Celebrating Cork's rich tradition of athletes shining in GAA and soccer

Saoirse Noonan fired Cork City and the Cork ladies footballers to finals in 2020
Celebrating Cork's rich tradition of athletes shining in GAA and soccer

Cork City legend George O'Callaghan at Rathpeacon junior hurling training. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

IN YEARS to come, it could be a trick question of sorts — when did a Cork player leave two Cork teams for a Dublin side?

As you’re presumably aware, the answer is Saoirse Noonan, who last week signed for Shelbourne for the upcoming Women’s National League season. For further background, see Andrew Horgan’s excellent interview with her in The Echo earlier this week.

Noonan’s departure for Shels is geared towards gaining international recognition, which is understandable, but there is a double-whammy from a Leeside point of view in that she won’t be lining out for the Cork ladies’ football team in 2021.

Last November, she displayed her importance to the two teams as she scored 1-2 for Cork in their championship win over Kerry on a Saturday and then followed that on the Sunday with both goals in Cork City’s FAI Cup semi-final win against Treaty United.

Saoirse Noonan of Cork with Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald after winning the league. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Saoirse Noonan of Cork with Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald after winning the league. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Both teams will seek to replace her and the decision to focus on one code is another nail in the coffin of the dual player. When Cork Women’s FC first began, Valerie Mulcahy was one of the stars along with Cork and Dublin camogie player Sarah O’Donovan, but the balancing act can be difficult.

While there have been countless exponents of hurling and football in Cork, there is also a not-inconsiderable list of players to have starred in soccer as well as fulfilling GAA commitments. The stand-out is of course Dave Barry, who claimed two All-Ireland football medals with Cork as well as playing for Cork City for a decade and a half, winning the 1993 league title, and then managing the team to win the 1998 FAI Cup.

Barry wasn’t the only member of that great City side to dabble in Gaelic football, though – John Caulfield, who had played minor for Roscommon, won an All-Ireland junior medal with Cork in 1990. 

He was still playing for that ’98 cup win and the man who scored the winning goal in the final replay, Derek Coughlan, had scored five points from full-forward for Cork minors against Kerry four years previously. In 1999, Damien Delaney scored 2-2 for Cork against Mayo in the All-Ireland MFC semi-final before focusing fully on soccer.

Well before that, Jimmy Barry-Murphy had briefly lined out with Cork Celtic after impressing with Wilton United while Dinny Allen won an FAI Cup medal with Cork Hibernians in 1973. While Billy Morgan never played a League of Ireland game despite links to Waterford United and Cork Celtic and Cork Hibs, he might have been lost to the GAA if a trial with Celtic in 1969 had worked out.


An interesting entry in the list is former Cork hurling manager John Meyler. A talented dual GAA player, representing his native Wexford in football and hurling as well as winning an All-Ireland hurling medal with Cork and an All-Ireland club football with St Finbarr’s, he scored a hat-trick for UCC as they won the 1977 Collingwood Cup final against Trinity College. He later played League of Ireland football for Cork Alberts, who had taken the place of Cork Hibernians.

Meyler’s son David was a part of the extended Cork minor football panel in 2007 and might have featured more prominently if he wasn’t on the verge of a breakthrough with City. Another case of just missing out on Cork representation due to soccer was George O’Callaghan in 2002 – just home from Port Vale and signed for City, he was named on the Cork intermediate hurling team for a game against Waterford but was forced to withdraw.

It’s clear that players like that – and we definitely haven’t mentioned them all, due to space more than anything – are a thing of the past, such are the demands placed on elite players now.

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