Above: Left to Right. John Buckley, Tim O'Donovan, James Tobin, John Delaney (FAI), Johnny Healy, TJ O'Donovan, Tony O'Donovan.
It’s October and the West Cork League has gotten back into full swing. As someone who actually plays in the League, I’ve been interested in learning the story of how it started. West Cork is a GAA stronghold so how has soccer developed in the area? With the help of Johnny Healy and John Buckley from the West Cork League, this month we’re exploring the history of the League.
Bandon is regarded as the first place in West Cork to have a proper organised soccer team, they joined AUL division three around 1950. The AUL is a league connected more to Cork City. The West Cork League came from humble beginnings. In the early days there were a few games played between teams just made up on the day — players who wanted to play a game would turn up. At this stage the main people involved were Mick Lynch from Crookstown who was also a referee, Michael Holland from Barryroe and Sam Hudson from Dunmanway. They played under the name of SWM (South West and Mid Cork) before the West Cork League was started.
The West Cork League was officially created in 1978, leading the way was Mick Lynch and Michael Holland again and also involved were Denis Kelleher from Aherla Sean Lally from Crookstown and Jimmy Dunne was also involved as a referee and on the WCL board. Pat Cadogan joined as a member in the early 1980s and James Doolan became Secretary around the same time. John Collis from Bandon became Chairman in 1984. Johnny Healy joined in 1980 as a referee up until about 1996 and was also Fixtures Secretary and Treasurer and currently still on the WCL board as President. He is retiring this season.
The creation of the West Cork League was a blessing for many teams, for example, Clonakilty AFC formed in 1967 and joined the Cork AUL. This meant long trips up to Cork City and beyond every second weekend. The arrival of the West Cork League provided West Cork teams with the opportunity to compete and fellow West Cork teams. As a result, soccer began to flourish in the area.
When the league started, there were eight teams — Crookstown, Castletown Celtic, Kileady, Ballinhassig, Our Ladies Hospital, Brinny. Flor Crowley in Bandon was the League’s only sponsor and later also sponsored the Flor Crowley cup, which became known as the Beamish Cup and is currently the Mygaff.ie Cup. Drinagh won the first Flor Crowley Cup beating Our Ladies Hospital. Cup Finals used to be played in Ballineen behind Dessy’s Bar.
In West Cork, the first teams to join up were Courtmacsherry, Bunratty, Beara (Under John Nolan), Drinagh in 1983, Dunmanway Celtic who later became Togher Celtic joined in 1983/1984, Bunratty in 1987, Bay Rovers Joined in 1990 and won Beamish cup in their first season in 1991, Dunmanway Town in 1991, Skibbereen, Clonakilty AFC, Ardfield, Kilmichael, Leeside, Sullane, Riverside, Durrus all joined in mid-1990s and it grew from there. Kileady, Ballinhassig and Richmond (from Waterfall) were the furthest east teams. Banteer were probably the furthest north team along with Milstreet and Rathcoole.
In the early years the strongest teams were Ballinhassig and Richmond, but in the past fifteen years the consensus is that the most successful team is now Drinagh. Behind Drinagh, clubs like Skibbereen AFC and Dunmanway Town have been quite successful. Skibbereen in particular have done excellent work in developing facilities at their site on the Baltimore Road.
In 1990, six WCL members came together and met the AUL in Turner’s Cross about joining up with them, but an agreement was not possible, as the AUL wanted the WCL to come under their umbrella and the WCL would have no identify. This was not acceptable to the WCL members so they did not join with the AUL. After this meeting Johnny Healy discussed the situation with Ger Delaney and John Donovan of Munster Senior League, which resulted in the WCL joining with the MSL in 1991 as associate members and kept their own identify of WCL. The WCL also became associated to Munster FA and FAI and bound by their rules. After two years under the MSL, in 1993 the WCL went out on their own and broke away from the MFA and formed their own league and members of every council.
Beamish brewery came on board as sponsors in 1992 and sponsored the League including three Divisions. They also took over sponsorship of the Flor Crowley Cup at this time and also sponsored the Carling League Cup. Munster Arms Hotel sponsored the Divisional Cups in the mid 1990s. Around 1997 there were 22/23 teams in the WCL. Today the Men’s league is made up of 26 teams spread across three divisions. Each year is a battle for many teams, not just on the pitch but simply ensuring the club exists. Each year sees clubs fold or clubs reemerge.
In 2005/2006, the West Cork League selection reached the final of the All Ireland Oscar Traynor Cup but unfortunately lost 5-0 to the Dublin AUL.
In the early years referees were allowed to be WCL committee members, as well as being a referee. There was no Referees Society and they had their own rules and the League had no affiliation to anyone. By the mid 1990s, referees were members of the society in Cork City and the referees used to be tested every year in Bandon at the Rugby Club grounds and were only allowed to referee in WCL and not allowed to referee in the City Leagues.
The underage section was started in early 1990s by Martin O’Mahony (Ballinhassig), John Buttimer (Crossbarry) and Steve Edwards (Ballineen). The U18 League started in mid 1990s and O Herlihy Bacon sponsored the U18 League. Over the years the underage teams across West Cork have helped develop and nurture hundreds if not thousands of young footballers. The underage section is today an important element of the League, without the work at underage level, it’s fair to say that the Adult level would suffer, plus it’s normally at underage that a player’s love of the game is ingrained.
As for the Ladies League, Kileady and Crookstown were the big teams in the early years when there were about six teams competing. Unfortunately the league was inactive for years until it started again in 2004/05 with seven teams joining up. Bandon who won the League & Cup Double, Drinagh, Crookstown, Dunmanway, Bay Rovers, Lyre and Clonakilty Ladies. With recent successes of the Irish underage ladies teams, the League hopes that ladies soccer in west Cork can continue to grow.
In 2006 Johnny Healy was nominated by then Fixtures Secretary John Buckley for a FAI award for services to Soccer and was presented this at a Dinner in the City West Hotel in Dublin by the FAI.
The future of the League is a concern; some teams are struggling to field teams and find decent playing pitches while for others there are issues such as insurance costs. Hopefully the League can continue to grow; it has made a big contribution to the lives of those who play in it each Sunday.
Some of the great players in the League’s history include:
Goalkeepers — Paudie Ahern (Riverside), Rob Oldham (Leeside), DJ Curtin (Castlelack) , Eugene Crowley (A Past Priest from Drinagh) Darragh Farr (Dunmanway Town and Togher Celtic).
Defenders — Denis Healy (Dunmanway Town), Kevin Hurley (Togher Celtic) James Reen (Skibbereen), JJ Hurley (Drinagh Rangers), Vincent Healy (Dunmanway Town), Fr Michael Kelleher (Belmount) John Cahalane (Drinagh Rangers).
Midfielders — Pat Lucey Togher, Gavin Daly (Drinagh Rangers), Denis Murphy (Bunratty), Adrian O Driscoll (Drinagh Rangers), Martin White (Clonakilty) Tadgh Twomey (Crossmahon), Darren Heffernan (Crossmahon), Denis O Leary (Timoleague), Eddie Lyons (Timoleague).
Forwards — Stephen Mohan (Drinagh Rangers & Dunmanway Town), Colm Cleary (Bunratty & Ballydehob) Donal Sullivan (Belmount), Mike Doolan (Drinagh Rangers), John Cahalane (Mizen), Finbarr Nyhan (Bunratty), Mark Cronin (Ballydehob), Colin O Brien (Ballydehob).
With thanks to Johnny Healy and John Buckley for their assistance in providing information.