✍🏻 Finbarr Buckley

📸 Irish Examiner : Johnny McGowan leads out Cork United teammates Jackie O’Reilly and Willie Cotter before a league match against Shamrock Rovers at the Mardyke

IT’S seventy years on February 6th  next year since the greatest Cork team of all time, Cork United, was born, writes Finbarr Buckley. In just under eight seasons in the forties, United blazed a trail of glory which included five league championships, including three-in-a-row, and two FAI Cup victories as well as two losing appearances, to end the decade as the most successful Cork club ever.

Cork Association Football Club was founded following the demise of the short-lived Cork City and financial donations from fans helped towards the replacement of a new strip. On the eve to the kick-off to the 1940/41 campaign, the club name was changed to Cork United with the team playing in green and white.

What better way to get your first season off to a flyer than to win the double at the first attempt. In the run-up to Christmas it looked like a mid-table finish was on the cards after recording just five wins in seventeen outings. However, a run of twelve consecutive wins, nine in the league and three in the cup, catapulted the Leesiders to  joint top with Waterford who relinquished the title to their Munster  opponents after having failed to agree terms to the staging of a play-off.

The composition of the Cork team brought together returned exiles in goalkeeper Jim ‘Fox’Foley ( ex- Glasgow Celtic and Plymouth Argyle), Jack O’Reilly (ex-Norwich City ) and Owen Madden (ex-Birmingham City),  coupled with  quality home grown talent  and came to the fore in particular in the run to the FAI Cup Final which was further boosted by the run in the league. Local rivals Evergreen were beaten two-nil in the  first round courtesy of goals from Liam O’Neill and Sean McCarthy with McCarthy, O’Neill, Nash and Bobby McFarlane on target against Drumcondra in the 4-2 at the Mardyke in round two.

Dundalk, who had previously lost three finals, lost  three-nil in the semi-final to goals from O’Neill, McFarlane and Madden to leave the scene set for an all Munster decider with league runners-up Waterford at Dalymount Pk. on Sunday, April 20th 1941. The rivalry built up in the league spilled over into the  final when Cork captain Madden and the Blue’s Jackie O’Driscoll were the first to be sent off for fighting. O’Driscoll had earlier given Waterford a 5th minute lead with Jack O’Reilly equalizing on the half-hour. Johnny Johnstone restored the Deise’s lead in the 72nd minute before O’Reilly popped up again with a second equalizer six minutes later to take the tie to a replay three days later. Despite Johnstone cancelling out Sean McCarthy’s 20th minute opener for United in the 38th minute, another double from O’Reilly in the second 45 landed the double for first time.

United stormed to another title in 1941/42, this time finishing two ahead of Shamrock Rovers, and reached a consecutive cup final only to lose 3-1 to Dundalk. Wins over Cork Bohemians (5-2), St. Jame’s Gate (1-0) and Drumcondra (4-2), in a semi-final in which Sean McCarthy netted all four for the Leesiders, sealed another passage to Dalymount and despite Jack O’Reilly scoring the lead goal , the Lilywhites ran out deserving winners to win their first blue ribbon trophy.

Incredibly, the dominant Corkonians made it a hat-trick of title successes in 1942/43, this time beating Dundalk to the finish line by a solitary point with their lowest points total to date, 27 from 18 matches played. Another run to a third cup final in-a-row ended with in a 2-1 defeat to Drumcondra, Jack O’Reilly’s late consolation earning him the record of becoming the first player to score in three consecutive finals.

The Rebels failed to replicate their dominance in 1943/44, finishing fourth in the league, six points adrift of champions Shelbourne and falling in the first round of the cup to Dundalk, losing 5-2 in a two-legged tie, despite winning 1-0 in Cork. However, normal service was resumed the following season with a fourth title in five years and another impressive cup run which was ended by Bohemians in a play-off in the semi-final.

United’s fifth and last championship of the decade was achieved by a two point winning margin over Drumcondra in 1945/46 and following another aggregate defeat in the play-off in the semi-final stage of the of the cup to Shamrock Rovers, hopes were high of more success the following season when it was announced that ‘The King’, Big Seanie McCarthy would be returning to Leeside after helping to secure an Irish League title for Belfast Celtic. And so, what proved to be a swansong for the team of all talents, another FAI Cup triumph was won in style following a 2-0 replay win over Bohemians at Dalymount Pk. on April 24th 1947. What was unique about the win was that it was achieved with a team of Cork born players.

Retirements and transfers to cross-channel clubs made in difficult for the club to compete and on October 2nd 1948 an experimental eleven defeated Shamrock Rovers 3-1 in a shield fixture in the club’s last match at the Mardyke. The following week the club disbanding citing financial losses due to dwindling attendances.

Cork Athletic would carry the mantle into the fifties followed by Cork Hibs and Celtic, Albert Rovers and today’s residents, Cork City. However, none have so far matched the successes of the all conquering Cork All-Stars!

Cork Athletic X1 (who lost 3-1 to Hull City at The Mardyke on Tuesday, May 25th 1949) :

L to R (Back): Dave Noonan, Georgie Caulfield, Nedser Courtney, Frank Cantwell, Georgie Warner, Johnny Vaughan, Timmy Murphy (trainer), Charlie Duggan (referee).

L to R (Front): ‘Small’ Seanie McCarthy, Peter Desmond, Paddy O’Leary (capt.), Paddy Cronin, Jackie O’Reilly .

📸 Irish Examiner