THE Drinagh U14 football team comprised of players from Drinagh and Lisbealad National School, who won the inaugural Tom Barry Cup in 1970 recently gathered for a special team reunion.
In 1970, the Carbery GAA Board decided to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Kilmichael by establishing a special U14 football tournament in the division.
Many celebrations took place in 1970 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Kilmichael which included a speech by General Tom Barry at the site of the ambush, on Sunday, August 9. This was also the day of the West Cork Rural Division U14 football final with a new trophy in his honour being presented by Tom Barry to the winning team.
As a result, there was a large crowd at Kilmichael and afterwards at the football match in Sam Maguire Park, Dunmanway, between Drinagh and Timoleague.
Sean McCarthy who played as a corner forward on the victorious team said he still retains great memories of a special summer.
“The winning team were to receive the Tom Barry Cup from the man himself. Receiving the cup and meeting Tom Barry was an achievement in itself. The games were played during the summer of 1970. We have great memories of a special summer and era. There were great celebrations after the final. There were bonfires lighting in many areas as we made our way home,” he said.
The Drinagh team which entered the inaugural Tom Barry Cup was a new team specially formed for the tournament.
A team was made up of players from Drinagh and Lisbealad which is a parish just east of Drinagh, especially for this tournament.
"It was an achievement for this team to win the Tom Barry Cup in the year it was launched. We had a small pick of players, but we had some great players.
“Kevin Quirke was unbelievable. We had a great captain in Tommy O’Brien. Some of the players such as James Daly went on to play for county teams afterwards. We also had a young player called Martin Connolly who was recently named Cork Person of the Year in San Francisco. He was very talented. We had a great team spirit, and all the players were so committed,” he added.
The Drinagh team enjoyed a whirlwind season as they won all their games in the western section, before beating Castlehaven by one point following a final that was played in Skibbereen.
They then marched on to the overall West Cork divisional final against the eastern section winner Timoleague. Drinagh again emerged victorious by one point following a thrilling final.
“We beat several top teams including Castlehaven who had a star-studded team. The Haven team included a number of players who played for Cork and won numerous championship titles with both club and county in the following years. We also beat Drimoleague and Timoleague. There was a big crowd at the final and a great atmosphere. It was a huge achievement to defeat all these strong teams and win the whole competition.”
2020 represented the 50th anniversary of their success in the inaugural Tom Barry Cup and the players had planned to hold a celebratory team reunion in recognition of their great success. Covid however derailed their plans and forced the postponement of their reunion until the latter stages of last year.
“We wanted to commemorate the anniversary of our great achievement in the summer of 1970 by meeting up and holding a reunion. The whole team turned up. All the players are thankfully all alive. We all met up, exchanged stories, and had a great day. The players are all located in various parts of Cork and all over Ireland with a few players based in America.
“The reunion had to be held in 2022 because we couldn’t hold it during Covid. The players decided to meet at the ambush site in Kilmichael which was a great idea. We met up at the monument and we got a lovely team picture. We also had the Tom Barry Cup on the day of the reunion which Donal McCarthy arranged for us which was a lovely touch. We then travelled on to Drinagh village where a number of people gave speeches. It was a great day,” he added.
Amazingly several of the players had never met up since that fateful day in August 1970 when they were crowned U14 West Cork champions. It was an ‘emotional’ night.
“A lot of the players had never met since winning the Tom Barry Cup in 1970. It was a very emotional night as I met people I hadn’t seen since 1970. There was one player who had to go away straight after the final, so he said it took him over 50 years to get his hands on the cup and celebrate it properly.”
The Tom Barry Cup remained on the GAA calendar for several years after the inaugural 1970 campaign which ensured a number of teams subsequently won it. It was the only year however a combined Drinagh and Lisbealad team entered the competition as players from Drinagh subsequently joined Clann na nGael.
The U14 football selectors were Johnny O’Brien, Tim Connolly, Bill Quirke and Michael Moynihan.
The victorious Drinagh U14 team were presented with their medals, at a gala dinner in Owenahincha, in December 1970.