letter containing an old faded newspaper photo with a caption that read, “the Cork U14 team which defeated Dublin 3-2 (AET) in the final of the National Inter-League Cup at Farranlea Road, Cork.”
It didn’t turn out to be just any old photo; it was obvious that it was of historic interest being the first Cork team to win the prestigious 1977 Kennedy Cup in its second year of competition.
What was astonishing was the venue, Farranlea Road, which at best could be described as adequate for local games just as the old pitch in Togher and Church Road were.
I suppose in hindsight I shouldn’t have been shocked as four Evans SFAI finals were staged in that quaint Togher venue with the tiny timber dressing rooms.
By the time the Kennedy Cup was staged in Farranlea Road, the Togher pitch had become a Corporation housing Estate. Also, Church Road (the AUL’s jewel), the Wembley or Mecca for thousands of ordinary players, was then turning into concrete.
Those grassless venues were replaced by totally inadequate fields around the Mahon district like Dunne’s Park where the family famous for the St Bernard brand kept their horses.
On one particularly misty night in April our team (now defunct) had three Nigerians in the squad. En route to Dunne’s “Stadium” and aware of the impending dusk one of them queried, “Have ye floodlights”? “We have half”, replied one of the players.
“Half, how so”? the foreigner asked in bewilderment. “Yes”, our boy quipped, “We have the flood but no lights” — which the misfortunate Nigerian found to his cost when later falling frequently in the muddy cow dungy waters.
Back to the Kennedy Cup; since the eighties there has been nothing but the best venues available for the finalists. Deciders have been staged at League of Ireland grounds, at Tolka Park and the Mardyke and as curtain-raisers at Dalymount for FAI Cup finals; one which springs to mind is the 1989 renewal staged prior to Derry City v Cork City match when the star-studded young Rebels won the trophy for the third and last time defeating Waterford after a thrilling contest.
The Kennedy Cup, following on from the humblest of beginnings in 1976, is now the most exciting tournament in the SFAI calendar and is held annually in Limerick University — unfortunately not this year as it is another casualty of Covid 19, though it may yet take place in later in the summer, even it will be in a different format.
Each of the 32 affiliated leagues enters a squad of 20 U14 players to compete over an entire week with additional competitions for those teams which do not progress to the latter stages of the cup.
The teams are divided into eight groups of four and, apart from the main cup, other trophies the plate, bowl and shield are competed for.
It provides a virtual platform for the development for the future of the game. The tournament has been the stage for the cream of young Irish talent to showcase their skills.
Last year 640 players took part in the five-day competition with almost 260 schoolboy clubs represented.
The University venue has become a haven for scouts representing LOI and cross channel teams and it would be almost impossible to name a home-grown international star who hasn’t played in the Kennedy Cup.
Originally, the reasoning behind the introduction of the Kennedy Cup for U14s was to provide a means of accessing potential international material for the following season.
Cork qualified for the initial decider by defeating Waterford and Limerick and travelled to Dublin to commence what was to become the most consistent pairing in the competition’s history.
To Dublin went the honour of being the first to inscribe its name on the plinth.
Cork lined out as follows:
Finbarr Redmond, Kevin Kerrigan, Niall O’Driscoll (Rockmount), Brendan Kenneally (Farranree), Terry O’Donovan (Tramore), Fergus Begley (Everton), Dave Barry (Crofton), Christy Fitzgerald (Springfield), Mattie Murphy (Western), Liam Murphy (Wilton), John Treacy (Tramore), Maxie McCarthy (Togher), Michael Ronayne (College View), Kevin Murphy (Western), Kieran O’Reilly (Passage), Jer O’Driscoll and Maurice Carroll (Kilreen).
The manager was Tony Murphy. The idea of the competition being a showcase for future internationals was a rewarding one for the Leesiders as Dave Barry, Liam Murphy, and Fergus Begley were capped in 1977.
With the primitive facilities available in Cork at the time, manager Tony Murphy worked miracles in preparing his squad for the 1977 Kennedy renewal.
All his preparation had to be done in Ballyphehane Park — no Fota Island then — but his enjoyable sessions developed a great club type camaraderie among the squad. They qualified for the final again by defeating Kerry 4-1 with goals from Brendan Lucey (2), Brian Fleming and Sean Barry-Murphy.
As Dublin were once more their opponents in the final, the game was fixed for Cork and the boys were entitled to look forward to a day out in either Flower Lodge, The Dyke or the Cross.
You can just imagine their dismay when unappealing Farranlea Road was announced as the venue. However, on match day it stimulated great hilarity among the Cork squad who were present inside the “stadium” when the Dublin entourage walked in and were visibly stunned on seeing the ground; their reaction and expletives are unprintable and they were still in shock when requested to get changed by the officials.
“Jaysus ref look at the ‘bleedin’ state of the pitch”, they moaned.
Psychologically it was advantage Cork and they were the dominant team in the early stages. In a fast, exciting game, Donal O’Callaghan twice gave the home team the lead and each time the Dubliners hauled them back to equality forcing the tie to extra-time. In form striker Brendan Lucey did what he was selected to do — get goals - when heading a brilliant winner.
Cork thus gained handsome compensation for their defeat the previous year.
