Cork and SMA Nostalgia: How we sported ’n played

“… there was something innately good about Derry Cremen… His simple ways taught us honesty and integrity: that you don’t take shortcuts or cheat. Above all, he taught us that success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square: integrity has no need of rules… 

Eventually there wasn’t a park or road in Ballinlough that didn’t boast an All-Ireland medal holder – or an African Missionary priest. Of particular joy to Derry was to travel to the SMA Novitiate in Newry, Co Down to see his first captain, Mick Waters, ordained a priest just a few short months after he had starred for Cork at midfield in the 1966 All-Ireland final… “

– Kevin Cummins 

Top left: Lee Cahill SMA; Middle left: Mick Waters SMA; Bottom right: Eddie Hartnett SMA

Editor’s Note: September in Ireland is the month when dreams are realised in the Mecca of Gaelic sport, Croke Park. But the stunning and heroic displays the nation witnesses are born in childhood on streets and neighbouring greens, and often inspired by adults with vision and generosity. 

Here we have a story about one such individual, Derry Cremen, who allowed the children and youth of Ballinlough, Cork – the neighbouring hillside of the SMA Irish HQ – to dream dreams of greatness and the ultimate honour of wearing the red and white of Cork.

This is the story of an unsung hero who deserves to be remembered in the pantheon of Gaelic Athletic Ireland. Derry Cremen not only inspired boys to become sportsmen, but far more importantly, to be men of integrity. Amongst his prodigies were our own Fr Mick Waters SMA (his first cup winning captain), Fr. Lee Cahill SMA and Fr. Eddie Hartnett SMA. 

Introduction

The 2017 Hurling and Football finals are over. And what great finals we were served this year. September 3rd gave us a titanic battle between Galway and Waterford, with the Tribesmen edging it in the end. Galway 0-26 Waterford 2-17.

Last Sunday’s All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Mayo will be remembered in history as one of the most exciting and pulsating ever. Dublin’s early goal appeared to prove the pundits correct. The best team in Ireland, and perhaps even better than the Kerry teams with Mick Spillane, crowned All-Ireland Champions seven times between 1978 and 1986.

Dublin’s three-in-a-row seemed unstoppable. A key factor being Cluxton’s long kicks that appeared to find a pair of Dublin hands with radar precision.

But, within five minutes Mayo answered the pundits and had them already rewriting their narratives. Six of seven Cluxton kicks in the first half were gathered by the men in green and red. Mayo had not come to Croke Park as underdogs. They had come to break the cursed 1951 curse and carry Sam Maguire back to the west for a whole new awakening.

Donal Vaughan is shown red with 20 minutes of the All-Ireland final remaining

But, with little more than 20 minutes on the clock, and the teams level, a moment of indiscipline by Mayo’s Donal Vaughan saw him retaliate on Dublin’s John Small who was already nursing a yellow card and about to get a second. Instead of Mayo having an easily kickable free to edge them in front and finish the game with 15 men against 14, Small and Vaughan were shown red cards, the ball was hopped, and the contest was turned on its head.

The remainder of the game, including eight-long-minutes of injury time, was nail-biting. Dublin nosed in front and even a late goal by Mayo wasn’t enough to kill the curse. Dublin 1-17 Mayo 1-16. It was by the thinnest of margins and heart-breaking. ’til I’m six-foot under, I’ll always believe that Vaughan’s presence on the field would have had the bonfires ablaze for weeks. Instead, his unnecessary absence plunged the West into a-wake.  

But isn’t that the magic of the GAA and why it is a national obsession? To see Galway, Waterford, Dublin and Mayo fans side-by-side during the games; and not having to be shepherded in different directions by police on horseback after the final whistle, is a source of unabashed national pride. 

The nostalgia that it nourishes is a priceless gift, filling our conversations for days and weeks and, in the case of a game like last Sunday’s, for years to come. Even the dream that Mayo might be back in the final next year and young Vaughan will redeem himself as Mayo’s winning Man of the Match. 

1966 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final Programme

And here in the SMAs we have our own reason for pride and nostalgia. In between this year’s finals, The Cork Evening Echo published, on 13 September, a thrilling read about a golden era of hurling that had neighbouring Ballinlough the envy of Ireland. And it included teenagers destined to become priests with the Society of African Missions.

Kevin Cummins takes us down memory lane and recalls the honour and affection the neighbourhood had for a good man, and a genuine hero, named Derry Cremen. 

A highlight of Derry’s life was seeing one of his prodigies, Fr. Mick Waters SMA, star at midfield in the 1966 All-Ireland final when Cork beat the Kilkenny Cats and a few months later attend his ordination in Dromantine. 

You may view a short clip of that All-Ireland final by clicking here.

That was a very special occasion as some 500 men and women who participated in the 1916 Easter Rising attended and were given a standing ovation by all in attendance, including our own Mick Waters and his mentor, Derry Cremen.

This is a very beautiful and emotional read. And it’s the bedrock upon which this year’s two thrilling GAA finals are built upon, up and down the country…

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Cork and SMA Nostalgia: How we sported ’n played

by Kevin Cummins

A misdiagnosed hip injury in his late teens, allied to the crude orthopaedic treatment of the ’40s, left him on crutches all his adult life. Yet he was to inspire a generation of youngsters in Ballinlough that back-boned the glorious era of Blackrock and Cork hurling in the 1970s.

There is no signpost for Ballinlough. Even natives are somewhat unsure of its boundaries. It meanders from the City Hall to Beaumont Quarry and lies between the Well and Blackrock Roads.

