The Lost Clubs: Cork Hibernians

15th November 2023

In the ninth edition of The Lost Clubs, we look back on the history of Cork Hibernians. By Andrew Horgan The end of the 1950’s is when Cork’s history in the League of Ireland gets really interesting and also a little complicated.   In April 1957,

In the ninth edition of The Lost Clubs, we look back on the history of Cork Hibernians.

By Andrew Horgan

The end of the 1950’s is when Cork’s history in the League of Ireland gets really interesting and also a little complicated.  

In April 1957, Cork Athletic, the club formerly known as Cork United, Cork F.C. and Fordsons F.C., was disbanded due to their very poor financial situation. 

Seven clubs applied to take their place including the likes of Glasheen, Wembley, Bray Wanderers, Workman’s Club, Chapelizod and Cork Celtic, who began their meteoric rise having changed their name from Evergreen United a few years previous. 

But it was Cork Hibernians who were elected to fill the void vacated by Athletic as they had the means and the assets, which included the iconic Flower Lodge Stadium, to make it a success. 

Hibs had initially formed in 1947 when members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) purchased 11.5 acres at Flower Lodge for 5,800 thousand pounds. 

The club won the FAI Intermediate cup in 1952 and finished runners-up in 1957 before they finally turned semi-professional and joined the League of Ireland. 

The club continued to try and develop Flower Lodge into a suitable venue to host top-flight football. An English grounds expert was flown over and a local firm hired to improve the play service and install a drainage system. 

It held its first competitive game in ’57 when Hibs faced Sligo in the FAI Senior Cup but it wouldn’t see action again until 1962 with the club instead using the vacant Mardyke. 

Almost immediately, the club began a rivalry with Cork Celtic who incidentally played their home matches at Turner’s Cross and had been in the League of Ireland since it was elected in 1951. 

Those games became eagerly anticipated on Leeside, drawing huge attendances but for Hibs’ supporters, who racked up an average attendance of 10,000 in the first few years, there wasn’t much else to cheer about. 

During their first season, they found themselves bottom of the league at one point before improving to finish an underwhelming third from bottom. 

Gradually progress was made on and off the field. Hib’s reached the FAI Cup final in 1960 and again in 1963 following their first full season at Flower Lodge. 

But despite positive cup runs, neither journey would end in success as they were defeated in both finals by Shelbourne. 

They didn’t enjoy a top-four finish until 1965 but things really gathered momentum from 1968 onwards. Inspired by the deadly duo of Dave “Wiggy” Wigginton and Carl “The Dav” Davenport, who netted a total of 25 league goals between them, Hibs finished third in 1969. 

They would finish third again in 1970 and would also embark on their first trip into Europe as they qualified for the 1970/71 Europa League (known then as the FAIRS Cup) thanks to their triumph in the Shield. 

They participated in the last ever FAIRS Cup before it was soon rebranded as the UEFA for the following 1971/72 season. Their venture into Europe didn’t last long as they came up against a formidable Spanish side in Valencia, managed then by Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano, and were beaten 3-0 at home before going down 3-1 at the Mestalla Stadium. 

But Hibs were on the march under the guidance of their new player-manager Dave Bacuzzi. The defender joined in May 1970 to end his successful career in English football which saw him represent both Arsenal and Manchester City, where he won a Second Division title. 

Along with Wiggy and The Dav, Hibs could call upon the talents of Miah Dennehy, John Lawson, Donie Wallace and Walter “Sonny” Sweeney who all helped transform the club into an attractive, attacking outfit. 

The first major piece of silverware was soon secured as Hibs claimed the league title in 1971 when they beat Shamrock Rovers in a play-off but their hopes of a double were ended prematurely as they suffered a shock loss to Drogheda in the semi-finals of the FAI Cup. 

Hibs continued to challenge for honours in 1972 and their bid to reclaim their league crown went down to the final day of the season when they faced Waterford United at Flower Lodge. 

Their Munster rivals needed just one point to land the trophy while Bacuzzi’s men required a win to force yet another playoff decider. 

Just over 26,000 somehow crammed into the Lodge to witness this showdown and for 79 minutes the home crowd were in raptures as they led 2-0 and also had a man advantage. 

But late goals from Carl Humphries, Johnny Matthews and Alfie Hale, who was capped 14 times with the Republic of Ireland, saw the Blues snatch the league from Hibs’ grasp for their fifth title in seven years. 

There would be retribution in the FAI Cup final just one week later as a second-half hat-trick, the first time a treble had ever been scored in the final, from Miah Dennehy saw Hibs defeat Waterford to lift the Cup. 

