After the storm, Larry Tompkins and Niall Cahalane had found safe haven among the Castlehaven faithful gathered on the pitch at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds last Sunday when Batt Maguire approached, wildly enthusiastic. The photograph, it was time to rewind the years.
In December 1997, Tompkins captained Castlehaven to a Munster club football final victory over Fethard. Cahalane was unable to play in that decider due to suspension, but moments after the final whistle he sat next to Tompkins in the Castlehaven dressingroom for a celebratory photograph. Alongside the duo in the pic that day was one of Niall’s young sons, Damien, with his hands clasped around the cup.
Last Sunday at the Gaelic Grounds, Maguire – a club stalwart in Castlehaven – made sure to gather the trio again to recreate that image. Castlehaven GAA club later posted the two images online, side by side. It’s a framer.
“A lot of people have picked up on it,” said Tompkins on Monday afternoon.
“I guess there’s a poignancy to it. In 1997 when we last won the Munster final, Niall couldn’t play because he was suspended and Damien, as you can see from the photo, was only a young boy at that time.
“But I remember that photograph in ‘97, it was taken straight after the match inside the dressingroom. In fairness to Batt he suggested we do it again and dragged us inside to the dressingroom to relive the memories. It’s a nice photo to have.”
Tompkins was Cork senior football manager at the time of the 1997 provincial club final, and while approaching the end of his playing days he still delivered a huge display for Castlehaven that day, top-scoring with eight points.
But if Tompkins was the game-changer back then, on Sunday Damien Cahalane was the difference maker.
Despite the driving wind and rain, it was one of those days Cahalane will forever recall as golden – and Tompkins was delighted to see him star on one of the biggest days in the club’s history.
“I said it to Damien in the dressingroom afterwards, over the years he has taken an incredible amount of criticism, he’s taken a battering with some of the stuff that was said on social media and all that,” said Tompkins.
“Nasty stuff, that he shouldn’t be on the Cork hurling team, that he’s not good enough and all that. He took a lambasting for a long time but he kept going. And it’s just brilliant for him that he’s got a moment like this, because he deserves it.
“He’s a hell of a guy, a hell of a committed guy, and I’ve no doubt if he wasn’t so committed and involved as a prominent figure in the Cork hurling team then he certainly would have been a very prominent figure on the Cork football team over the last 10 years. He’s a colossus.
“He plays hurling with the Barrs and obviously senior intercounty with Cork, so hurling has been the main game for him really.
“And he probably never really got the run of games in football, but the way it went this year with the Barrs unfortunately losing a county semi-final, it allowed him then to be able to concentrate on football totally. It’s amazing how well he has performed, he was a man apart on Sunday, he was the dominant figure throughout. He’s a massive leader in that squad.”
Damien’s two brothers – Conor and Jack – also played significant roles in Sunday’s win over Kerry side Dingle on what was a proud day for the already decorated Cahalane clan. Indeed, Tompkins feels Sunday’s achievement will have meant as much to his old club and county colleague, Niall, as anything that has gone before.
“We had a great moment on the field afterwards, it’s special to have a son involved in a game like that and to be triumphant with your club. But to have three outstanding players, three sons, you can only imagine the pride that brings,” adds Tompkins.
“We all enjoy playing and there is no substitute to playing, but I’m sure Sunday was a massive highlight to compare with everything he has achieved, to watch his three sons collect a Munster title with the club, his beloved club.”
The Cork and Munster champions now progress to an All-Ireland club semi-final in January against Roscommon and Connacht winners St Brigid’s.
With Kilmacud Crokes and Glen meeting in the other semi-final, both Castlehaven and Brigid’s will feel the draw has provided them with the more favourable pathway towards a Croke Park final.
“Castlehaven are a special outfit and I’m always saying it, they are very passionate,” added Tompkins.
“I know we see it in loads of clubs throughout the country, but I just feel Castlehaven have something special, for a small area they have a huge heart and massive togetherness. Some amazing people involved, and I’ve no doubt some of them who are no longer with us were looking down on Sunday night proud of what the club had achieved in winning Munster again.”