Carrig were favourites to retain their East Cork junior title and so they did. In the semi-final they met Castlemartyr, the only team with realistic hopes of taking it from them, but it turned out to be a comfortable victory. Carrig played with the wind in the first half and led by 3-6 to 0-0 at half time. Castlemartyr rallied in the final quarter but the final scoreline brooked no argument, 5-10 to 3-2.
The East Cork final against O‘Briens (Ladysbridge) was another massage of Carrig‘s ego. A record crowd generating gate receipts of £71 witnessed a massacre: “Carrigtwohill literally overwhelmed O‘Briens, who were also last year’s beaten finalists,” reported the Examiner. “To state that the game was a disappointing one would have been a very modest opinion of what was a very poor final. From the start of the game, with O’Briens having the advantage of a very stiff breeze it was quite apparent that there was only one team in it, with Carrig’s superiority clearly to be seen in all departments.”
“Carrig had 3-1 on the scoreboard without reply from O’Briens at the short whistle. Hopes were entertained when the game was resumed that O‘Briens, who had not given their best, would improve, but, as the second half progressed, Carrig increased their lead to such an extent that, with ten minutes to go, people began leaving the field and it was only in the closing stages that O’Briens got a point. An outstanding feature of the game was the big bag of scores accumulated by the Cork player Willie John Daly who accounted for 4-5 of his side‘s total of 7-8.”
What happened next was one of the most extraordinary episodes in the history of the club. Carrig lost to Doneraile in the semi-final of the county championship, but they weren’t prepared to accept their defeat at face value. Denis Conroy takes up the story.
“Carrig were beaten and we couldn’t understand how it happened because Doneraile weren’t great, on paper anyhow. It trickled through to us that they had brought in players from outside. So we discussed it on Monday and we continued it on Tuesday. We decided we‘d lodge an objection and then we’d start putting our stuff together.”
“We had an objection written out (for the county board meeting on Tuesday night) and we arrived in Cork, ready to hand it to Sean Og Murphy (county board secretary), when I asked the question, ‘Who was put off on Sunday”, to be told that it was Dan Fenton, who was secretary of the club and who was after signing the objection. So we had to have an emergency meeting in the car to appoint a secretary, cross out Dan Fenton’s name and write in the new man‘s name – Sean Twomey, I think, was appointed.”
Carrig’s investigation took them first to a building site in Doneraile where a man whom Doneraile claimed had played corner forward on Eamonn Cummins, was working. Eamonn accompanied Conroy and they confronted the man.
“Eamonn had a look at him,” said Conroy, “and said I don’t think I met you before.” “I played” he said. “You did not” said Eamonn and that put the scare across them. We moved on from there and we were picking up a little bit here and there.”
Their information directed them next to New Ross in county Wexford. Conroy walked into a cobbler‘s shop in the town masquerading as somebody who needed players for the following weekend: “‘Who‘d be the likely clients now to travel,‘ says I. ‘You could get them out in Slieverue (county Kilkenny)” he said. ‘Would Timmy Russell know them’ says I. “Course” he said “sure would Timmy’s taking them every Sunday.’ ‘They‘re me men alright,’ I said, ‘can you tell me where they’re living?
“And he told me and we went round, and the minute we came to the door all lights went out. We called to two houses and the lights went off as we knocked. Well now, says I, we’re on the right track alright, the hare‘s after being tipped off.”
On the following Sunday the lads were due to play in the South Kilkenny final and Carrig sent a party along: Conroy, Eamonn Cummins, Willie O’Neill and Dan Fenton. They identified the players who had played for Doneraile and got their names from the referee. Carrig brought their evidence to the county board on the 19th of October and their appeal was upheld.
“The secretary said that the committee were unanimous that Doneraile had played an illegal team and that at least one player had been brought from another county,” reported the Examiner. “The chairman ruled that the match be awarded to Carrigtwohill and that the player brought from outside the county had automatically suspended himself for 12 months. The county board of this player‘s county would be informed in due course so that they could take action against him. The chairman also ruled that Doneraile stand suspended for 12 months.”