Incidentally, Cork, thanks to a kind supporter, wore Chelsea replica jerseys including their famous crest
CORK: Christy Keating (Glasheen), Dave Walsh (Togher), Pat Walsh (Western), Louis Walsh (Kilreen), Pat Crowley (Togher), Gavin O’Sullivan (Western), Sean Madden (Tramore), Sean Barry-Murphy (Ballincollig), Brendan Lucey (Wilton), Donal O’Callaghan (Tramore), Brian Fleming (Tramore).
Subs: Tony Coade (Casement), Kieran O’Callaghan (Ballincollig), Martin Neiland (Tramore).
Tony Coade played in the semi-final. Again as in the previous campaign three of Murphy’s squad caught the eye of the international selectors and O’Callaghan, Lucey, and Fleming were capped against Wales. Louis Walsh became the first U15 player in a very long time to be named, ‘Overall Schoolboy Player of the Year’, inaugurated in 1956 and won by Noel O’Mahony.
In the first 17 years of the Kennedy Cup, 1976-‘92, Dublin won the trophy 14 times with Cork (three) being the only other winners.
After 1977 the Leesiders had to wait another nine years before bridging the gap, skippered on that occasion by Roy Keane who later lifted some of the most prestigious trophies in world football.
The highlight of the 1986 season was the Kennedy Cup triumph with the most significant result being the magnificent 4-1 bogey-ending away win over holders Dublin in the semi-final. In this crunch tie the Ger Delaney- managed and Liam O’Brien-coached side came from behind to lead 2-1 at the break with splendid goals from Alan O’Sullivan and Keane.
Cork absorbed relentless Dublin pressure in the second half before scoring twice themselves, Brian O’Sullivan being the architect of both.
Cork travelled to Tullamore to play Offaly in the first leg of the final. The six-goal thrashing handed out to the home side ensured that Offaly would only have the scenic sights to look forward to for the return leg at the Mardyke.
Again, it was all one-way traffic with Cork increasing their aggregate to ten. For the record Len Downey (2), Brian O’Sullivan (2), Aidan Connaughton, and Alan O’Sullivan were the six-shooters in Tullamore while Downey (2), Alan O’Sullivan, and Keane scored at the Dyke.
Naturally after that national title success, which had only once before come to the Leeside, Cork were hoping that the following season’s international squad would reflect the achievement since the Kennedy Cup was the principal guideline.
And so it was. Capped were Alan O’Sullivan, Brian O’Sullivan, Rory McSweeney, Jamie Cullimore, and Damien Martin.
It’s hard to imagine that when Cork won the Kennedy title for the third time in 1989 it would be the last occasion their name would be inscribed on the plinth.
Think back to their first success when the boys did the business in the unglamorous surroundings of Farranlea Park and compare it to the joy and excitement for the ’89 squad who played their decider as a curtain-raiser to the FAI Cup final between Cork and Derry before 20,000 spectators at Dalymount. Those fans were enthralled by the performances of both teams Cork and Waterford who deservedly received a standing ovation at the final whistle.
The Rebels just about deserved their 2-1 victory over the gallant Deise representatives.
A tremendous Anthony Connolly goal gave them a half-time lead which was added to shortly after the change over by Sidney Kennedy. Dublin have always been the team to beat and Cork accomplished that in the semi-final when a lovely three-man move involving Connolly, Colin O’Brien, and skipper Ken Touhy ended with the latter firing home the game’s only score.
CORK PANEL: Ken Touhy (c), Colin O’Brien, Conor O’Driscoll, Anthony Connolly, John O’Sullivan, Greg Dermody, Sidney Kennedy, Mark Sheehan and Roy O‘Brien (all Casement), Norman Forsythe (Mayfield), Gareth Cronin (Wilton), Mark O’Driscoll (Carrigaline), James Daly (Wilton), John Hurley (Rockmount), Jamie Lennon (Wilton), John Crowley, Paul McCarthy (Tramore).
Five of the Kennedy Cup-winning team were capped in 1990 — Roy O’Brien, Anthony Connolly, John Hurley, John O’Sullivan and Gareth Cronin. And, the following year the quintet all played with Ireland U16.
Gareth Cronin was then with Carrigaline while the other four all had become members of Rivermount (Dublin). A major controversy had erupted in Cork Schoolboy circles during the 1990 season.
Problems arose in the latter half of the previous season when an internal dispute in Casement Celtic extended into the new season resulting in seven or eight of the stars of their international-laden U15 team (who were red hot favourites for the Evans Cup) absenting themselves from games after Christmas and eventually requesting transfers to the Glasheen
The Cork Schoolboys League slammed the door on the move and, to prevent such an exodus from one club to another, a new rule was introduced limiting the number of players transferred to two in such circumstances.
Subsequently (1990-91) efforts by Glasheen to enter a second team in the U16 grade were refused.
The players, of course, were free to sign for any club they wished, but not along with two or more of their colleagues. Internationals Gareth Cronin signed for Carrigaline and Conor O’Driscoll (capped in 1992) moved to Rockmount while Roy O’Brien, John O’Sullivan, Anthony Connolly, and John Hurley decided to register with Dublin Schoolboys team Rivermount in order to comply with a directive from the SFAI which insisted they become registered members of a club by September 11.
Dedicated parents of the boys transported them to Dublin venues every weekend. The decision of the Cork Schoolboys League to introduce the controversial rule-change was perhaps motivated by the one-sided nature of games involving the all-conquering Casement in their division and which would probably have been repeated if the bulk of that successful side transferred their allegiance to Glasheen.
Dublin SL: 33
North Dublin SL: 2