April 01, 2000
Cork, 1979 All Ireland hurling champion. Martin O'Doherty is sixth from left in the back row.
Martin O'Doherty's name is etched in Cork hurling folklore. He won All-Ireland titles at every level before emigrating to America in 1979 at the age of 27. Remarkably, he continued to play for the county, making the Atlantic crossing on several occasions until he finally retired in 1982. Still domiciled in California, O'Doherty shares his memories.
Just listening to Martin O'Doherty is a pleasure. He exudes the authority of a man who has experienced the long, satisfied walk up those Hogan Stand steps, the hands of hundreds of jubilant supporters patting eagerly at his back. His love of hurling is palpable, even at a distance of approximately 5,000 miles. You sense he longs for the action, the prestige, the camaraderie - the match.
"I miss not being involved," says O'Doherty, the recollections lingering in his voice. "When you give your whole life to something, and then it's over, suddenly, it's hard to know what to do. There's always a tendency, when you're finished, to go back into it, to start coaching a team or something or getting involved in the running of it. I think that sometimes that's just because you don't want to put it behind you, to say goodbye. If I was back home, I'd probably be looking after the Glen (Rovers). Here (Los Angeles) I coach my daughter's soccer team, in the little leagues, and it's great to be still doing a bit."
O'Doherty has spent the last two decades in the States - "the years go by in a hurry" - and had the rare distinction of commuting from California for championship games in the early eighties. "I didn't make every match," he recalls, "though I did come back for big games, from Munster finals on. I went home for the Munster finals in '79 and '80, and played in '82 as well. We lost to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final that year, and that was my last game in a Cork jersey. It was a pity, because I think that I was just in my peak around '79. I marked Joe McKenna [the renowned Limerick full forward], who was widely regarded as one of the best in the country at the time, a few times then, and played well against him every time."
Martin was an established member of the last defensive line on one of the greatest sides ever to have graced the hurling fields of the country, switching from the corner to full back for the 1977 championship, the second of three triumphant campaigns in succession. That was a Cork team full of legends - Jimmy Barry Murphy, Seanie O'Leary, Gerald McCarthy, Ray Cummins and Tom Cashman are just a few of those who shared the field with O'Doherty, just a few of those who lined out behind him when he led the parade before the 1977 All-Ireland final. "I met a few of the lads when I was home, Jimmy Barry, Seanie and Tom Cashman - I hadn't seen them for a while, so it was great to see them again. And every time I'm home I try to drop into Cummins Sports to say hello to Brendan," says Martin.
The All-Ireland championship assumes a central importance for O'Doherty. For a man exiled half a world away, his knowledge of the current game is commendable. But then, of course, you can take the man out of hurling, but you'll find it hard to take hurling out of the man. Despite his valiant attempts to maintain links with the Cork hurling squad for three years after removing to the States, emigration effectively robbed O'Doherty of his sport as well as his home. He believes he should have appreciated the extent of his success more during his playing days, though with a total of 16 All-Ireland medals to his name, there should be little room for regret in his spectrum of emotions.
"I think if I were going through it again now I would learn to enjoy it more," he says. "I probably didn't realise how fabulous it was, how great an opportunity we had. Being captain in '77 was a great honour - like, not many players get the chance to captain their county at all, but to captain a team to an All-Ireland, that's special. When I look back on it now, I sometimes think "Did it really happen?"
O'Doherty reflects with fondness on the five-year spell of almost total domination that Cork enjoyed in the late seventies. "Outside of the three-in-a-row, we got to the semi-finals in 1975 and '79. So we were five years constantly on the go, challenging for the championship every year. It was tough going, and it'd be hard for a team to have that much success nowadays."
A member of the famous Glen Rovers club in Cork city, he won two Cork county championships, in 1972 and '76. On both occasions, the club went on to claim the All-Ireland club crown, a reflection of the complete dominance of Rebel County clubs in the seventies. He lined out at centre back on two All-Ireland minor winning sides in 1969 and '70, before making the swift transition to the under 21 side the following year, when he made it three All-Ireland medals in three years for the first time in his career. Two years later, in 1973, he captained the under 21s to outright success, before his three senior titles arrived from 1976 on. O'Doherty's other accolades include three All Star awards, a national league and a Railway Cup.
Looking at the bewildering array of honours after his name, I was compelled to ask the question: Was there anything he didn't win? "Well, I'm sorry I missed out on a senior football All-Ireland," he replies. "I won Under 21 All-Irelands in '69 and '70 and was on the panel for the Munster senior championship in 1973, but I got injured and, further on down the line, they had to get rid of a player, and I happened to be the one to lose out. It was disappointing at the time, but I suppose I can't complain.
"Cork were the big sufferers from the two great teams from Kerry and Dublin coming along. In 1974, we played Dublin, and thought we had the beating of them, but their team was just beginning to come together, and they caught us on the hop. The last football I played was in the 1975 Munster campaign - that was the first year of the young Kerry team. We got trounced in the Munster final, and I gave it up after that to concentrate on the hurling."
He has no hesitation in saying that the Glen Rovers institution provided him with a complete hurling education. "I never played with Christy Ring, but I got to know him well, and to even have the opportunity of knowing a great man like that was unbelievable. The late Jack Lynch was also a Glen man, and when I was only 17 or so he wrote me a note saying that I was a good minor but I'd be a great senior, and to keep it up. It's things like that that you remember."
While Martin O'Doherty coaches his daughter's little league team, memories infuse his being. Memories of personalities, of friends, of crowded Sundays, of receiving the Liam McCarthy Cup. California is a long way removed from the Mardyke and Croke Park. Memories are all he has left of those places.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine, April 2000
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