NOEL HORGAN looks back at five matches involving the Cork footballers that, for one reason or another, hold abiding memories. Some are memorable, others we want to forget
Cork v Kerry, 1983 Munster SFC final
‘How did the Munster final go today?’
The year was 1983, and, just after returning from a sunshine holiday abroad, I was tired, cold and a bit down on the dumps on a wet Sunday night in Dublin Airport when casually enquiring about the result of the Cork-Kerry game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh earlier in the day.
My initial reaction to the answer was one of disbelief, but, once my informant insisted Cork had indeed prevailed, it lifted my spirits no end.
The attendance at the provincial decider had been well below average for a Cork-Kerry championship encounter, due in part to the wretched weather in the morning, resulting in severe flooding on the approach roads to the stadium.
Perhaps the main reason for the small crowd, however, was that Cork appeared to be little more than lambs for the slaughter by a Kerry team bidding to bounce back from the 1982 All-Ireland final loss to Offaly which had denied them a fifth successive title.
Seamus Darby wrote himself into the GAA history books in the 1982 showpiece when his last-gasp goal got the Faithful County over the line against all the odds. It turned out to be a case of déjà vu from a Kerry perspective after Tadgh Murphy found the net in the dying seconds to earn Cork a 3-10 to 3-9 win and bring the provincial crown to Leeside for the first time since 1974.
To run Kerry to two points would have been viewed as a creditable showing, but when the Kingdom dropped their guard, allowing Murphy to ghost behind the cover and collect a quickly-taken free by Bishopstown’s Tadgh O’Reilly before delivering a sucker-punch at the death, it opened up all sorts of possibilities for the hitherto unheralded Rebel outfit.
That they had the potential to go all the way was underlined in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park where they outplayed Dublin for long periods only to be forced to share the spoils after Barney Rock goaled for Kevin Heffernan’s men with practically the last kick of the match.
Needless to say, hopes were high that Cork would get the job done in the replay at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but it wasn’t to be. They were tactically outwitted by Heffernan, who opted to move Ciaran Duff from wing forward to the corner at the throw-in, prompting the Cork management to instruct Nemo’s Jimmy Kerrigan – superb as an attacking wing-back in the drawn game – to follow him. It meant Kerrigan was effectively taken out of the picture, and one of the main weapons in Cork’s arsenal had been silenced.
Showing vast improvement as a unit, the Dubs were much the better team in any case, as their 11-point winning margin testifies. In view of developments in the drawn game, and the fact that Dublin went on to garner All-Ireland glory at Galway’s expense, Cork had every reason to ponder on what might have been at the end of 1983.
For all their frustration, the Munster final win over Kerry was certainly one of the sweetest ever achieved at the expense of the old enemy, making it a year to be remembered for Cork’s football fraternity.
Cork v Meath, 1990 All-Ireland SFC final
There is no disputing Cork had a point to prove heading into the 1990 All-Ireland final against Meath. Beaten by the Royal County side in the 1987 and the 1988 decider (after a replay), the Rebels hadn’t encountered Sean Boylan’s men during their march to the top under Billy Morgan in 1989.
As a consequence, many questioned the merit of that success, especially after they again succumbed to Meath in a league semi-final in 1990. Cork looked well-equipped to turn the tables in the championship decider until their prospects suffered a set-back when impressive full-forward Colm O’Neill of Midleton was sent off following a rare moment of impetuosity nearing half time.
With their backs to the wall in the wake of O’Neill’s dismissal, Cork rose to the challenge in great style, grinding out an 0-11 to 0-9 victory, to which Nemo’s Shea Fahy made a massive contribution from midfield. Considering many felt Cork had been bullied into submission in the 1988 replay, to triumph over adversity against a Meath side noted for its over-the-top aggression was immensely satisfying, removing any lingering doubts about the team’s character.
Cork v Kerry, 1971 Munster SFC final
It wasn’t a thrilling encounter by any means, as can be gauged from the fact there was an 11-point gap between the teams at the finish, but the 1971 Munster final has to be filed away in the unique category.
It was the only time Cork, or any team for that matter, scored 25 points in a provincial decider, and their 0-25 to 0-14 win was all the more remarkable for the reason they were firmly cast in the role of the underdog against a Kerry side chasing a third All-Ireland on the trot.
There had been practically a public outcry in Cork the week before the game when ace attacker Denis Coughlan of St Nicholas wasn’t included in the starting 15. Introduced at centre-forward early in the first half, Coughlan made a massive input, finishing with ten points to his credit.
Full-forward Ray Cummins of St Michael’s chipped in with six as Cork, 0-11 to 0-7 behind at the interval, overwhelmed Kerry with a dazzling display of shooting in the second half.
Cork v Down, 2010 All-Ireland SFC final
It’s hard to credit that ten years have elapsed since Cork last sampled All-Ireland success under Conor Counihan’s canny stewardship. They had been knocking hard on the door since 2005, contesting six semi-finals in the interim and filling the runners-up slot behind Kerry in two of the three previous finals.
For all that, many pundits questioned their credentials ahead of the clash with Down, and they were regularly pilloried for the quality of their football en route to the showdown with the Mourne men.
It was unfair criticism, bearing in mind the possession game – filled with ponderous, patient build-ups – was a strategy forced upon the Rebel management in view of the manner in which most of their opponents set out their stall, sometimes getting as many as 13 players behind the ball when Cork pushed forward.
In light of their previous disappointments, plus the fact they had been much-maligned, the 0-16 to 0-15 victory over Down – a county unbeaten in five previous final appearances – amounted to redemption on a massive scale.
Eire Óg’s Daniel Goulding kicked nine points, eight from placed balls, and his unerring marksmanship under pressure was invaluable. His clubmate Ciarán Sheehan, Kanturk’s Aidan Walsh, Ballydesmond’s Donncha O’Connor and St Finbarr’s Michael Shields were others to make especially generous contributions to a balanced and gutsy team display.
Cork v Kerry, 1976 Munster SFC final replay
It’s often been suggested that Kerry wouldn’t have gone on to achieve unprecedented success under Mick O’Dwyer had they not beaten Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 1976.
With ten minutes remaining in that Munster final replay, Cork held a seven-point lead, and it took a couple of controversial decisions to rescue Kerry before the finish.
Firstly, Cork corner back Brian Murphy of Nemo Rangers was adjudged to have been behind the line when stopping a shot from Kerry’s Sean Walsh, and Kerry were awarded a goal.
Another questionable call soon followed when a fisted goal by Bantry Blues’ great Declan Barron was disallowed for what was deemed to be a small square infringement.
After Pat Spillane bagged an equalising point for Kerry, there was a further twist to the tale when a long-range effort by Kerry’s Michael Sheehy landed on the roof of the Cork net, but the score didn’t count because the referee had blown full-time immediately after the ball left Sheehy’s boot.
The more traumatised outfit heading into extra-time, Cork wilted, Kerry finished four points to the good and the teams experienced starkly contrasting fortunes over the ensuing decade.