History of the Overall Cork Schoolboys Player of the Year: 1956-2019

Plunkett Carter charts the most prestigious award in Cork underage soccer, from first winner Noel O'Mahony through to modern stars like John Egan
History of the Overall Cork Schoolboys Player of the Year: 1956-2019

Cork's Craig Donnellan celebrates after striking the winning goal against Waterford in the U14 All-Ireland final in 2014. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE Footballer of the Year Award, the oldest and most distinguished award in English soccer was presented for the first time in 1948 to Stanley Matthews.

Eight years later the Cork Schoolboys’ League inaugurated their own award when the Motor Traders Association presented them with an almost exact replica of the English trophy and, borrowing the Football Writers Association's concept, awarded it annually to the boy whose all-round performance attained the highest standard in ability, integrity and sportsmanship.
Now the Overall Cork Schoolboy Player of the Year Award’ is the longest surviving and one of most prestigious in the underage game in Ireland.

Now the ‘Overall Cork Schoolboy Player of the Year Trophy’ is awarded annually to the boy whose all-round performance attained the highest standard in ability, integrity and sportsmanship. A condition of the presentation was that in any year where no candidate measured up to the standards required, the trophy would not be presented, and should be withheld at the discretion of the Management Committee of the CSL. Only on four occasions did the CSL decide not to award the trophy.

In England, the dominance of the FA Cup over the league was reflected when, inevitably, Matthews was elected Footballer of the Year. His team Blackpool was defeated that year by Man Utd whose captain ‘Gentleman’ Johnny Carey actually won it the following year. Then throughout the 1950s no winner came from the league champions, while eight were from FA Cup Finalists, three winners, and five losers.
It was not until 1961 when Danny Blanchflower won the coveted award for a second time that it went to a player from the league champions, but then he was also captain of the cup winners as Spurs did the double. No player had won it from outside the top division until 1963 when 48-year-old Stanley Matthews was honoured for the second time for his part in helping Stoke City win the old Second Division title.

In Cork, it looked as if a similar trend would prevail as the inaugural winner was a boy named Noel O’Mahony of the Tramore team which won the U16 Cup. 

Noel had only joined Tramore that season after his original club Ballyphehane, winners in consecutive seasons of U14 and U15 trophies, was suspended for playing an over-age player.

Two years later, 1958, Noel helped Tramore win the FAI Youths Cup before embarking on a magnificent elongated career with Cork Hibs and several other LOI clubs. 

One of the last published team photos of Cork Hibs taken prior to the league fixture with Bohs at Dalymount in 1975/76 season. Back: Paddy O'Sullivan, John Lawson, Ger Spillane, Jack Trainer, John Brohan, Noel O'Mahony. Front: Dave Kirby, Martin Sheehan, Harry Kirk, Dave Wigginton, Sonny Sweeney, Kevin Tully.
One of the last published team photos of Cork Hibs taken prior to the league fixture with Bohs at Dalymount in 1975/76 season. Back: Paddy O'Sullivan, John Lawson, Ger Spillane, Jack Trainer, John Brohan, Noel O'Mahony. Front: Dave Kirby, Martin Sheehan, Harry Kirk, Dave Wigginton, Sonny Sweeney, Kevin Tully.

In 1957 those summoned with the nomination lumped for Tony O’Brien who helped Glasheen win the U16 Cup and league double and picked up an FAI Youth Cup before the previous recipient did by helping all-conquering Glasheen win every trophy contested for with an astonishing record which read: played 38, won 38, scored 154 goals, and conceded just 15.

Tony, who played for minnows Victoria Athletic before Glasheen swooped, was just 16 and underage for minor soccer for two further years after which he became a Cork Hibs star.

The announcement of the Cork Schoolboys League Player of the Year was always awaited with great anticipation especially by the connoisseurs of the game who attended with amazing regularity at the Togher venue where all the games were played.
If their choice didn’t correspond with the player nominated (it rarely did) Jack Cooke the league’s great soccer visionary would get an earful from those regulars. One of the joys of visiting Togher was chatting with those charming spectators (ringers for an extended group from Last Of The Summer Wine).

Mick Ahern (South End) and the excellent Mattie Brett (Tower), a star of Cork’s first Evans Cup-winning side, took the trophy home in 1958 and 59 and they also followed their predecessors into the League of Ireland. There was a huge shock in 1960 when the management decided not to nominate any player for the award despite the fact that three boys

John Clifford (capt), Pat O’Callaghan and Pat Murray represented their country with distinction.
By 1961 Noel O’Mahony and Tony O’Brien, through their brilliant displays with Cork Hibs, became household names that enriched the status of the ‘Footballer of the Year’ award.

