The history of Foras: Kerryman helped Cork City to grow again

In a new series, Denis Hurley looks at the fan-group that saved Cork City
The history of Foras: Kerryman helped Cork City to grow again

Former Cork City Foras Co-op chairman, John O'Sullivan, at Turner's Cross. Picture: Damien Quirke

JOHN O'SULLIVAN is the man to credit – or blame – for the name Friends of the Rebel Army Society.

Back when the fledgling Cork City supporters’ trust was being set up in the mid-to-late 2000s, it needed a name with meaning and, when one was found, the initials were shoe-horned into something unique relating to the club.

“Seán Ó Conaill, obviously being a Gaelgeoir, was looking at some of the options that we had,” recalls O’Sullivan, who was chairman from 2009-11, the period in which the trust took over the running of City.

“Foras as a name came up because it was the Irish for development and growth but horrible moniker ‘Friends of the Rebel Army Society’ was reverse-engineered.

“Foras was probably Seán and then the acronym was me, squeezing it together.

“For the game against Shamrock Rovers at Tolka in 2008, when there was a lot of sudden interest in us, Will Downing was doing the game for Setanta and myself and Sonya had to do an on-pitch interview with him to explain what the situation was with the club.

“Right up until he went to air, he was calling it ‘Doras’!”

Kerry native O’Sullivan came to UCC in 1992 and started attending City games, gradually becoming more and more of an adopted Corkman. After returning to Ireland from the US, he was active in getting Foras off the ground.

“I was living in the States in 2003 and, when I was away, one of the things I latched on to was City,” he says.

“I had been such a part of me that I wanted to hang on to it when I was away. Then, when we came back to Dublin, I got involved in the supporters’ club, the CCOSC, and it was really Pat Shine and Sonya O’Neill that started sussing it out.

“It was around 2005 or 2006 that we started developing the idea of a trust and they met Brian Lennox. 

"There was so much money floating around the league that City were operating beyond the level of what a trust could contribute.

“Brian did see the value of it, but maybe more so as a conduit to bring volunteers in rather than a financial benefit to the club.

“Then, as the crash was happening and the League of Ireland became more precarious, City had been sold to Jim Little and then Arkaga. 

"With a hedge fund putting in money and promising more, there didn’t seem to be a huge need for Foras but it was only when the shit hit the fan, to pardon the phrase, in 2008 that there would have been a more public awareness.

“The club had gone into examinership under Arkaga and we were flung into the forefront of the fight to save the club at that stage.”

While Foras’s initial objective was safeguarding the future of City, the pivotal moment came at the beginning of 2010. While the trust had submitted a first-division licence application in case City, under the ownership of Tom Coughlan, didn’t receive one for the Premier Division, there was still a sense that things would work out.

A potential takeover of the club involved Foras as stakeholders but those driving that bid only wanted a top-flight operation. So it came to pass that, when Foras were handed a first-division licence, they were left driving the ship.

“While we had put in a licence application in case Tom Coughlan didn’t get one, everyone’s efforts were being put into the partnership with Quintas and Michael O’Connell and Peter Grey,” O’Sullivan says.

“Paul Hartnett, who was on the board at the time, used up all of his annual leave in January, just to try to get this sorted. We were in legal offices and ringing all of the creditors to get deals done and see what kind of debt was out there.

“We really were in a partnership with them right up until the licence was awarded to us and then, eight days before the season, it was, ‘Away ye go, lads.’

“Now, we had a lot of, ‘If X happens, Y comes into effect,’ deals set up with Turner’s Cross and Bishopstown, though we never thought we’d have to use them. We had €100,000 lodged in an escrow account with the partnership and we were scrambling to get that back – just the simple thing of how long it took to transfer the money from one account to another.

“We got on to Tommy Dunne to come back and then it was a case of getting players together. 

"Liam Buckey, an absolute gentleman, was the manager of Sporting Fingal at the time and he made a generous offer to come down and play us in a friendly but we couldn’t because we didn’t have a team!

“It was hectic, but it was positive. Part of it was tough and hard work but you do tend to look back with rose-tinted glasses.”

Picture: Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE
Picture: Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE

That first season was about simply keeping things going and City finished in sixth place. 

The following year, a proper promotion tilt was launched, culminating in the never-to-be-forgotten title decider at Tolka Park, Graham Cummins’ injury-time winner sending City up as champions.

“I was actually only thinking about it the other day,” O’Sullivan says, “if we had lost that game, there was a chance that Monaghan United could have overtaken us and we’d have ended up in a play-off.

“We knew we only needed a draw to be guaranteed second but I remember Tommy Dunne asking if we should go for it if it was a draw with 10 minutes left. Everybody said, ‘Oh Christ, yeah!’

“It was a whirlwind, really. Daryl Horgan’s goal was great and they equalised but Shels went a bit more defensive and Tommy threw on Vinnie Sullivan and Derek O’Brien.

“Derek put in the brilliant cross right at the end and Graham’s header – it was the best celebration I ever had.

Graham Cummins is congratulated by Greg O'Halloran and Gearoid Morrisey and fans. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Graham Cummins is congratulated by Greg O'Halloran and Gearoid Morrisey and fans. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“I was so nervous beforehand that I drove up. I couldn’t handle the idea of buses or even the crowd around me. 

"I drove back and we stopped off, I think it was Abbeyleix, and everyone had an impromptu pint and a chat.

“That was a great game and the win was well-deserved. 

"The crowd was unbelievable that day. It was brilliant.”

Cork City league positions under Foras ownership

First Division

2010: Sixth (of 12)

2011: First (of 11, reached EA Sports Cup final)

Premier Division

2012: Sixth (of 12)

2013: Sixth

2014: Second

2015: Second (reached FAI Cup final)

2016: Second (won FAI Cup)

2017: First (won FAI Cup)

2018: Second (of 10, reached FAI Cup final)

2019: Eighth

2020: Tenth

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