Doneraile lodged an objection to the Munster Council and the evidence was brought under the microscope again. One of the players from Slieverue, and the one about whom Carrig’s case was strongest, claimed that he had been at the All Ireland football final on the day of the match against Carrigtwohill. A witness for the defence, said that he drove to Dublin with the Slieverue player and sat with him throughout the All Ireland final. The proceedings then took a decisive turn in Carrig’s favour.
“The chairman of the Munster Council asked the question,” remembers Eamonn Cummins, “was there anything that happened at the All Ireland final that day, anything unusual? They said there was nothing. They were caught then because that particular day a plane flew over Croke Park advertising something – everybody saw it. The game was up.”
The Munster Council upheld the decision of the Cork County Board and awarded the match to Carrig: “We stopped at half way coming home,” said Conroy “and t‘was late when we got to Carrig. You could say that it was time to be getting up.”
Carrig went on to play Cloughduv in the county final at Ballincollig on the second Sunday of December. Carrig were in a different class. Goals from Willie Meade, Val Deasy and Donal Cummins in the first quarter put Carrig into a commanding position they never relinquished. Tommy O’Donovan (Cobh) added another goal before half time; JJ Higgins and Cummins added two more in the second half for good measure and at the finish it was 6-5 to 1-1.
“There was no doubting Carrig‘s superiority,” reported the Examiner, “in a hard fought match which was marred by some unruly scenes. From the start of the match, play was over robust and neither side could settle down to skilful hurling, although Carrig did impress as a skilful side. Cloughduv had no answer to Carrig’s trio of senior inter-county players, Mattie Fouhy, Willie John Daly and Sean Twomey.”
“Willie O‘Neill and the Cummins brothers, (Eamonn and Willie) were particularly effective in defence and the veteran Carrig player, ‘Daw’ Edwards, played in goal and gave an excellent performance. Another veteran player, Tommy O‘Donovan (Cobh), played well at full forward and the other attackers, JJ Higgins, Derry Foley, Val Deasy, Willie Meade and Donal Cummins all helped greatly in bringing the title to East Cork.”
Carrig: Daw Edwards, Eamonn Cummins, Dinny Lenihan, Willie Cummins, Mattie Fouhy, Willie O‘Neill(c), Dan Fenton, Sean Twomey, JJ Higgins, Derry Foley, Val Deasy, Willie John Daly, Willie Meade, Tommy O‘Donovan, Donal Cummins.
Sub: Jimmy O’Brien for Tommy O’Donovan.
Carrig went up intermediate after their junior success of 1948 and accounted for Carrigaline in the first round. Unlike nowadays there were rarely any more than eight teams in the intermediate championship so victory over Carrigaline sent them into a semi-final against Buttevant on the first Sunday of August. Perhaps deterred by the rain only a small crowd came to see Carrig’s victory and those who came were given little compensation.
Despite having the former Cork full back Batt Thornhill in their ranks, Buttevant were unable to contain Carrig who ran into a 4-1 to 0-2 lead at half time and were 7-7 to 2-2 ahead at the finish. Suitably impressed the Examiner installed Carrig as favourites for the county final.
Newtownshandrum were Carrig‘s opponents in a thrilling final five weeks later. Carrig played with the wind in the first half and opened the scoring with a brilliant left-handed point from over sixty yards by Willie John Daly, but they were only four points ahead at half time, 1-6 to 1-2, with Willie Meade getting the Carrig goal. In the first five minutes of the second half, however, Sean Twomey threaded a low shot through a forest of legs for another Carrig goal and they added a further two points before Newtown regained their balance. A goal from JJ Higgins later in the half kept Newtown at bay and there were five points in it at the finish, 3-10 to 3-5.
“As expected, the Cork senior players, Mattie Fouhy at centre back, Sean Twomey at midfield and Willie John Daly at left half forward, paved the way for Carrig’s victory,” reported the Examiner.
“Daly in particular was brilliant and in addition to scoring several points on his own he was also involved in the lead-up to most of the side’s scores. The Carrig forwards were better balanced than their opponents and each player was capable of scoring if given the least opening. Some of the Carrig players would have done much better if they were not so prone to rising the ball before striking. Carrig, however, showed that extra craft and were quicker on the ball than the Newtown players.”
