'Innocent days and the craic was mighty': Celebrating 30 years of the All-Ireland League

Cork Constitution’s John O’Mahony, father of Munster captain Peter, features in a new documentary produced by the AIL’s title sponsors, Energia.

Source: Journal Media Studio/YouTube

TO CELEBRATE 30 years of club rugby’s premier competition, the All-Ireland League, title sponsors Energia have produced a captivating documentary featuring key contributors to the AIL. 

Ahead of it premiering on TG4 this Sunday, 21 November (5.15pm), Ciaran Kennedy speaks to Cork Constitution stalwart John O’Mahony — father of Ireland international Peter — about his passion for the club and what makes the AIL so special. 

John O’Mahony laughs when asked about the various roles he has held at Cork Constitution FC over the years.

Like so many Energia All-Ireland League club members around the country who give up their time each week, there are simply too many too mention. After all, there’s a reason he’s known as ‘Con John’.

“I hope that nickname is in an indication of how proud I am of the club,” O’Mahony says.

“What I’ve done, you could probably pick at least 30 other people who have done exactly the same thing, and they are things that people delight in participating in.

“Whether it’s when their playing days are finished or they never played at all, every club has people who go into administrative roles as volunteers, and we’d be lost without them. They are invaluable and they are the people that make amateur sports clubs what they are.”

John O'Mahony John O'Mahony in the Energia AIL documentary. Source: Energia

O’Mahony first made his way down to Temple Hill when he was around six years old. Since then he’s moved steadily up the ladder from player, to coach, to president and much more. He’s also watched his own three sons – including current Munster captain Peter – tog out and move through the ranks.

Much has changed over that time, for both Cork Con and the All-Ireland League.

We started up there on Saturday mornings as kids. They were innocent days, and sure the craic was mighty. You knew all the other young lads who were up there.

In the early days of the AIL, a trip down to Temple Hill would provide you with a front row seat to watch some of the best players in the country.

“When Con and Garryowen played in the first AIL final, there must have been six or eight current Ireland internationals on the Con team – Ralph Keyes, Michael Bradley, Kenny Murphy at fullback – and Garryowen obviously had representative players as well.” 

peter-omahony Current Munster captain Peter O'Mahony (centre) lining out for Cork Con back in 2010. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While times have undoubtedly changed, it’s still AIL clubs that provide the backbone of rugby participation for underage levels — and players can go on to shine for the provinces and Ireland.

“Professionalism created an appreciable divide, and the domestic game is very much a separate entity. But it hasn’t changed in the aspect of the juveniles and youths that go and attend AIL clubs on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and they are the foundation of what becomes the professional game in Ireland.

Without those clubs and the foundation that they give, I’m not sure rugby would be where it is these days.”

Because AIL clubs are grounded in community, rugby is only part of what they offer, says John.

“They contribute in friendships and associations and other aspects of life too, and they are enormous contributors to social good, and I think that has never been more evident than the void that was there when they weren’t available to their members over the past 18 months to two years.

“Clubs like Cork Con really are rooted in the community. Cork Con’s involvement was more than just a rugby thing. In the nascent days of the club there was a cricket club, bowls, then recently the club has been a community centre in the real sense of the word.

“There’s cards on Thursday nights, we have a group of retired people that meet up there, there’s bridge clubs in the evening, and that’s all indicative of what the club is in the area.”

ralph-keyes Ralph Keyes in action for Cork Con during the first AIL final in 1991. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It has of course been a testing time for clubs like Cork Con, but O’Mahony feels confident about the future.

“It’s just looking to get back to where we were (before the pandemic). Get players back out onto the pitch, get our volunteers and our members back into the club. Get those associations re-established.

“And I just cannot get across this message strongly enough – I spoke to a referee who was very prominent in the professional game after one of our AIL games recently. He said it was such a pleasure to ref AIL games, because the standards of the players and skill-sets were equally as good in some cases than what you might see in some professional games. 

“So I’m always encouraging people who like sport across the board to come up to Temple Hill or their local club, because the afternoon’s entertainment is absolutely top class in most cases.

“It’s great value and you’re going to see the stars of the future.” 

Energia AIL: A 30 Year Rugby Legacy, will air on TG4 on Sunday, 21 November, at 5:15pm, and will then be available episodically on YouTube from Monday 22 November.

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