SOME of those who played in the old Summer Cup tournaments have been recalling their experiences ahead of the launch of a new book.
‘Tales from the Summer Cups’ is the work of the Letterkenny Community Heritage Group. They have managed to source stories and photographs from across Donegal and beyond for a book that revisits the golden days of the soccer competition.
In their heyday the Summer Cups had fans packing into grounds to see teams and individual players, many of them linked to major clubs in England and Scotland.
Among those who togged out were stars like Pat Crerand who played for Manchester Utd, Leeds legend John McCole and Jobby Crossan who captained Man City.
Their experiences as well as contributions from lesser known but immensely talented players make up Tales from the Summer Cups which gets its official launch in the Station House Hotel next month.
At a mini-press conference on Tuesday, Johnny McCollum of the Community Heritage Group said the idea for the book came about after a conversation with Fr Willie McMenamin, another Cup veteran.
“During lockdown I phoned the group and told them I had a lot of black and white photographs from the Summer Cups. So I started phoning a few other people and it just took off from there.”
The response to an appeal for information about the tournaments netted a huge response with people getting in contact from Letterkenny, Ramelton, Milford, Kerrykeel, Rathmullan, Convoy, Carrigans, Killea, Buncrana, Moville and elsewhere. Across the border too contributions came in from Strabane and Derry.
Te top prize for winning the Buncrana Cup in the early 1960s was £1,250 while the Moville Cup was even more lucrative at £2,000.
Fr Willie McMenamin remembers the prestige that went with playing in the competitions well.
“I played in the first Summer Cup in 1948 and ‘49, with Rathmullan at that stage. I always say I was allowed to play because I was only 14 and my mum and dad let me take part.
“At that time John Sheridan was the main man and with a bit of luck you could have been playing five or six nights in the week. The support was something else because there was no television or distractions.”
One of Fr McMenamin’s fondest memories was marking the great Jimmy Kelly, a top domestic player who also enjoyed international action, most notably when netting a hat-trick for an Irish League XI against an English League XI in 1936.
“I always remember playing against him in Ramelton. Even standing beside him was an honour,” said Fr McMenamin.
One of the most bizarre stories to emerge from the Summer Cups was that of Scottish side Carfin Emeralds.
The brains behind the Emeralds was Moville native Monsignor Jack Gillen who by the early 1960s was ministering in Scotland.
Monsignor Gillen had the brainwave of sending over a team of professionals who would sweep all before them and undoubtedly swell numbers flocking through the gates at the Bay Field.
But how could the footballers get around the fact that, contractually, they were prohibited from playing in junior competitions where any injuries sustained could damage their future careers?
The only solution was to play in Moville in disguise – Masks, false beards and make up.
The Carfin Emeralds made their Kennedy Cup bow in 1963 before clinching the title the following year.
Legend has it that as many as nine of Celtic’s first team players turned out for the Emeralds. But in the absence of a team sheet that has never been verified.
Another man with fond memories of the tournaments is Gerard Callaghan. “They talk today about player burnout,” said Gerard.
“Back then players would have played four or five times a week. And that was after leaving Buncrana at 7am to work all day on a building site in Belfast. Football was everyone’s life at that time.”
His memories were of Scottish players renting rooms from his mother while Danny Cullen said his loudest recollection was the way people got behind the cups.
“We always had big crowds. We were young when the cups started and I lived beside the pitch. You had to get there early if you wanted to see the match and they were strict, there was no sneaking in.”
Johnny McCollum added: “The book couldn’t have been done with the Heritage Group and without people in the various towns and villages giving their stories and photographs, particularly the photos because a lot of these matches were played in an era before cameras.”
The foreword for ‘Tales from the Summer Cups’ is by Paddy Crerand. It will be launched by Jobby Crossan and Jim Lynch in the Station House Hotel, Letterkenny, on Friday, October 14 at 8pm.