CORK were on song when they won the All-Ireland minor football title in 2000 – literally.
The Gaelic Grounds in Limerick was the site for Teddy Holland’s team’s first championship outing against Clare, with a narrow 1-12 to 3-5 win getting them off on the right foot.
On the bus back to Cork, a sing-song developed and it was to prove to be a tradition that would last all the way through the successful campaign. Carbery Rangers’ Kevin MacMahon was a key member of the team and he recalls the impromptu concerts as helping to create a bond within the camp.
‘Everyone was definitely asked to sing,’ he remembers, ‘though a few, like myself, managed to dodge it!
‘We had a lot of fellas with fine voices who weren’t shy about singing, the likes of Ray Cahalane and Rory McCarthy are two who come to mind. It definitely added to the team spirit, especially as we scraped over the line against Clare.
‘I can remember on the way to the Munster final, two of the Dunmanway lads, Paul Deane and John Collins, were big into the Wolfe Tones and that was blaring all the way to Killarney.
‘It helped to relax us, it meant that it wasn’t until we got into the dressing room that it hit us that there was a big game. As a result, we didn’t overthink it beforehand, there was a good sense of fun and enjoying fellas’ company.’
MacMahon had featured in the Munster semi-final against Limerick in 1999, with Cork winning the provincial title that year before losing to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final.
‘The ’99 team had a lot of well-known players,’ he says, ‘big names like Tom Kenny, Bernie Collins, Ronan Curran.
‘They beat Kerry well in the Munster final and I suppose they were expected then to go on and win the All-Ireland but they were unlucky against a good Mayo team in the semi-final.
‘That probably meant that there wasn’t much expectation in 2000, only a few had been there the year before so it was almost a totally new team.
‘That led to a great team spirit. I didn’t play that much in ’99 but it helped that I was training at a high level. In saying that, it was still very competitive in 2000, there were loads of good players so you could never relax, there were always fellas there to take your place and plenty good players didn’t make the panel.’
The 1-13 to 0-14 Munster final against Kerry was characterised by a seven-point tour de force from Clonakilty’s Conrad Murphy, who was one of the few survivors from 1999.
‘We were under the cosh in the first half, not really playing to our potential,’ MacMahon says.
‘At half-time we changed a few things around and Conrad kicked a few massive scores to give us the edge.
‘He was capable of that any day, he was certainly an outstanding player, we had some massive guys that could stand up on a big day.’
Having been left half-forward against Clare, MacMahon was full-forward in Killarney but he would be at midfield for the All-Ireland semi-final against Derry in Croke Park.
‘I always preferred midfield,’ he says, ‘but we had some great midfielders in Kieran Murphy from Erin’s Own and Gary McLoughlin, big powerful men.
‘Gary was injured for the semi-final, I think he picked it up playing minor hurling for Cork, so I was happy to play there but really I was happy to play anywhere.
‘Conrad got injured early in that game so we were effectively written off and that we won that day was the making of the team in some ways. James Masters gave an incredible display in that game, he scored fantastic points and we got a huge amount of confidence from it.
‘Masters was a great character, he was key to keeping things loose, especially when you might get overawed by playing in Croke Park. It definitely lightened the mood, we had some very mature 18-year-olds like Eddie Bourke, Noel O’Leary and a few others.’
Cork beat Derry by 0-16 to 0-15, with the sideshow of Kieran Murphy having been booked twice without having been sent off. However, there were no sanctions applied to him or Cork and they progressed to the final against Mayo.
With such a different team, revenge for the 1999 semi-final wasn’t an issue.
‘It didn’t come into it, given so few had been involved,’ MacMahon says.
‘The way we approached it was that it was a great opportunity, so there was no pressure as such.
‘Management created a really relaxed environment and there were some really gritty characters, not too many stars so everyone dug in.’
Cork triumphed by 2-12 to 0-13 – their biggest win of the campaign – with the goals from Mark O’Connor and Conor Brosnan and the celebrations were a release after a long summer of hard work.
Perhaps surprisingly, having soldiered so closely together, the team haven’t had a reunion, but MacMahon is optimistic.
‘I bumped into Conor Brosnan recently,’ he says, ‘and we were saying that something should be done, time has flown by.
‘A lot of guys are scattered in different places, but there was really a strong bong in that particular group.
‘Hopefully the 2019 team can do the same now on Sunday, and I’d like to wish them all the best, especially Kelan Scannell and Barry Kerr from Carbery Rangers.’