OF all the title wins by Cork teams, none had as dramatic a finish as Cork City’s first top-flight championship in 1992/93.
Like Cork Hibernians and Cork Celtic before them, City struggled in their formative years. By the time manager Noel O’Mahony took his charges into the 1992/93 season, the Leesiders only had a League Cup (1987/88) and a league runners-up position (1990/91) to show for their endeavours.
City began that season at the home of Cobh Ramblers, St Colman’s Park, on Sunday, August 30, 1992, with a 3-0 win over Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds, Liam Murphy, Johnny Glynn, and Pat Morley were the scorers.
As had befallen the last Cork champions, Cork Celtic, in 1974, City came a cropper at Dalymount Park, against Bohemians, in their first away fixture, losing 4-1 to goals from Dave Tilson (2), Gino Lawless, and Tommy Byrne. Wins over St Pat’s (2-1), Waterford United (3-0), and Drogheda United (2-0) propelled City to joint top, with Bohs, going into the crunch clash with Derry City, at the Brandywell, on October 4.
Glynn’s cross picked out Morley, who headed the only goal in the 65th minute, keeping the visitors two clear of the Gypsies after six rounds of matches. Goals in the 51st and 60th minutes by Morley against Bray Wanderers sealed the two points required for City to go top for the first time, as Bohs could only draw, 1-1, with Limerick FC.
The following week, Bohs leapfrogged City, who were stuffed 6-2 by champions, Shelbourne, after Paul Doolin (who would go on to manage City) and Dave Barry exchanged goals inside the first 25 minutes. Three points separated the top four, with Dundalk and St Pat’s breathing down the necks of the leaders.
City’s buoyant form at Bishopstown through October and November coincided with the signing of Declan Roche, who scored in the back-to-back contests with Dundalk in the first week of November.
The Rebels' six-match unbeaten run was ended by St Pat’s, at Harold’s Cross, on Sunday, November 29, after goals from Paul Campbell and Pat Kelch (penalty) outscored John Caulfield’s equaliser. With Derry now in the mix, three teams shared top spot, and by the end of December, the same three teams remained in place, despite City only winning two and drawing three of their five matches.
Reserve ’keeper, Alex Ludzic, 42, replaced the suspended Phil Harrington for the crucial draws with Drogheda and Derry in December and turned back the clock to his own championship days with Celtic. Ludzic made a number of spectacular saves to help preserve his team’s leadership at the top.
City exacted revenge on Shelbourne for the heavy defeat earlier in the campaign by digging out a 2-1 win on January 3, 1993, courtesy of goals from in-form strikers Morley and Glynn.
Morley took his tally for the season to 15 with two in the 3-2 win over Shamrock Rovers and extended City’s lead at the top to two points over nearest rivals, Bohemians.
The league introduced a new format after two rounds of matches, on January 17, splitting the division into sections of six, A and B, with City joining Bohs, Derry, Shels, Dundalk, and Limerick in section A. By mid-March, with four matches remaining, one point separated five teams and the most exciting finish in the 71-year history of the league looked set to unfold.
City seemed to have missed out again when Bohs needed a point away to Dundalk to secure the title, but they lost, and wins for City over Limerick FC (3-0) and Shelbourne over Derry (1-0) set up a three-way play-off between City, Bohs, and Shels for the first time in the competition’s history.
Pat Morley got City off to a perfect start by scoring the winner against Bohs, but defeat at Shelbourne, and a win for Bohs over Shels and draws for City with Shels and Bohs, left Bohs and Shels to see who could win the title. Incredibly, another draw kept City in the hunt and meant it all had to be done again.
By the time City met Shels at the RDS, on Saturday, May 22, a win would be enough to lift the title for the first time.
The Echo’s banner headline on the Monday after captured the moment with, ‘The First Noel, 9-year-old club bridge 19-year gap’ after goals from Morley, Dave Barry, and Paul Bannon in the 74th minute ended the most dramatic of wins, 3-2 , and the most incredible of title finishes ever.