Never say die! The story of BUFC

Blarney United : A Never-Say-Die Outfit When Blarney United FC formed in 1949 soccer was essentially a city game with no such thing as a rural soccer club.

A Home of Our Own 2001Proximity to Cork though, meant people in Blarney weren’t entirely unfamiliar with the sport. Indeed, visiting sports teams were often brought out on day trips to visit the famous castle. Manchester City, no less, came calling in 1909, and in 1946 Stanley Matthews, the David Beckham of his day, kissed the Blarney Stone. At that time Blarney and nearby Tower were ‘enjoying’ an intense rivalry in GAA that was verging on the overheated. So one day, fed up with listening to “auld chat”, Mort O’Driscoll, a foreman at the Woollen Mills, said, “why don’t we start up a soccer club?”. That got the ball rolling and the newly formed club set itself the lofty aspiration of uniting the two districts. To that end, it secured a pitch of its own (a rarity in those days) on the verge of the Muskerry Golf Course. A move that made it all the more attractive to the Munster Senior League (junior section). With boots mended by a local cobbler and the basic essential of a football from Elvery’s on Patrick Street, the lads were good to go. Soon finding themselves hopelessly outplayed in the MSL, the club switched to the AUL. There, the highlight for the club in its first incarnation, was a “shock victory” in 1953 over highly rated Turner’s Cross, earning a semi-final AOH Cup appearance against Wembley (0-4). The club continued in AUL Division 2 for two more seasons with mixed fortunes. Paddy Murphy (the only surviving ‘49er in 2021) was the first Blarney United player to score two goals in the one match. They still lost 2-1. But what with emigration and a strong GAA, the club lost traction, and so folded the first edition of Blarney United FC. A GAA County Board official hadn’t been far off the mark a few years earlier when he proclaimed at the presentation of a mid-Cork title to Blarney’s hurlers “….. and let that be an end to soccer in Blarney!” The club rested for a dozen years but the seeds were well sown and, phoenix-like, it arose from the ashes in 1967. Led by an intrepid bunch of teenagers in Johnny MacNamara, Eoghan Moriarty and Con O’Riordan, it was soon alive and kicking again with a youths team in addition to a junior team. The clubs refounders scarcely more than youths themselves. That Jack O’Shea named his two dogs ‘Pelé’ and ‘Busby’ says it all about the level of enthusiasm at the time. But despite looking snazzy in a “newly procured outfit”, the lads lost every game in the Shield up to Christmas. Passion, however, remained undimmed and, incredibly, they reversed the trend completely in the new year for the League campaign and pipped Botanic for the AUL 3A title. Furthermore, the club initiated its signature summer Square League tournament on the village green and now commenced the days of flying footballs striking the cars of bewildered tourists. Passions often grew so heated between rival teams in ye olde village tournament that outdoor boxing was said to have featured “in Johnny’s Yard (where the players changed) before ever making an appearance at Caesars Palace”. Every team wanted to be drawn against the Guards “for the crack”, though what crack was in mind wasn’t entirely clear. Evenso, the tournament quickly became a club flagship and continues to flourish to this day in the same venue as the Blarney 5s. The 1970s proved lean years for the club with a lot of mud but not a lot of glory. Soccer was now widespread but facilities remained primitive. On visiting Coachford (or was it Dripsey) Blarney had to contend with an extra opponent on the field that could send the ball in any direction – an electricity pole. Their own pitch (now at Paud’s Cross) featured a river on one side and a water-filled ditch on the other. This could be hazardous but also had its uses. Once, when Blarney were 3-0 down, a player took an executive decision – he lifted up the ball and put it in the river. That was in the days when a replacement ball wasn’t always to hand. On another occasion (and this remains to be verified) a referee was said to have been put in. A ‘70s highlight was the selection of local lad, Brendan Hyde, for a schoolboys international against Wales. Such was Brendan’s talent that the match was, in fact, his very first schoolboys game. Brendan was soon snapped up by Cork Celtic where his career culminated in a League of Ireland champions medal in 1974. Another highlight was when the club again won AUL Division 3 with goals from Teddy Madden, Kieran Gaffey and Mark Howell giving victory over Corkbeg. But after that Blarney United remained a long-term Division 2 fixture. This was aided in no small part by the club’s own intransigence and inflexibility. A controversy featuring a refusal to release players for a GAA fixture and a sit-down protest in a goalmouth led to the popping up of two new local clubs– Waterloo FC and Killowen FC. Unfortunately for Blarney United, they did more than just pop up, they proceeded to outpace and outshine the old stagers, winning title after title and cup after cup. It was soon observed that if the talents of the three clubs were pooled, Blarney (as in the locality) would have had the makings of a successful Munster Senior League outfit. As it was, apart from some glimmers of youthful brilliance in 1983, the club had to wait till the very end of the 1980s for success to materialise. That finally arrived in the form of promotion to AUL Division 1 and a County Cup triumph. The latter, against Bandon, deemed one of the best finals ever in that tournament. When Blarney aerial ace, Jamsie O’Leary, stepped up to take his shot in the penalty shoot-out, a Bandon supporter was heard to quip, “be careful, he might use his head”. While many clubs focussed on building teams and winning matches to the neglect of developing facilities, not so Blarney, and the club’s real strength at this time lay in its officers. Mind you committee meeting minutes sometimes belie this. For example, one meeting was almost entirely devoted to a discussion on the distribution of tokens for free drinks after a Square League final. There were claims that the tokens “went to all the wrong people”. “Such-and-such getting a load of them” and others, who set up goal posts night after night, “getting hardly any”. The minutes continue at this point – “an hour of the meeting has now been taken up talking crap. The seven-a-side itself went off okay. After the final whistle the winners had to wait around for the cup. They must have got the impression we didn’t want to give it to them”. The club’s officers, however, did have the acumen to spot the potential of a swathe of County Council owned ground at the back of the Riverview Housing estate. This resulted in Willie O’Shea and Mark Howell zipping off next day on Willie’s Honda 50 to call to Denis Lyons TD. Denis told them that he was going to a County Council meeting later and would see what he could do. Soon the club had a brand-new home between Blarney and Tower with great development scope and the rest, as they say, is history. In time O’Shea Park would materialise with its floodlit UEFA grade grass pitch, an all-weather astroturf, a bespoke clubhouse and a multitude of teams at all age levels. So too, the occasional glint of silver!

The full story of the club, “Blarney United : A Never-Say-Die Outfit”, by Richard Forrest, will be launched at the Castle Hotel, Blarney 8 pm November 5th and will be available through the club and local outlets.

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