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Passage GAA Celebrates Its Greatest Team

This year Passage GAA Club is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Passage winning the 1983 Intermediate Football County Championship. The celebration will be held in the Billy Cotter Pavilion on Friday 25th August. All members past and present have been invited to come along and celebrate the club's greatest team Writes Deirdre Maxwell

The journey began in 1979 when the team had a hard-fought win in the final of the City Division Junior "B" Football League against Ballinure.

At that time, it would have been beyond credibility to suggest that ten of the Passage players, just five years later would be playing against a star-laden Barrs team in the semi-final of the Cork Senior Football Championship. However, this is exactly what happened. Under the inspirational guidance of the late Brian Geary and Terry Howard, the Passage footballers went on a five-year odyssey that few teams in Cork have ever matched.

It started in 1980 when Passage became the surprise winners of the City junior championship when they beat Delanys in a replayed final on a waterlogged Ballinlough pitch. Next up were Aghada in the county championship and after a thrilling encounter in Carrigtwohill the game ended in a draw. Unfortunately, Passage was short three key players for the replay and they were narrowly beaten.

There were great hopes for 1981 but the team suffered a surprise defeat to St. Nicks in the City final. There would have been a widespread view that the bubble had burst for the Passage footballers but this proved to be far from true. In 1982 Passage turned the tables on St. Nicks to capture the City title and set off in pursuit of a county title. A highly rated Shamrocks team were the first obstacle and on that day in Minane Bridge Passage showed they were a serious outfit when they blitzed the South-East champions restricting the opposition to just one point. Another hotly fancied team O Donovan Rossa awaited in the semi-final but Passage again prevailed by a margin of three points in Ballinspittle.

Passage was now in their first-ever county football final with red-hot favourites Knocknagree as their opponents. The final was played on a cold wet miserable December day in Cloughduv and it was not a day for fancy football. Once again Passage showed they were up for the battle and created history by fashioning a one-point win.

In 1983 saw the Passage team went into unknown territory as they were Intermediate football for the first time ever. A remote West Cork venue, Aughaville saw the team make their intermediate debut against Adrigole and after a slow start they progressed to the next round by a margin of ten points. This meant an encounter with title favourites Grange.

Bernie Meade, who had retired after the junior county final, was persuaded to rejoin the team and this proved a critical decision. On a sweltering day in Riverstown, Bernie in his usual full-back slot was opposed by the Tyrone, Ulster and All-star footballer Damien O’ Hagan.

To say the Passage man outplayed him would be an understatement. With Kevin O’Reilly in scintillating form at half forward Passage produced a display for the ages running out very impressive eleven-point winners.

The semi-final against Midleton was a hard physical contest but once again the team were well up for it and a late point by minor player Paul Maxwell earned Passage a place in the final. To create more history, the team would once again would have to overcome the men from Skibbereen which was a tall order. In a very low-scoring game in Ballinspittle, it all came down to a dramatic finish.

Passage free taker Kevin O’Reilly was entrusted with a free from the right-hand side line which had to be converted to earn Passage a replay. That he succeeded was down to an ice-cool nerve and brilliant kicking ability.

The replay was a tempestuous affair with Passage, as in the drawn game finishing with fourteen players. The vital score was a fisted goal by the late "Big Jim" O Sullivan and in a tension-packed ending Passage held on to win on another historic day. If the intermediate grade was new territory for Passage the senior grade was a whole new world.

Beara were dismissed with ease in the first round but it was the next match against St. Nicks that showed the remarkable progress the team had made. For many years Passage found St. Nick's junior team hard to beat yet in Pairc Ui Chaoimh they demolished their senior team by twelve points.

In the semi-final Passage faced a Barrs team which included eleven players who had played senior championship with Cork, yet it took a late goal by the great Jimmy Barry Murphy to separate the teams.

Unfortunately, the next couple of years saw the team decimated by emigration but this great team will never be forgotten in the history of the Passage club. What was truly remarkable was that the whole team were all local lads who had all only played "B" grade under-age football.

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