Boys capped by Ireland were regularly overlooked as in 1961 when Billy Treacy, Frankie Connolly, and Sean O’Brien failed to dislodge surprise winner Barry Long Tramore’s Mr Dependable.

In 1964, Wembley won the U15 Evans National Cup and, as with Mattie Brett, the statuette the year after (1965) went to Paddy Shortt, a player from the successful team who was destined for a brilliant career. Contenders again included four internationals Peter Cox (captain of Ireland v England), Tommy Garry, Blondie Carroll, and Gerry Hurley while the brilliant Barry McGann’s involvement with rugby ruled him out.

Paddy Shortt.
Paddy Shortt.

Liam Ronayne and Donie Madden were fancied in 1966, but it was the dynamic Tedser Healy (Tower) who got the nod.

Robin Turnbull the busiest keeper in the league came from off the radar to cause a huge surprise in 1967 and the trophy rested on a mantelpiece in Greenmount the following year when Everton’s industrious Matthew O’Donovan was honoured. He was frequently used by Bacuzzi as Hibs midfield holding enforcer in Uefa matches. That year was a poignant one for the CSL as they were forced to vacate their headquarters at Togher (their only ground) after a tenancy of over 18 years by the city council who wanted it for housing.

It was a defining year for the league who spent most of 1968 and 1969 searching for a new home but to no avail.

Diversity, in one way, turned out be an advantage for the league who were forced to spread their wings geographically by utilising venues at Farranlea Road, Fairfield, Blackrock, and Ballyphehane while another promotional boost was the playing of finals at Flower Lodge.

The application of the tried and trusted criteria of ability, integrity, and sportsmanship resulted in Jack Cooke, Leonard Gould and co declaring no ‘Footballer of the Year’ in 1969 and 1970.It might come as a surprise to the thousands of players and administrators in the league that the clear ut winner in 1971 was a boy, Eddie Doyle, who then was a classy full-back and is currently the CSL secretary. 

Eddie Doyle presents the U13 Con Elliott trophy to Lakewood Athletic captain Luke Harris. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Eddie Doyle presents the U13 Con Elliott trophy to Lakewood Athletic captain Luke Harris. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

1972 was memorable for being the year Rockmount won their first schoolboy trophy and, fittingly, the award went to one of their stars Aidan O’Mahony. The decade was remarkable that only one of the 10 winners in the '70s – Barry Neiland went on to play League of Ireland soccer. 

Pat Bowdren (Wilton), the doyen of all CSL coaches, who has seen them all reckons that Willie Hennessey (1975) was his club’s best ever underage player — a huge statement when you consider that players like Fergal Giltenan, Anthony Buckley, Pat Morley, Ken Healy wore their colours.

In 1983 Paul Bowdren became the first recipient of the ‘CSL Footballer of the Year’ since Mattie Brett in 1959 to receive the award after being capped by his country. An achievement repeated in consecutive years between 1985 and '89 by Donal Desmond, Vincent Hegarty, Ger Long, Damien Martin and Ken Healy. 

KEANE EDGE

A special mention here for Damien Martin (Rockmount) who was the choice in 1988 ahead of teammates Paul McCarthy (Brighton) and Roy Keane (Ireland).

Cork Kennedy Cup captain Roy Keane meets Lord Mayor of Cork Dan Wallace ahead of the Kennedy Cup final, with Damien Martin, Alan O'Sullivan, Len Downey and Paul McCarthy.
Cork Kennedy Cup captain Roy Keane meets Lord Mayor of Cork Dan Wallace ahead of the Kennedy Cup final, with Damien Martin, Alan O'Sullivan, Len Downey and Paul McCarthy.

The League many years later received a massive endorsement when their inspired selection in 1992, John Murphy (St Mary’s) turned out to be a super product and was capped 35 times at various underage levels. John played in the finals of the U16 EUFA Tournament and spent over three years with Aston Villa.

On his return, he signed for Cobh Ramblers remaining there for eight years before completing the full circle by returning to his beloved St Mary’s where his skills were nurtured. John played for Mary’s until past his 36th birthday and as he had always done he left nothing behind on the pitch. 

John’s selection in 1992 was a reward for his ability, integrity and sportsmanship, attributes which to this very day are synonymous with him as he continues to give heart and soul to coaching at St Mary’s.

Sportsmen like John, who give so much back, strike a chord with me as do all others who devote so much time to coaching. 

John Forrest (Corinthians) CSL POY in 2008 is coaching the U15s in Cobh while Craig Donnellan (2012) another graduate of the Castletreasure based club who, after spells with Cork City and Cobh, is back with Corinthians seniors. More importantly, he is a highly motivated, dedicated, and invaluable member of the coaching staff.

