SHORTLY before togging out for the 1911 All-Ireland football final, Jack Young handed what money he had in his pocket to his travelling companion, Con O’Regan, for safekeeping.
A pair of teachers, they’d come up from Cork together, one to play centre-forward, the other to watch the action from the terraces. As the afternoon wore on, Young was the fulcrum of an attack that garnered 6-6 on its way to a facile victory and the county’s second title. Unfortunately, O’Regan hadn’t been very stoic in his spectating.
At one point early in the contest, he’d become embroiled in some robust debate about the match with a group of Antrim supporters.
When it was suggested he put his money where his mouth was, O’Regan had no hesitation.
Cork had scored 8-11 and conceded just four points in the campaign to then so he ponied up the contents of his pocket, confident he’d be doubling his money once the final whistle blew.
The only problem was that as the game wore on and his team’s victory looked more and more assured, his excitement was so frenzied that he forgot all about collecting his winnings until he met Jack Young for the post-match celebration.
Without a coin in their pockets, the pair of them still managed to participate in the festivities. A kindly barman heard their story and took such pity on them that, after plying them with complimentary whiskey for much of the evening, he even gave them the pewter cup he’d been using to measure the drinks.
The vessel was filled and refilled the length of the train journey from Dublin to Cork the following day as they convinced people it was a replica of the All-Ireland trophy. It took them two full days to get back to Barryroe where the pewter was, with great ceremony, presented to a local pub.
Near enough nine decades later, Eamonn Young sat down to write the story of Cork’s All-Ireland double of 1990 with that particular memento sitting on his desk.
His subsequent book, Rebels at the Double, gave him a unique link to four of the county’s five football triumphs in the 20th century. Following in his father’s footsteps, he had played centre-field on the winning team of 1945 and gone on to train the Cork side that lost in the 1956 and 1957 finals.
Astute judges reckon he might just have been the best footballer ever to emerge from the county.
When Jack Lynch was asked once to name the best footballers he’d ever seen, only one Corkman figured in the answer.
“Eamonn Young, for efficient application of football skill, would be hard to beat,” said Lynch.
Some may dispute that assertion, but what cannot be argued is the way his own story parallels that of the GAA over its first 100 years.
He started and finished his football career with Dohenys. Named for Michael Doheny, the Young Irelander who paid a fleeting visit to the town of Dunmanway while on the run from the authorities, it was the first West Cork club to affiliate to the new association in 1886.
That the path wasn’t smooth from then on is summed up by the fact Jack Young was playing for Nils at the time he won his All-Ireland, the GAA having briefly reached such a sorry pass in his home area that, like many of the region’s best players, he was recruited by city outfits.
“My father was a teacher and when he was coaching us he used to always say there was nothing to Gaelic football, only catching the ball and kicking it straight,” said Young.
“He emphasised the word ‘straight’. He wanted you to fetch the ball and drive it up in the air and over the bar from 35 yards.”
That simple philosophy guided Jack Young’s son through his schooldays in Dunmanway and later at Good Counsel in New Ross, County Wexford.
Towards the end of his secondary education, the name E Young started to figure on Cork teams in both codes.
Like his older brother Jim, he hurled for Glen Rovers and garnered All-Ireland minor medals in 1938 (playing centre-field on a 15 containing Christy Ring) and 1939. He also won a Munster championship with the minor footballers in 1939.
Although he made his senior debut for Dohenys while still a teenager, Young threw his lot in with Collins, the army team, when he became a professional soldier.
During The Emergency — as World War II was so quaintly called by the Irish government — the defence forces were stocked with some of the finest hurlers and footballers in the country.
Four of the Cork team that brought home Sam Magure in 1945 were serving in the Army or the Air Corps. Between 1949 and 1953, Young won three county titles with Collins.
“The Southern Command, based in Collins’ Barracks, was fairly strong on the hurling and football fields,” wrote Young.
“And if the good Colonel James Hanrahan of happy memory could coax a hurler from anywhere in the army to transfer to Cork and the Fourth Battalion, so much the better. As already pointed out, that man’s hurling might be no bar all to promotion. One fine summer’s evening, a tall, lean private, now at the end of his hurling career, was seen gazing steadily at the noticeboard over by the canteen. Slowly shaking his head, he walked away and was heard to mutter in a quiet voice, ‘God help us…96 McNamara….promoted to corporal…and that man never held a hurley in his whole, bloody life’.”
There were so many sporting soldiers that the Cork County Board reacted to the demand to provide games for them by temporarily forming an Army division. They held their own championship and the winner competed in the county junior equivalent. It wasn’t all fun and games for the enlisted men. Young often told the story of how he spent weeks on assignment in Tipperary in 1944, cutting turf from the bog of Killenaule, and then, to add insult to injury, was soundly beaten by the Tipp footballers in the Munster semi-finals.
Having defeated Kerry the previous summer for the first time in over 30 years, Cork narrowly lost the All-Ireland semi-final that year to Cavan.
It was thought in the aftermath of that game that a breakthrough was coming but, following the Tipperary defeat, they found themselves back at the foot of the mountain in 1945.
