The Curious Case of the Cork Athletic Committee Member

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Image: eveningecho.ie

As Cork City and Dundalk prepare to face off in the 2015 FAI Cup final, Cian Manning looks back at the extraordinary build-up to the 1952 decider when Leesiders Cork Athletic took on the Lilywhites.

Everyone is probably familiar with the Roy Keane epigram, ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. Surely a mantra for every sportsperson; from amateur to professional levels. However, what happens if events from outside one’s control impede your preparation for even the most illustrious of sporting occasions?

Since their inception in 1948 replacing Cork United, Cork Athletic had much success with League of Ireland championships in 1950 and 1951 and an FAI Cup double to add to that second league title.

In fact the same feat had also been a possibility in 1950 but the side from the Rebel County were defeated by Dublin outfit Transport in the cup final after three games (two replays). This was rectified the following season with a Johnny Vaughan goal defeating Shelbourne in the showpiece. Under the stewardship of figures such as Owen Madden, the former Cork United player and dual international having represented both the IFA and the FAI, and Hugh Ross, and with players such as Noel Cantwell and Jackie Lennox donning the club’s green and white colours, the future appeared to look bright for the 1951/52 season.

However, an incident in October 1951 would overshadow not only a disappointing league season finishing tenth, but also possibly impeded their preparation to retain their FAI Cup crown. On the 25th of October, as reported in that year’s Garda Commissioner’s Report: ‘a hairdresser was attacked in her place of employment by a man with whom she had been keeping company. She was severely beaten about the head with a blunt instrument and an attempt was made at manual strangulation which rendered her unconscious.’

The man charged as the perpetrator of the incident was a Mr. James Lynch of St. Helen’s, Old Blackrock Road. He was characterised by his solicitor as ‘a man with a very responsible position in the city,’ a forty-three-year-old district company supervisor with Hoover. Previously he was a bus conductor and worked as an insurance agent when, in 1936, he appeared in a Garda Station with his hands tied behind his back alleging he had been held by three unknown men.  He was subsequently charged with ‘public mischief and with embezzlement’ and found guilty and placed on probation for three years.

From this point on he was deemed ‘a good citizen and was looked on as a decent and hardworking man’. He later became involved as a committee member with Cork Athletic F.C. and this is where the world of sport and the incident become entwined. Robert Cowell, secretary of the club, and the aforementioned 1951 cup final hero Johnny Vaughan had to give evidence in the trial. In addition to the problems caused by the court case, objections were lodged by both Waterford United and Sligo Rovers (both defeated in the semi—finals by Cork and Dundalk) to the FAI about the results, which were rejected.

m7Z7J6OrUM9MIhBaSaCYffQThe trial was scheduled to begin after the FAI Cup final fixed for Sunday 20th April, 1952. Cork Athletic were deemed favourites for the decider against Dundalk. There was one surprise change to the line-up with Murty Broderick replacing Willie O’Mahony. Meanwhile, the Liliywhites were in search of a treble of victories over Cork sides in the FAI Cup final, previously beating Cork United in 1942 and Athletic in 1949. Similarly, Athletic had a remarkable record in the cup competition having only lost two games in their history. In total, 26,479 spectators watched the showpiece end level. Athletic took the lead five minutes after half-time through O’Leary. While Dundalk drew level three minutes from time, the goal scored by Martin.

W.P. Murphy in the Irish Independent wrote: ‘Cork will point to the fact that on Sunday, Dundalk might not have scored but for injury upsetting their defensive formation. Dundalk, on the other hand, will point out that they hit the bar and that their forwards should have made better use of their chances.’

Eddie Courtney’s shoulder injury in the drawn game and absence from the replay was seen as a major loss. He had come out of retirement twice to aid the Athletic cause, first in 1951 in helping to achieve the double of league and cup success and again in 1952. The replay was fixed for that Wednesday, again at Dalymount Park.

However, Johnny Vaughan’s attention and indeed the club’s would turn from Dalymount Park to the Central Criminal Court. The trial detailed the relationship between the accused James Lynch, who pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder, and the victim Ms. Maureen Carroll of Albert Road, aged 26. Having become acquainted at the wedding of Lynch’s sister in 1950, they would meet frequently and go on trips to places such as Kilworth and Waterford, though Ms. Carroll would characterise the relationship as nothing more than friendship.

On the night in question Ms. Carroll was violently attacked at her saloon becoming unconscious after being suffocated. The fact that the accused had left his hat and raincoat at the premises was seen as key evidence in the case.

Lynch on the same night of the 25th had gone to see Cork Athletic train and later met Johnny Vaughan at his residence before leaving at 8.15pm. A later recollection by Vaughan published in an international match programme quoted him as saying:

“I had been offered a job by Jimmy Lynch on the night of the incident. He had a few drinks with us at home and then went on to see his girlfriend…”

“I was in court both days before the replay. The case was definitely a contributory factor in our defeat”

Club official Robert Cowell had a cordial relationship with Lynch, having on occasion had drinks together. Other witnesses such as Carroll’s sister would take the stand in a trial that mirrored that of a soap opera, but was sadly a reality. After six days of the trial, Lynch was found guilty and sentenced to six years of penal servitude. His appeal in July was rejected.

During the case, five days before sentencing, Vaughan and Cowell’s attention returned to soccer and the cup replay against Dundalk. The mix of emotional strain related to the court case was combined with an apparent literal hangover as Athletic had stayed in Dublin Sunday night and perhaps sampled too much of the local hostelries. The men from the border claimed a three-nil victory and inflicted only Cork Athletic’s third defeat in the FAI Cup competition since their foundation in 1948. The attendance for the replay at Dalymount Park being 20,753 with gate receipts reaching £2,205.

A second minute goal by Dundalk seemed to be the sucker-punch to Cork. Great performances from the Lilywhites’ Marty Clarke and wing back Traynor managed to keep tabs on Vaughan. Though Athletic were clearly not the better team, their endeavour was noteworthy but the side seemed to lack the confidence and vigour of their previous outing.

The defeat signalled the beginning of the end for Cork Athletic. Their highest league finish thereafter was fourth, though there was a reprieve with FAI Cup success in 1953 under the guidance of Sunderland legend Raich Carter, that victory achieved in the first ever all-Cork FAI Cup final against Evergreen United. The club folded in 1958, a loss for the game but it’s doutbful anything could have prepared the players and staff for what befell them off the pitch in the chaotic days around Irish soccer’s showpiece six year’s previously.

Cian Manning is a Waterford native currently pursuing an MA at UCC. He has previously been published in the Cork City FC matchday programme on topics of interest to the League of Ireland. 

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