The two main banking institutions, namely, Allied Irish Banks and  Bank of Ireland played a huge role in the fabric of the Cork Business League for the best part of over 25 years, through the late seventies, eighties & nineties, writes Finbarr Buckley.

Not alone were both model members, consistently performing in the top division, but both successfully provided sponsorship for the league’s two prominent competitions, the main cup and the much-loved CBL Shield.

AIB was founded in 1961 and one of its founder members, Noel O’Keeffe, remembers the early years fondly

‘We played in the Inter-House League under the name of Munster & Leinster Bank in ’63 before spending season 1965/66 in the Shipping League.’ ‘We played our matches in various places such as Douglas ( by the stream ), Blackpool, the old Ringmahon Pk., Togher ( schoolboys pitch ) & Southern Pk.’ ‘I remember being involved in a marathon cup tie in 1968 against Cork Gas Co. which went to three replays before we scraped through one-nil.’  

The club went on to fill the void in the resurgent seventies by re-joining in 1974/75, when the emphasis on new entrants turned towards the city centre region and away from the harbour area where most of the early members were concentrated.

A second division title win along with a Byrne Cup success in 1981/82 followed the club’s acquisition of the Greyhound Track on the Western Road. Three seasons later the sponsorship of the blue ribbon trophy of the league’s calendar, the Shipping League Cup in 1984/85, was pivotal in mounting a challenge to win ‘their’ trophy that season.  A 3-1 success over Irish Steel on Sunday, February 17TH1985 in round one set up an away 4-3 win over Penn Chemicals r, before Ferrero visited the Greyhound Track in the quarter-final on April 14th. An expected two-nil victory paired the ‘Banks’ with True Temper in the semi-final at the Showgrounds on April 28th. In a tense affair, AIB squeezed through by the slenderest of margins, 2-1. A brace apiece from Pat Ryan and  Pat Houlihan, the first players to so for the same team in a final, secured a stunning 4-0 win over  OLH Utd. in the final, also at the Showgrounds on  May 4th.

The club reached a second cup final in 1990, losing after a replay to fellow second division outfit, Liebert. Billy Mulcahy led the team back to the top flight in 1992/93 in an exciting team which contained Pat O’Sullivan in goal,  central defender Mick O’Driscoll, the industrious Liam Tobin and Kieran Ashcroft in the centre along with flying wingers Liam Shine and  Leo Whelan. The nucleus of that side went tantalizing close to winning the elusive double in 1994/95, losing only three matches in a sixteen match campaign to edge out rivals Postal Workers. Convincing wins over Garda and Aer Lingus ( 4-0 ), Bank of Ireland ( 5-1 ), cup holders ESB ( 1-0 ) & Pfizer ( 6-0 )were the highlights of the title run which went in tandem with an exciting cup run with began with a two-nil derby win over Band of Ireland at the Greyhound Track on Sunday, April 2nd 1995, before culminating with a narrow one-nil cup final replay defeat to Postal Workers on Saturday, May 13th 1995. AIB would go on to make amends by lifting the cup for a second time three seasons later with a two-nil win over Smurfits at headquarters on Sunday, May 3rd 1998. Changes in work practices forced the club to withdraw at the end of 1998/99 but the team continued to have an involvement in the Cork Night Owls League before its demise in 2008.

While Bank of Ireland enjoyed only moderate success, by comparison in their tenure since joining in 1977/78, their various teams over the years contained some of the finest players to have played in the league.  Danny O’Leary, Tom Purcell, Tomas Maher, Dave McDonnell, Joe Dillon, John Barry, John Vaughan, Dave Luttrell would be some who would spring to mind as having distinguished themselves. The club came to the fore when winning the second division and snatching the cup from under the noses of ‘team of the eighties’, Postal Workers in 1982/83. The ‘Banks’ knock-out fancied CIE Athletic 2-1 in the opening round on their own ground at The Farm on February 27th. The previous season’s beaten finalists Ridge Tools fell 5-2 in round two, with Aer Lingus going the same way by a score of three-nil following a replay in the quarter-final. Postal Utd. narrowly lost out 1-0 in the semi-final before the Workers squared up for a winner takes all dual at The Farm on Saturday, May 14th. Tomas Maher scored the only goal of the game with five minutes remaining to secure the winner’s place in cup history and in the process deprive their opponents of the treble.  Like their rivals, AIB, Bank of Ireland were faced with work change practices which would end their association coincidentally at the end of the same season, 1998/99.

In the financial turmoil at the end of the Noughties in which banking institutions found themselves less popular than ever before, It’s fitting to recall that AIB and Bank of Ireland contributed handsomely at a time when sponsorship was in its infancy. The association of both teams could well have saved the League from extinction, a fitting legacy to be remembered by!