Josa Lee Hollybough 2004

Josa Lee Hollybough 2004

 

Cork Hurling history was made 70 years ago, on the 9th of October 1934 when Glen Rovers won their first ever senior hurling county final.

 

Wild scenes of joy greeted the culmination of an inevitable rise to the top of Cork club hurling. The Glen, as they are know, achieved senior club status in 1925 when they won the intermediate championship. While they did not have great success at senior level between then and 1933, they had a remarkable run of success in the minor grade. This suggested to the shrewd observer that they were a rising force.

 

When they beat the St. Finbarr's in the 1934 final, their potential became a reality. As the cup was carried in triumph back to the Glen's home base of Blackpool an excited supporter knocked it to the ground. The handle broke off.

 

For years after, club members and supporters joked about this incident. "Breaking the handle didn't matter" young boys were told. "Sure hadn't we eight years to fix it" This is because Glen Rovers went on to win the cup every year after until 1941.

 

The achievement of winning eight senior titles in a row will probably never be repeated in Cork hurling. It is a record of remarkable consistency interlaced with the odd slice of luck. Only one player played in all eight finals. That was Conny "Sonny" Buckley.

 

Former Taoiseach Jack Lynch played in seven finals and so did the great superstar of the Glen at that time Paddy "Fox" Collins.  There were so many multiple medal winners during those years that county medals were as almost as common in Blackpool as sand on a beach.

 

There was one feat that was achieved during those eight years that has never been given the recognition it deserved. This is the achievement of the man who captained the Glen to their first title on that famous day in 1934. He is name was Joe Lee. He was popularly better known as Josa Lee. He remained on as captain until the end of 1938. He is the only player ever to have captained his club to five senior county titles.

 

Joe Lee was born and reared in Thomas Davis Street in Blackpool. He began playing hurling with the Thomas Davis Hurling Club (a juvenile hurling club in Blackpool at the time) and Blackpool National School. The Thomas Davis Club had a club room at Birds Quay which was opposite Joe Lee's house. This room was later to become the headquarters of the Glen Rovers Club.

 

He was a very good hurler. He was the captain of the Glen Rovers Minor team that won the Minor County championship in 1926. Two years later in 1928 he stared at centre back with the Cork Minor team that won the county's first All-Ireland minor title (Cork beat Dublin in a replay that was delayed until October 1929 and played at the Mardyke). Also in 1928, he made his senior championship debut with a Glen team that was defeated by a star-studded Blackrock team at Turners Cross.  

 

Joe Lee often played as a half forward in his first few years on the senior team although centre field was a natural position for him. Off the field he was a gregarious ball hopper; on the field, his temperament, his fine skills and clever positional play made him the perfect partner for more robust and hard tackling players.

 

The Glen reached their first county final in 1930 but they were well beaten by Blackrock. Afterwards they were not too down hearted as their performances over the season suggested that they would be serious contenders for future titles. However, the next few seasons did not bring any success to Blackpool.

 

This situation was discussed at length at the AGM of 1933. The Glen had been shocked by divisional side Muskerry in the championship. It was clear that drastic action was needed in order to turn the club's fortune around.

 

Club captain Paddy "Fox" Collins had been captain every year since 1926. He announced that he was stepping down in the hope that it might bring the club a change of luck. This left the door open for Joe Lee. While he was not then recognised as the club's best player, he was a team regular and a very popular member within the club.

 

He was elected captain. The final piece of the jigsaw was now in place. After their win in the 1934 championship the members were not going to take any chances. Lee was returned for a second year in 1935.

 

That year the Glen retained their title in unusual circumstances. They qualified for the final where Carrigtwohill were to be their opponents. Carrigtwohill were short several players through injury and suspension and sought a postponement. The Glen agreed but the County Board insisted that the game should be played. Carrigtwohill felt that they could not do themselves justice and as a consequence conceded the game to Glen Rovers. The Board awarded Glen Rovers the title.

 

Lee continued as captain in 1936 and this time Sarsfields from Glanmire were slain in the final. In 1937 an aging Carrigtwohill team tried but failed to make up for the disappointment of 1935 as the Glen and Lee collected title number four. Then in 1938 the Glen defeated a third east Cork side, Midleton, in the final.

 

It seemed like the good times were going to last for ever in Blackpool. But while the Glen machine rolled on, Joe Lee was in trouble. Throughout his career he suffered from knee problems. Time and time again the knee buckled and it often caused him to miss training and important games.

 

The club decided to send him to a specialist in Dublin in the hope that his knee could be mended. That may have been possible to solve his problem with today's medical science, but in 1939 the damage was irreparable. Joe Lee knew his time was up and rather than risk becoming a liability on the field he retired from hurling.

 

With his hurling days behind him Joe Lee stepped back from the front line of the Glen Rovers club. He worked in Dunlops and married Mary Bridget Lyons who was also from Blackpool.

 

When the Glen were not playing he loved to walk to Ballyvolane and watch the Road Bowling scores to Rathcooney or to take his daughters mushroom picking around Ellis' Lodge. He would regularly meet his life long friends Mick O'Callaghan and Micka Brennan of Sarfields fame. He died suddenly on December 18th 1967 at the age of 59.

 

In terms of Glen Rovers, Joe Lee is not the first name that jumps from the pages of their history. He has to take his place behind Christy Ring, Jack Lynch, Jim Young, Din Joe Buckley, Tomás Mulcahy and whole host of other All-Ireland winning stars in the Club.

 

Notwithstanding this, Napoleon once said that he would prefer to have a lucky general rather than a good one. When you examine Joe Lee's record of ten years in the middle of the field for the greatest club team in Ireland and five times senior county winning captain, he could rightfully present himself to Napoleon as both lucky and very good.

 

 

 


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