TIME flies and it's hard to believe 25 years have passed since Larry Tompkins pitched up in west Cork and joined Castlehaven GAA club.
During this time the Haven's status in club football has been hugely enhanced by the presence of the Kildare man, who became a legend among the Cork football fraternity.
Tompkins' role nowadays is that of bystander and supporter as the Haven class of 2012 bid to upset Dr Crokes of Killarney in tomorrow's Munster Club SFC final at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
Tompkins was at the same venue a few weeks ago to see Haven come through a dour contest against Duhallow in the county final, but he expects them to give a good account of themselves against Colm Cooper and Co.
He retired in the early 2000s, but the essence of Castlehaven's football remains the same as it was in Tompkins day.
"It is a very close-knit community, and every man, woman and child follows the game," said Tompkins. "When you get that jersey it's really an honour and you try and do your best for it. You're not alone playing for yourself; you're playing for every man, woman and child down there, so it is a very unique team.
"Castlehaven mightn't be blessed with the 15 best footballers in Cork or the 15 best footballers in Ireland, but by God, every player gets the best out of themselves. That's purely down to hard work and the honour of wearing that jersey. It's a very rare thing to have."
Haven's success in winning the Cork senior title for the first time in nine years was highlighted by Cork All Star football awards for Damien Cahalane, Liam Collins, David Limrick, Mark Collins, Dermot Hurley and Brian Hurley. Cahalane was also named Cork's Club Footballer of the Year.
Prior to this year, their county championship wins were in 1989 – the first in Castlehaven's history – and 1994.
They have won three Munster championships – '89, '94, and 1997 when Haven lost the Cork final to divisional side Beara. That history-making side of '89 was backboned by Cork All-Ireland winning stars Tompkins, Niall Cahalane and John Cleary.
Two years before the breakthrough, Tompkins had quit Kildare and was out of county football. He had become disillusioned after the county board refused to compensate him for a return airfare they had promised to pay to get the player back from the USA for a Lilywhites championship match.
Tompkins went to Castlehaven because he had been sold on the club by some of their players he met in New York. Once Tompkins was togging out in the Castlehaven colours, Cork manager Billy Morgan became interested and the rest is history. Two All-Irelands, six Munster championships, a National League, All Star awards and legendary performances made Tompkins a Rebel hero.
There are two certainties: (1) the individual awards won't give the Castlehaven recipients any delusions of grandeur and (2) Dr Crokes will face a team with ferocious commitment.
That said, Tompkins is a realist, and concedes that Crokes are favourites.
"We've done very well to win a county title this year, given the inexperience of the whole squad – apart from the two or three players who have been there for a number of years.
"Liam Collins and Dermot Hurley are two of the guys that have been involved since the last county final in 2003. Apart from that, the rest of them would be relatively young and inexperienced, so they've done really well in relation to winning the county and progressing on now to the Munster final.
"Crokes are at a stage now where they're a solid team with a good bit of experience. I'm sure that for them, winning a Munster championship would only be a stepping stone for what they want to achieve. They've a lot of good footballers, so it's a formidable challenge for Castlehaven, but it's a challenge I'm sure the players are looking forward to. Hopefully, we get the rub of the green and who knows what may happen on the day."