Cork is renowned as a sports-mad city, boasting a rich seam of success in all codes, whose heroes on the field of play attain iconic status.
The Ford factory played a major role in this success for several decades. Many of the workers played for factory teams in various games, from soccer to basket- ball, while some employees became GAA and soccer legends in Cork colours.
When the workers were not taking part or spectating, they were discussing sport feverishly — often on the factory floor on work time!
Former Ford employee Maurice Shortt recalls that the Monday morning chats about the previous weekend’s sporting events became such a weekly ritual that they led to the phenomenon of the ‘Monday morning car’!
Maurice, 85, who worked at the Marina for more than a year starting in 1950, recalled: “On the day after a contentious Sunday game, the assembly line, like ‘Old Man River’, kept rolling along as the inquest on the game was aired among interested parties on the line.
“‘Monday morning car’ was the term used to describe how workers were more likely to make errors at the times when they were arguing the toss about the Rockies and the Glen or other weekend matches, instead of concentrating on their workmanship!”
Maurice was originally from Fermoy and obtained employment at Ford thanks to a friendship with Tom Cavanagh, the main dealer in the town at the time and a staunch GAA fan.
Now living in Clane, Co. Kildare, Maurice was a fine hurler himself, playing for Cork Minors in his day.
Among the sporting employees he recalled working alongside were All-Ireland senior football winners Dave Magnier and Moll Driscoll. Corner back Dave gave goalie Moll great protection as they combined to hold Cavan goal-less and bring the Sam Maguire to Cork in 1945, after a 34-year hiatus.
Maurice also had fond memories of working alongside hurling greats Josie Hartnett and Vince Twomey of Glen Rovers, as well as Paddy ‘Hitler’ Healy, another senior hurling All-Ireland medallist.
Maurice loved his time at Ford but when redundancies were necessary in 1951, the unwritten rule of ‘last in, first out’ saw him leave.
A few years later, in 1954, Cork hurlers won a famous All-Ireland final against Wexford to seal a three-in-a-row and Christy Ring’s eighth Celtic Cross. Some members of that squad visited the Ford factory, including Ford workers Mick Cashman, Hartnett and Twomey.
Ford established its place in Cork sporting folklore in its early days, when the Fordson factory team won an unlikely Free State Cup — later the FAI Cup — in 1926.
That fairytale story, told in our January Ford 100 supplement, had a cultural impact on the city and UCC sports historian David Thoms wrote: “It was hugely important, not only for the club but also for soccer as a new popular pastime in the city of Cork.
“It was derided by many in the provincial press of Munster as nothing more than a ‘shoneen game’; the popularity of Fordson FC and their victory in 1926 showed the opposite to be true.”
GAA already had a solid footing in the Marina factory and the arrival of players and supporters of soccer and, to a lesser extent, rugby, made it a temple of ecumenical sport.
In those early days, the stand-out figure in the Cork plant was the illustrious Eudie Coughlan, winner of five All-Ireland medals between 1919 and 1931, and selected in the hurling team of the 20th century.
After leaving Ford, where he worked in the foundry, Eudie completed his working days in the Harbour Board. Work conditions in the foundry were hot and harsh and he once said: “If the Harbour Board was heaven, Ford’s foundry was hell!”
Fordson FC’s climb from obscurity to Free State Cup success had been helped by an influx of journeymen professionals from across the English Channel, who were able to prolong their careers and earn a decent wage employed by the motor company.
Even after the club was reinvented as Cork FC, the Ford connection remained strong.
Thus, when Cork FC won the FAI Cup in 1934, Bobby Buckle, a fitter at Ford, was among the winning team, emulating his father, who also worked at Ford and who was on the 1926 team.
The winning goal in that 1934 final at Dalymount Park — a 2-1 victory over St James’s Gate of Dublin — was scored by Scottish native Jack Kelso, who also worked at Ford.
Florry Burke was another huge soccer personality at Ford. An Irish international and a member of the all-conquering Cork United team, he won an FAI Cup medal and three League Championship medals with them. Then, in 1951, he captained the Cork Athletic team which pulled off a league and cup double.
In 1953, a unique all-Cork FAI Cup final between Athletic and Evergreen created a massive buzz in the city — and in the Ford factory too.
Florry was by then with Evergreen, and his team-mate, winger Billy Venner, was also a work colleague.