It is centred roughly on that stretch from Our Lady of Lourdes Church to Driscoll’s shop and it was from a low wall outside that shop that Derry Cremen oversaw his dominion.from a low wall outside that shop that Derry Cremen oversaw his dominion.

A young parish in the 1950s, those of us that grew up in Ballinlough were all first-generation country boys and we had three beacons held up for us by our parents: the church, education and the GAA and we got plenty of scope for all three as we sported and played around the newly built housing estates and the former market gardens of Ballinlough.

Derry was the fulcrum of our young lives. Like the Pied Piper we gathered around him at Driscoll’s wall each lunchtime and his influence was totally benign.

We lapped up his stories of Timothy Jim O’Keeffe from Ballintemple, who played international soccer for Ireland; of Fulham, Farrell, Fagin & Flood, the great Shamrock Rovers quartet of the 30s; of Jimmy Turnbull, the Englishman who scored 63 goals in his first season with Cork FC and, of course, it was from Derry we first heard of Gah & Balty Ahern, of Eddie Coughlan and Maree Connell, of Jim Hurley and John Quirke, that pantheon of hurlers that had brought glory and honour to Cork and Blackrock.

Derry was the keyholder of ‘Jocks’ – the home of a local man who was confined for many years in hospital. It was there we would gather in the evenings and watch Derry struggle against his infirmity as he repaired hurleys for the minor team, hoping always that the day would come when he would do a hurley for us.

He’d place a broken chair with metal vice attached on the kitchen table and we’d jostle each other to hold the hurley steady while Derry bound on the steel band that protected the hurley from cracking and gave it balance and power. I remember the first time he spliced a new St Lua hurley and handed it to me. “There”, he said, as I stood speechless, “ you’d stop a swallow going through a barn door with that.” I had arrived!

He never tolerated bad or uncouth language or conduct in his company and card playing in Jock’s was taboo. The talk was hurling, pure and simple. We’d sit around the open fire and drink in the anecdotes of our elders as they relived clashes with the Glen or the Barrs or trips to Thurles to see Christy Ring take on ‘The Rattler’ Byrne in mortal combat in the hell’s kitchen that was the Tipperary goalmouth.

We’d go home drunk with the excitement of it all and wonder would we ever play hurling for the Rockies or, dare we dream?, with Cork.

We hurled up and down the Ballinlough Road, along Sundrive Park – our home ground – Belmont Park and then, for excitement, we’d travel ‘away’ as far as Pic-du-Jer Park – a whole bus stop away. A match could go on for hours and we’d only grudgingly hold up proceedings to let the No. 14 bus pass. Teams would be replenished or diminished as players were called home to have their tea or do their homework. The match would carry on regardless and players could be dismayed on their return to find the opposition had scored five or six goal in their absence.

Battle

The battle would be rejoined and away we’d go again, skin and hair flying. I remember the first time a group of us ventured down to Church Road and our dismay at finding it was a field. A field! How could you play hurling in a field?

As we progressed from primary to secondary school there grew up around Derry a generation of young hurlers from the locality that, themselves, began to bring honour and glory to Cork and Blackrock. The year 1956 saw Derry’s first success when his Under-15 team, captained by Mick Waters, won the City Division title. It was only a ‘C’ grade competition but, remarkably, no fewer that eight of that team were to win All-Ireland medals.(See photograph attached) Four of Derry’s prodigies were to captain Cork All-Ireland winning minor teams and in 1968, Cork lined out in an All-Ireland sinor final with seven of Derry’s boys in the starting fifteen.

Eventually there wasn’t a park or road in Ballinlough that didn’t boast an All-Ireland medal holder – or an African Missionary priest. Of particular joy to Derry was to travel to the SMA Novitiate in Newry, Co Down to see his first captain, Mick Waters, ordained a priest just a few short months after he had starred for Cork at midfield in the 1966 All-Ireland final.

 

Castlemahon U-15 team, (no club names allowed then), the first Blackrock (Derry Cremen) under-age team to win a trophy,winning Division ‘C’. Eight of team later won All-Ireland medals. Back, from left: Ger O’Leary; Tony Connolly; Finbarr McCarthy; Lee Cahill (SMA); Donal Counihan; Pat O’Leary; and Brian Loughney. Middle: John O’Sullivan; Micheál Murphy; Teddy Burke; Mick Waters (SMA); Fachtna O’Sullivan; Dan Joe Crowley, Jack Holland. Front: Connie O’Leary; Jim Barrett; John O’Halloran; Eddie Hartnett (SMA); Kevin Cummins; Pat Kavanagh.

Within three short years Derry was dead, taken from us much too early while still in his 40s. How could a man of such a quiet disposition and with no background at all in hurling have produced such a generation of talented players?

They were different times, of course, and you’d get short shift now if you tried to play hurling on the Ballinlough Road! But there was something innately good about Derry Cremen that both attracted us youngsters to him and inspired us to embrace the sport of hurling.

Our parents were happy to see us in his company as his talk of times past was exciting and challenging and his love of hurling was infectious. There is a big deal made now before big matches on the TV of ‘fair play’ and ‘respect’. Derry Cremen preached that doctrine to us youngsters 50 years ago and he did so without any flags waving or banners flying,
His simple ways taught us honesty and integrity: that you don’t take shortcuts or cheat. Above all, he taught us that success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square: integrity has no need of rules.

I’ve no doubt that angels led him into Paradise.