Coláiste Chríost Rí

Words and images courtesy of Plunkett Carter.

Colaiste Chriost Rí’s aims of inculcating all that is most admirable in the Irish and Christian tradition have stood it in good stead in the past and are still relevant to the formation of the present student generation. The school continues to cultivate an identity which is distinctly Irish, so that each boy will take with him into adulthood, a healthy pride in his country, its culture and traditions. Sport is hugely important in Colaiste and it takes great pride in the successes of its representatives particularly their Gaelic footballers and hurlers who, benefiting from hard persistent training and coaching, have brought great honour to the school, the parish and the city. Whisper, whisper; as did Denis Irwin the most honoured player in Man Utd history, Frank O’Farrell a former manager of that world renown club, Kieran O’Regan, Noel O’Mahony, Pat O’Mahony, Ray Cowhie, Gerry O’Brien and others, of that other code, who with very little encouragement brought distinction to the school. 

 

Cholaiste Chriost Ri 1968 Harty Cup winning team.
 The 1968 Choláiste Chríost Rí Harty Cup winning team.

Now that they had reached the Promised Land there was to be no turning back. However, after the commencement of the new season no indication was apparent of the dramas which were later to be enacted on the playing fields of Ireland. As champions, Dick Tobin and his football side were entitled to be confident and that faith was justified when, thanks to a late Eamon Fitzpatrick goal, they again defeated Colaiste Iosagáin in Buttevant to retain their crown. They needed a replay and extra time to see off the challenge of St Nathy’s in the All-Ireland semi final. BelcampCollege awaited in the final. “Heads or tails”, “Cork or Dublin”? Colaiste guessed wrongly - Tails it was so the pilgrimage from  Turner’s Cross headed off  to Croke Park. The “culshies”, revelling in the wide open spaces of headquarters, settled down to play bright, open football and, with a forward line combining devastatingly, taking their chances in great style. Brilliant Colaiste outclassed the Leinster champions and became the first Munster team to win the Hogan Cup. Extracts from selected match reports: 

Seamus Looney gave a magnificent display at centre back and his strength meant a lot to the mid field pairing. Joe Barry on his right and Martin Doherty left gave flawless displays and fielded brilliantly. Behind them Fergus Cronin was seldom beaten and corner men Mick Bohane and John Cotter never put a foot wrong. Declan O’Mahony turned in yet another top class display between the posts. All except ace provider Pat Mackey of the magnificent forward line scored; Billy Cogan led the way with 1-5; exciting corner man Micheál McCarthy chipped in with 1-1 which was equalled by the electrifying Brian O’Loughlin; Fitzy, being simply Fitzy, could never be denied and chipped in with two points; Brendan Cummins a thorn in the Belcamp defence throughout, punched a vital point;

Inspiring Captain Der Cogan raised one white flag and thousands of others on the terraces, with some great supporting play and the display from midfield partner Mick McGrath was enough to warm the cockles of the heart and silence the “Molly Maloners” in the crowd.  

Back then the sportsminded scholars of Colaiste Chriost Rí who were studying for the Leaving Cert didn’t have too much time to be affected by pre exam stress. It was springtime and there was a Corn Uí Mhuirí football match or a Harty Cup every week. Some opined that a Harty Cup medal could do more for a boy than a Leaving Cert! Physical training instructor Bernard Martin assisted in the preparation of the teams and his innovative methods brought its rewards. It was only after winning the McRory Cup under 17 “B” in 1960, when they were captained by John O’Halloran, that they decided to enter the Harty Cup. There were twinges of regret for that decision when after reaching the semi-final in 1962 they were beaten by Limerick by a whopping 10-9 to 0-2. It was decided not to enter a team in 1965 but by then a new batch of hurlers had already begun to show promise in the junior grades. And, like a leading trainer preparing his horses for a Cheltenham assault, a Harty plan was hatched and the novices passed all the early tests, beginning the1968 campaign with a hard fought victory over Farna which was followed by an eight goal demolition of neighbours Iognáid Rís. After such satisfying results

Brothers Bede and Pius were still thought to be “away with the fairies” for even suggesting that the hurlers had Harty Cup aspirations. 

Another treacherous hurdle was cleared when they beat Thurles CBS in the semi-final. Supporters were at last, reluctantly, allowing themselves believe that it was indeed possible that Coláiste could now win the Harty. Even the pessimists were lured out of their agnostic caves. Bede and Pius felt all along that in a normal year they had a chance! But 1968 was not a normal year: the sun had long set on a good era of Cork colleges hurling. It was seven years since a Harty had come to Leeside and the confident swagger of college hurling teams had developed a limp. Furthermore Limerick CBS were going for a record five-in-a-row and to guarantee that record several of their stars, including Pat Hartigan, remained on to repeat the Leaving Cert. Limerick trainer Br Delaney was bullish and in a Jose Mourinho utterance said “we have great respect for Chriost Rí who will try hard to win their first title; there will be little in it, but whatever it is it will favour us.” Bede and Pius were “gamblers” and warmed up for the big day by experimenting in the O’Callaghan Cup final, switching regular goalkeeper Pat Mackey to full forward where he excelled. The door of opportunity thus opened for young Jim Cremin who made his Harty Cup debut in the final against Limerick. The team panel travelled to their happy hunting ground in Buttevant in cars, while two trains were chartered for their thousands of supporters. En route to the match excitement amongst supporters was somewhat dampened as reports were breaking of an Aer Lingus plane flying from Cork to London that morning having crashed.

