Rebel city requires leadership to revive local club

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Ireland’s second city of Cork has long been successful at national level in hurling and Gaelic football but its soccer history is one of short-lived clubs wresting occasional silverware from the clutches of Dublin.

There has been a team from Cork in the League of Ireland almost every season since its inauguration in the early 1920s. But this has involved eight clubs in all, right up to Cork City, Irish champions in 1993 and 2005, and runners-up in 2016.

Before all that, the five titles of Cork United in the 1940s and the crowd-pleasing cross-city rivalry between Cork Celtic and Cork Hibernians in the 1960s and early 1970s were the highlights in the patchwork history of local soccer.

Jim Cashman's/Chris Heinhold

While Cork Hibernians, champions in 1971, were based at the Flower Lodge, today the Páirc Uí Rinn Gaelic football ground, 1974 champions Cork Celtic played at Turners Cross, today the home of Cork City.

After City dropped the idea of a moved to Bishopstown on the far western suburbs, ‘The Cross’ has become the long-term home of Cork soccer, redeveloped in 2007 and now also a regular host of Ireland’s under-21 internationals.

First used by Cork Constitution rugby and cricket club in the 1890s, then sold to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) that oversees traditional Irish sports, this compact ground in the south-east of town was the final resting place of doomed Cork Bohemians in the late 1930s.

Later housing Cork United (the fourth and final incarnation of a club originally called Albert Rovers), Turners Cross is now fully seated, a rarity in Ireland.

Welcome to Cork/Chris Heinhold

The first ground to stage regular league soccer in Cork was Ballinlough Road, within a short walk of today’s Cork Constitution rugby club, original tenants of Turners Cross in the 1890s. A works team for the local car factory, Ford FC, played in the Munster Leagues at Ballinlough Road from their formation in 1921 onwards.

The Tractors – in fact, later named after a tractor, Fordsons FC – won the FAI Cup in 1926 and performed creditably in the League of Ireland before Ford withdrew its financial support in 1930. With relatively healthy crowds, the club, renamed Cork FC, matched Fordsons’ cup success in 1934 and finished top four in the league for five seasons out of six.

But a tight hold on the purse strings encouraged key players – most notably the prolific Jimmy Turnbull – to leave. Crowds and income duly dwindled. By 1938, Cork FC were no more, first replaced by the short-lived Cork City, then Cork United.

Hotel River Lee/Chris Heinhold

The most successful team in a century of Cork soccer, United featured experienced old boys from the city’s previous clubs, including outside left Owen Madden, outside right Jack O’Reilly, both also on the books of Norwich City. Frank O’Farrell, later to replace Sir Matt Busby as manager of Manchester United, played at wing half, behind inside forward Tommy Moroney. The partnership continued at West Ham in the late 1940s.

By then, Cork United had won five titles in six seasons, breaking Dublin’s near complete domination of the league since 1921.

Folding in 1948, United gave way to Cork Athletic, where Madden and O’Reilly continued to race down the wings. At full-back, later West Ham and Manchester United mainstay Noel Cantwell played in front of Irish international goalkeeper Ned Courtney.

Gresham Metropole/Chris Heinhold

All these clubs, from Fordsons to Cork Athletic, followed by Cork Hibernians, played at The Mardyke, sports ground of University College Cork, set on an island in the river Lee. It was here that Ireland played their first international outside Dublin, against Hungary in March 1939. The great Gyula Zsengellér was on the scoresheet for the Hungarians in a 2-2 draw.

The first club to be based long-term at Turners Cross was Evergreen United, whose best years overlapped with Cork Athletic’s. The pair met in the only all-Cork FAI Cup final, 1953, a replayed affair won by Athletic.

In 1959, Evergreen became Cork Celtic. With ex-Waterford and Doncaster inside-forward Alfie Hale as player-manager, Cork Celtic won the title in 1973-74, four points ahead of their main cross-city rivals Cork Hibernians. Cork Celtic then spent heavily on short-term marquee signings – George Best and Geoff Hurst for three games in 1975-76 –and folded in 1979.

Brú Hostel/Chris Heinhold

Cork Hibernians had sprung from the demise of Cork Athletic in 1957, moving into The Mardyke, then the Flower Lodge in 1962. From then on, games with Cork Celtic attracted derby-day crowds, often with a high league placing at stake. Star man for Hibs was top scorer Miah Dennehy, later of Dave Mackay’s Nottingham Forest.

After each won a title in the 1970s, and dabbled in Europe, key players left, the clubs disbanded and Cork was left with underachieving Albert Rovers in various guises. One of them, Cork Alberts, featured the former top Chelsea goalscorer Bobby Tambling, who had relocated to County Cork to practise his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness. Tambling also became the first manager of Cork City, formed in 1984.

Twice title-winners, City have embraced modern concepts in the Irish domestic game, such as professionalism, summer football and all-seated spectatorship. It hasn’t always been smooth, with complex shenanigans needed to extricate the club from financial disaster in 2010, but the Leesiders have been exemplary representatives of Irish football in Europe. Bayern Munich, IFK Gothenburg, CSKA Kyiv have all left Cork without a win.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Cork Airport is 6.5km (four miles) south of the city. Local buses are run by Bus Éireann. The 226 and 226A run every 30min to Parnell Place station in town (lowest fare €5 single online), journey time 30mins. They also both stop at Evergreen Road, close to Turners Cross stadium and terminate at Kent Station, Cork’s main train hub.

The hourly train from Dublin Heuston takes 2hrs 30-45mins, cheapest online single €20. The last one back is at 8.20pm – and it’s not direct. There’s a bus from Dublin every 2hrs (journey time 3hrs 45mins, cheapest online single €13) – the last one back is 6pm.

A Cork Taxi (+353 21 4 27 22 22) from the airport into town should cost around €20.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

With plenty of tourists and students, Cork is awash with pubs and bars showing sports. Almost all, though, will prioritise a Gaelic football game over English Premier League action – with the welcome exception of SoHo, a contemporary spot with a panoramic rooftop deck and terrace overlooking the main drag of Grand Parade. Decent pub grub, especially the hearty breakfasts and chicken wings, open late at weekends, SoHo also sells match tickets for Cork City games.

A short walk away, Costigan’s is friendly and equally centrally located, the covered smoking area equipped with a TV showing live games – plus plenty of other screens dotted around. Roaring fire in winter.

Also in the traditional vein, Jim Cashman’s is located on the edge of Cork’s Huguenot Quarter, close to a selection of decent restaurants.

On the north side of town, convenient for the railway station, The Shelbourne is a handy option with all-day TV sport and food.

Busy in term-time, the student-friendly Washington Inn also brings in punters with its HD big-screen TV sports action.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and city centre

Discover Ireland has a database of local hotels.

Cork’s hotels are clustered near the river, right in the city centre – there’s no lodging near Turners Cross.

The Gresham Metropole is a cut above, a four-star with access to a pool, sauna and gym. Just on the other side of MacCurtain Street, the Hotel Isaacs Cork is a handy mid-range option with equal (if paid) access to a health centre. Nearby, the Brú is a contemporary hostel with private rooms as well as dorms, a hopping little bar that shows big-screen sports and live music most nights of the week. Great group rates, too.

With views over another side of the Lee, the Imperial Hotel is probably the best place in town, combining centuries of tradition with a quality spa and upscale dining.

Conveniently located for Parnell Place bus station, and airport access, the Cork branch of the Irish chain Jurys Inn is reliably upper mid-range.