Carrig: Michael Keating, Willie Cummins, Eamonn Cummins, Billy O’Neill, Dermot Foley, Mattie Fouhy, Dan Fenton, Sean Twomey(c), Lar Cotter, Donal Curtin, Val Deasy, Willie John Daly, Willie Meade, JJ Higgins, Colman O’Donovan. Subs: Jimmy Fouhy, Jim ‘Daw’ Edwards, Donal Cummins, Jimmy O’Brien, Dinny Linehan, Tommy O’Donovan.
A week later lmokilly, captained by Sean Twomey and with five other Carrig players on the team, lost to Glen Rovers in the senior county final, 6-5 to 0-14. Imokilly led by 0-9 to 0-2 approaching half time, but two quick Glen goals all but wiped out their advantage. Imokilly had a man sent off shortly after half time, but they were still clinging to a one point lead with six minutes left. A goal from Christy Ring, however, spurred the Glen to one last push and they pulled away to win their first title for 12 years.
Imokilly: W Barry, D Barry, M Lynch, Willie Cummins*, Mattie Fouhy*, Willie O’Neill*, G Power, Sean Twomey (C)*, Gerald Murphy, S Fleming, Eamonn Cleary, Willie John Daly*, Paddy O’Neill*, T Ahern, Willie Moore. *from Carrig
At different times in Carrig’s history the club was driven by dynamic personalities whose influence blanketed the club. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Fr Jack Fitzgerald, a native of Macroom and later to be parish priest in Cloyne, was such a force. “At the time,” remembers John O’Connor”, “the players were the officers of the club as well, they were running the show even though it wasn’t very formalised. But he straightened the whole thing out.”
He brought order to the smallest things. “Before matches there was no more going door to door to pick players up or meeting at Conroy’s corner,” says Paddy Roche. “Every player had to be at his door, unless they were travelling themselves. And he never went to a match without his car full.”
Paddy Duggan remembers the little shed at the back of his house where he stored hurleys: “Fr Fitzgerald had the hurleys cut out,” he says, “and then you shaved them down yourself. I remember it was only six pence for a hurley.” With so many good players at the time the club was blessed to have such leadership. Fr Fitzgerald’s leadership qualities found wider expression when, in 1950, he was elected chairman of the East Cork Board.
Given that Carrig had gone up senior in the mid-40s without winning the intermediate championship it was perhaps surprising that they stayed down this time. The decision was probably influenced by Imokilly’s showing in the 1949 senior championship and the critical importance of the Carrig players to Imokilly’s prospects in 1950. In any case they remained intermediate and drew Midleton in the first round.
Tommy O‘Donovan (Ronan) remembers that there was a dispute over the venue for the first round until it was finally suggested that Carrig and Midleton should toss; at this point Denis Conroy intervened with characteristic hubris: “I can still hear him saying it,” says Tommy. “Don’t mind tossing,’ he said’ we’ll play ye inside in Midleton.'”
Midleton had been intermediate champions in 1948 and were minor county champions a year later, but Conroy’s faith in Carrig was well-founded and on the first of May they won well, 6-4 to 3-4. Bandon were opponents in the semi-final on the second Sunday of September. At the finish Carrig were four goals to the good, 5-4 to 1-4, but two of those goals came in the final minutes and at one stage early in the second half there was only a point between the teams.
Willie John Daly accounted for 1-3 of Carrig’s half time total of 1-4, the goal coming from 50 yards out, and it put them five points clear. A well-worked goal from Colman O’Donovan gave Carrig some breathing space through the second half, but the game wasn’t over.
“Bandon rallied,” reported the Examiner, “and scored another point and thereafter made valiant efforts to close the gap but the Carrig defence saved their lines in great style with Mattie Fouhy, Willie O‘Neill and Sean Twomey outstanding. Nine minutes of hard exchanges followed before Willie Meade added Carrig’s third goal. This proved to be the turning point.”
In the final against Shanballymore six weeks later Carrig were given the fright of their lives. The challengers got an early goal, and though Carrig came back to lead by two points at the end of the quarter they weren’t hurling well and by half time they were seven points behind, 4-1 to 1-3. “From the throw-in Shanballymore hurled with a determination and abandon that seemed to demoralise Carrigtwohill whose first half performance dismayed their confident supporters,” reported the Examiner.