Their climb began with a one-point win over Tipp, and, following the dismissals of Kerry and Galway, they reached the county’s first All-Ireland football final for 34 years. Cavan, the opponents, were a team that would go on to dominate football for nearly a decade, but they had to give best on this occasion to Cork’s superior goal-grabbing.
“Direct methods won that All-Ireland for us,” said Cork’s trainer Jim Barry in Raymond Smith’s book The Football Immortals.
“If you ever have a football team in Cork, the nucleus of the side must come from West Cork. West Corkmen play the type of football that is best to bring success in the inter-county arena.
“It’s better than the football played in the city – fine catchers and kickers from the west of the county, from Clonakilty, Macroom, and Beara.
“The 1945 All-Ireland was the first played after the palmed pass had been temporarily ruled out. Cavan were accustomed to the palmed pass and preferred it to the fisted pass. I remember in training sessions allowing no kicking of the ball for a few days We finished on the Wednesday evening before the game. I always believed in finishing on the Wednesday at the latest.”
With eight representatives from Clonakilty satisfying Barry’s West Cork quota requirements, the squad also contained an international showjumper, Mick Tubridy, and a future Taoiseach, Jack Lynch.
After Tubridy’s first-half goal gave Cork an interval lead of two points, Derry Beckett — whose father Jerry had played alongside Jack Young in 1911 — found the net 15 minutes after the break to set up a 2-5 to 0-7 victory.
Contemporary newspaper reports all mention Young’s strong running with the ball from centre-field, a feature of the triumph also commemorated in verse by Carbery.
‘And where would you leave Eamonn Young, boys?
He dummied and shimmied like his father of old,
And showed them tricks from Dunmanway I’m told,
Humphrey O’Neill and Jack Lynch and Jim Cronin so bold
Set our heroes like beagles in tongue boys….’
As the team posed for photographs on the field before the game, Jack Young stood on the right-hand side, wearing an overcoat and carrying his trilby hat in his hand. No apparent official role in the set-up, just a link with a glorious day past.
“My poor father was mad about football and he was always coaching us when we were young,” said Young.
“He was, all his life, very fond of football. He was thrilled when his son Jim (a regular with the Cork footballers too in the early '40s) played in seven All-Ireland hurling finals and won five of them, and, in spite of it all, that I was lucky to play in one All-Ireland and to win it. And I think he was more pleased about the one football All-Ireland — and Jim will hate me for saying this — than the five hurling All-Irelands.”
In 1946, the Cork footballers became the first GAA team to travel on an airplane when they flew to London for a tournament. Some of the All-Ireland winning squad hung on to bring back the county’s first National Football League title in 1952 but the gap between the third All-Ireland triumph and the fourth would stretch 28 years.
Young trained the side that lost in 1956 and 1957 to Galway and Louth respectively. Noted for his innovative sessions and new-fangled methods of working the players, his powers in that time didn’t extend to picking the team.
“I was not a selector even though I was the trainer,” said Young. “The selectors had total control of the team and everything connected with switches, substitutions etc. A couple of years earlier, there had been a degree of messing about by players on Cork football teams and as a result the selectors in 1956 laid down the law about their control. The rule was, ‘The selectors will give the instructions and nobody will do anything until he is told!’”
He was a selector himself in 1967 when another Cork team came mighty close but were eventually beaten 1-9 to 0-9 by Meath. By then, Young had called time on his own playing career. After transferring back to Doheny’s in 1966, he’d played on for five more years.
His only concession to age was a move into the full-forward line, and he was a 45-year-old corner-forward when the club won the county junior championship in 1966. The perfect way to bow out.
“Every day in our jobs there are certain things we have to do and our ability to do these things is based on normal efficiency and the ability to keep our temperament under control at the time,” said Young. “That applies in every job, and if a man can’t keep his temperament under control in Croke Park, and perform at his reasonable best, not his very best, he shouldn’t be there at all. In a golf championship, in a boxing match, in anything, a person must be able to perform reasonably in the moment and if a fella can’t control his temperament, he’s not a performer.”
In the 1980s, another generation of Cork sports fans got to know Young when he wrote an eclectic weekly column under the nom de plume of Rambler for the Evening Echo. Mostly confined to GAA matters, he would occasionally use it to point out the anomaly of Dunlop paying John McEnroe lavish sums to use their racquets while they were laying good Cork men off down the Marina.
It was during this period I came across him working as a substitute English teacher at Colaiste an Spioraid Naoimh. It was a dark period in Cork football history and most of us students were oblivious to this man’s immense football pedigree.
One particular day, I saw him marching straight-backed through the field at the back of the school, galoshes protecting his shoes from the mud. A Kerryman called Muiris McGillicuddy was trying to coach a gaggle of awkward Cork teenagers in the art of kicking points from distance.
A break in training allowed Young his chance, and evincing the certitude of somebody who had won an All-Ireland football medal at centrefield — for Cork in 1945 — he made his pronouncement.
“A Mhuiris,” he bellowed towards his fellow member of staff.“That’s the way we’ll beat ye in years to come, that’s exactly how we’ll do it too, by kicking points long. We won’t always be down, you know.”
And with that he was gone, squelching underfoot, enjoying the quality of his heckle, and so heartened by the prospect of a brighter future for his beloved county that his bald head shook as he went. Defiant. As ever.