There would be a double of sorts that season for the club to celebrate as they also landed the all-Ireland competition the Blaxnit Cup as they beat Coleraine 5-3 in a thrilling finale. 

The 71-72 season would also see Hibs enjoy another jaunt into Europe this time in the European Cup but they would ultimately fall at the first hurdle. 

German giants Borussia Mönchengladbach, who had Jupp Heynckes playing up front, were the opponents and they would riot at the Lodge in the first leg, winning 5-0 before completing a comprehensive aggregate victory in the second leg. 

Miah Dennehy grabbed another memorable goal to add to his collection but it wasn’t enough as his side would suffer a 2-1 loss in Mönchengladbach. 

The FAI Cup success ensured that Hibs would return to the continent during the 72-73 campaign as they participated in the European Cup Winner Cup. 

They drew Pezoporikos in the first round and they made light work of the Cypriots, beating them by six goals to two on aggregate although both legs had to be played in Cork due to the political unrest in Cyprus at the time. 

Another talented German team would travel to Cork in the next round this time in the form of Schalke 04. 

A credible 0-0 draw at Flower Lodge gave Hibs the chance to cause an upset but their hope was quickly dashed in the away fixture as they were well beaten 3-0. 

Hibs would never play in the UEFA Cup or European Cup again but they would feature in the Cup Winners Cup again as they reclaimed the FAI Cup in 1973. 

Shelbourne were the opposition in the final but following a scoreless draw in Dublin, the match had to be decided in a replay to be held at Flower Lodge. This would be the first time ever that the National Cup final was held in Cork but still only over 11,000 spectators attended the match. 

It was a sign that all was not well with Hibs as a report from the Commission on Association Football estimated the average gate receipts to be just £200 whereas two years previous the club had taken over £2,500 for a home game against local rivals Cork Celtic. 

Regardless of the disappointing attendance, Hibs still emerged victories as Carl Humphries, recently signed from Waterford and the man who began the comeback in the league title decider a year earlier, swept home the only goal of the game with seven minutes remaining. 

The Irish Cup winners would face the Czechoslovakian Cup winners Baník Ostrava in the 1973-74 European Cup Winners Cup and it would be another telling sign that the end may be nigh. 

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Hib’s needed a raucous crowd to help them turn the tie around but they didn’t get it. 

A small home crowd turned up to witness their side lose 2-1 and at the end, a club director was heard saying “We are in for a long hard season.” 

There was a brief highpoint when 18,000 turned up to watch Hibs take on Celtic but it was now the other time in Cork who were the team to watch as they would finish that season as champions with Hibs finishing in third. 

Hibs would finally relinquish the FAI Cup that season following a shock defeat at home to St Patrick’s Athletic. In the aftermath of that loss John Crowley, speaking on behalf of the board, released an alarming statement on the club’s situation.

“In four years under the current manager, we have failed to unearth a great deal of local talent. To lose to a team of local players like St Pat’s in the FAI Cup poses the question: Where have we gone wrong? 

"When you pay out big money in wages, as we have done, you expect to dominate. We need £1,400 from every home-game to pay our way, and unless we are successful we will not get that. We have to think of a part-time professional staff unless changes are made.”

Things continued to unravel in the summer of 1974 when successful manager Dave Bacuzzi was fired and eventually took the hot seat at Home Farm where he won the FAI Cup in 1975 and helped develop players such as Ronnie Whelan years later. 

Hibs fans were outraged and numerous protests in support of Bacuzzi, who they nicknamed ‘The Flower of the Lodge’, were a common place before, during and after matches in the 1974-75 season. 

In attempts to appease fans and boost attendance, the board signed former England International Rodney Marsh in 1975 at an enormous expense. But the gamble didn’t pay off as Hibs finished fourth in 1975 and fifth in 1976 further proving their decline. 

The club was invited on a pre-season tour to the United States of America in the summer of ’76 along with the likes of Manchester United and Rangers but it did little, if anything, to boost the coffers.

Fans were left bemused when during this close season the Cork Examiner revealed the club’s secretary Shaun O’Sullivan had announced plans to hold a public meeting in an attempt to raise £8,000 which was needed to survive. 

300 people turned up and over £1,000 was raised but it wasn’t enough as days later when the AGM reconvened, Cork Hibernians had officially been wound up. 

It may not have been one of the most successful Cork clubs in the League of Ireland but having regularly played in front of crowds containing over five figures it was certainly one of the most adored.