Cobh Ramblers FC were devastated to learn of the passing this weekend of former manager Liam McMahon. Defining him as just a manager however is simply unjust. As club chairman Michael O’Donovan put it, he was in essence the father of the modern Ramblers and the vast tributes paid to this stellar individual pay homage to this.
Born in Ardee, Co. Louth, Liam was a customs official by trade. The post saw him leave his hometown and settle in Cork where he quickly got involved in the county’s football scene. A clever and pacy left-winger, Liam signed for Ramblers in 1958, beginning a relationship with the club that would last six decades, no doubt helped by having a Cobh woman, the late Aurley, at his side.
A desire to enter League of Ireland football saw him join Limerick in 1959, and he was part of their squad that claimed the 1959/60 league title. In 1962 he returned to Ramblers and remained at St Colman’s as a player until 1971, when he took over as first team manager. That season saw Cobh secure the Munster Senior League title for the first time since 1957, a sign of things to come that decade. In 1974 he spent a brief spell as assistant manager to Bobby Tambling, formerly of Chelsea, at Cork Celtic but by 1975 he was back involved in Cobh and lead the side to a famous 1-0 win over Drogheda United in the FAI Cup, courtesy of a Pat Meade goal. It was the club’s first ever win in the FAI Senior Cup and a first away win for an MSL side in the competition since 1924.
His Ramblers side secured further Munster Senior League titles in 1976,77 and 78 and reached the semi-final of the 1977 League Cup, losing out to Shamrock Rovers. He returned to Cork Celtic for a short period in 1978 but was back before too long, leading the Rams to FAI Intermediate Cup glory for the first time in 1980. His Ramblers side picked up MSL titles in 1980,81,82,83,84 and 85 to complete a remarkable nine Premier Division wins in ten seasons. The club’s second Intermediate Cup win arrived in 1983 under his guidance, the same season as Ramblers’ famed four game thriller with Sligo Rovers in the FAI Cup semi-final. In February 1983 he was awarded League Manager of the Month Award, a remarkable feat for a non-league manager.
Liam was at the helm as Ramblers entered League of Ireland football in 1985, guiding the club to promotion in the 1987/88 season. Alfie Hale replaced Liam for 1989/90 and McMahon took charge of Midleton, the town he lived in for his Cork life. By October 1990 he was back in the Ramblers hotseat, giving a young Roy Keane all but the first seven of his Ramblers appearances (2 under Alfie Hale, 5 under Alec Ludzik).
In February 1991 he was replaced by George Mellerick and he took charge of Fermoy in North Cork. There he would win promotion to the Munster Senior League Premier Division before returning once again to Ramblers in 1995. In 1997 he recommended the promotion of his then-assistant Stuart Ashton to the job of manager and the two swapped roles with McMahon staying on. Former Norwich City defender Ian Butterworth replaced Ashton in 1998 and Liam remained on as his number two until the end of the year.
His final spell as manager began in December 2000, replacing John O’Rourke. He would serve two more seasons until the end of 2001/02 when Dave Hill took charge of the side. Eager to remain involved at the club, Liam took up a role on the club committee for a spell, whilst always eager to help out schoolboys teams both in Cobh and in Midleton.
His dedication and service to the game of football, particularly in Cobh and East Cork was second to none. His coaching record above speaks for itself but he was more than a successful manager. He was a friend and a mentor to every player that came under his wing. His former players were eager to provide stories and testimonies of their time under Liam, a testament to his effect on them,
When I think of Liam it’s hard not to mention the Intermediate Cup. It was the holy grail for the club, supporters had waited nearly 60 years to win it. Liam returned in 1980 and masterminded that success against an excellent Tramore Athletic team. We also won the league that year. It was my first season and playing on a great team under a legendary manager was a dream come true for me. For me this season was every bit as good as the 1983 season, it was the beginning of a golden era for the club under Liam’s guidance. His contribution to soccer in Cobh can never be repaid.”
“Coming into a League of Ireland team for any 16 year old was going to be difficult. But the confidence and belief Liam that had in me took the pressure off. He had a calmness about him that made everyone feel at ease. As a coach if he saw something that you could improve on he would have a quiet word and show you one to one what to do. The way he got his message across was exceptional. To stay at management for as long as he did and adapt to different types of play just showed how good he was.”
“It was back in 2001 when Liam asked myself and another young player at the time, Declan Foley, to travel away to Monaghan United where Liam gave us both our debut. I remember he congratulated me after the game with the kindest of words, “You were a breath of fresh air out there today”. As a young player at the time and so eager to break through to hear those words from Liam just showed the type of character he was. I will be ever so grateful to Liam for putting his trust in me all those years ago, he will be sadly missed, RIP my friend.”
“Liam gave me my League of Ireland debut against Kilkenny City when I was 15. You never forget those who show great faith in you, even if you don’t understand it at the time. He was a wonderful man and will be sadly missed.”
“I’ll never forget him giving me my League of Ireland debut and how grateful I was. I always felt comfortable working with him. He trusted me when he first saw me as a player. Liam will be hugely missed.”
10 of the club’s 15 MSL titles came under Liam. Both of the club’s Intermediate Cups. The club’s furthest ever run in the FAI Cup. The club’s entry into the League of Ireland. The list goes on. We are eternally grateful to this Cobh Ramblers legend. RIP Liam McMahon.
Arrangements: Reposing at O’Farrell’s Funeral Home, Riverside Way, Midleton on Monday (30th) from 5.30pm, with removal at 7pm to Church of The Most Holy Rosary, Midleton. Funeral Mass on Tuesday (31st) at 1pm, followed by cremation at The Island Crematorium, Ringaskiddy.
By Michael Geasley and Thomas Stafford