My Club: Bill Cooper - Youghal
*By Brian Murphy *
In this week's 'My Club' feature, Cork senior hurler Bill Cooper tells us all about Youghal GAA.
Youghal is a large seaside town in the very east of Co. Cork on the estuary of the Blackwater River, which forms a natural boundary between counties Cork and Waterford.
The name Youghal is derived from the Irish word 'Eochaill', meaning yew woods, which were once plentiful in the area.
A historic, walled town, famous for its distinctive clock tower, with settlements dating back to the 11th century, Youghal was once a port of major strategic and economic significance in the area. It remains a popular tourist destination.
However, in the last 15 years Youghal has experienced a major erosion of its industrial base. Once the leading manufacturing centre in the entire south-east of the country, the town's factories and big employers - Elba, Couristan Carpets, Technicolor Home Entertainment and Artesyn Technologies - have all closed with significant job losses.
While Youghal has attracted a lot of the wrong kind of attention in recent years - dubbed a 'broken town' and 'the town Ireland forgot' in the media - it is fighting back, with Youghal GAA Club playing a significant role in its emergence from a dark period.
In 2013, managed by former GAA President Christy Cooney, a Youghal side captained by Cooper bridged a 20-year gap to claim the Cork Premier Intermediate Hurling title, gaining coveted senior status in the process and adding the Munster club title to crown a memorable year.
Founded in 1891, Youghal GAA Club's traditional base is at Copperalley in the town, while they also have an additional, modern facility at Magnershill. The club wear distinctive maroon and yellow colours.
A dual club, Youghal play at intermediate level in football but are better known for their feats on the hurling field, which include four Cork Intermediate Hurling Championship titles (1955, 1969, 1988, 1993) and their year of years in 2013.
Youghal's most famous sporting son is Seánie O'Leary, who won four All-Ireland titles and three All Stars with Cork, and is the father of Ireland rugby international Tomás O'Leary. Bill Cooper, 28, is the only Youghal man currently involved in the Cork senior set-up.
For more information on Youghal GAA, log on to the club's official website.
GAA.ie: Can you tells us a little about the town of Youghal?
Bill Cooper: Youghal is a seaside town which had an awful lot of industry like Youghal Carpets, Kodak and Artesyn, but we were hit hard through the recession and even before that. In the past we also had a lot of tourism and people coming to the beach from Cork, but maybe they’re not coming in the same numbers anymore. It’s a town of around 8,500 people and it’s a very sporty place, with strong rugby and soccer teams while the GAA is obviously very strong as well.
GAA.ie: Are you from the town itself?
BC: Yes, I’m a Youghal man.
GAA.ie: Where exactly is Youghal located in Co. Cork?
BC: We’re in the very east of Cork, near the border with Waterford. There’s a very healthy rivalry between Cork and Waterford in the area and a lot of the people living in Youghal would be originally from Waterford. It’s a healthy rivalry. The only thing separating us from Clashmore in Waterford is the River Blackwater. You can see over to Waterford from the town.
GAA.ie: Are there many other clubs in the area?
BC: Yes, Killeagh are just out the road from us and they are senior as well so they’re probably our closest rivals in the senior grade. Then you have Castlemartyr who are out the road and they just got promoted to intermediate two years ago. After that, Midleton would be 20 minutes up the road.
GAA.ie: So, how did you first start playing for the club?
BC: My uncle, Frank Cooper, played for Youghal in the 1960s and ‘70s, winning an intermediate county and he played senior for the club for a number of years. There’s a strong family connection there and we would be steeped in Youghal GAA really.
I started out in the same way as most young fellas. Initially, I played most sports but I played a lot of rugby and really enjoyed it. I played both rugby and hurling, with a bit of football as well, but rugby and hurling were my favourite sports and the ones I was most passionate about. I picked the hurling when I moved on a bit and had to make a choice.
GAA.ie: How did your underage career with the club go?
BC: We would have been in the top grade in Cork all the way up and we had a very strong team. We won an U13 county, we won the Cork county Féile when we were U14 to represent Cork. Because of the foot and mouth outbreak it was changed and it was played in Cork and Douglas beat us in the semi-final and that was heartbreaking – devastating! – for a 14-year-old.
We were very competitive all the way up and we enjoyed great battles with the Glen (Glen Rovers) who had Patrick Horgan at the time. Stephen Moylan was the main player for Douglas so I would have hurled at a good level underage with Youghal.
GAA.ie: You must have had a very strong team to compete with the big city clubs. Did many of your team-mates progress on to Cork representative sides?
BC: The person most people would know is Leigh Desmond who played for the Cork senior team. Our best player at the time was Conor Spillane, who was on all the Cork underage teams, centre-back on the U14 and U16 teams and was a great prospect. We had a strong team with good players right through it. The spine of our senior team now is from that underage team. We’re lifelong friends through school and sport.