However, they lost to Athletic in a replay and one of their players, Paddy O’Callaghan, was a Ford worker who brought his winner’s medal into the factory the morning after the success!
Cork Hurlers and All-Ireland champions visit Fords in 1954. Second from right Mick Cashman, third from right Vincie Twomey, third from left Josie Hartnett.
Tommy Collins of Ford, meanwhile, starred on the ill-fated Cork Athletic team beaten by Shamrock Rovers in the 1956 FAI Cup final.
In 1960, Marina worker Mick O’Keeffe, a tough-tackling full-back, played for the Cork Celtic team that were runners-up in the league, while Young Pat O’Callaghan got an FAI Cup runners-up medal with Cork Hibernians in 1963, as did keeper Dan Spillane a year later with Cork Celtic.
Bobby Humphreys, father of Carl, was, along with luminaries like Teddy Hickey (Albert Rovers), Paddy O’Connell (Hibs) and Denis Ford (Alberts), among those who kept soccer alive in the factory for decades.
Eddie Kehelly, from Ford accounts, had a fine soccer career with Cork Hibs, with whom Brendan Draper won an FAI Cup medal in 1972.
Miah Lynch, who worked in Hassett’s Garage in Cove Street before joining Ford, was a gifted all-round sportsman who played for Ireland in a 1934 World Cup qualifier against Belgium.
His preference for soccer deprived Cork GAA of a superstar and, after returning to Gaelic Games in the twilight of a glorious sporting career, Miah won two senior county championship medals with the Barrs in 1946 and 1947.
There were near misses for some Ford workers.
Nealie Duggan and Timmy O’Callaghan (1957) and Johnny Carroll (1967) were on Cork teams beaten by Louth and Meath in All-Ireland finals, while Mick Cashman must be the unluckiest keeper ever to wear the Cork jersey; he was first choice in 1952 but illness forced him to withdraw from the All-Ireland hurling championship and deprived him of partnering workmates Hartnett and Twomey on the three-in-a-row side.
In his absence, Dave Creedon came out of retirement to replace him. Cork defeated Dublin in the final and veteran Creedon stayed on to win three All-Irelands.
Peter Doolan, a member of the Cork team which ended a 12-year barren spell by defeating Kilkenny in the 1966 All-Ireland final, also recalled those Monday morning sporting jousts on the production line.
“We had some great Monday debates, sometimes even as fiery as the matches being discussed!”
At times, observers to these verbal spats must have been tempted to call in Willie Horgan — who ended up refereeing the 1991 All-Ireland hurling final between Tipperary and Kilkenny — down from the office block to control things.
When Henry Ford II paid a courtesy visit to the plant, Doolan was the winner of a free draw among employees, of a GL escort!
Two other Ford workers and fine hurlers, Paddy O’Connor and Patsy Harte, were members of that 1966 Cork panel and played against Clare in that victorious campaign.
Donal Clifford, of UCC, and Barrs man Tony Maher, shone on the Cork team that defeated Wexford in the first 80 minute All-Ireland final in 1970.
Maher’s outstanding displays the following year were instrumental in him becoming, along with Ray Cummins, Cork’s first GAA All-star.
Tony won a second All-Star in 1972 and was joined on the Cork team that year by Frank Norberg, who captained the side which claimed a ninth National League title.
However, Frank, whose father, John, also worked at Ford, missed out on the opportunity to receive the Liam McCarthy Cup after they were convincingly beaten by Kilkenny.
Another Ford employee and All-Star was Pat Moylan, the holder of three Celtic Crosses. Rebel fans will never forget his long- range point scoring in the 1976 final against Wexford, which turned the game for Cork and earned him his All-Star.
Every ex-Ford employee I spoke to suggested I speak to Jerry O’Sullivan from Ballygarvan — who was the heart and soul of hurling in the factory and who told me there were dozens of great hurlers at Ford.
“Now, even though I disliked soccer there were others more militant,” he quipped. “Paddy Stanton, for one, fondly remembered as the ‘Butcher’ from Timoleague, often had to walk through Marina Park (Ford’s soccer pitch) to the car park at the end of the pitch. He blocked his eyes with his cap and dared not make eye contact with those he perceived as ‘West Brits’ kicking a ball around!”
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