ROBERT Stephens has contributed several great anecdotes to this page, and now writes to make us aware that this July brings the 50th anniversary of a truly famous victory on Leeside: the winning of the Under 16 Trophy by Rockmount.
“‘Where have the years gone?’ is a common question when at our age we meet up with old school friends, former work colleagues and sporting teammates of the old days,” says Robert.
“Looking back, we did have great times and memories of the wonderful days of our youth, growing up in Cork underneath the shadow of the famous Shandon Bells.”
We asked for more of Robert’s background, and he willingly obliged:
“I was born in Cork on October 12, 1956. We lived at 1, Mulgrave Road, 100 yards from The Butter Exchange Band room, 20 yards from Gorman’s Hat factory (the original Butter Market), 30 yards from the Firkin Crane, and 100 yards from Shandon Steeple.”
So, not only a true Corkman, but a Northsider by birth and blood group, then.
Robert and his pals had great times growing up under the gaze of the Four-Faced Liar, he recalls nostalgically.
“Football at the Blockies, kick the can, runaway knock, cowboys and Indians, oh, great days, great days.
“It was at this time that, whilst we were playing soccer in and around ‘The Square’, as we called it then, some of the Rockmount elders decided that they would form a schoolboy section to the already famous Northside club. Thus, in 1968, the new Schoolboy section was formed.
“We started off as you would, playing games in places like Togher (near where the famous Barrs are situated today), Ballyphehane Park, and the Showgrounds (now the new park next to Pairc Ui Chaoimh).
“We wore the traditional green and gold jersey at the start, but you had to bring your own shorts and socks at the time.
“We slowly got to grips with our team and learned our trade as we went along.”
Then, in 1972, came the moment, came the determination, and Rockmount was the U16 team that finally made a bit of soccer history.
“At the time we had a great team, but still had not won anything, so when we actually reached the final on July 4, 1972, the pressure was really on.
“It started off like any other day, but I will always remember that it was a beautiful summer day.
“We woke with an excitement in our bellies and a great sense of anticipation as to what we were about to achieve.
The match was to be played at Church Road in Blackrock (across from the now Blackrock Hurling and Football Club, where the houses are all now built).
“Church Road had four pitches with No.1 being the main pitch, and it was surrounded with a spectator fence. There was little or no grass up the centre from goal to goal, so on dry summer days any tackle in the centre of the pitch guaranteed you a sand storm.
“We were to play on No.2 ,which had no fencing but was divided off by high hedging.”
And, a reminder of those less opulent years, from Robert. “Because cars were not as widely owned as they are today, some travelled to Church Road by taking the No.2 bus from outside Roches Stores on Patrick Street. This bus would take you right outside the ground.”
Now doesn’t that bring back memories of a time when you simply had to walk or take the bus to get somewhere? When there were no doting mummies to drop you 20 yards in case you got tired of going so far? When every child walked to school and home again, sometimes doing the journey four times, to take in that Irish tradition of dinner in the middle of the day?
“We were playing against arguably one of the best sides in Cork at the time,” recalls Robert of that 1972 final. “Crofton Celtic was a team full of talent, and had a player by the name of Paddy Kirby that at the time was linked with Manchester United, plus Seamus Gillen, Ger Keane and many more. We would have been classed as the underdogs at the time.
“A big crowd had descended to Church Road on that glorious eve, all there to possibly see history being made.
“The match started in a frantic tempo with all players giving their all for their clubs,” relates Robert, so much of that hot summer’s evening 50 years ago still vividly clear in his mind.
“Ten minutes in we were awarded a penalty and up stood Aidan O’Mahony (better known as Mock). He did it! 1-0 to the ’Mount, and things then settled down, with the Rockmount players starting to believe in themselves.
“Twenty minutes in, and Michael Hanley, our winger, after some fantastic work, got in a great cross for Robert Stephens to finish off.
“Half time came, and time for the well earned slice of orange or water. Managers willed us on and kept reminding us of what was waiting for us at the end: HISTORY.
“15 minutes into the second half, the late, great Michael Keating put us all in a tizzy when he pounced on a loose ball to put us 3-0 up.
