Donal Lenihan: Memories of afternoons spent following Cork Hibs have lasted a lifetime

Donal Lenihan: Memories of afternoons spent following Cork Hibs have lasted a lifetime
The Cork Hibernians squad who won the League of Ireland in 1971. Back: Terry Young, Noel O’Mahony, Frankie Connolly, Joe O’Grady, Tony Marsden, Carl Davenport, Dave Wigginton. Front: Donie Wallace, John Herrick, Dave Bacuzzi, Sonny Sweeney, John Lawson.

YOU have to be of a certain vintage for the recent passing of Dave Bacuzzi to register in your conscience.

For a magical period growing up in Cork in the early 1970s, Flower Lodge on a Sunday afternoon became the epicentre of our universe.

I was 10 years old when introduced to the buzz associated with games down the Lodge for the first time.

A neighbour, Dan Kelly, who lived across the road, was a Cork Hibernians season ticket holder. That entitled him sit on the halfway line in the stand every second Sunday. In those days at every sporting event, including All-Ireland hurling and football finals, you were allowed slip a child into the ground with you when filtering through the turnstiles. It was a common occurrence at most matches for kids to queue up outside the ground and ask a man to “take me in, please sir”.

I was lucky. Mr Kelly collected me every Sunday and, with a few other neighbours, we would climb into the back of Billy Scouts’s van and head off to the game.

Mr Kelly had no problem smuggling me into the middle of the stand. The chat surrounding the match in the back of the van, before and after the game, was fascinating. I would just sit there and listen while the atmosphere once inside the ground was electric.

I think Mr Scouts was a tradesman of some description, hence the van. It was always full of tools. I remember him talking one day about the simplicity of modern day songs. “There’s a new one just out” he mused. “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail”. Given his day job, it clearly resonated with him. It was my first introduction to Simon and Garfunkel. After moving from national school in St. Patrick’s to CBC, I was deemed old enough to go it alone on match days and head for the terraces. Even in a rugby mad school like Christians, if you weren’t at the Cork Hibs game on a Sunday you were out of the conversation on Monday morning.

Dave Bacuzzi was signed as player-manager of Cork Hibernians from Reading in 1970. He had played in the then First Division — today’s Premier League — for Arsenal and Manchester City. The closest we ever got to that was watching Match of the Day.

BACUZZI looked different. He was tanned. There was an aura of authority about the way he carried himself. When, as captain, he led the Hibs side out of the little dressing room complex at the corner of the pitch, he looked so elegant. He would bounce onto the pitch on the balls of his feet and glide over the top of the grass.

By way of contrast, fellow defenders Noel O’Mahony, Frank Connolly or Martin “Fada” Sheehan, whose bristling foxy beard made him look even more ferocious to kids of our age, would gobble up the ground and anyone else who stood in their way.

John Herrick was a classy full-back. His uncle Jack lived next door to us and in my naivety I felt connected to the team as a result. You had the three magicians in Carl Davenport, “the Dav” to all and sundry, Tony Marsden and Dave Wigginton. They were to us what Messi, Suarez and Neymar were to Barcelona. Poetry in motion.

That was before Miah Dennehy scored a hat-trick against Waterford in the 1972 FAI Cup. Miah was everyone’s favourite after that, so good that Nottingham Forest signed him the following season. Donie Wallace had blinding pace. His ability to take on defender’s always created massive excitement on the grassy banks. Glasgow Celtic had the flying Jimmy Johnstone but we had Donie Wallace.

I remember a few of us walking down Wellington Road one afternoon, heading back to school after the lunchtime break, when Hibs towering goalkeeper Joe Grady, who was stationed in Collins Barracks with the army, stopped and gave us a spin. We couldn’t wait to get back and tell everyone. Nobody believed us.

THE fact Bacuzzi always had his side in contention for silverware made life even more exciting.

Under his stewardship Hibs won the league in 1971 and back-to-back FAI Cup’s in 1972 and 1973.

I was one of 26,000 fans who packed into Flower Lodge and watched in horror as Hibs, 2-0 up against Waterford with just 11 minutes to play, conceded three late goals in what was effectively a play-off to retain their title. That defeat handed the league to Alfie Hale’s men. We were all shellshocked.

Back in September 1971, just two weeks into secondary school, my affinity with Cork Hibs made it a lot easier to make new friends in Christians.

As reigning League of Ireland champions, Hibs hit the jackpot when drawing West German champions Borussia Monchengladbach in the first round of the European Cup.

On a bright Wednesday afternoon a number of us skipped sports and headed for Flower Lodge instead.

Monchengladbach were a huge draw with big names in West German international’s Gunter Netzer, Jupp Heynckes, and Berti Vogts all on board.

So accustomed with watching Hibs beat all-comers when playing at home, we were shocked at the ease with which they were torn apart, eventually losing 5-0. Netzer was sensational. His range of pin-point passing ripped the home defence to pieces. We had never seen that happen.

As a centre-half pairing Noel O’Mahony and Fada Sheehan frightened the life out of everyone in the League of Ireland. After a 0-0 draw against Shelbourne at Dalymount Park in the 1973 FAI Cup final, the replay was fixed for midweek down the Lodge. We couldn’t believe our luck. Off we went again.

I remember an evening spent with Ireland manager Paul McNaughton at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Paul was a very talented sportsman, winning 15 caps in the centre for Ireland. He also played senior championship football with Wicklow and League of Ireland soccer as a semi professional with Bray Wanderers and Shelbourne including that FAI Cup final and replay in 1973.

He played up front and I asked him about his memories of those games against Hibs. Suffice to say he’d prefer a physical confrontation against any All Black centre partnership compared to the punishment meted out by Sheehan and O’Mahony in Cork that day!

Hibs won the replay 1-0 with promising young Cork hurler and footballer Dinny Allen named man of the match.

Dinny’s involvement with Hibs that season cost him an All-Ireland football medal as Cork won the Sam Maguire. His decision to play soccer was not well received by those in power in the Cork County Board.

Incredible to think that 16 years later, at 37 years of age, he was still good enough to captain the Cork footballers to All-Ireland glory and finally capture a much deserved Celtic Cross.

In his opening three seasons as player/manager, Bacuzzi could do no wrong and Hibs were riding the crest of a wave. Like many a top manager before him and since, Bacuzzi was treated disgracefully when sacked within 12 months of that ‘73 FAI Cup success.

Hibs finishing third in the league that season, only four points behind the winners, great city rivals Cork Celtic.

Within three years of Bacuzzi’s departure, Cork Hibernians were no more. Soccer in the city has experienced a rollercoaster of highs and lows ever since but for kids of my generation, memories of Sunday afternoons spent down the Lodge have lasted a lifetime. They were magical times with Bacuzzi in the role of Merlin. May he rest in peace.

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