The Leeside Legends series: Johnny Crowley had a colossal impact on hurling

The Leeside Legends series: Johnny Crowley had a colossal impact on hurling

Johnny Crowley is mobbed by supporters after Cork beat Galway in the 1986 All-Ireland senior hurling final at Croke Park.

THEY didn’t come much better than the sterling and stout-hearted defender John Crowley.

After his early days in Enniskeane, Johnny was a raw seven-year-old when his family moved to Bishopstown. As his late father Denis was a keen hurling fan, he encouraged him to join Bishopstown GAA club.

It was in the Colleges GAA scene that Crowley first came to notice of the hurling public when he originally strutted his skills with Coláiste Spioraid Naoimh. Following his Intermediate Cert, Crowley moved to St Finbarr’s Seminary College Farranferris in September 1973.

The school were reigning All-Ireland Colleges hurling champions but the prospects of them retaining their title looked slim. However Crowley’s impact was immediate as he soon established himself as a teak tough centre-back on the team.

Farranferris went on to win their third Munster Colleges Dr Harty Cup, however they lost out to Gort in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final.

The following year of 1974 saw Crowley command the centre-back role at his school as they won their fourth consecutive Harty Cup title and progressed to be crowned All-Ireland champions at the expense of their old rivals St Kieran’s of Kilkenny.

In the same year Crowley showed his undoubted skill by completing a double with the Cork minor hurling and football teams, a feat that has never been achieved since that year.

In late 1975 Johnny joined the Cork hurling Senior panel and by the following September he had established himself as the number one centre-back, despite his youth.

The Bishopstown player won the first of his senior All-Ireland medals in 1976 when Cork defeated Wexford and further victories over Wexford and Kilkenny in 1977 and 1978 respectively made it a hat trick of medals for Crowley.

There was a major disappointment for Crowley in 1982 and 1983 when they lost consecutive finals to Kilkenny but that was soon behind him in 1984 when the Rebels defeated Offaly in the Centenary decider at Thurles.

Many of the shrewd pundits that day regarded his performance in that final as his finest in a Cork jersey and two years later Johnny took his Senior All-Ireland medal haul to five when they shocked raging hot favourites Galway.

The Cork team who beat Galway in the All-Ireland senior hurling final at Croke Park. Johnny Crowley is extreme left, back row.
The Cork team who beat Galway in the All-Ireland senior hurling final at Croke Park. Johnny Crowley is extreme left, back row.

There is little doubt Crowley was Cork’s most consistent performer between 1976 to 1986 and how he didn’t receive more than one All-Star (1984) over a decade beggars belief.

He retired from inter-county hurling in 1987 and finished his club career with Bishopstown in 1989.

Speaking about his illustrious career Johnny had only one regret.

“Not winning a county medal with Bishopstown as I will always hold this club close to my heart.”

Johnny added: “Playing for my county was a huge honour as I was very fortunate to play with some outstanding hurlers over the years.

“Cork supporters have a serious passion for hurling that is almost beyond belief and it was a privilege to help bring All-Ireland success to this great city.”

Johnny also lined out with Munster in the interprovincial series but never won a Railway Cup medal.

Throughout his inter-county career Crowley made 39 appearances for Cork and was always a consistent defender that that played with his heart on his sleeve.

Cork hurling selector Johnny Crowley speaking to the media. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Cork hurling selector Johnny Crowley speaking to the media. Picture: Denis Minihane.

When Crowley finished his playing career he became a selector with the Cork Senior hurling team and was part of the management team that helped guide Cork to the 1999 success under coach Jimmy Barry Murphy.

Indeed, Crowley would join ranks with Barry-Murphy again in 2011-2015 and he paid tribute to his friend and teammate over many years.

“Jimmy was always a fantastic friend and teammate and played a leading role in us winning in 1999 and his contribution both on and off the park to Cork was remarkable.”

They say behind every successful sportsman is a great woman and John was fortunate that his wife Ann hails from the famous Na Piarsaigh Kelleher family.

Johnny Crowley —a gentleman to the core — is holder of eight All-Ireland medals and the Cork faithful will never forget his contribution to hurling in this city.

Brilliant former Cork hurling half-backs Dermot McCurtain, Johnny Crowley, and Tom Cashman with the Liam McCarthy Cup. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Brilliant former Cork hurling half-backs Dermot McCurtain, Johnny Crowley, and Tom Cashman with the Liam McCarthy Cup. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

FACTFILE:

Johnny Crowley was born in Enniskeane in 1956 before moving to Bishopstown in 1963.

He won two Dr Harty Cups and one All Ireland Colleges medal with St Finbarr’s College, Farranferris.

Johnny is the holder of five senior All-Ireland medals, one minor hurling and All-Ireland minor football plus one All-Ireland U21 hurling medal that takes his tally to eight.

He retired from inter-county hurling in 1987 and ended his club career two years later. A fine footballer too, he was a dual minor in '74 and also represented Cork at senior level against Kerry.

He won his first and only All-Star award in the Centenary year of 1984.

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