IN the long history of Cork clubs involved in the League of Ireland, the local derby between Cork Celtic and Cork Hibernians was the one fixture that drew most attention among the legions of followers on Leeside.
The teams played each other no fewer than 38 times in league competition between 1958 and 1976, with Celtic coming out on top with 16 wins to Hibernians’ 13, with the teams drawing nine times. It was even closer in terms of goals scored with Celtic again edging it by the slenderest margin of two, 58 to 56. There was some consolation for Hibs who had the best unbeaten sequence of 11, stretching from February 2, 1969 to February 24, 1974.
It’s hard to imagine for Cork City fans in the modern era that there was once two successful Cork clubs vying for supremacy in the era of little football coverage. Cork Celtic began life as Evergreen Utd. before they changed their name in 1959. Hibernians came about following the dissolution of Cork Athletic in 1956 and so the club’s first league encounter took place at the Mardyke on Sunday, January 19, 1958.
The tie will be remembered for producing the biggest winning margin and the highest aggregate score as Evergreen romped to a 7-2 victory. Donie Leahy netted twice inside the opening half-hour for United only for Paul O’Donovan, who would go on to play and manage Celtic, to pull one back for the league’s fledglings from the penalty spot in the 42nd minute.
Goals from Leahy and Austin Noonan stretched the visitor’s lead to 4-1 before Jimmy Redmond reduced the deficit to 4-2. The powerful Leahy would go on to add two more along with a seventh from Noonan to seal the points.
Celtic had begun the 1960s with a morale-boosting 2-1 victory over their rivals in front of a sell-out crowd of 13,000 at the Mardyke on January 3. When the teams locked horns again on April 10 there was plenty of pride at stake for both Cork clubs who served up a goal feast, scoring three apiece inside 45 minutes of a never to be forgotten second-half.
With Paul O’Donovan now playing for Celtic, Leahy’s opener for the Celts in the 51st minute was quickly cancelled out by Charlie Tully three minutes later. Tommy Collins netted Hibs’ second only for Frank McCarthy to set up Leahy for the equaliser. After Tully restored Hibernians’ lead once again, Noonan headed Celtic level for a second time and end a thrilling encounter.
Celtic again took the plaudits in the season they finished joint top with Shelbourne, 1961-'62, scoring a remarkable seventy-one goals in a campaign that would see them lose out in a play-off. Along the way on Sunday, January 7, they inflicted a 5-1 defeat on their neighbours at Turner’s Cross.
The hosts tore into their opponents, going two up inside the opening 17 minutes through Leahy and O’Donovan (penalty). After Mick Ahern reduced the deficit, McCarthy (2) and O’Donovan added second-half goals for the winners.
By the turn of the ’70s, Hibs had gained the upper hand winning home and away, 2-1, in their title-winning season of '70-'71. Worse was to befall the Turner’s Cross outfit the following season as Hibs hit t three without reply at the Cross on November 28, 1971 and go one better on March 5 at Flower Lodge. At the Lodge, two goals in the first six minutes from Dave Wigginton and Miah Dennehy followed by two more from Sonny Sweeney and Tony Marsden helped the hosts cruise to a 4-1 win.
Celtic’s losing run continued into 1972-'73 as Hibernians again struck four without reply at the Lodge through Martin Sheehan, John Lawson, Wigginton and Dennehy. Celtic’s 2-1 win at the same venue the following season made up handsomely for the disappointments of the past as they went on to clinch the championship.
It was fitting that the teams’ final confrontation on February 22, 1976 should result in a one-one draw at Ballintemple.
First, Billy Rudd flicked the ball up for Rodney Marsh to smash a 25 yard free-kick past the fully stretched Alfie McCarthy in the 21st minute. Seven minutes later, Richard Brooks’ through ball found World Cup hero Geoff Hurst, whose shot took a deflection off John Brohan.
Before the decade ended both clubs were dissolved but the memory of their derby clashes will live long in the hearts of all who witnessed them.