The Dave Bacuzzi I knew on the pitch was a graceful full-back, ballerina-like, but tough. In the tackle he invariably came out on top. He was hard, as he had to be, but fair.
His great team brought success and glamour and flamboyance to Cork Hibernians. So meeting him twice was a thrill.
On both occasions, in differing circumstances for Dave, he was an absolute gentleman in every sense of the word.
I first met Dave in The Bosun lounge in Monkstown, when I was in the early stages of researching my book. Being raw in the game, I was apprehensive of how I would be received.
I need not have worried as Dave gave me two hours of his time and recounted many stories from his career, including this one of how he arrived in Cork in the first place in 1970.
During that summer, Cork Hibernians were on the lookout for a player-manager and enquired of the FA for a list of available players with coaching qualifications.
Dave Bacuzzi, then 29, was on the list. Bacuzzi had pedigree — his father, Joe, played over 300 matches for Fulham between 1935 and 1956 and 13 times for England in wartime internationals. Dave himself had played with Arsenal, Manchester City, and Reading.
An early outing for the Gunners saw him face Stanley Matthews, in Matthews’ final game for Blackpool.
Bacuzzi had completed his coaching courses at the FA centre in Lilleshall, but had agreed terms on a two-year contract as a player with Club Bruges in Belgium and was waiting for the Belgian transfer window to open to sign the contract.
Back in Cork, the board decided to make their move. Dave thought he had been approached from an exotic location when he received a misspelt telegram asking him to make contact with “Cork Island”.
Having determined the location was closer to home, Dave made a courtesy phone call to Hibs secretary John Crowley to inform him he had committed to Bruges.
But Crowley managed to persuade him to visit Cork for a weekend with his wife and family to have a look at the set-up. They were met at Cork Airport by the Hibs directors.
On their way to Flower Lodge, the party diverted through Turner’s Cross and stopped off to show Dave the opposition’s home ground.
At the time, the Cross was condemned and closed because a collapsed wall had not been rebuilt. So tenants Cork Celtic had been playing their home games at Flower Lodge.
There was no stand — just four unattractive terraces — and the pitch was so overgrown it took Dave some time to realise he was actually in a football ground.
Needless to say, when the party arrived at Flower Lodge, Dave thought he was at Wembley in comparison to what he had just seen across town. All part of the masterplan to lure him on board, Dave believed.
At a meeting with the directors he was asked what it would take to change his mind. To put them off, Dave added a percentage to the wage he had agreed with Bruges and, to his surprise, Hibs agreed.
He told me that afternoon how easy it was to manage a team as talented as Hibs and his instructions to his defence and midfield were simple: “Lob the ball over the opposing defence and let Wiggy (David Wiggington) and Miah (Dennehy), the two fastest strikers I ever saw, do the rest”.
When that wasn’t an option, he had Tony Marsden, John Lawson, or Dinny Allen to score with headers, free-kicks, or belters from outside the box.
And, as they say, the rest is history. His record in four seasons with Cork Hibernians is impressive.
- 1970/71: League of Ireland ; Dublin City Cup; Munster Senior Cup.
- 1971/72: FAI Cup; Blaxnit All-Ireland Cup and Dave was the Soccer Writers’ Personality of the Year.
- 1972/73: FAI Cup; League of Ireland Shield; Dublin City Cup; Munster Senior Cup.
As Bernie O’Sullivan’s composition put it:
Dave’s sensational sacking in 1974 — the vote was not unanimous and taken in the absence of Bobby O’Leary, a known Bacuzzi supporter — provoked a strong campaign from the supporters club and general public for his reinstatement. But to no avail.
He did not have to wait long for alternative employment as manager of Home Farm. Within a year he guided them to FAI Cup glory, becoming the first amateur team to win the trophy in 40 years.
In 10 years at Tolka Park, Dave oversaw the development of a certain Ronnie Whelan, who would become an Irish soccer legend. Dave combined his football duties with a very successful travel agency business in Dublin.
The second, and sadly last, time I met Dave was equally memorable for me. In November 2018, I had published the book and my daughter Sinead and I were welcomed into his home in Sandyford by his loving and devoted wife, Eithne.
Dave’s health had deteriorated from that awful disease, probably caused by heading the heavy leather ball all those years ago.
Nonetheless, in the couple of hours we spent with Dave and Eithne, there were many moments of happy recognition when mention was made of Joe (O’Grady), Noel (O’Mahony), Frankie (Connolly), Fada (Sheehan), Herrick, Sweeney and Lawson (they went together, like a horse and carriage), Marsden, Miah, Wiggy, Donie (Wallace), The Dav, Jerry (Finnegan), Humphreys, Deccie (O’Mahony), Brohan and Dinny (Allen). It really was memorable.
Dave was not as nimble as in the ’70s but as we were walking down the hallway towards the front door, Eithne turned to her husband and said, “Exercise, Dave!”
And out shot that right leg into the air as if Dave was setting up another attack with a lob over the opposing defence for Wiggy and Miah to race onto and put another one in the back of the net for Hibs.
Eithne has told me she hopes to celebrate what would have been Dave’s 80th birthday in October. Let us hope that Covid-19, which tragically took Dave, will allow us to do so.
Sadly, at the moment we cannot take a chance on Dave’s great motto:
- Michael Russell wrote the book Hibs! A History of Cork Hibernians FC 1957-1976, published by Onstream in 2018, with profits to Marymount Hospice. There are some copies available at onstream.ie.
- Michael is now researching the history of Evergreen United/Cork Celtic 1951-1979 and would love to hear from former players/officials or members of their families.
- Contact him on 087 6160008, 021 4887008, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.