Dillons duo crossed the codes

In late 1988, Brian Dillons met Carrigtwohill in a Cork County U16 hurling final.

With time running out, Dillons scored what appeared to be the winning point (“Carrig supporters behind the town goal in Cobh swore quietly that the ball was over,” records Carrigtwohill’s own website) but the umpire waved it wide, the referee concurred, and the game ended in a draw.

The giant Brian Dillons midfielder who had earlier scored the equalising point was outraged, and decided to let his feelings be known.

“At the time it meant everything,” recalled David Corkery.

“We had defied all the odds to reach that county final, beat the Barrs in the first round in the City. I played midfield, I was about 6’3” when I was 12 and I never grew afterwards, so I suppose they reckoned midfield was my best position!

“We did extremely well all year, had that game wrapped up only for that decision. I voiced my opinion to the referee afterwards and he didn’t appreciate it, and reported me.”

There were ramifications, serious ramifications, for both player and club.

“I said to them that if I was suspended it would be the last GAA game I’d ever play, that’s how strongly I felt about it. I suppose they felt they had to back up the referee so I did get suspended, missed the replay. As far as I remember that was my last game for Brian Dillons.”

It wasn’t the end of his sporting career, however, because Corkery went on to play rugby for Cork Con, Munster and Ireland. He wasn’t the first rugby international to begin his sporting career with the famed north city nursery nor, with due respect, was he the most renowned.

Donal Lenihan was also a north city boy and he too started out with Dillons.

“First with St Patrick’s National School and then Brian Dillons. Those were my first sports, hurling and football, long before rugby.

“I went to secondary school in Christians and that’s when the rugby started, at about 13 or whatever. I kept going with GAA till I was about 16, played both hurling and football in the street leagues.

“I think I played one U21 game when I had gone to rugby, but once that became serious you had no more time, that was it.”

Lenihan too would go on to play for Cork Con, Munster (on the team that tamed the All-Blacks in 1978) and Ireland, but would go a step further than David and play for, captain, then later manage the Lions. Once, but only once, they lined out together in a GAA game.

“It was on tour in San Francisco, but no, not with the All-Stars!” Lenihan laughs.

“It was an end of season tour with Cork Con to California and we decided to lighten things up one day, play a Gaelic football game using the rugby ball,” is Corkery’s recollection of it.

“Donal picked the team, named myself and himself in midfield — ‘The two Brian Dillons men!’”

Lenihan has a more laconic memory: “My knees were falling apart at the time and that’s when I knew it was time to pack it in, after that game!”

They would have made some pairing though, wouldn’t they, had rugby not intervened? As Brian Dillons head into this Sunday’s Cork JAHC final, a massive day for the club, rugby intervenes yet again for both David and Donal.

“I can’t get to the game, I’m coaching Crosshaven [rugby] and we have a game ourselves this Sunday,” Corkery explained. “Once I went full-time in rugby, it took over but some of those who were with me back then are still involved — Noel Keohane, Billy Twohig and all those. I wish them all the best of luck.”

Lenihan too is otherwise engaged, the matter of a little game in Thomond Park.

“Munster are playing Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup, I’ll be on duty.”

They’ll both be with Brian Dillons in spirit though as the current crop, led by goalkeeping captain Tom Triggs and inspired by John Horgan up front, attempts to repeat the feat of the team of 1938 and win the club only its second county hurling crown.

Against another storied club in Kildorrery, having already seen off local rivals Mayfield, then Ballinhassig and Grenagh, it’s a daunting task but that’s what makes this championship so special, and the win all that bit more sweet.

Hopefully though, we won’t have a repeat of the controversy of 1988!

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