LONG before the introduction of calendar football, Cork League of Ireland teams had to play on New Year’s Day in league and cup as part of the scheduled fixture list.
For the legions of Cork supporters who turned out in their droves to watch their heroes throughout the 1940s right up to the '90s after a night of celebration, the clubs didn’t disappoint, turning in some of their best performances to ring in the New Year.
Back on Sunday, January 1, 1956, Cork Athletic hosted Munster rivals Waterford at The Mardyke and although the match was decided by a late Donie Wallace goal, the record attendance who played the princely sum of £531 were served up an entertaining contest which turned out to be arguably Athletic’s best performance of the season.
The Leesider’s line-up included the Moloney brothers Willie and Johnny along with former Derry City, Celtic and Manchester United cup winner and Scottish international Jimmy Delaney who was handed the captaincy for the tie of the season.
The match had everything, goalmouth melees, near misses, two missed penalties, flashes of brilliance in what was cup-tie football at its very best despite it being a league encounter.
After both teams went close on numerous occasions through Collins, Delaney and Horgan for Athletic and captain Jack Fitzgerald, George Hale and Price for the visitors, it was fitting the home crowd were brought to their feet by Wallace’s exquisite finish three minutes from time, the diminutive striker neatly eluding Halpin before finishing with aplomb high into the roof of the net.
Athletic’s neighbours Evergreen Utd made it a day to remember by avenging their defeat to Limerick earlier in the Shield by winning comfortably 2-0 at the Market’s Field courtesy of a first-half Georgie Lynam drive from the edge of the area and a second, 12 minutes from time from Eddie Doran who was put through by Cronin. Evergreen’s heroes were centre-back inside-left Lynam and centre-back Con ‘Brosso’ McCarthy.
Five years later, again on a Sunday, it was the turn of Cork Hibernians to get the New Year off on a high when they staged a magnificent second-half comeback from three down to secure a point against in-form hosts Shamrock Rovers.
The hosts went in front in the 32nd minute through Paddy Ambrose and doubled their lead 10 minutes later when Eddie Bailham got a second bite of the cherry after his first shot was blocked by Liam O’Flynn.
It looked like there was going to be no way back for the visitors when McCann added a third from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time only for a rejuvenated Hibernians to take the game to their opponents in the second 45 and score three unanswered goals through Jackie Morley (2) and Johnny Vaughan.
With the bit between their teeth, it was little wonder that the visitors felt highly aggrieved by Limerick referee Sergeant J O’Donnell blowing up three minutes early.
With January 1 falling on a Tuesday in 1974 it was the chance for Cork Celtic, who would later in the season go on to win the league for the first and only time, to face Limerick in the Munster Senior Cup Final at Turner’s Cross.
The Cork Examiner’s Bill George noted ‘there is no doubt about it, this Celtic line-up has colour, flair and the ability to score goals.’
And so, it transpired that Donie Madden began the goal-rush by heading in a cross from John Carroll in the 14th minute.
Five minutes later Barry Notley headed in a second from another Carroll cross before Ger Caulfield pulled one back for the Treaty County. The home side immediately went on the offensive with Notley heading on an Alex Ludzic clearance for Frank O’Neill to be taken down by defender O’Mahony and goalkeeper O’Donnell.
Goalkeeper Ludzic ran the length of the field to push in the third from the penalty spot.
Ben Hannigan, who came on at half-time after his train was delayed, had a hand in all three second-half goals, first sending Paddy Shortt in for number four in the 58th minute.
He knocked in the fifth himself four minutes later before setting up O’Neill whose initial shot was blocked by O’Donnell for Notley to seal Celtic’s first silverware of what was to become an historic season.