THE generation of local GAA followers born after the Association’s Centenary celebrations in 1984, might find it difficult to comprehend that Imokilly footballers were once the kings of the county.
After all, the eastern division failed to even field a team in the championship for a number of years towards the end of the last decade.
But 35 years ago in 1986, Imokilly were celebrating after winning their second county senior title in three seasons.
It was a huge achievement for a division that is widely recognised as a hurling hotbed.
This though was a very special team who hit the sporting headlines in the mid-1980s The inaugural Final win over St Finbarr’s in the 1984 decider saw Imikilly become the sixth different division to win the championship.
Despite impressive form on the way to the Páirc Uí Chaoimh decider, opponents St Finbarr’s were still considered strong favourites. As it transpired the success of the men in the candy-striped jerseys could not be disputed as they lifted the cup following a four-point win.
A year before that record-breaking season, Imokilly had exited early to UCC, so they were not really seen as contenders when the ‘84 season got underway.
However, eyebrows were raised as they crushed Bishopstown by 13 points in their opening fixture. A free-scoring forward line made it 6 goals in 2 games when Imokilly got over Naomh Abán by 3-8 to 1-6 next time out, before earning revenge on UCC for that ‘83 defeat courtesy of a 2-8 to 1-8 quarter-final replay win.
Now it was an all-divisional semi-final as Duhallow provided the penultimate round opposition. A tight hour finished with scoreboard reading 2-9 to 2-7 in favour of the easter side.
County final day saw Imokilly show few nerves against St Finbarr’s who had won three of the previous five titles and were also hoping for a hurling and football double.
After a tight first half, the late Billy Aherne from Aghada demonstrated his full skill set with a series of excellent points soon after the resumption. Then the golden goal arrived from Midleton’s Ger Glavin. It pushed the challengers into a commanding 1-13 to 0-6 advantage and from there on, despite Barrs' best efforts, there was always only going to be one winner.
Heroes aplenty in a never to be forgotten hour. The aforementioned Billy Aherne contributed seven points, in a season where he delivered 1-14 overall.
Ger Glavin added 3 points to his crucial goal, whilst Teddy McCarthy who finished the season with 0-8, raised two white flags, It was though very much an all round team performance.
Cloyne’s Mick Lewis guarded the goal behind a very capable full-back line of Denis Mulcahy, Sean Bowens and Mick Walsh. The half-line was equally talented with exciting wing-backs Kieran Murphy and Martin McCarthy either side of rock-solid captain Conor Counihan.
Youghal’s Fergus Quill and Teddy McCarthy formed the midfield duo, with Ger Glavin, Brian Lotty and Billy Aherne delivering 1-11 from the half-forward line. Kevin Hennessy was on the edge of the square where he was flanked by John Hegarty and the legendary Tadhg Murphy.
A little over 12 months earlier Tadhg had entered Cork football folklore with that late goal against Kerry; here he left an indelible mark on Imiokilly’s campaign with a season tally of 5-5.
It was a remarkable day for the famed Murphy clan from Glanmire. Bertie Óg was called upon as second-half substitute whilst their father 76-year-old Bertie senior was selector alongside Anthony Cashman and manager Dave Loughman.
By the dawn of the following summer, Imokilly’s status had dramatically fallen, a six-point loss to Avondhu in mid-April at Rathcormac opened the door for the other contenders and St Finbarr’s went on to regain their crown.
The reaction from the east was watched closely.
Imokilly stood up tall, proving they were far from one-season wonders. Now captained by 1984 Man of the Match Kieran Murphy from Castlemartryr, Imokilly’s doubters were promptly answered when they eliminated Nemo Rangers in a second-round replay by 0-12 to 0-7.
Muskerry were ousted by 2-8 to 0-8 in the last eight, meaning 1984 intermediate winners Midleton lay in wait in a unique semi-final, which actually took place in the Magpies' own Clonmult Memorial Park.
Denis Mulcahy, Kevin Hennessy and Ger Glavin who all began the ‘84 final with Imokilly, were now trying to write their own club football fairytale.
It didn’t materialise and Imokilly advanced comfortably on a 1-14 to 0-6 scoreline.
Imokilly had six new final day starters against St Finbarr’s. Noel Murphy in goal, corner-back John Murphy, midfielder Mick Spillane and forwards Denis Walsh, Martin Hennessy and Robert Swayne were now all part of the first 15.
Two years on, the script proved much different. Imokilly failed to sparkle for much of the game and the Barrs inspired by Paddy Hayes led by six points after 45 minutes.
Then, Robert Swayne struck with a penalty and in the dying minutes Tadhg Murphy set up Brian Lotty for what was a sensational late winning goal.
Amazingly, Imokilly who failed to score in the first half won by 2-4 to 0-9 and were crowned county champions for the second time in three seasons.
To this day, football lovers in East Cork cherish those golden days when their division ruled the county.