WITH 14 minutes left in the 1989 All-Ireland football final, Mayo were a point up and had just missed a goal chance when John Kerins’ long and accurate kick-out came into the orbit of Dinny Allen.
The Cork captain fielded the ball and quickly dispatched it for Paul McGrath to level the scores.
A typical Allen moment. Smart, speedy and crucial. Cork would never trail again.
After mounting the steps to collect the trophy quarter of an hour later, Allen made a caustic reference to his team’s critics in “the crow’s nest” before becoming just the fifth Corkman to lift Sam Maguire.
“Looking back, I don’t think I should have said what I did,” said Allen in an interview with the Irish Times a decade later.
“It just came out. It wasn’t something I planned. Basically, we had been on the receiving end of comments that we had no bottle, that Meath had beaten us, that we had struggled for a while against Dublin and played poorly against Kerry.
“I wasn’t referring to anyone in particular. People said it was Mick O’Dwyer or this reporter or that reporter. It could have been anyone.
“I didn’t know myself.”
Allen was entitled to vent. The Cork players had taken an amount of stick nationwide following the defeats by Meath in the two previous finals and this, at last, was their vindication.
At 37, he had travelled a longer and more colourful road than most to reach this destination.
Back when his friend and clubmate Billy Morgan led Cork to its last All-Ireland in 1973, Allen was otherwise engaged, in the middle of a productive flirtation with soccer.
His garnering of Sam Maguire was made all the more remarkable coming 16 years after he won an FAI Cup medal with Cork Hibs.
That he would become one of the few men to win an All-Ireland and an FAI Cup is especially appropriate because Allen’s sporting life was an ecumenical affair.
He played what he wanted to play when he wanted to play it and suffered whatever ridiculous consequences ensued from the various myopic authorities.
Fortunately, his movement between codes — as any young person of talent should have been allowed to do — was rewarded with silverware and, more importantly still, the recognition of a Cork public who savoured his contributions whether watching him from the City End or from the terrace in Flower Lodge.
One of the most fecund journeys through Cork sport began in Maiville Terrace where Allen grew up and the game du jour there was always soccer simply because of space limitations on the street.
However, his first organised matches were on the Gaelic football team at Turner’s Cross School and down at Nemo Rangers, where his father and brother were already involved before him.
He won a Munster title with Coláiste Chríost Rí in 1967, and despite a broken leg interrupting his development, featured on the Cork minors that lost to Kerry in 1970, and was a sub on the U21 team that won the All-Ireland in 1972.
By then, Allen was playing senior for Nemo, but had also thrown his lot in with St. Mary’s soccer club.
“I helped St Mary’s reach the FAI Junior Cup final against Talbot United, but I had a hurling league game with Nemo on the same day, and I chose not to play with St Mary’s,” said Allen in John Coughlan’s wonderful ‘100 Cork Sporting Heroes’.
“They lost in the final 3-1. To this day, I would put it down as the worst decision I ever made in sport.”
The dilemmas about competing allegiances intensified thereafter.
Despite coming to competitive soccer at such a late age, Allen had shown enough promise with Mary’s to attract the attention of Cork Hibs. Having grown up so close to Cork Celtic’s home in Turner’s Cross, he was nevertheless persuaded by Dave Bacuzzi to sign for the rival outfit in January, 1973.
A few weeks later, Nottingham Forest came in for Miah Dennehy and Allen was promoted to the first team.
Four months after joining the club, he was man of the match in the FAI Cup final replay against Shelbourne.
“The replay at Flower Lodge was made memorable by two outstanding individual performances,” wrote Plunkett Carter in his evocative tome, A Century of Cork Soccer Memories.
“When all else fades into the background, it will be remembered for the brilliance of Cork’s Denis Allen and Shelbourne’s keeper Paddy Roche.
“Allen teased, prodded and tormented Shels and his brilliant display was equal to the best seen on the lush turf.
“Despite Cork’s total dominance, they had to wait until the 83rd minute for the winner when Carl Humphries ran in towards the near post to flick home a Dave Wiggington cross.
“Eric Barber had received his marching orders earlier for a foul on Allen and Cork’s Noel O’Mahony had to retire with a facial injury which necessitated 12 stitches.”
The most stunning illustration of Allen’s ability is the litany of clubs and managers in England that were soon on his trail.
Bobby Charlton tried seriously to take him to Preston North End and Brian Clough reportedly offered £25,000 on behalf of Derby County. Tommy Docherty and Dave Sexton were sniffing around too, all for a player who hadn’t played a competitive senior soccer match until the age of 20.
He moved from Hibs to Cork Celtic in the summer of 1974, in time to participate in their (admittedly short) European Cup campaign, but a year later, returned to the GAA fold.
In the summer of 1975, he played for both Cork senior teams, featuring at right-half-forward for the hurlers in the Munster final triumph over Limerick and, ironically, that was to be his only inter-county championship medal for a long time.
Having missed out on the 1973 football triumph, he endured eight Munster football final defeats in a row before Tadhg Murphy’s last-gasp winner against Kerry in 1983 finally lifted the gloom.
A year later, his contribution during the tough times was acknowledged when a team of the greatest players never to win an All-Ireland was selected as part of the GAA’s centenary celebrations.
Allen was the only one of the hurling and football XVs to later shed that tag.
Dropped by the selectors after the 1984 championship, it was October 1987 before he wore red again.
By then, Morgan held the reins and he knew, better than anybody that, regardless of age, there was no more cerebral forward in the county than his pal.
Midway through the second half of the Munster final the following July, Allen collected a canny pass from Colm O’Neill and delivered a clinical finish for a goal that put Cork clear of Kerry and on their way to a second successive title.
The faith had been justified.
“I got an accidental knee in the thigh after a collision with Tommy Doyle,” said Allen after the match.
“It started to stiffen up so I had to keep running. Looking back now, that knock proved to be a blessing in disguise.
“I was in full flight when Colm O’Neill broke down the ball. I saw only the net in front of me. It was the sweetest goal I ever scored.”
Every Cork boyhood is hallmarked by dreams of sporting greatness. Few manage to fulfill as many of them in three different codes as Allen: hurling in a Munster final, man of the match in an FAI Cup final, and captaining his county to an All-Ireland football triumph.
Those baubles apart, there were also eight county medals and a tidy four All-Ireland club titles with his beloved Nemo. And a pair of National Football League wins with Cork too.
The only problem for anybody trying to juggled the different demands so soon after The Ban had been lifted was the inevitable political ramifications.
When Allen transferred from Hibs to Cork Celtic in the summer of 1974, he was suspended for five months because of irregularities regarding his registration forms.
He had been simultaneously suspended from the GAA for playing in America without proper clearance.
Even after both bans were watered down, Nemo Rangers football selectors still wouldn’t consider him for the senior team even though he was hurling away with the club.
That sort of bureaucracy has driven good players away from games down the decades, but the greatest tribute that could be paid to Allen is the regular sight of him in the decades after popping up at the helm of Nemo minor football or intermediate hurling teams.
Still giving everything to the club that made him, always helping others to chase their own sporting dreams.