Those in charge of the travel arrangements to Buttevant miscalculated journey times on busy roads and there were anxious moments as some cars arrived with just minutes to spare. All’s well that ends well and a fabulous victory was recorded under an Examiner headline which read “Superb Harty Cup Win For Cork Boys” ‘

The most thrilling chapter in Colaiste Chriost Ri’s history was etched out in gold letters at Buttevant yesterday when the Cork boys gave a magnificent display when winning the Harty Cup for the first time and also bringing off the second part of the Munster Senior double. After a thrilling hours hurling, Colaiste finished five points ahead of Limerick CBS champions for the past four years, who were foiled in their bid for a record five-in-a-row by a side which played with such spirit and determination that they completely upset the form book and, perhaps, even surprised themselves by the richness of their hurling’.

There were many factors which contributed to the history making win; firstly the selectors’ gamble of giving Jim Cremin his Harty debut and playing Pat Mackey at full forward paid rich dividends – Cremin was superb in goal while Mackey contributed three goals. The defence was faultless and Sean McCarthy, in particular, played a starring role. Brian Murphy and Mick Bohane enhanced their growing reputations. Centre back and captain Brendan Cummins led his line in fine style with Martin Doherty and Der Cogan making valuable contributions. Ballinora brothers Dan and Noel Callinan got through an enormous amount of work in midfield with the former being classed as the finest hurler on the field. Will o’ the wisp Eamon Fitzpatrick in the right corner came up with his customary scores as did Seamus Looney and Kevin O’Doherty while Brian O’Loughlin was the real driving force in the half forward line. Billy Cogan hurled competently all through and substitute Mick McGrath proved his value when entering the fray. Before leaving the Harty story it would be remiss of me not to mention John O’Halloran’s rousing uplifting half time pep talk and Colaiste’s innovative clever ploy of enlisting the services of comedian Paddy Cotter (father of player John) who eased the tension and prevented those “butterflies”. 

It took longer than usual to get to the Harty Cup story on the following morning’s Examiner as every newspaper reported in depth on the tragic air disaster in which 61 people lost their lives - March 24th 1968: 61 passengers and crew were lost aboard Aer Lingus EI-AOM Vickers Viscount 803 "St. Phelim" Flight 712 from Cork to London when it crashed into the sea off Tuskar Rock, Co. Wexford.

Parishioners of Turner’s Cross were amongst the passengers and crew who, unfortunately, perished in the disaster so, understandably, Harty Cup celebrations were muted.

A feature of Thursday’s evening Echo in those days was a Personality of the Week feature and, after star midfielder Dan Callinan was profiled in February as a result of a stirring performance in the Harty semi-final, three Turner’s Cross men received the nomination during consecutive weeks between 14 and 28 March. Declan O’Mahony in recognition of an outstanding display in the Corn Ui Mhuirí final was featured on the 14th, followed on subsequent issues by former student Frank Cogan selected as Man of the Match in Munster’s Railway Cup victory, and Brian O’Loughlin for his display against Limerick CBS in the Harty.

Seven days after winning the Hogan Cup Colaiste were within four minutes of achieving what had always been considered unattainable - an All-Ireland Senior double - when St Peter’s, Wexford, penetrated a rock solid defence to snatch an equalising goal in stunning and dramatic fashion. Not taking into account their exertions in Cork Senior Colleges competitions, Colaiste were playing in their twelfth championship match of the season when renewing rivalry with St Peter’s in Clonmel a week later. Lining out without the influential Brian Murphy (suspended), Shanbally star Mick McGrath and handicapped by an injury to captain Brendan Cummins, they had a mountain to climb – in fact it was Everest. Colaiste’s dream was still alive as the game entered the final ten minutes but St Peter’s strength in attack at that vital stage enabled them to crush a spirited Chriost Rí challenge. 

What a year! Writing in a School Journal, Brother De Sales summed up

Sunday after Sunday trains and buses departed for Buttevant, Limerick, Nenagh, Clonmel, Dungarvan, Portlaoise and the capital city itself. All thronged with happy followers gaily bedecked in the school colours. Parents too were there and past pupils – and we must not forget our fair followers from the local convent schools. Those train journeys, will I ever forget them. The boys would be in high spirits and the young ladies, bless them, were not averse to joining in the fun. We tried segregation, at least to keep them in separate seats. It didn’t work. We tried leaving them at home. There was a hue and a cry and charges of anti feminism and discrimination so we had to bow to the inevitable; but the effort to achieve a compromise taxed the nerves and raised blood pressure. Minor irritations were soon forgotten however and, when the boys in green, black and white stepped on to the pitch, the atmosphere was electric. In victory what scenes of wild abandon: middle aged men and staid mothers, dignity cast aside, joined in the exuberant jubilation of youth. During one such celebration (Harty Cup) an ebullient supporter (male) flung his arms about me and planted a resounding kiss on my face! I will not be misunderstood if I say that never again can we “recapture that first careless rapture”. Those victories were our first big breakthrough and they acted on us like heady wine.

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