JUST as Larry Tompkins was preparing to accept the Sam Maguire Cup from GAA President John Dowling after the 1990 All-Ireland football final, Ger Canning summed up the magnitude of what Cork had just achieved in his TV commentary.
“It’s Sam and it’s Liam,” said Canning “in the one year for Cork.” Although Cork were retaining their football title, and Tompkins was just about to lift the Sam Maguire, that glorious moment was indelibly linked to what the hurlers had achieved two weeks earlier.
It was a seminal moment, not just for Cork, but for the GAA as a whole – because achieving the ‘Double’ in the same year was deemed to be nearly impossible.
Could anyone have predicted at the outset of the 1990 championships that Cork could actually do the ‘Double’? It certainly wouldn’t have been an outlandish claim. Cork were the reigning football champions. The hurlers hadn’t won a Munster title since 1986 but the squad was still teeming with talent and experience.
The irony of it actually happening in 1990 was that Cork had already planned celebrations to mark the centenary of the twin All-Ireland victories of Aghabullogue in hurling and Midleton in football in 1890. Yet while the two clubs had their own plans in place to commemorate the event, the most appropriate way for the county as a whole to suitably mark the occasion would have been for Cork to win the ‘Double’ again.
For almost a century though, that aspiration had been an unattainable dream. After Cork achieved the ‘Double’ in 1890, only one other county had been able to repeat that feat in 100 years; Tipperary managed it twice, in 1895 and 1900.
By that stage, clubs were still representing their county. After 1900 though, no county (or clubs from the same county) could crack the code.
London (and Hibernians) certainly gave it an almighty shot. London actually played in eight finals between 1900-1903 – with Hibernians appearing in five of those deciders (four football and one hurling). Yet London lost seven of those finals, winning just one, the hurling title in 1901.
Between 1901-1989, there had been 14 failed attempts at the ‘Double’. Most had come in the early part of the century. After 1950, only two counties had reached both finals in the same season – Cork lost both deciders in 1956, while Offaly won the hurling in 1981 before losing the football final to Kerry two weeks later.
It’s hard to believe now that Offaly were such a dual force in the early 1980s. That achievement was all the greater again considering their limited playing numbers. Yet despite Cork’s huge volume of players in both codes, the odds were always going to be stacked against Cork’s bid for a ‘Double’ when Kerry were so dominant in the Munster football championship.
After 1890, there were only 13 occasions when the Cork hurlers and footballers won their respective Munster titles in the same season. During those 13 seasons, there were only four occasions when the hurlers and footballers made it through to both finals.
In 1893 and 1894, Cork won the hurling and lost the football finals. In 1907 and 1956, Cork lost both finals. Cork returned to the football final again in 1957 but lost to Louth by two points.
The hurlers were always capable of winning Munster, even when their rivals were strong and dominant. But the domineering presence of Kerry showed how difficult it always was for the footballers to build on any sustained progress, and for Cork to put themselves into a solid position to potentially win a ‘Double’.
That’s why Cork’s best chance of it happening was when Billy Morgan’s side were at their peak, and when they were enjoying their most dominant period over Kerry.
Prior to 1989, Cork had never put more than two Munster football titles back-to-back but, by 1990, Cork had won four successive Munster titles, annihilating Kerry in that year’s final. Cork were reigning All-Ireland champions and, with Cork dethroning Tipp in an epic Munster hurling final, the laboratory conditions were never more perfect for Cork to win the ‘Double’ in 1990.
The pressure was on the footballers after the hurling final but Billy Morgan wrote in his book how the “buzz around the city in the lead-up to the match was incredible, and if anything that helped us”.
Cork’s huge achievement has been rightly acknowledged in the meantime but, 30 years on (the anniversary is this Wednesday), it’s hard to see when and where, or if, a senior ‘Double’ will ever be repeated.
A couple of teams have gone close in the meantime; Cork won the hurling but lost the football final in 1999; Galway were crowned football champions in 2001, two weeks after the hurlers lost the final to Tipperary.
Four counties had an opportunity to achieve a double in the last decade (Cork 2010, Dublin 2011 and 2013, Tipperary 2016 and Galway 2018) but Dublin in 2013 (the hurlers lost a semi-final to Cork) were the only county who could realistically have pulled off that feat.
As the years and decades pass, Cork’s double in 1990 seems all the more glorious. That glory will be rekindled on Wednesday as Cork GAA and Marymount Hospice are calling on Cork people toto mark the 30th anniversary.
As well as aiming to raise much needed charitable funds for Marymount Hospice, the initiative will revive golden memories of when Cork absolutely ruled the GAA world.