Dromtarriffe play in the Munster junior football final tomorrow against Beaufort of Kerry (Mallow, 3.30pm), having collected the Cork junior title this season for the first time in 59 years.
That kind of drought isn’t unknown for small rural clubs, and in their corner of north Cork Dromtarriffe have been fighting the good fight for years.
However, there was a time when the club was one of the big beasts in the Cork football jungle: through the thirties they were a dominant force in the newly-formed Duhallow division, and by the early forties they were a senior club.
It was in that decade they fought out one of the most remarkable series of games in Cork’s GAA history, the marathon championship clashes with Clonakilty in the Cork senior football championship of 1941.
Described with loving detail in Dave Hannigan’s terrific Giants of Cork Sport, these games gripped the imagination in the Rebel County and beyond as it took an incredible five games to separate the sides.
Clonakilty were favourites: they lost six county finals in the thirties before asserting themselves and would prove to be the dominant force in the forties, but Dromtarriffe weren’t going to give way easily. In the first game, played on July 27th in Dunmanway, the north Cork side outscored their opponents 0-4 to 0-1 in the second half to force a draw, 1-3 to 0-6.
Two weeks later they faced off in Macroom, a game which might have swung the series Dromtarriffe’s way. Cork and Clonakilty star Mick Finn had picked up a broken hand and his side needed two late points to level matters, 1-7 apiece.
One week after that the two sides came back to Macroom, and this time Dromtarriffe needed Miah Murphy to hit a late, late point to force the game into extra-time: it was still level when that finished.
The third replay was also fixed for Macroom, on August 31. By now the games were the talk of the county and beyond, with 4,000 people overcoming petrol shortages and travel restrictions to pitch up in Macroom. Clonakilty led 1-3 to 0-3 at half-time but Dromtarriffe hung in there until the end, when they managed another late, late equaliser.
On this occasion there was no extra time played — the teams had to come back to Macroom again for the fifth encounter, but the crowds milling around the town that September 7th were aware that the county board was determined the saga would end on that afternoon no matter what.
Clonakilty were victorious, due in no small part to the return of Mick Finn to action: the games had gone on so long that he’d had time to recover from the broken hand sustained almost two months earlier. The west Cork men won 3-5 to 0-5, a surprisingly wide margin for two teams which couldn’t be separated for so long.
Ironically, Clonakilty met Bantry in the next round and after two games both sides were ejected from the championship, so Clonakilty ended up playing seven games without getting past the second round of the championship.
Nevertheless, the saga was a good omen for Cork football as a whole. Two years later the county won a Munster senior football title, and two years after that an All-Ireland final was won, the county’s sole triumph between 1911 and 1973.
The games also helped generate local legends and sealed reputations for decades to come: in one game Dromtarriffe stalwart Miah Murphy, a powerful local blacksmith, was said to have struck a goal from over 60 yards. On the Clonakilty side the discreet recruitment of a Kerry forward who was studying at the local agricultural college helped their goalscoring rate in the decisive fifth game.
The games had a long afterlife. Decades later, when Jack Lynch was Taoiseach and on an official trip to the United States accompanied by journalists and academics, he sought refuge from the wearying round of questions when he saw John A. Murphy of UCC on one flight.
“John A, I don’t suppose you remember the great Clonakilty-Dromtarriffe games back in 1941?”
He remembered. They all did.