Calamity piled on top of crisis during the first half when the Carrig and Imokilly goalkeeper Michael Keating got injured and had to go off. Carrig didn’t appear to have a specialist sub goalie, but ‘Daw’ Edwards was spotted in the crowd and he ran in, pulled on a jersey and stood in goal. ‘Daw’ had only played in goal late in his career and he had finished with the first team after the 1948 junior county final. ‘Daw’ wasn‘t long on, however, when Carrig conceded a soft fourth goal.
At half time the Carrig selectors acted decisively. Mattie Fouhy and Willie O‘Neill were moved from defence to midfield and Sean Twomey was moved to centre back. “The trio immediately showed a 100% improvement on first half form,” said the Examiner. Fouhy and Willie John both scored goals early in the second half, only for Shanballymore to respond in kind. Carrig, however, were moving at last and a spectacular goal from Willie John gave Carrig an impetus which carried them finally to a three point victory, 6-4 to 6-1.
The Examiner purred with praise: “During the second half, when the crisis was at its greatest, the East Cork team showed their mettle. It was the captain Willie John Daly who inspired the team. Speedy and elusive he was everywhere at the psychological moment, ever ready to pick up loose balls and lob them into the Shanballymore square.”
The victory meant that Carrig were unbeaten in four years of championship hurling, beginning with the East Cork junior championship of 1947 and onward to three county titles in a row. “There was a great atmosphere in that team,” says Eamonn Cummins. “Wherever we played, whether a fella was drinking a pint or lemonade we all stayed together for an hour or an hour and a half. There was no such thing as parting, we were all together. We were so close together we couldn’t lose. We were as one.”
Carrig: Michael Keating, Tommy O’Donovan, Mattie Fouhy, Noel O’Brien, Dermot Foley, Willie O’Neill, Dan Fenton, Sean Twomey, Lar Cotter, Donal Curtin, Val Deasy, Willie John Daly, Willie Meade, JJ Higgins, Coleman O’Donovan.
Sub: Daw Edwards.
Imokilly‘s bid for the senior championship perished at the hands of Glen Rovers again, this time in the second round, after what the Examiner described as “one of the finest games seen in the Cork Athletic Grounds for some years. The huge crowd which packed the grounds were treated to a well nigh perfect exhibition of hurling,” the report said.
lmokilly trailed by two goals at half time, but 2-1 in the first five minutes of the second half put them ahead. Goals from Josie Hartnett and Jack Lynch, however, sent the Glen clear again and in the end they won by three points, 6-5 to 4-8. In the Imokilly performance the Examiner picked out some Carrig players for special praise.
“Daly was their star and throughout the hour he initiated several grand movements. He was himself responsible for a number of scores. Willie O‘Neill was their most resourceful defender and he cleared several dangerous balls. Fouhy and Power played a steady game while Paddy Hartnett (father of Pat and John) in his first big game was impressive.”
Imokilly: Michael Keating*, D Barry, Willie O’Neill*, D Kearney, Mattie Fouhy*, G Power, Paddy O’Neill*, Sean Twomey*, Paddy Hartnett, JJ O’Brien, Willie John Daly*, S Fleming, Tony Ahern, Gerald Murphy, Willie Moore. *from Carrig
The year didn‘t end at that. Carrig had two players on the Cork junior hurling panel; Dan Fenton, father of Cork player John, was a sub and Willie O’Neill was centre back and captain. Val Deasy, Colie O’Donovan and Paddy Hartnett, who joined Carrig a year later, were also on the panel early in the season. After victories over Kerry and Tipperary – by a point – in the Munster championship, they thrashed Antrim on the way to the Home final against Dublin. Cork won, but only by two points, 3-4 to 2-5 in the final proper in London they beat the home team handily, 5-5 to 1-4.
The weekend in London turned out to be a jolly affair: “Jim (Tough) Barry, God rest him, accompanied us to London,” said Willie O‘Neill. “On the way back to the hotel after the celebrations – Jim at the head of his happy warriors – he ordered us to stop every so often in front of bombed out buildings. ‘Ah Adolf’, he’d say, ‘you did a great job, why did you have to die so soon’. A cool British cop urged us to move along ‘and let you and Adolf get some sleep’.”
