St Finbarr's GAA Club 1934–1965

Words and images courtesy of Plunkett Carter.

From 1933, circumstances were never going to be the same, as the rise of mighty Glen Rovers (eight county championships in a row 1934-’41) coincided with the decline of other senior clubs. The Glen defeated the Barrs convincingly in ’34 to claim their first crown. In 1935 the first Eucharistic match was played on Procession Sunday when the Barrs defeated Carrigtwohill. The Cork County Board refused a request from the Barrs to have Irish soccer-international Miah Lynch reinstated.

In November 1935 the outstanding St Finbarr’s Gael, Tom Dooley, ‘the Patriarch of the GAA’, whose name was linked with the foundation of the Association, died. Throughout its 57 years in control of Gaelic games, the Association has rarely had the service of one more loyal and more true to its ideals, or more self-sacrificing in his labours, than Tom Dooley.

Barrs made their debut in minor hurling in March 1937 and won the Minor County final in 1939, introducing stars who would in future years contribute enormously to successes for Barrs and for Cork county. These talented minors went on to complete a hat-trick of county titles and three dazzling players, Tom Mulcahy, Mick Kennifick, and Sean Condon, along with Jim Buttimer and Derry Beckett, became part of the four-in a row sides which brought unprecedented All-Ireland successes to the county. In 1943, Mick Kennifick, not yet 18, captained the side which destroyed Antrim. In the following year, the four-in-a-row was completed when, captained by Sean Condon, they hammered Dublin. Buoyed by the instant success of the minor hurlers, a football team was entered in 1941 and, within twelve months, they had a landslide victory defeating Bantry in the county final.

Minor County Hurling Champions 1939, 1940, and 1941

St Finbarr's: Minor County Hurling Champions 1939, 1940 and 1941
Back: A Cotter, T Cronin, T O’Halloran, J Good, L O’Connor, J McCarthy, T Healy, B Murphy, O Leonard, M Corcoran. Middle: J Neenan, J Ronan, J Murphy, J Richardson, M Kennefick, S O’Callaghan, J Smyth, J Davis, J Buttimer. Front: P Ronan, P O’Leary, M Kickham, D McCarthy, S Condon, Br Majella, T Corcoran, J Morrison, T Mulcahy, E O’Connor, J Twomey.


Senior County Hurling Champions 1942 and 1943

St Finbarr's: Senior County Hurling Champions 1942 and 1943

Back: J O’Sullivan, T Corcoran, L Moriarty, S O’Callaghan, J Barry Murphy, J Goulding, J Buttimer. Middle: D Coughlan, S Kennefick, T O’Halloran,  D Cremin, P Flaherty, R Kavanagh, J Long, P Corcoran. Front: J Dorney, W Beckett, W Campbell, M Kennefick,  Rev. Fr Cahalane, J Horgan, S Condon, M Kickham, J Neenan.

The nurturing of the minor hurling squad paid rich dividends in 1942 when the Barrs ended a barren spell by defeating Ballincollig in the County Senior Hurling final. A little bit of trivia: it has been suggested that it was after this county victory that the cup was brought to Mok’s Bar at Phair’s Cross for the first time. Bonfires blazed at Phair’s Cross again the following season when Barrs, in a repeat of ’42, defeated Ballincollig after a replay. Lady Luck smiled on them, as in the first match, with time running out, they trailed by a goal until Sean Condon came to the rescue when he blasted a free into the net to earn a reprieve. Barrs contested their third consecutive hurling final in 1944 but the hat-trick was denied when Glen Rovers proved a little too good on the day. The emergence of the Barrs as a force in minor football had not gone unnoticed and Lees Gaelic Football club sought a merger with them, proposing that the Blue’s members play senior under the Lees name. This was rejected and the Barrs upgraded to senior and played their first championship match during the 1946 season. Derry Beckett, an All-Ireland senior hurling medallist during the four-in-a-row years, joined the elite band of dual winners when he helped Cork to defeat Cavan in the 1945 football decider. Barrs met Glen again in the semi-final of the ’45 County Senior Championship and this time the result was never in doubt as they suffered the heaviest defeat in their history when they were on the receiving end of a 10-8 to 2-3 hammering. 

The footballers, which included inter-county players Derry Beckett, Paddy O’Driscoll, and Con McGrath, made their senior debut in 1946 and reached the penultimate stage where they were defeated by a solitary point by Fermoy. 

