FOR over 25 years Garda FC enjoyed a strong presence in the CBSL during its halcyon years of the 1970s, '80s, '90s and noughties.
While only reaching the heights their undoubted talents deserved towards the end of their tenure in the league, the nature of their employment invariably left them without key players at vital stages of the season, limiting their trophy success considerably.
The Boys in Blue joined along with Irish Steel in 1978-'79, as Garda United, and despite winning their opening shield encounter against Fords B 2-0 at the Showgrounds, the debutants went on to endure a season of mixed fortunes, competing well in league and cup while losing heavily to the two heavyweights of the time, Postal Workers and Ford A.
Prominent players of the early years included tough-teak Pat Daly, the former good friend of the league, Michael Murphy, Eamonn Carthy, Tom Hayes, Dermot Sheedy, Seán Barry, Ron Cooke, Eamonn Fitzgerald. John O’Grady and Ned Kirby.
Seán Barry has fond memories of that era.
"I played for many years in the Shipping League team. Our Field of Dreams was the Regional Park in Ballincollig where we played our home matches against the pick of local industries like Fords, Youghal Carpets and the Naval Service.
"Those games made for great enjoyment, and friendships which have lasted the test of time. It also gave the local population a chance to mix it with the local Gardaí and maybe kick lumps out of us. I managed the B team for a number of seasons and in the pre-mobile phone days, it was an effort to get a whole team out.
"The fixtures were printed in theon a Tuesday night and I would contact the lads for the weekend game. Then, depending they were on shifts or off the weekend, we nearly always had the eleven to start with though I could never tell who would show up.
The club’s first trophy success was the second division title in 1984-'85 with a team that included goalkeeper Donal Hegarty, defenders Robert Cooke and Eoin O’Connor, the versatile Mick Comyns and strikers Rory O’Dwyer, Jimmy Grogan and live-wire winger JJ O’Keeffe.
I was in the unique position of assessing the quality of the team, when I had the opportunity to play against them in a re-fixed Byrne Cup, now Jackie O’Driscoll Premier Cup, in 1986 as a member of Roches Stores. In a blistering first-half performance that yielded unanswered goals from Noel McCarthy (2), Laurence Owens and Don Sheehan, we ran out comfortable 4-0 winners on the night in what is regarded by many as the team’s finest performance under the then stewardship of manager Aidan Draper.
The promise of further success didn’t materialize and relegation only inspired the Force to bounce back with a league and cup double in 1989-'90. A score-less draw against Co Council secured the title before an absorbing Cameo Jewellers Cup triumph followed with victory over OLH United.
Eoin O’Mahony headed Garda in front from Jim Grogan’s corner after five minutes only for Tony McAuliffe to level with ten minutes remaining. Charlie Daly put OLH in front in extra-time before Grogan brought the tie to penalties with time almost up. Garda prevailed to win 4-2 in the shoot-out to bring the curtain down on a momentous season for the winners.
An increase in recruitment enabled the club to enter two teams back in 1984 with both locking horns for the first and only time in the AIB Cup campaign on 1992-'93. Third Division United edged out their First Division counterparts, Garda A, in round two in a replay before going on to reach the final only to lose 2-0 to Youghal Yarns at Turner’s Cross. The squad included former Cork senior football goalkeeper John Kerins, Delaney club brothers Sean and Mark McElhinney and Tipperary footballer Mick Hanley.
Seasons 1999-'00 and 2000-'01 would prove to be the club’s swan song in the top flight with victory in the four major trophies. First the treble of Premier League, Shield and Premier Cup was won with the club’s only Mooney Cup success coming the following season.
The highlight of the league success under manager Cathal Collins and his assistants Pat Daly and Michael Murphy was a 12-match unbeaten run enabling the title to be won without a defeat. At the finish, Garda ended up with 13 wins and two draws, scoring 49 and conceding just 14.
Declan and Dan O’Sullivan, Brian Barrett, goalkeeper Barry Myres, Seamus McIntyre and Shannon Ryan were prominent throughout the successful league campaign. Jamsie O’Shea proved the hat-trick hero in the 5-0 cup win over Roches Stores at Turner’s Cross in May 2001.
An embargo on recruitment would force the club to withdraw two seasons later, but with a proud tradition of sportsmanship their enduring legacy, the CBSL proved the big winners in having them as a member for so long!