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Cabra's proud Green legacy

D7 enclave brought us 12 Irish internationals

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Bohemians captain Owen Heary lifts the Eircom League Premier Division trophy alongside Glenn Cronin, left, and Brian Murphy, right. Photo: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

Bohemians captain Owen Heary lifts the Eircom League Premier Division trophy alongside Glenn Cronin, left, and Brian Murphy, right. Photo: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Bohemians captain Owen Heary lifts the Eircom League Premier Division trophy alongside Glenn Cronin, left, and Brian Murphy, right. Photo: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

It should only take five minutes to walk from the house on St Attracta Road, across the bridge at Connaught Street and down to Dalymount Park, a walk that Liam Whelan would have done many times, boy and man.

When you are a national as well as a local celebrity, as Whelan was, the walk took a lot longer, with friends, fans and well-wishers all looking for a quick chat as he made that stroll from the Whelan homestead to Dalymount on September day in 1957.

A crowd of 45,000 watched Cabra lad Whelan play for Manchester United in their 6-0 win over Shamrock Rovers in the first round of the European Cup. Less than five months later, Whelan would lose his life on the runway at Munich airport.

On the 50th anniversary of the disaster, Whelan's legacy was recognised when the very bridge between Cabra and Phibsboro was named in his honour, with former team-mate Bobby Charlton there that day to pay tribute.

Cabra, Phibsboro, Dalymount Park, Bohemians and the national team are all bound up in the same story. St Peter's School - which gives the School End its name - was a GAA stronghold where the Kerry-born principal had a renowned dislike of soccer, but it did produce a batch of soccer talents. Men who would go on to play for Ireland on the Dalymount Park turf. From Manchester United's Liam Whelan and Gerry Daly to future international Ken De Mange and one-time Liverpool prospect John Carroll.

For their double successes in 2001 and 2008, Bohemians had a manager (Roddy Collins) and captain (Owen Heary) who grew up in Cabra.

Phibsboro was home to Bohemians and the site of Dalymount Park but Cabra was the orchard which provided the fruit: with 12 senior internationals coming from such a small area, no other suburb has had as many Ireland players, in a 40-year span between the first (Liam Whelan) and most recent (Wayne Henderson).

There are those on the borders who could claim a place on Cabra's roll of honour: Gareth Farrelly came from the nearby Navan Road area; Kenny Cunningham's family lived close to The Basin before settling in Darndale; and League of Ireland stalwarts Paul Keegan, Shane Supple and the Kennys (Marc and Harry) were educated there, in St Declan's.

But a square mile of streets in Cabra probably has the highest concentration of former internationals in the city. Ronnie Whelan Senior and Liam Whelan came from St Attracta Road, Gerry Daly from Carnlough Road; Jimmy Conway, Terry Conroy and Ashley Grimes grew up very close by.

Keepers

The Henderson clan, which produced three League of Ireland keepers (Paddy, Dave and Stephen) and an international (Wayne) came from nearby Faussagh Road.

Now 65, Gerry Daly had a career which saw him score in Europe in his debut season with Bohemians, become a Manchester United regular (1973-77), win 48 senior caps, play in an FA Cup final but it all began on Carnlough Road, Gerry one of 10 kids raised in a small house which is still in the Daly family.

"My memories of football back home start out at what we called The Compound, we'd just mess about there before we started to get serious with schoolboy football and move on to The Bogies," says Daly, who played for local clubs Little Elms and Villa United before Stella Maris and Bohemians.

"You'd just kick a ball around Cabra with your pals until the lights went out and you had to go home. We had a lot of really good players around the area who had the talent but didn't make it, for whatever reason.

"But it was really great to see lads from the streets you knew - like Jimmy Conway and Terry Conroy - go on to play in England, play at Wembley, play for Ireland. Cabra was a special place," continues Daly

"Times were rough and times were hard but you got on with life. Later, when I was playing at Old Trafford, I'd think back to those days in Cabra, being sent out with a wheelbarrow to get coal, or get bracken for fuel if there was no coal."

There was a diversion, though, as Daly was almost lost to the game. "I gave up soccer to play GAA for a while, mainly because the teacher in my primary school St Peter's, a grand old chap called Mossy O'Connor, wanted me to play Gaelic, but I got back to soccer," Daly said this week.

It's 30 years since a Dubliner was a regular in the Manchester United first team but in the 1970s Cabra natives Daly and Grimes would quit Bohs, and their day jobs in Dublin, and go straight into the United line-up.

Daly was an apprentice in a car-spraying business when a 1972 move from Stella Maris to Bohs offered the chance of a wage from football. After a short spell with the Gypsies, having gone from Bohs fan to player, he was off to Old Trafford. Daly made his debut on his 19th birthday, in April 1973.

"It wouldn't happen now, a lad going from Bohs to Old Trafford and the first team but it was a different era, money was tight. I think Bohs got 20 grand for me," says Daly, part of the United side relegated in 1974 and then promoted the following year.

"I went to United in April and made my league debut at the start of the following season, it happened very quickly for me."

Daly left Old Trafford for Derby County, in a record fee for an Irish player, in March 1977, just as another Cabra boy, Grimes, was arriving at United from Bohs. Both had a decent return at United: Daly scored 23 goals in 107 league games, Grimes scoring 10 times in 62 league games.

Daly was just three years old when one-time neighbour Whelan perished in Munich but there remained a link. "Liam's is buried close to my parents' grave in Glasnevin, any time I am home to visit my parents' grave I stop by at Liam's."

That talented group from the 1970s (Grimes, Daly, Terry Conroy, Jimmy Conway) would be the peak of Cabra's contribution abroad but at home stars also emerged: Gary Browne played for Shelbourne and became club chairman; Peter Eccles was capped by Jack Charlton while a Shamrock Rovers player in 1986.

Dave and Stephen Henderson won domestic honours, as did their dad, Paddy, while brother Wayne would win six senior caps before his career was ended by a back injury.

While Ringsend was buzzing with football activity even before the Free State was founded, Cabra was nothing but fields and the area only started to build up in the 1930s, and football families like the Whelans, Dalys and Hendersons took a foothold as clubs like Villa United, Dingle United and Beggsboro became sources of talent.

In later years, Cabra itself spread out and the new estates like Dunard, right by the Navan Road, saw players like Owen Heary and Jason McGuinness emerge and win league medals.

Next generation

And the next generation waits. Young Irish talent is being educated on an FAI/ETB course - the one that has produced Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens - in the spot officially called John Paul Park but locals only know it as The Bogies.

Warren O'Hora is on the books of Premier League side Brighton but Dingle United, close to his home on Dingle Road, is where it all began, a Dublin 7 story that has more chapters to come.