The weeks preceding the 1946 County final were very acrimonious, as finalists Barrs and Glen were locked in debate over the date that the final was originally fixed. The final eventually took place five weeks later in mid-November and the Blues created a mild surprise by regaining their crown following a low scoring tussle. Veteran Miah Lynch, a junior medallist with Geraldines in 1923, who had a reinstatement application rejected seven years earlier, performed brilliantly to earn his first Senior County medal. His magnificence, coupled with that of the magical Sean Condon, were the pillars that the Glen failed to breach.

Senior County Hurling Champions 1946 and 1947

St Finbarr's: Senior County Hurling Champions 1946 and 1947

Back: T Sheehan, J O’Sullivan, J Sargent, T O’Halloran, B Hanniffy, F O’Connor, J Kenny, D Coughlan.
3rd row: D Murphy, J Neenan, J Twomey, J Lynch, T Coughlan, A Beckett, B Murphy, H Gouldsborough, S O’Callaghan, P Nagle, S Murphy. Seated: D Cahill, P Gantley, T Mulcahy, S Condon, Rev Fr Cahalane, P Corcoran, W Beckett, D Cremin, D McCarthy, J Buttimer. Front: J Sheehan, J Cotter. Inset: M O’Driscoll.

Twelve months later, an extraordinary final — the first between Barrs and Sars — was watched by a record crowd. All the neutrals were roaring for Sars and were confident that they were within minutes of saluting them as new county champions. Leading by a point as the game entered injury time, they failed however to clear a seventy which was flicked to the net by Jim Sargent, giving the Blues their 14th title. Barrs: T Mulcahy, M Lynch, T O’Halloran, S O’Callaghan, Rev. Fr Cottrel, J Kenny, J O’Sullivan, S Condon, H Gouldsborough, J Goulding, Rev Fr Gantly, J Sargent, W Beckett, B Murphy, D McCarthy. The decade of restrictions and rationing had been kind to the Barrs and, as the strong squad began to age together, they were beaten by Blackrock and the Glen in the early rounds of the ’48 and ’49 championships. A new team was about to emerge containing the bulk of the side that won a minor county title in 1948. 

Despite Con McGrath, Weeshie Murphy, Derry Beckett, Bernie Murphy, Tom Redmond, and Paddy O’Driscoll all representing the club in the late forties and early fifties, on Cork senior football and Munster Railway Cup teams, the Barrs failed to win the county championships. However, the future looked bright as underage teams in Togher were succeeding in all grades.

The 1950s began with another Barrs v Glen county final. The performance of the Barrs proved disappointing in the very heavy underfoot conditions and the northsiders were not flattered by their three-goal winning margin. A feature of the game was a very long puck from Miah Lynch from his goal line which went wide at the far end (a distance of over 160 yards). Cork county senior hurlers enjoyed a golden spell, winning three All-Ireland finals in a row, 1952-’54, with Tony O’Shaughnessy of the Barrs distinguishing himself in the hat-trick of victories. In 1952, history was made when Avondhu became the first divisional side to win the County Senior Hurling Championship. They accomplished the feat with a two-point victory over the Barrs. The Blues who had entered a transitory period in 1953 had the ignominious record of being defeated in the championship in consecutive years by divisional teams when ousted in the early stages by Imokilly. The mixture of the new and old — the vets and the youngsters — took a while to gel and, in the process of rebuilding, were no match for the Glen in 1954 who defeated them in a rough and controversial encounter. Patience is a virtue and in the following year an unexpected improvement turned out to be quite spectacular.

Senior County Hurling Champions 1955

St Finbarr's: Senior County Hurling Champions 1955
Back: W Neenan, J Houlihan, J Keating, J O’Grady, J Russell, J Ring, G O’Shaughnessy, G O’Sullivan, D Hurley, T Deasy, J Twomey. 3rd Row: J Herrick, D Murphy, J O’Sullivan, P Fitzgerald, J Cotter, S O’Callaghan, T Maher, L McGrath, J Goulding, D Canton, D Barry, J Twomey, B Barrett. Seated: M Ryan, M Finn, M J O’Driscoll, Rev. Fr Good, P Corcoran, T O’Shaughnessy (capt), W Walsh, D O’Driscoll. Front: J McKenzie, T Cronin.