“True to their form and titanic efforts, though, Crofton secured a penalty, taken and scored by the great Liam Gillen. 3-1 now!
“We were still believing, and with eight minutes remaining, we were awarded a free kick outside the penalty area. Mock, our free taker, placed the ball onto a nice spot of grass and retreated with all the ease of a lion watching her prey. With that trusty left leg of his he let fly. The ball seemed to travel in slow motion as he hit it, and despite the best efforts of a despairing goalkeeper, the ball struck the top corner of the net. The crowd went wild with excitement and again we began to believe the unbelievable.
“The final whistle eventually sounded, and sheer joy descended on the No.2 pitch that memorable night. Tears of joy flowed freely and unashamedly, from players to mentors to family and supporters. We had done it, a little bit of history was made that evening.”
All the way home, remembers Robert, the car horns were sounded, “to let people know we were coming back with the Holy Grail”.
He recalled: “Driving up past the North Infirmary there were people waving, clapping, and cheering us home, and home we were.
“I will never forget that glorious evening as long as I live and it was the sole reason for the poem entitled The Class Of 72, which I wrote for my recent book, Covid Memories.”
And they are having a celebratory reunion on July 28 to remember that glorious Fourth of July half a century ago.
“We would have had it on the day itself, only with all this Covid still going round, it had to be put back. But it will be a great night,” added Robert.
He kindly sent us a copy of his cherished picture of that team of ’72 and listed the players:
They are, from left, back row: John Dunlea, Manager, Michael Keating (RIP), Robert Stephens, Harry Pegler, Michael Hanley, Jim Collins.
From left, front row: Gene Clifford, John Horgan, Denis O Sullivan, Tony O Brien ( CPT) Brian Kearney, Aidan O’Mahony.
Missing from photo, Teddy Fitzpatrick.
Robert’s book of poems, Covid Memories, is full of delightful images of old Cork and its lanes and streets and traditional ways of life, as well as that commemoration of a historic win. We hope to publish a few more of them in future Throwback Thursdays. They are a great echo of the past.
Now, do you remember Jim McKeon last week, talking about pawnshops? That topic created a great deal of interest, and Jim obliged with some entertaining anecdotes from the world of the three brass balls.
It wasn’t always the broker who came off best, it seems; many local Corkonians knew a trick or two themselves.
One recalled: “When some regular clients had gained the broker’s confidence, after numerous transactions, they sometimes used underhand methods to obtain their porter money.
“One such character often pawned his box of tools. That gave him the money he needed for the pub, but caused another problem. With no tools, he couldn’t go to work. But necessity is the mother of invention.
“He continued to pawn his tool-box but the tools were removed and replaced by two bricks. The unfortunate pawnbroker never suspected!”
Another man, Jim assures us, regularly pawned his suit.
“It was well wrapped in brown paper, and his young son religiously handed the parcel over the counter with the instructions: ‘The usual, sir.’ This meant two pounds.
“This practice went on for years until one day, when the family were leaving the area, the boy was sent on his usual errand. He handed over the parcel and duly received the two pounds. When the pawnbroker later checked the contents, he discovered a mouldy old blanket!
“Another day, these two hardy souls were drinking in a pub. They ran out of money. One of them noticed a beautiful overcoat, belonging to the proprietor, hanging up in the corner. While he acted as a decoy, his friend paid a flying visit to the nearby pawn, got a fine sum for the coat, and the thirsty twosome drank away to their hearts’ content.
“Hours later, they handed the pawn docket to the puzzled owner, staggered out the door, and were never seen again.”
That one sounds a trifle apocryphal, Jim, but it’s a good story all the same!
Here is a brief query from Kevin Hickey, who asks if anyone can supply the name of the second-hand record and tape shop on MacCurtain St in the early 1980s. He says he was in it many times, but can’t recall the name.
Well, Uneeda Bookshop was on that street for some time, Kevin, and there were certainly second-hand record shops up on Douglas Street, but let’s do what always works: ask the readers!
Somebody put Kevin out of his quandary! One of you must surely have strolled up McCurtain Street and decided to check out what was on offer in that shop?
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