WHEN Brian Clough sent goalkeeper Alek Ludzik to Cork for a one-month loan spell in 1967, a bond was created between the legendary football coach and the Rebel County which has lasted decades.
This was a few months into Clough’s tenure at the Baseball Ground and it was the start of the coach’s remarkable influence on football in Cork.
Ludzik was 19 years old when he was sent to Ireland to learn competitive football under Amby Fogarty, who had just taken over Cork Celtic.
The goalkeeper became an immediate fan favourite on Leeside as he saved a Carl Davenport penalty on his debut against Cork Hibernian at Flower Lodge.
At the time, Celtic were bottom of the league and Ludzik’s heroics in between the posts quickly pushed them up the table.
When the month came to an end things got complicated for the goalkeeper as he met Cork Hibernian fan Ann O’Connell, who he later married. Ludzik ended up staying on Leeside where he won a league title with Celtic in 1974.
The goalkeeper played every game during that campaign and his season was capped off with a Player of the Year award from the Celtic supporters.
Ludzik later featured for Cork Alberts and he played a big role in the club reaching the final of the 1977/78 League of Ireland Cup, where they lost 4-2 on penalties to Dundalk.
In 1987 Ludzik signed for Cobh Ramblers, who were into their third season in the League of Ireland. The Rams finished second that year in the First Division and this was enough to win promotion to the Premier Division for the first time in their history.
At one point Ludzik became caretaker manager of Cobh Ramblers and during this brief spell, he got Roy Keane to sign a professional contract with the club.
The fiery midfielder would go on to become the last great signing by Brian Clough, who had a new lease of life at Nottingham Forest in the early 1990s.
This followed a downward spiral after their successes in the late 1970s, a period which saw the club win the First Division title as well as back-to-back European Cups. In the aftermath of such highs, Forest were savaged by debts brought on by the construction of a new stand and this hampered them from competing with richer clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United, and Everton.
The revival began after Forest beat Everton to win the 1989 League Cup.
A few weeks later they lifted the Full Members Cup, a short-lived tournament created in the aftermath of the post-Heysel European competition ban on English clubs. They also reached the FA Cup semi-finals that season, where they lost 3-1 to eventual winners Liverpool.
The following season they retained both trophies and in the aftermath of their cup double success, Roy Keane was signed from Cobh Ramblers for £10,000 after impressing on trial.
He became the second Irish player in the squad, the other being Tommy Gaynor from Limerick.
The forward was in the prime of his career compared to Keane, and he was a key member of Clough’s squad. The pair were both on the Forest team that reached the FA Cup final in 1991.
This was the only time that Clough made it to that stage of the competition and it was the one trophy his honours list was missing. Unfortunately, Tottenham Hotspur won through a Des Walker own goal in extra-time.
Gaynor returned to Ireland in 1993 and after a season with Derry City he joined Cork City, where he won the League of Ireland Cup in 1995.
He left at the end of the year and joined Athlone Town but he re-signed with City for the following season.
The striker’s second spell on Leeside ended with City finishing fourth in the league and this qualified them for the group stages of the Intertoto Cup.
While Gaynor etched his name into the history books on Leeside, Keane was establishing himself as one of the greatest midfielders in the history of the game at Manchester United.
This followed three years with Brian Clough, a man Keane has the utmost respect for. In Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You: The Biography from Jonathon Wilson, the author claims: “Keane reciprocated his manager’s affection and seems to have rated him as manager even more highly than Sir Alex Ferguson.”
Keane even hinted at this sentiment in 2020 during an interview with Notts TV.
“My loyalty is always towards Brian Clough because of the fact he signed me, and gave me my debut, and I will be forever grateful for that. So it has to be Brian Clough for that side of it, but it’s a bit silly, it’s like when people talk about Ronaldo and Messi and who’s better."
When Keane went into management, his style was heavily influenced by Clough.
This approach to the game blooded a number of Cork players during his stints with Sunderland and the Irish national team.
At the Black Cats, he signed David Meyler from Cork City and he gave Kevin Long, Alan Browne, and Conor Hourihane their first senior Irish caps. Keane also coached current Cork City manager Colin Healy at Sunderland.
The retired midfielder recently said that Keane and Martin O’Neill, who also played under Clough at Forest, influenced his coaching style.
Even though Clough passed away in 2004, his managerial spirit lives on in many places, with Cork near the top of that list.