1n 1993 Mark O’Riordan became Avondale’s first international and their first Player of the Year in 1995. Never to be forgotten is 1998 the season Ireland won the televised EUFA U16 International Championship; it was a red-letter year for Cork, as three boys Liam Miller, David Warren, and David Madden were members of the winning squad, the latter providing Tramore with its first POY in 24 years.

David Madden (Tramore) left with Liam Miller and David Warren celebrating after Ireland’s European Championship win.
David Madden (Tramore) left with Liam Miller and David Warren celebrating after Ireland’s European Championship win.

The millennium was a joyous one for Coleman’s former Leeds team-mate Kevin Murray who after receiving his CSL POY award embarked on a career spanning 20 years with Cork City, Cobh, Waterford and Midleton. 

Those that followed 2001-'05 - David O’Sullivan, Ray Lally, Karl Caulfield, David Clancy, and Darren O’Connor - all signed for City.
Lakewood’s O’Connor, after spending time with Colchester and in the USA, is now recruiting officer with Colchester while Lally is currently famous for his TV programme on fitness.

INTERNATIONAL CALIBRE

John Herrick was the first former CSL player to be capped at full international level. And 53 years after the ‘Cork Schoolboys’ League Player of Year Award’ was inaugurated John Egan (Sheffield Utd) became the first recipient to gain senior international recognition.

John Egan, Greenwood. Picture: Damien Quirke.
John Egan, Greenwood. Picture: Damien Quirke.

Egan’s road to stardom wasn’t always plain sailing as after beginning his English career with Sunderland, he was loaned to Crystal Palace, Sheff Utd, Bradford City and Southend.

Following his release by Sunderland, he joined Gillingham. After two brilliant seasons, he joined Brentford where his belated meteoric rise continued and was sold to his current team for a club-record fee.

In 2010 Matt Gledhill, a goalkeeper with Corinthians, became the first English-born player to win the award.

The very promising John Kavanagh was honoured in 2011; his injury-interrupted a career saw him move from Cork City to Harps, Waterford and Cobh.

John Kavanagh, Ringmahon Rangers, with his award in 2011.
John Kavanagh, Ringmahon Rangers, with his award in 2011.

In 2015, the League of Ireland U17 competitions began which almost guaranteed that the Schoolboy POY award recipients received invitations to join either City or Cobh.

The winner that year, Thomas O’Donovan went on to captain the Cork team which won the U17 League title in 2017.
Schoolboy soccer was shabbily treated in 2017 by the FAI who inaugurated the Airtricity U15 National League. Local clubs who had been nurturing children from the age of eight were helpless to prevent their best players from being poached by the National League teams.

Clubs losing players (sometimes more than three) complained that it impacted on the morale of those remaining.
Furthermore, the national competitions like the coveted Evans and Barry Cups lost appeal because of the absence of the best players. 

Things even got worse when the FAI pushed on to create an U13 League in 2019 with widespread scouting and trials inviting primary school kids to audition. An U14 grade will also be included from here. 

The CSL Player of the Year remains a coveted award and the recent winners Beneoin O’Brien Whitmarsh and Uniss Kargbo are key players with Cork City while Oran Daly (Cork City in 2020) and Ian Drinan (Carrigaline) are at development stages in what we hope might yet be interesting soccer careers.

ROLL OF HONOUR

1956: Noel O’Mahony, Tramore. Won FAI Cup and League medals with Cork Hibs, player and manager.

1957: Tony O’Brien, Glasheen. FAI Youths Cup 57, Man of Match for Hibs in FAI Cup final 1960.

1958: Michael Ahern, South End. Played with Cork Celtic, and Tramore Athletic.

1959: Mattie Brett, Tower. Played with Cork Celtic and Tramore.

1961: Barry Long, Tramore. Universities international and played senior with Tramore.

1962: John Dennehy, South End. Remained with South End.

1963: Ken O’Riordan, Crofton. Played with UCC. Former secretary Munster Senior League.

1964: Paul McCarthy, Blackrock. Starred with Ringmahon in the MSL/Brooklodge manager.

1965: Paddy Shortt, Wembley. Irish U21 International. FAI Cup and League medals. Limerick/Cork Celtic/Cobh Ramblers.

1966: Ted Healy, Tower. One of the great junior players. FAI Junior Cup runner-up St Mary’s.

1967: Robin Turnbull, Leeside. Blackrock/Leeside/Tramore, briefly with Cork Celtic.

1968: Matt O’Donovan, Everton. Cork Hibs 1971-75. European campaigns, Greenmount.

1971: Eddie Doyle, Glasheen. UCC Collingwood Cup 1973, Lakewood FC, management Cork Schoolboys League.

