CORK celebrated its 800th anniversary 35 years ago in 1985 and the national airline, Aer Lingus prepared for an influx of visitors the likes the country’s second city had never witnessed before.
Meanwhile, the company’s soccer team prepared to fulfil its principle goal, that of wrestling the first division championship for the first time from the winner of the past six seasons , Postal Workers, a feat thought beyond any team in the league at that time.
Manager Rom Hyde was determined to learn from the shortcomings of the previous season as injuries to key players along with the lack of adequate cover played a significant role in his team falling out of the title race in the run-in.
He took heed of one of Patsy Dorgan’s words of wisdom.
The former Blackburn Rovers, Cork Hibernians and Aer Lingus central defender was prompted to say that "Our strength is in the depth of our reserves."
Hyde assembled a squad of seventeen in time for the opening of the shield campaign on Saturday, September 8th, 1984 at St Anne’s Park.
Goals from Ronald Hegarty (2) and Martin Sugrue sealed a 3-1 win over holders OLH United to set the tone for a memorable campaign to follow.
Further victories followed over Ferrero (5-1), Bank of Ireland (3-0), Postal Utd. (2-0), True Temper ( 5-1 ) along with a one-one draw against Garda sealed top spot in the section ahead of the opening league tie at The Farm against Bank of Ireland on November 10th.
The 1983 AIB Cup winners were no match for the inform visitors, conceding three first-half goals from Hegarty, Timmy Murphy and Stephen Lynch before Noel Bradley, the veteran of the side, added a fourth late on.
Two weeks later a trip to Killacloyne to face the once mighty Youghal Yarns ended in a resounding 7-1 win for the visitors.
In between Penn Chemicals emerged victorious on penalties in the shield semi-final following an extraordinary five-all at Penn Park.
The result at Killacloyne couldn’t have come at a better time as champions Postal Workers were next up at Hickey Park. Bradley and Postal’s Tom Barry exchanged first-half with Hegarty and Derry Hartnett following suit in an absorbing second 45 to leave the teams level at the finish.
The run of in-different league form must surely have tempted Hyde to give his anxious team a rest as he looked to other well known managers of the era attempting a similar course of action.
However, he rallied the troops to a morale boosting 4-1 win away to Penn to start December off to the best possible start.
The Airport outfit tagged on three wins out of four in the league to go top at the end of January with an impressive seven wins out of nine.
Champions Postal had a lot of work to do to get back into the title race, having already lost three of their opening nine matches.
The cup first round draw paired the two arch rivals together at Hickey Park on Saturday, February 2nd and on this occasion the Workers prevailed 2-1 to set up a date with Garda A in the last sixteen.
In the league, Cork Examiner were next up at Topps Park and there was no stopping the visitors from romping to an impressive 5-1 win.
Bank of Ireland threw a spanner in the work by winning 4-2 at the Farm in a lively contest in mid-February and at this stage Our Lady’s Hospital United had appeared on the horizon and looked well poised to mount a title challenge.
Although Noel Bradley opened the scoring against CIE Athletic at Hickey Park a week later, a brace from Pat Downey and a third from John Deasy made the margin of error so slim in the run in that another defeat could prove catastrophic with Postal Workers also putting in a late rally to hang onto their title.
The top three were in action on Saturday, March 9th with the leaders travelling to Penn Park and Our Lady’s squaring up with the champions at St Anne’s Park.
A Roland Hegarty hat-trick was the highlight of Aer Lingus’s 6-2 win over Penn Chemicals while Dave O’Donoghue’s 35th minute strike sealed OLH’s three points against Postal Workers.
A week later, Our Lady’s surge gathered further momentum with a second win over CIE in as many weeks before the in-form teams met for the first time at St Anne’s on Saturday, March 23rd, with the visitors coming out on top 2-1 courtesy of goals from Bradley and Hegarty.
By early April Aer Lingus’s lead at the top had stretched to four points over Bank of Ireland with two matches remaining.
OLH remained a further point adrift but with three matches in hand, a play-off was still on the cards.
Aer Lingus did all that was asked of them by beating AIB (4-0) and Postal (3-1)to finish on twenty-five points but in a disastrous week for OLH which saw them lose 4-0 in the cup final to AIB, go out on penalties to third division Modcom in the Byrne Cup and end their league aspirations with a 2-1 defeat to Cork Examiner, the Airport crew landed their first and to date only top tier championship in Cork’s 800 year of celebration.