It is difficult to put your finger on just what makes a late bloomer blossom. One star that many will remember is Tony Book, who falsified his birth certificate at age 30 to get a foot into English football.
Just as extraordinary is our own Leeside legend Dinny Allen who was 20 before he kicked a soccer ball competitively.
Prior to that the GAA prodigy nurtured his latent skills in the school yard or with his young neighbours on the narrow road (more suitable for the beautiful game than GAA), outside his home in Maiville Terrace.
Living in Turner’s Cross, then a hotbed of Association Football, he always had a fascination with the forbidden game.
When the notorious Ban was lifted in 1971 he got an invitation to sample the forbidden fruit and signed for Cork’s top junior team St Mary’s.
His was a christening that immediately posed problems as the “novice” shone like a beacon and professional clubs were alerted which became a cause of concern for the GAA fraternity.
The inevitable fixture clashes were never far away and soon he had a huge decision to make as St Mary’s qualified for FAI Junior Cup final which hadn’t been won by a Cork club for 26 years scheduled for the same day as a hurling fixture.
Like Ruby Walsh had done on many occasions Dinny picked the wrong one and regretted not travelling to Tolka with Mary’s. Had he done so the Saints would surely have bridged that 26 year gap?
He won every other trophy available with Mary’s and Dave Bacuzzi swooped. Dinny, a sporting maverick had to make a career defining decision and opted to sign for Hibs which was to have major consequences. Nemo, believing that you can’t serve two masters, didn’t consider him for selection.
Heartbreakingly, as a result, he missed out on Cork’s rare All-Ireland success in 1973.
Every cloud has a silver lining and for Dinny there was a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow in the form of an FAI Senior Cup medal which was his after starring with Hibs who defeated Shels at Flower Lodge.
“That drizzly day will be remembered for the brilliance of Cork’s Dinny Allen (Man of the Match) and Shels keeper Paddy Roche. Allen teased, probed and tormented Shels and his display was one of the best seen at the venue in years”, wrote Billy George of the Cork Examiner.
FAI Shield, Dublin City Cup and Munster Cup medals were added towards the end of that remarkable season.
More were still to come as he won an U23 International Cap when lining out for Ireland v France. In 1974 he was better again and after sampling European Cup Winners Cup football with Hibs, he finished as the club’s leading scorer.
Few were as talented on the pitch as Dinny who, in the space of two years, had yet another career defining decision to make as a posse of English clubs were on his trail.
Brian Clough offered Hibs £25,000, Bobby Charlton then manager of Preston wanted him and also showing interest were Tommy Docherty (Man Utd) and Dave Sexton OBE (Chelsea) who was sniffing around too.
He was like the scarlet pimpernel being sought here, there and everywhere!
And, what did he do? After 60 appearances with Hibs he signed instead for Cork Celtic.
Then the fun began. Hibs complained Celtic to the FAI who suspended Dinny for signing for Celtic without their permission and the GAA wanted their pound of flesh too and banned him for playing GAA in New York, also without their permission.
Both suspensions were reduced to one month and he resumed by playing in the Champions League with Celtic.
However, very soon afterwards abiding friendships in Nemo resulted in Dinny resuming with the Gaels and within months made the starting 15s with Cork’s footballers and hurlers.
There are many who mistakenly believe that his flirtation with the beautiful game had come to an end.
But this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Yes, his allegiance was with Gaelic games and in the twilight of a glorious career, despite being 37 years old, was sensationally recalled to the Cork team which, much to the delight of all sports lovers, he captained to bring the Sam Maguire to Cork in 1989.
In the years between 1978 and ’85 he played with Cork Celtic 78-’79, Cork Utd 79-’81 and when League soccer returned to Leeside in 1984 he played with Cork City and finished by scoring in his last two farewell matches.
Long after he had ceased playing Gaelic football, Dinny remained active in the Munster Senior League in which he helped College Corinthians and Carrigaline.
Very few Cork heroes embraced sporting ecumenism with such success as Dinny and his record of winning All-Ireland Senior Football and FAI Cup medals at the highest level will never be equalled.
Like that other Leeside legend Dave Barry He played what he wanted when he wanted. It wasn’t easy, but the sacrifices made by ignoring bureaucracy as he did, elevated him to the supreme Cork Sporting Hero and he did it his way.