1972: Aidan O’Mahony, Rockmount. Captained Rockmount’s first-ever schoolboy winning team.

1973: Ger Keane, Crofton. Continued with Crofton and Tramore Athletic.

1974: Barry Neiland, Tramore. Played for Cork City in National League.

1975: Willie Hennessy, Wilton. Continued with Wilton.

1976: Christy White, Crofton. Long service with Crofton and then Ballincollig.

1977: Martin Shaw, Passage. Cork Celtic 1978-79, Passage FC and Passage GAA.

1978: Louis Walsh, Kilreen. GAA with the Barrs and stayed with Kilreen. England for a period. Kilreen coaching.

1980: Derek Lloyd, Springfield. Emigrated to Holland.

1981: Dave Twomey, St Mary’s. Played in the Munster Senior League with St Mary’s.

1982: John O’Sullivan, Rockmount. Continued with Rockmount and later assisted various clubs. Coached Mayfield.

1983: Paul Bowdren, Casement. Youth international, Cork City, coach Cork City.

1984: Graham Quinn, Wilton. Universities international, Collingwood win 1990, College Corinthians, and Kinsale.

1 985: Donal Desmond, Midleton. Irish schoolboy cap 1984. Remained with Midleton.

1986: Vincent Hegarty, Ballincollig. U15 and youth international. Later Ballincollig seniors.

1987: Ger Long, St Mary’s. U16 international. Cobh Ramblers, Casement Celtic, Greenmount Rangers/ Casement.

1988: Damian Martin, Rockmount. Several underage caps. Cobh Ramblers, Rockmount. Intermediate Cup medal.

1989: Ken Healy, Wilton. U16 International. Finalists 1990 in U17 and U18 FAI Cups.

1990: Alan McCarthy, Casement Celtic. UCC/ Glencairn / Wilton.

1991: Norman Forsythe, Mayfield. Continued with Mayfield.

1992: John Murphy, St Mary’s. 35 Irish underage caps. Aston Villa. Player and assistant manager Cobh Ramblers/St Mary’s.

1993: Kieran O’Shea, Rockmount. Cobh Ramblers, Rockmount and Castleview. Intermediate Cup medal with Rockmount.

1994: Wayne Murray, Glasheen. Continued in Munster Senior League with Glasheen.

1995: Mark O’Riordan, Avondale. Avondale’s first international. Senior with Avondale.

1996: Jonathan Deasy, Ringmahon. Senior with Ringmahon.

1997: Damien Byrne, Leeds. Continued with Leeds. Joined Fire Service.

1998: David Madden, Tramore. European U16 Championship with Ireland.

1999: Ken Coleman, Leeds. Youth and schoolboy international. Wolves/Waterford/Cobh Ramblers, Blarney, Leeds.

2000: Kevin Murray, Leeds. Cork City/Cobh/Waterford/ Cork City/Midleton.

2001: Dave O’Sullivan, Ballincollig. Schoolboy international. Cork City U21/Cobh Ramblers

2002: Ray Lally, Kilreen Celtic. Ireland U15 and U17. Corinthians/Cork City/Cobh Ramblers/Avondale United/Midleton. Now fitness instructor.

2003: Karl Caulfield, Kilreen Celtic. Cork City U21/Cobh Ramblers/Avondale United, four Intermediate Cups/Corinthians.

2004: David Clancy, Fermoy. Captain Cork City youths, City U21.

2005: Darren O’Connor, Lakewood. Schoolboy international, Colchester, USA, Cork City, Recruiting Director with Colchester.

2006: Richard O’Donovan, Corinthians. Corinthians.

2007: Steven Bruton: Cobh Ramblers. Cobh Ramblers.

2008: John Forrest, Corinthians, Cobh Ramblers, managing Ramblers U15s.

2009: John Egan, Greenwood. Irish International, now with Sheff Utd in Premier League.

2010: Matthew Gledhill, Corinthians. Portsmouth, Boston, Sligo, Cork City and Midleton.

2011: John Kavanagh, Ringmahon. Cork City/Finn Harps/Waterford United/ Cobh.

2012: Craig Donnellan, Corinthians Cork City/Cobh/Corinthians.

2013: George Gill, Springfield. Cork City, went to USA.

2014: John Buttimer, Wilton United. Won Collingwood and MSL Championship with UCC.

2015: Thomas O’Donovan, Rockmount. Cork City U17 and currently UCC.

2016: Beineon O’Brien Whitmarsh, Corinthians. Cobh Ramblers and now with Cork City.

2017: Oran Daly, Greenwood. Cork City U17 and U19. With City 2020.

2018: Unis Kargbo, Ringmahon. Currently with Cork City first team.

2019: Ian Drinan, Carrigaline. Playing MSL with Carrigaline.

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