MIDLETON’S breakthrough as a powerful force in Cork club hurling in the ’80s led to a number of their players gaining inter-county recognition.
Down through the years, the East Cork club had always given Cork a fine supply of material that would go on to win honours at all levels.
In the double-winning year of 1990, Ger Fitzgerald, Kevin Hennessy and David Quirke all made their mark as the Rebel County swept to a glorious triumph in the month of September, a feat that has not been achieved since and may never be again.
Ger Fitzgerald was a key member of the hurling team that led the way on that first Sunday in September against Galway.
He has vivid memories of the achievement and how it came about, all the more so as in the previous year of 1989, Cork were not in a good place.
“The Glen won the county championship in ’89 and the management team changed after that.
“They had a selector, Liam Ó Tuama and Canon O’Brien and Gerald came in with Denis Hurley from Sarsfields and Frank Murphy.
“You knew with the Canon and Gerald that there would be a serious effort made. The expectations were not huge among the general public but the players knew that if they knuckled down and put in the effort which they were demanding, we would have a chance’’
The team that began the campaign in 1990 had a solid base of players who had been successful in 1986, a point Fitzgerald stresses.
“Yes, I have said that before when we talk about 1990, there was the core of a very good group there.
“We were back in training in September and October of 1989 and lads knew if we could build on the core we had plus a group of minor and U21s, if we could blend those two groups together we would be challenging.
“And that did happen over the league. We had a very good league campaign but a bad finish against Wexford in Nowlan Park.
“We were brutal that day but five of the six forwards that started that day started in the All-Ireland final against Galway.
Cork’s Munster and All-Ireland campaign in ‘90 began against Kerry in Tralee. “Yes, and we were lucky enough really. We won comfortably enough in the end but for 45 minutes it was a tough match but they were probably underrated at the time, they had serious hurlers.
“That game focused us, we had Waterford next and they had beaten Cork a year earlier. Three or four of us had not played in that game so it was an opportunity to make a statement. Then Tony Sullivan, Tomás and Teddy got injured so there was pressure on everybody to up their game against Waterford and we did.
“We played very well against Waterford and that win gave lads a lot of confidence and the role the Canon played in the lead up to the game was huge.
“There was no better man to manipulate a situation when you are underdogs than the Canon. Psychologically, he would get into fellows heads, boosting them, challenging them in his way.
“He’d talk to fellows outside training, he’d ring you up, he was a deep thinker about everything and that was something that the players bought into.
“He had a great way with fellows individually.’
Fitzgerald too is at pains to stress the important role of Gerald McCarthy.
“Look, Gerald is Gerald, he was a massive player. He played with Paddy, my father, so I had a great awareness of him.
“Watching him growing up, he was a huge player for Cork and the ‘Barrs and the two of them worked very well, himself and the Canon.
“They’d bounce ideas off each other in training and we did a serious amount of physical training and Gerald’s sessions were brilliant.
“The Canon felt very comfortable with somebody like Gerald around him to sort of copperfasten his ideas, they complemented each other."
It was so far so good but in the Munster final the acid test lay ahead, taking on the hot favourites and reigning All-Ireland champions Tipperary.
“In those days we’d travel in cars, there was no bus then on Munster match days. We’d travel to Thurles or wherever with Eddie Roche from Carrigtwohill, three or four of us, Roches from Carrigtwohill took the East Cork lads.
“In our car you would have myself, Kevin (Hennessy), David Quirke, maybe Cathal Casey and Denis Walsh.
“On that Munster final morning it was Kevin, myself with Hennessy sitting in the front. The senior man took the front seat, he was the biggest anyway.
“There’s a classic story about that. The Kid Cronin, god be good to him, the Roches had a left-hand drive car, a Mercedes and we were playing back in ‘84 in a Centenary Cup match and Kevin was in the front seat and he had his feet out the window.
“The Kid was in the car behind him and he saw it and when we arrived at the venue the Kid attacked Kevin for having his feet out the window while driving, the Kid did not get that it was a left-hand drive car.
“Eddie (Roche) was a great friend and a kind of a mentor to the players too, a great person."
Having won what became known as Mark Foley’s final, Cork subsequently saw off Antrim to reach the All-Ireland final against Galway.’
“To be fair, going into the match we were confident enough, we had positive memories of ‘86 but they were a formidable team so there wasn’t a huge pressure on us.
“I was marking Gerry McInernery, I had marked him in ‘86, a tough player. They were on fire at the start and we were down seven points at half-time.
“There was no panic though and there was a strong wind. That made a huge difference and the goals made the difference.
“John Fitz, Mul, Kevin and Foley got the goals and things turned in our favour and we ended up winning what proved to be the first part of a historic double.
“Ah look, it was great, the footballers followed us and had a great win too and, as they say, the rest is history."