The gallant Blues marched to another county final meeting with their arch-rivals Glen Rovers. It was thought that the learning process needed to continue for a while so the Glen were installed as red-hot favourites. Barrs, however, surpassed all expectations and led the Glen until the 59th minute when a Mick Quane point sent the tie to a replay. The majority of those present at the replay believed that the Blues had left the trophy behind but the Barrs answered the doubters in the 30,000 plus attendance by inflicting a heavy 7-8 to 2-6 defeat on the Glen. Mick Ryan, a veteran and holder of three All-Ireland medals with Tipp, Mossie Finn, Jimmy O’Grady, Micky Joe Driscoll, Jimmy McKenzie and teenager Derry O’Driscoll were in outstanding form, but it was a tremendous team performance which gave them the great win, rivalling the 1926 triumph as the greatest yet. If there were Man-of-the-Match awards in those days Jimmy McKenzie, who put the shackles on the immortal Christy Ring, would have been a deserving winner. A few weeks earlier the Lough League, “hurling by the Lough for children”, was reformed.

Glen gained sweet revenge for their massive defeat when overcoming the Blues in the 1956 semi-final. Barrs gained some consolation when a fine junior side brought the first-ever county win in that grade to the parish when they defeated Castletownroche. Despite the Glen defeat, 1956 turned out to be one of the most memorable in the club’s history. A new chapter in history began when a magnificent football team outclassed Millstreet in the 1956 County Senior Championship final. The long road to success was dotted with failures, but perseverance, determination, and dedication by players and officials culminated in the first senior county football title, achieved by a team of both young and experienced players who produced a brand of fast, skilful, and intelligent play which came as a shock to those who regarded the Barrs as primarily a hurling club.

Senior County Football Champions 1956 and 1957

St Finbarrs: Senior County Football Champions 1956 and 1957

Back: Eoin O’Connell, Stanley Roche, Barry Studdart, Liam McGrath, Mick Carey, Derrry O’Driscoll, Tony O’Sullivan, Georgie McCarthy. Front: Donncha Murphy, Donal Hurley, Mick McCarthy, Bob Nutty, Pat Lougheed, Timmy Cronin, Mick Keating

The Barrs victory changed the face of Cork football. They implemented a new slick passing game which appealed to the 14,000 fans who paid to see the exhibition. Pat Woods and Bobby Nutty (aka Purcell and Stockwell) were the strategists. Sean Beecher in his book The Blues wrote:

It was a famous victory for the blues, as all first victories are, and the success added a new dimension to the activities of the club. No longer could football be considered merely an addendum to hurling, a game played by hurlers when they had nothing else to do. The winning of a County championship could not be ignored. Football was now part of the Barrs. 

Was it a flash in the pan? To be recognised as true champions, a great team would have to retain their title and they answered the doubters by marching to consecutive finals and a meeting with renowned Lees. Not as impressive as they were the previous year, the Barrs did the business but needed a replay to see off the dour challenge of their respected opponents.

The year 1957 began in disastrous fashion for the senior hurlers when they were embarrassingly defeated by divisional side Seandún in the opening round of the championship. Barrs hurlers did their best to erase the bitter memory of the defeat by Seandún and for the remainder of an eventful season they restored pride. They became the first and only Cork team to win the Annual Churches Tournament (unofficial All-Ireland Club title) when they defeated the team deemed to be the country’s best, Bennetsbridge of Kilkenny. ‘Lords of the Hurling World’, the terminology used in the media to describe the victory, must have been a source of great annoyance to the custodians of the county senior hurling championship from which they made their exit in round one. 1958 was a roller-coaster year for Barrs supporters, with both the hurlers and footballers qualifying for the county finals. The footballers had the opportunity of completing the first leg of a historic double but that, and dreams of three-in-a-row victory, went up in smoke when they were defeated by Macroom in a disappointing low scoring final. Three weeks later the hurlers played their part in another enthralling episode of South versus North county finals. It was a classic and the Blues, featuring several veterans and final debutant Peter Doolan, made a brave bid to regain their crown. With four goals down at the interval, they threw everything bar the kitchen sink at the Glen who clung on for a narrow victory. The decade ended disappointingly for the hurlers as, without the services of Doolin, they were hammered by rampant UCC in the first round of the county. The footballers, the team of the decade, regained the county title when dethroning holders Macroom in a very low-scoring hard-fought encounter.


