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

DERRY CREMEN never played hurling. Soccer was his sport and he was to pay a terrible price for his love of the game.

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.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.

 Derry Cremen and Fr Michael Waters at the latter’s ordination in 1967.

Derry Cremen and Fr Michael Waters at the latter’s ordination in 1967.

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 Eudie 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; Donal Counihan; Pat O’Leary; and Brian Loughney. Middle: John O’Sullivan; Micheál Murphy; Teddy Burke; Mick Waters; Fachtna O’Sullivan; Dan Joe Crowley, Jack Holland. Front: Connie O’Leary; Jim Barrett; John O’Halloran; Eddie Hartnett; Kevin Cummins; Pat Kavanagh.

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; Donal Counihan; Pat O’Leary; and Brian Loughney. Middle: John O’Sullivan; Micheál Murphy; Teddy Burke; Mick Waters; Fachtna O’Sullivan; Dan Joe Crowley, Jack Holland. Front: Connie O’Leary; Jim Barrett; John O’Halloran; Eddie Hartnett; 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.