GAA.ie: Was there anyone at the club you looked up to and tried to emulate when you were a young player trying to break into Cork underage teams?
BC: Brendan Coleman was involved with Cork and he would have been a great role model for all of us. Luckily enough, he was involved in 2013 and he had given so much for Youghal and it was his first time winning a county. I was delighted for him. He would have been a great role model, but there were other lads who didn’t play at senior level – Michael Downing and Vincent Murray – who played for the Cork Intermediate team and the divisional side Imokilly, who were very strong in the 1990s and would have won Cork SHC titles with them.
GAA.ie: Youghal made a big breakthrough in 2013, winning the Cork Premier Intermediate title, but there must have been a few near misses before that?
BC: In 2011, we lost the final to Courcey Rovers and in 2012 we lost the semi-final before finally getting over the line. We had a lot of hurt built up and a lot of motivation. Like a lot of teams that get over the line in the end, we had to lose one to win one. Yeah, we were knocking on the door for a long time.
GAA.ie: You captained Youghal in 2013…
BC: Yeah, that was my first year in the role. It was a lucky year because we won the Cork Premier Intermediate title, the Munster Club title and the league as well so it was a very enjoyable year.
GAA.ie: That’s quite a haul. Did it all just click that year or were there close encounters and bits of luck along the way?
BC: We had so many close games! In the county final against Castlelyons, the winning point was the first time we led all game. It was a very tight, low-scoring game. The Munster semi-final against Whitegate from Clare, Brendan Bugler’s team, went to a replay. We drew with them in Sixmilebridge and then in the return fixture down in Fermoy we managed to get over the line. It was tight all the way.
GAA.ie: Prior to 2013, when was the last time Youghal had won the Premier Intermediate County title?
BC: It was 1993. For me to be captain of the first team from Youghal to do it in 20 years was a massive honour. We had given so much to it to try and get up to senior level it was a dream come true that all the hard work had paid off.
*GAA.ie: Given the difficulties the community in Youghal has had to deal with, that must have made the experience all the more uniting and special? *
BC: It was great for the town. We played the All-Ireland quarter-final against St Gabriel’s in London and 500 people went over from Youghal for the game. It was absolutely brilliant, almost equal to winning the Cork and Munster finals because it felt so special to have your people around you at the end of the game and to see how much it meant to them. We lost the semi-final to Kilnadeema-Leitrim from Galway but it was an incredible experience.
GAA.ie: Christy Cooney, the GAA President from 2009 to 2011, was manager of the team throughout that period, right?
BC: Yeah, Christy took over at the start of the 2013 season. Christy was the manager and Peter Cody was the coach. We had Peter Queally, a Waterford man, as our coach for three years before that and he was brilliant. We had a number of near misses under Peter and he didn’t leave a stone unturned, but I suppose the players were just a bit young and it wasn’t our time. Christy came in, tweaked a few things and thankfully we got over the line. Christy was in charge of us for two years and stepped down at the end of last year. We had a fantastic few years with Christy.
GAA.ie: How have Youghal fared as a senior club since gaining promotion in 2013?
BC: In 2014 we got to the quarter-final of the county and Douglas beat us. Last year, we got to the fourth round and we felt that was premature enough to go out. We lost the first round against Na Piarsaigh and we drew Killeagh in a back door local derby and just got over the line, 0-11 to 0-10. An absolute classic! That was great for the players and supporters and there was plenty of banter coming up to it. Good, healthy rivalry.
GAA.ie: What grade does the club’s football team play in?
BC: Intermediate. I don’t play football for the club. We’re reasonably strong, but I think it’s fair to say that hurling is No. 1 in the club. Like a lot of dual clubs, a lot of the players play both codes and numbers would be small enough because of that. It’s tough to be competitive in both codes when you are using the same pool of players.
GAA.ie: In terms of facilities, what kind of a set-up does the club have?
BC: Magnershill is the new complex with a hall and a gym, a hurling alley and the bar and club shop. Our old, traditional field would be Copperalley and that’s down by the town. The lights are up in Magnershill and we do a lot of our winter training and night matches there. Copperalley is the summer field because there are no lights and you know when you are hurling there that the good weather is coming and the championship is just around the corner.
The new facility was built maybe 15 years ago. It’s great to have and the bar seems to be doing well with functions going on there all the time. It’s great to have and great to be part of a club with a set-up like that.
*GAA.ie: Finally, what’s the current underage set-up in the club like? *
BC: We’d be competitive in the underage grades. Going back to Brendan Coleman, he’s heavily involved and he has kids playing at underage level and there is huge work being done at the grassroots level. For the last couple of years, there hasn’t been a whole pile of players coming on to the senior panel, but from about U15 level down there are massive strides being made. Numbers are very high and that’s a very positive sign.
The photos of Bill lifting the Cork PIHC trophy in 2013 and of Christy Cooney on the sideline in Ruislip were both taken by Philip Monaghan and have been reproduced here with the kind permission of Youghal GAA.