The Leeside legends series: Barron of Bantry cast a spell on the football field

The Leeside legends series: Barron of Bantry cast a spell on the football field
Declan Barron in action at Croke Park when Cork beat Galway in the 1973 final. 

DECLAN BARRON was one of the best midfielders ever to grace a football pitch as the bustling Bantry man was admired for his no-nonsense approach as well as his wide range of skills.

Barron was born in Bantry in 1951 and his football skills enthralled every county in Ireland.

Declan played his school football at Bantry National school and from there he moved to play at club level with his beloved Bantry Blues.

In 1972 he got his first success with the west Cork side when he helped them win the Cork County Junior Championship title.

Three years later the Bantry club were crowned County Intermediate champions and Declan was a raw 17-year-old when he broke into the inter-county squad and in 1968 and 1969, he played a major part as Cork won two All-Ireland minor titles.

Barron continued to improve as he progressed through to the Cork U21 ranks and his medal haul continued to increase with two All-Ireland wins in this grade in 1971 and 1972.

Barron was part of the 1973 team the brought the Sam Maguire back to Leeside, but when Barron looks back on his career, he rues only winning one medal at this level.

Happy:

“It is the ultimate to win an All-Ireland senior medal and although I was happy at the time to win one, I would have loved to have a few more in my cabinet,” said Declan.

There was to be a major setback the following year as Cork were defeated in the All-Ireland football semi-final by Dublin.

Barron recalled the bitter memory of that defeat.

“We had a great squad of players but got caught on the hop, but to be fair Dublin were the up and coming team of that time as it is now well documented what a force, they turned out to be in later years.”

Donie O'Donovan at a training session for the Cork football team, watched by Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Declan Barron.
Donie O'Donovan at a training session for the Cork football team, watched by Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Declan Barron.

Munster finals against Kerry are always memorable occasions and in Barron’s day they were not any different.

Declan has great memories of the tussle in his centre-field berth against the men from the Kingdom.

“Kerry were a superb team when you had face players like Jack O’Shea, John O’Keeffe and Sean Walsh you knew you were facing players of real quality.

“I have consistently said over the years that the men from the Kingdom were that hardest team in the land to beat and if we did win it was down to sheer hard work and graft.

“I don’t think any Cork football team has ever taken Kerry for granted given the type of rivalry between the counties that stems back over many years.

“In 1975 when we were expected to win, a young Kerry side surprised us on how good they really were and I think that’s the first time that people saw the team they called the best ever.”

The National GAA writers recognised Declan as a superb athlete and he was awarded All-Star football awards in 1974 and 1978.

To add to all his other accolades Barron was named in the team of the millennium in 2000 getting the nod in his customary mid-field position.

In the opinion of Barron, there is a huge difference in standards now in comparison to the era he played in.

“The players now are a lot fitter, but I can honestly say from 1974 to the end of the eighties this country saw the best of Gaelic football in every aspect of the game.”

The Cork team which won the 1973 All-Ireland. Back: Donie O’Donovan, team coach, Denis Long, Ray Cummins, Jimmy-Barry Murphy, John Coleman, Dave McCarthy, Declan Barron, Ned Kirby, and Denis Coughlan. Front: Jim Barrett, Con Hartnett, Kevin Jer O’Sullivan, Billy Morgan, captain, Frank Cogan, Brian Murphy, and Humphrey Kelleher. Picture: Connolly Collection/SPORTSFILE
The Cork team which won the 1973 All-Ireland. Back: Donie O’Donovan, team coach, Denis Long, Ray Cummins, Jimmy-Barry Murphy, John Coleman, Dave McCarthy, Declan Barron, Ned Kirby, and Denis Coughlan. Front: Jim Barrett, Con Hartnett, Kevin Jer O’Sullivan, Billy Morgan, captain, Frank Cogan, Brian Murphy, and Humphrey Kelleher. Picture: Connolly Collection/SPORTSFILE

There was no one better at fielding a high ball and Barron is still talked about to this present day when that particular skill is discussed.

“I think it was natural for me to have this skill and I certainly couldn’t give any of the present footballers any advice because it was a gift I was born with.”

The Bantry man believes the formation of the Gaelic Players Association was good for the game as he feels it’s essential for players have a voice in sport.

Declan paid tribute to former Cork goalkeeper Billy Morgan and the late Cork coach Donie O’Donovan for helping him during his glory days with Cork and all his former teammates whom he said he was honoured to play with.

In the words of one GAA stalwart: “We will never see the likes of Barron again.”

Not many in Cork would disagree with that sentiment.

Dave McCarthy, Declan Barron, and Ned Kirby of the Cork All-Ireland football winning team of 1973 who were honoured at the 2013 Cork county senior football final.
Dave McCarthy, Declan Barron, and Ned Kirby of the Cork All-Ireland football winning team of 1973 who were honoured at the 2013 Cork county senior football final.

FACTFILE: 

Declan Barron won two All-Ireland Minor medals in 1968 and 1969 and followed up with two All-Ireland U21 medals in 1970 and 1971.

In 1972 Barron played a major part in Bantry Blues great run as they were crowned Cork Junior County champions.

He received two football All-Stars awards in 1974 and 1978.

Declan's greatest moment came when he lifted Sam Maguire in 1973.

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