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Legendary Cork forwards Ben O'Connor and Joe Deane at training at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. They shared in three All-Ireland triumphs in Rebel red. Picture: Des Barry
Legendary Cork forwards Ben O'Connor and Joe Deane at training at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. They shared in three All-Ireland triumphs in Rebel red. Picture: Des Barry
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Cork hurling dream team 1970-2020: The case for Deano and Ben O'Connor

IF this sporting wasteland has taught us anything, it's to watch every match like it's the last one you'll see.

With the whole 2020 championship in doubt, we don't know when we'll get to savour the next Patrick Horgan wonder-point, Darragh Fitzgibbon turbo-charged run or Mark Coleman sideline. 

This is the time of year when the countdown to the championship begins in earnest, the opening rounds of the club competitions setting the scene for May and throw-in at Semple Stadium and the Páirc.

Instead, YouTube and TG4's All-Ireland Gold have been providing our fix. Surviving on a steady diet of Cork hurling action from 1999 to 2010 only reminded us how special Joe Deane and Ben O'Connor were.

Joe Deane about to pop a pass to Ben O'Connor. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Joe Deane about to pop a pass to Ben O'Connor. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The quality of their shooting, Ben's scores often coming after scorching runs, Deane's after a deceptive shuffle, was an absolute joy. 

When the cries of 'Deeeano, Deeeano...' echoed, you knew it was game-on. 

Deano, Deano... Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE
Deano, Deano... Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE

The same when O'Connor ditched his black Mycro helmet with victory on the line.

All this week across Echo Live, John Horgan is looking through the options for his Cork hurling 'dream team', an All-Star line-up based on the last 50 years of action. So here's the case for Deane and O'Connor's inclusion.

They were big-game hurlers, not that they couldn't be tied down, but the occasion never seemed to phase them.

Watching the 1999 final, a dour yet majestic 0-13 to 0-12 win over Kilkenny in dreadful weather, only reinforced that. Both chipped in with a point from play apiece but they were terrific in the last quarter of their first All-Ireland.

Cork were 0-11 to 0-8 in arrears with 15 minutes to go before, in an arm-wrestle, outscoring the Cats 0-5 to 0-1. O'Connor sniped over the point that put Cork in front from a Deane assist and was also fouled for a converted free in that period.

Ben O'Connor bursting past Philly Larkin. Picture: Dan Linehan
Ben O'Connor bursting past Philly Larkin. Picture: Dan Linehan

Despite the conditions and his stature, Deane won his share of dirty ball. Brian Corcoran, the official MVP and Hurler of the Year, was powerful in the closing stages, as were Seanie McGrath and Timmy McCarthy, who each lanced over 0-3 from play. 

In fact, it's worth going to YouTube just to watch McGrath's effort to level it 0-11 apiece. The Glen dynamo split the posts from the tightest of angles to the right of the target. Stunning.

Seanie McGrath in the 1999 All-Ireland final. Picture: INPHO/Tom Honan
Seanie McGrath in the 1999 All-Ireland final. Picture: INPHO/Tom Honan

Deane and O'Connor, of course, went on to deliver time and again for the Leeside faithful. 

There were so many memorable displays and seasons. 

Deane was irrepressible in the 2000 All-Ireland semi-final, sniping over 0-4 from play but Cork were stunned by the ageless Joe Dooley and Offaly. He was on the goal-trail in 2003 as the Rebels emerged among the elite after the first strike.

In the 2004 All-Ireland final, he top-scored with 0-5, all placed-balls, yet gave the Cats' rearguard a torrid time. 

Joe Deane fires a shot against the crossbar in 2004. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Joe Deane fires a shot against the crossbar in 2004. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

The game swung at a crucial stage during the tense second half when Donal Óg Cusack had made a smart save from Henry Shefflin. Even more intelligently, he popped the sliotar out to Wayne Sherlock instead of launching it blindly. 

After possession was worked down the other end, Deane snapped up the ball and earned the free to push Cork four points ahead.

Ben O'Connor formed a scintillating trio with his twin Jerry and Tom Kenny from 2004. Their pace and point-taking got Cork past Clare in the 2005 semi-final before Ben torched Galway for 1-5 from play in the All-Ireland.

All eyes on the Cummins sliotar. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan
All eyes on the Cummins sliotar. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

The Newtown man was on fire the following September too, his 1-3 keeping Cork withing touching distance of Kilkenny, even if three-in-a-row slipped from their grasp.  

There were no more All-Irelands unfortunately. 

Joe Deane wins the ball from Galway's Damien Joyce in 2008. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Joe Deane wins the ball from Galway's Damien Joyce in 2008. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Deane was simply magnificent in the 2008 qualifier against Galway when Donal Óg was red-carded and Joe Canning rifled 2-12. As the sun sunk over Semple Stadium after he'd landed four of his best points, Deane was carried towards the tunnel by the fans.

His last game in Rebel red was the '08 semi-final loss to Kilkenny. We didn't know it then, but neither Deane nor Diarmuid O'Sullivan would return.

Joe Deane strikes a point in his last appearance for Cork, the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE
Joe Deane strikes a point in his last appearance for Cork, the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

Ben O'Connor's exit was more low-key. The days after a 2012 league game up in Croke Park, where he clipped over a point against Dublin before coming off, he told Jimmy Barry-Murphy and the management he was done. 

Nobody suspected they wouldn't see him in the Blood and Bandage again. 

Ben O'Connor is tackled by Dublin corner-back Niall Corcoran in the 2012 league game at Croke Park. That was O'Connor's last game for Cork. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Ben O'Connor is tackled by Dublin corner-back Niall Corcoran in the 2012 league game at Croke Park. That was O'Connor's last game for Cork. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

With three All-Irelands, five Munsters and two All-Stars, he owed Cork no more.

Appreciate the great hurlers when you can.

Cork's Ben O'Connor and Joe Deane look on as Kilkenny players celebrate at Croke Park in 2006. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork's Ben O'Connor and Joe Deane look on as Kilkenny players celebrate at Croke Park in 2006. Picture: Eddie O'Hare