Senior County Football Champions 1959
St Finbarrs: Senior County Football Champions 1959

Back: T O’Mullane, S O’Connell, D O’Driscoll, M Carey, J O’Driscoll. T O’Sullivan, D O’Sullivan, W Walsh, P O’Sullivan, G McCarthy, T Canty. Front: D McCarthy, M Horgan, M McCarthy, E O’Connell, D Hurley, T Cronin, P Lougheed, S Roche, M Keating, L McGrath, P Fitzpatrick.

Four senior counties came to the club during the fifties — three football and one hurling. You would imagine that the footballers had earned the right to be treated as equal partners within the club. However, hurling fundamentalists were not easily moved and huge conflicts of interest had arisen after the purchase of the club grounds in 1956 and would continue unabated for almost a decade afterwards. The conflict wasn’t resolved until 1968 with the formation of Central Committee which became responsible for club administration and financial functions. The sixties had a controversial beginning when the implementation of the strict disciplinary measures invoked by chairman Bob Hurley’s committee turned into a farce and resulted in seventeen suspensions being handed down. The Trojan work of the under-age division — which included Tommy Sullivan, Johnny McCarthy, Denny ‘Saw Din’ McCarthy, Jim McCarthy, Mick Murphy, John Neenan, and Donal Murphy — bore rich fruit when, apart from continuous juvenile successes, County Minor Football Championship victories were recorded in 1959 and ’61. The icing on the cake was the performances of their protégés Denis Philpott, Vincie Cronin, Gussy Harrington, and Mick Archer on the side which brought the first All-Ireland Minor Football title to the county. The opening year of the decade was a disastrous one for the club. Maybe the disciplinary measures and suspensions affected the morale out in Togher? It seemed that way as the senior teams looked threadbare: the hurlers got an embarrassing hammering from Seandún in round one, while the footballers lasted just a step further and were beaten by Beara. Apart from back-to-back Minor football county success, ’61 and ’62 are best forgotten.

The new grounds at Togher, named Pairc Uí Naoidhneáin after former player Con Neenan who provided an interest-free loan, were officially opened in September 1962. Few teams had at the time grounds of their own and the occasion at which General Secretary Padraig Ó Caoimh performed the opening was a major step in its history. The only presentations to take place in 1963 were another set of minor county medals to the footballers who had completed 5-in-a-row city and a hat-trick of counties. From those ranks emerged some of the best players in the club’s history and before that year ended youngsters Gerald McCarthy and Charlie McCarthy made their senior debuts. Those gifted hurlers were joined within months by more ‘kids’: Tony Maher and Con Roche. Peter Doolan had returned from America and a formidable team, which included classy new keeper Jim Power, began to take shape. Barrs and Glen qualified to meet yet again in another county final when, despite the outstanding efforts of young Roche, Glen deservedly took the spoils. The footballers, showing improvement on previous years, were dismissed at the penultimate stage by UCC. Lest we forget: ’64 was a red-letter year for the ladies who claimed their first trophy when defeating St Als in the Junior championship. Barrs were given an early opportunity to gain revenge for the final defeat when paired with the Glen in the early rounds of the ’65 tourney and did so in style. It would have been a shame if, after knocking out the champions, they wouldn’t go on to complete the job. Fielding a young side, only a few of whom had won Cork county hurling medals, they outclassed UCC in a one-sided final.

Senior County Hurling Champions 1965
St Finbarrs: Senior County Hurling Champions 1965

Back: Jim Goulding, Brian McKeon, Peter Doolan, Tom Kirby, Tony Connolly, Jerry McCarthy, Willie Doyle, Denis Murphy, Mick Murphy. Front: Jim Power, Mick Archer, Charlie McCarthy, Tim O’Mullane, Charlie Cullinane, Con Roche, Tony Maher, Gerald McCarthy.

 St Finbarrs: Players parade before the 1965 Senior Hurling County Final

 Players parade before the 1965 Senior Hurling county final

 Goalmouth action from the 1965 Senior County Hurling Final

 Goalmouth action from the 1965 Senior County hurling final.

Earlier in the year, Con Roche became the first high-profile star to be suspended for breach of the Ban rule since Derry Beckett in the forties. He was one of four players who, a fortnight later, were attempting to bring off the historic senior county double. Alas, it was not to be, as in atrocious conditions they missed out when narrowly beaten by St Nick’s.

Continued: St Finbarr's GAA Club 1966 - 2010

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