Larry Tompkins and Keith Barr in action in 1998 All-Ireland club semi-final. INHPO
Long road back

A famous goal and a 'horrible' All-Ireland defeat - Cork champs return to Thurles

After Castlehaven came close to reaching the 1998 All-Ireland final, the stars now align once more.

IN ALL THE years that Castlehaven have toiled in the shadow of their illustrious counterparts in seven-time All-Ireland champions Nemo Rangers, three-time champions St Finbarr’s or even O’Donovan Rossa of Skibbereen with their Andy Merrigan triumph 31 years ago, no pain hurt like that generated in February 1998.

Larry Tompkins, the man the club diehards had done so much to convince him to uproot from Kildare and come to play with their club when they were working together on the building sites of New York, was already the Cork senior football manager.

Finally, or so he felt, his back had defeated him. Even with an operation from Kieran O’Rourke, brother of the Meath footballer, Colm.

So when then Cork chairman Christy Cooney called him to a meeting and informed him that Billy Morgan had no intention of coming back for the 1997 season, Tompkins accepted there on the spot.

For light relief, he was still keeping his hand in with the club. With mobility restricted, he was concentrating on being positionally ahead of the game and his natural strength was still there.

A look back now at that Cork championship in 1997 is a demonstration of fixture madness.

In the first round, Castlehaven played Avondhu, in Macroom, in May. The second round was a week later against St Nick’s. Then, the long lay-off. When the action resumed it was at quarter-final stage in late July and they faced UCC. Tompkins was marked by Seamus Moynihan, with Eamonn Fitzmaurice close by to offer help in the same half-back line.

In the semi-final Castlehaven overcame Imokilly, before the final with Beara on 12 October.

As Beara were a divisional side, they could not represent Cork in the Munster championship. So when the first final finished as a draw, Castlehaven had to go ahead and fly the Cork flag in the provincial series.

They beat The Nire of Waterford, and a fortnight later lost the replay of their county final.

Despite that, the West Cork side ploughed on and beat Kerry’s Laune Rangers in the Munster semi-final and then Fethard of Tipperary by six points in the final.

larry-tompkins-and-willie-omeara-14121997 Tompkins in action in the Munster final against Fethard. © INPHO / Patrick Bolger © INPHO / Patrick Bolger / Patrick Bolger

What happened next in the All-Ireland semi-final was remarkable but the chain of events had already started tumbling on.

In the replayed county final, Niall Cahalane shoved the referee. He was handed a 48-week suspension.

Just like the previous two All-Ireland semi-finals they had Leinster opposition, this time in Erin’s Isle from Dublin.

They nailed 17 points in total. Just two from dead ball. The crowd were beginning to leave with five minutes to go. Castlehaven were five points up and Erin’s Isle star man Charlie Redmond had been sent off.

The, the collapse. Ciaran O’Hare pointed a free that gained a mere ripple of applause.

From the next move, a ball broke out for a sideline. Keith Murray arrowed in the delivery. It was broken down to O’Hare and he finished brilliantly to the net.

But there was still two points in it and there was no time left. ‘Haven put Colin Crowley through but instead of pointing, he drove his shot and it thumped off the upright.

And the next move?

We quote from Tompkins’ autobiography; ‘Believe.’

‘A ball came in from the sideline and it was trickling out wide but Michael Maguire came out of goal and Denis Cleary, the full-back, went for it too. There was a mix-up between them.

‘The corner-forward put his toe in between them and poked it back across. The ball went across the square and Niall Crossan shot blindly.

‘The ball hit the post, went across the line, hit the other post and popped out into my hands and I cleared it down the field.

‘The umpires looked at one another and put up the flag for a goal.’

In all the semi-finals they lost, this cut the deepest. In the dressing room and on the bus home, there wasn’t a word spoken until they reach the Garda Club on Penrose Wharf in Cork city.

“I’d never seen a loss have such an impact,” wrote Tompkins.

“It would be very hard to measure how down everyone was. To lose a game like that, where we had clearly been the best team, was horrible.”

As the days went on, there was chat of appeals, or even a video sent to Sky Sports to see if they might have the tools to see if the ball went over the line. But as it was, it was winter, the pitch was heavy, and there was no marking on the line.

For the 20 year anniversary, the two clubs ‘replayed’ the game, for an AIB vehicle. This time, Harry Redknapp ‘managed’ Castlehaven, with the late Gianluca Vialli over Erin’s Isle.

Castlehaven won. Tompkins missed it; away on holiday.

It came as no consolation. But the present squad have their chance to write their own history this Sunday when they face St Brigid’s of Roscommon.

And the venue?

Semple, of course.

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