Memories of Castlehaven’s 1994 Cork SFC county final win over arch rivals O’Donovan Rossa are still fresh in the participants’ minds.
The winners of an unforgettable all-West Cork county final replay, that drew record crowds of 22,000 and 30,000 to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, were honoured at half-time in yesterday’s Cork SFC decider.
It is 25 years since ‘the Haven’ came out on top 0-12 to 0-10 following a 1-9 to 1-9 draw. Those epic encounters included a who’s who of Cork inter-county football at the time.Castlehaven’s Larry Tompkins, Niall Cahalane and John Cleary lined out against Skibbereen’s Tony Davis, Don Davis, Gene O’Driscoll and the late Mick McCarthy.
“Time has gone by very quickly,” former Cork and Castlehaven forward John Cleary admitted. “Coming into it, Skibbereen had won an All-Ireland (1993) and we had won a county (1989) so there was a fierce local rivalry.
“There was an awful lot of good players around at the time though, many of them involved in inter-county squads.
“O’Donovan Rossa were our local rivals and it was the first time we had met in a county final. There were two super teams involved and evenly matched.
“For supporters and players, they were two absolutely massive days out. Thanks be to God we won it.
“It is great to look back on those occasions in the fullness of time because you realise what good times we enjoyed. Coming out onto the pitch at half-time in this year’s county final was special because it brought the squad back together again.”
The two-week gap between the 1994 drawn final and replay were fraught with worry. O’Donovan Rossa sweated over the fitness of Don and Tony Davis while Castlehaven’s John Cleary had injured his groin and Larry Tompkins had suffered shoulder ligament damage.
Somehow, all four managed to appear in the replay with news of Tompkins’ shock inclusion eliciting one of the biggest roars ever heard at a county decider.
“One memory sticks out from the dressing room on the day of the replay,” Niall Cahalane recounted.
“We came out of the drawn game a bit broken. It was looking like we were going to be without John (Cleary) and Larry. Everyone that was there knew we were going to have to dig that little bit deeper. As a result we were much more focused.
“We were about ready to go out when there was just this massive roar. It shook the dressing room. The Castlehaven crowd were reacting to the announcement that Larry (Tompkins) was playing.”
That famous Castlehaven victory had a huge effect on the West Cork and Beara regions as Bantry Blues (1995 and 1998), Clonakilty (1996) and Beara (1997) claimed the Andy Scannell Cup in successive years.
Yet in terms of legacy, it is doubtful a rivalry as raw as Castlehaven and O’Donovan Rossa’s, or the massive attendances drawn to their county finals, will ever be repeated.
Looking ahead to next year’s inter-county campaign, both John Cleary and Niall Cahalane are cautiously optimistic about the Cork seniors’ chances of improving on their 2019 showing.
“All Cork football supporters are geed up and there seems to be a new found hope,” Cleary stated.
All any supporter wants, just like in my time playing, is to be heading up to Munster and All-Ireland finals.
“Particularly in West Cork which is the home of football. It won’t be easy but I think that Cork football is in an awful lot better shape than previous years.”
“There is no doubt about it, Cork are in a better place in terms of gaining that experience of playing in the Super 8’s,” Niall Cahalane added.
“Getting out of Division 3, they just have to do it. If they don’t then it is Tier 2 football. Relaistically, we should be getting out of Division 3 but there are a lot of tough games away from home. Away games in particular are always going to be difficult as the opposition build themselves up to beat Cork, a Super 8s team.
“I would very hopeful that we can stay in there, get back to playing Super 8s football and blood one or two of the younger U20 players as well.”