Born: March 29th, 1950
Died: November 10th, 1973
The death of former Cork Hibs and Irish international soccer player, Miah Dennehy, at the age of 73 has reopened a treasure trove of memories, not just on Leeside but across the country as fans reminisced about one of the golden eras of the domestic game.
Less than 20 years before Roy Keane became the darling of Cork football fans, Dennehy achieved a similar status among Corkonians. While he may have never risen to the same stellar heights of his fellow Northsider, Dennehy secured himself a special place in the pantheon of Cork sporting greats.
Corkonians’ fond memories of Miah stemmed from two hugely successful seasons with Cork Hibs when first, on April 25th, 1971, he helped them to their one and only league title, when they beat Shamrock Rovers in a league play-off.
Hibs had topped the league on goal difference from Rovers, but the FAI had decided there should be a play-off, so 28,000 fans thronged Dalymount Park to see Dennehy inspire Hibs to victory, scoring twice and setting up his strike partner, Dave Wigginton for a 3-1 victory over Rovers.
But Dennehy’s exploits that day were to be overshadowed by his performance a year later when Dennehy and his team-mates headed for Dalymount on April 23rd, 1972, to meet Waterford in the FAI Cup Final.
It was the game that earned Dennehy not just a transfer abroad but – perhaps more importantly on Leeside – a permanent place in the affections of Cork sports fans as, after a scoreless first half, he tormented the Blues’ defence to become the first man ever to score a hat-trick in an FAI Cup Final.
Writing in the Evening Echo, Dick Brazil said: “The second half will not be forgotten for a long time by Cork fans and neither with the name of their hero, Miah Dennehy. He broke the hearts of Waterford with a hat-trick and ensured the name Miah Dennehy will go down in the annals of Irish soccer.”
The eldest of five boys and three girls born to Jeremiah and Kathleen Dennehy, Dennehy grew up on Templeacre Avenue in Gurranebraher on Cork’s northside where he played soccer with his uncle Mike Dennehy’s teams, North Villa and Wolfe Tones, and hurling and football with St Vincent’s.
But, according to Cork soccer historian, Plunkett Carter, Dennehy’s life was to change when he went along one day to watch Cork Hibs reserves play UCC down the Mardyke. When Hibs were short a man, a pair of boots was found for Dennehy, who filled in on the right wing and duly impressed.
The Hibs manager, Amby Fogarty, was amazed by Dennehy’s speed and raw talent and signed him for the club. The 19-year-old made his debut against Sligo Rovers just two months later, but it was in the following season under new manager, Dave Bacuzzi, that Dennehy began to shine.
Bacuzzi had played for Arsenal and Manchester City and introduced a new professionalism in Hibs. Dennehy was the home-grown jewel among the many talented British imports such as Dave Wigginton, Carl Davenport, Tony Marsden, John Lawson and Sonny Sweeney. He formed a formidable partnership with Wigginton, and although Hibs were beaten 5-0 at home in 1971 by a Borussia Monchengladbach team featuring future German World Cup winners, Dennehy netted for Hibs in the 2-1 return leg defeat.
Such performances – along with the FAI Cup Final hat-trick – was attracting cross-channel attention. In January 1973, Notts Forest manager Dave Mackay paid out €20,000 to bring Dennehy to the City Ground where he established himself as a regular in the team.
If Dennehy was best known for his soccer feats, he remained a GAA stalwart, winning a British championship with Warwickshire, with whom he played on Sundays after playing soccer on Saturdays
But Dennehy lost his place when Brian Clough took over and after 41 appearances and six goals for Forest, he moved to Walsall in July 1975 where he was to spend three years, making 128 league appearances, scoring 22 goals and reuniting with Mackay for the final year at Fellows Park.
Dennehy won his first Ireland cap when still with Hibs, but he was with Forest when he was asked to play for a Shamrock Rovers XI against world Champions Brazil in Dalymount where he came on as a sub for Terry Conroy and found himself facing World Cup winners Jairzinho, Clodoaldo and Rivelino.
Paddy Mulligan, who lined out with Dennehy in that Shamrock Rovers XI, later observed of the Corkman: “You couldn’t coach Miah Dennehy. This fellow has complete natural ability and you shouldn’t even try to stifle it. You should just tell Miah, ‘go out and play’ . . . he’s got great pace and there’s no question mark about his heart – he’ll run till he drops.”
Dennehy won 11 caps for Ireland between 1972 and 1977, scoring two goals in 1973, in a 1-1 draw away to Norway and a 1-0 win at home to Poland in two friendlies. He made his last appearance for the Republic in 1977 when he came on as a substitute for Mark Lawrenson against Poland.
He continued playing cross-channel after leaving Walsall, lining out with Bristol Rovers, Trowbridge Town and Cardiff City before returning to Ireland in 1980 where he played with Cork United, Waterford, Limerick United, Drogheda United and Newcastle West.
But if Dennehy was best known for his soccer feats, he remained a GAA stalwart, winning a British championship with Warwickshire, with whom he played on Sundays after playing soccer on Saturdays, and returning to Cork every summer to play for St Vincents in both hurling and football.
In 1977, his love for St Vincents landed him in trouble when he told his manager at Walsall he had to go back to Cork as his grandmother had died – only for the manager to see his photo in the Evening Echo after he lined out with St Vincents in a football final against Brian Dillons. He was benched.
Dennehy continued to play soccer in his 50s, lining out with his local side Village United from Mayfield in the Cork AUL at the age of 51, but his later years were marred by ill-health following an assault outside a pub in Mayfield on August 17th, 2007 which left him with a severe brain injury. Dennehy had no memory of the attack or of the weeks he spent in a coma at Cork University Hospital before he spent months at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire learning to speak again, but the assault took its toll and sadly, he was never capable of fully independent living again. Miah Dennehy is survived by his wife, Caroline, son, Kristian and daughter Chelsea.