In addition to being a key member of Cobh Ramblers’ (then amateur) 1983 FAI Cup semi-final team, Eddie O’Halloran was also present throughout their opening decade as a League of Ireland side. With a trip down memory lane, Eddie recalls those heady days and more for ExtraTime.ie.
Prior to the aforementioned events, O’Halloran left the Munster Senior League for a couple of seasons in the domestic topflight: “I played for Noel O’Mahony with Cork United ... They were a great shower of lads. Then I spent a year with Waterford, under Alfie Hale…I didn’t perform well down there. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do at the time, but I still enjoyed everything else about the club.”
Returning to Cobh, managed by Liam McMahon, Eddie’s hometown side went on to compete in 1983’s epic four-game FAI Cup semi-final against Sligo Rovers. The Rams overcame reigning league champions Dundalk and Finn Harps in previous rounds, becoming the first amateur team to reach this stage. The young central defender scored a penalty in the opening fixture, but eventually a final berth proved elusive, with a combined total of more than 50,000 football fans having witnessed the infamous seesaw battles.
“There wasn’t a lot of money around and the level of television coverage of now. People made a lot of sacrifices to go up to the two games in Sligo. Over 20,000 in Flower Lodge on the second occasion…you really had to be there, to realise how passionate it was. We were a League of Ireland team in everything but name because Cork didn’t have one then...everybody peaked for those matches.”
Those David and Goliath ties were indeed a timely distraction for Leeside soccer followers and received an unprecedented amount of headlines across the rest of Ireland: “The Cork public supported us hugely. You had a lot of Cobh people, but also from all over the county. The measure of interest and media coverage in all the national papers was phenomenal.”
As a result of Ramblers’ FAI Cup run, O’Halloran was named as March’s Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland (SWAI) Player of the Month – another first for a non-league club: “Anyone on that team could have got the award, but I was lucky enough to get selected...it was a tremendous honour.”
Still fresh in the country’s sporting conscience, Cobh Ramblers were inevitably invited to partake in 1985’s inaugural League of Ireland second tier. Eddie believes that during those early years they more than matched their opponents, despite living in the shadows of near neighbours Cork City.
“The pressure came on Cobh to join the new First Division, given that we’d dominated the Munster Senior League for the previous decade. The club made the decision to enter, and 1983’s cup exploits played a big part in that. It’s great that Ramblers still survives, given they’ve been through some tough periods over the last ten years.
“We were able to compete against other sides, but the harder teams were always from Dublin. We held our own, deserved our promotions, but possibly could have done more. Once Cork City came into the picture, it was difficult to contend against them because traditionally, Cork has to have a strong League of Ireland club. There was good rivalry between us, but the attraction will always be with the city team.”
The Cobh native stayed in LOI football until 1995, but admits that his on-pitch influence began to wane during the latter period: “I played for as long as I could, but all good things must come to a conclusion. In the end I was an impact substitute, but enjoyed it because I knew that I didn’t have 90 minutes in me.”
O’Halloran, holder of a UEFA B coaching badge, managed local junior side Springfield A.F.C., but hasn’t been involved with football for the last eight years. In 2013, he was inducted into Cobh Ramblers’ Hall of Fame and expresses exactly what this means to a Great Island inhabitant.
“As a child growing up, we used to walk to St. Colman’s Park and watch the football. When you think of all the great players for Ramblers, I understand how important it is, as a Cobh person.”
Eddie’s son Stephen has represented the Republic of Ireland at senior level and currently plies his trade in non-league English football: “Stephen has been very unlucky. His star was really on the up with Aston Villa, but he sustained a couple of serious cruciate ligament injuries.
“We’re very proud of his two caps, but also of him bouncing back from something that could have ended his career. He’s enjoying playing with Salford City, but also recently qualified as a physiotherapist, so he has a good job to back up his football. My other son Peter played U18’s for Ireland. He’s a quantity surveyor and has concentrated on his occupation.”
Outside of football, O’Halloran has experienced a long and distinguished career within the Irish Defence Forces: “I joined the Civil Service in 1978…30 years in the Irish Navy, achieving the rank of Chief Petty Officer. In 2007, I started a 12-month course in the Curragh Military College, which led to being a Captain in the army and got promoted to Commandant in 2015.
“I’ve been in Collins’ Barracks since 2008, but also served in Kosovo and South Lebanon. I’m scheduled to retire in February next year.”
In conclusion, Eddie discloses that the ’83 team has reunited for several gatherings over the years: “We’ve met up a good few times. Paddy Shortt isn’t with us anymore, but it’s always good to catch up because you share a bond with these guys. It’s unique because we’ve done things together that a lot of teams in this country haven’t. We recently attended Liam McMahon’s 80th birthday in Cobh Tennis Club. He’s a remarkable man and still playing tennis.”