In the autumn of 1950 O‘Neill was called onto the Cork senior panel for the league and the Oireachtas, but in May of 1951 he was commissioned in the army and posted to An Cead Cath in Galway. It brought the end of his association with Carrig and Cork, but a wonderful career had barely begun.
Willie was born in Killacloyne in 1929. With the premature death of his grandfather the running of the farm was thrust on his own father early in life so he never really had time for games, but hurling was in the family nonetheless. His father‘s cousin Billy, a Sars player, won All Irelands with Cork in the early 1900s and he was a constant presence in Willie‘s youth.
Willie began hurling with Carrig when he was 14, but it was in the North Mon that he first made his name. In 1947 he was picked on the Munster Colleges hurling and football teams that won the interprovincial championships and he was a member of the successful hurling team again a year later. He was also Carrig‘s first dual Cork minor in 1947, although Willie played his football with Glanmire: “There was no football in Carrig in those days,” he said. “The nearest thing to a football was a pig’s bladder.”
He was only 19 when he captained Carrig to a junior county championship in 1948 and just a year later he was centre back on the Imokilly team that lost the senior county final to the Glen. When he moved to Galway in 1951 he declared for his adopted county and that autumn they picked him for the league.
The Galway footballers were soon alerted to his prowess as well and by 1952 they pulled him on board. The physical demands of being a dual player would have taken nothing out of him because on top of everything else he was an accomplished athlete – an army champion in the long jump. He could have gone further, but there were only so many hours in the day.
His first taste of success with Galway was in the Oireachtas final against Wexford in 1952. Willie played at full back on Nicky Rackard. Rackard was a powerful man, but at 14 stones Willie was built to cope: “No game I ever played in was played at such a pace from beginning to end. It was like some of the old Munster finals with the ball never still. My late uncle, God rest him, who had been in Croke Park for every All Ireland final since the twenties, reckoned he had never seen a better game of hurling.”
Galway lost to Cork in the All Ireland hurling semi-final that year and in the All Ireland final a year later: “There were some very strange decisions by the ref in ’52 when in the end we lost only by 1-5 to 0-6. I read some time back where Cork say that the ’53 final was the worst they played in. You know I spent a lot of time during that match chatting to our goalie Sean Duggan.”
“There was one fifteen minute period in the second half when the ball scarcely came over our half back line and all we registered was a solitary point. But even then we could have won it if our players and mentors had kept their heads after the Christy Ring – Mick Burke incident.”
Willie lost two more hurling finals, to Wexford in 1955 and to Tipperary in 1958, but in between his disappointment was softened by football: “The 1956 football final (against Cork) was a very fair, tough, but most sporting game. The atmosphere was supercharged and yet the game must go down as one of the most sporting and best finals ever played. The score was 2-13 to 3-7 (in favour of Galway). Just imagine scoring 3-7 and losing the game. Naturally I was delighted to win, especially as I had directed all the physical side of Galway’s training. Still I wish we had beaten some other team.”
Willie kept in constant touch with Carrig, especially Willie John Daly, and through him he got to know Christy Ring. He marked Ring one day in the final of a gold medal tournament: “As the game progressed Galway were forging ahead nicely and Ringey and myself were chatting away. I was happy enough with that as Ringy hadn’t scored. Next thing Christy said: ‘Did you hear that Willie John is getting married?‘ It was like being felled by a bolt of lightning. If ever a fella was married to the game it was Willie John, a confirmed bachelor.”
“When I came round Christy had the ball on his hurley and was heading for the Galway goal with me in helpless pursuit. He let fly one of his specials which, fortunately, Tom Boland, our goalie, saved. Ringey turned away in disgust as I caught up with him. ‘That was a great save Billy‘ he said. ‘Yes Christy,‘ says I ‘but what about Willie John, is he really getting married?’ ‘Ah sure,’ said Christy, thinking about it anyway.”‘
By the end of his career Willie had four Connacht football medals, a Railway Cup football medal and a National Football League medal to add to his All Ireland. A million miles from Carrig and the pigs bladder.