"When I lifted Sam Maguire, I could not see a blade of grass..."

"When I lifted Sam Maguire, I could not see a blade of grass..."

Cork players, Larry Tompkins, left, and John O'Driscoll, celebrate on the steps of the Hogan Stand. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

In an extract from his autobiography, ‘Believe: The Lary Tompkins Autobiography’, written with Denis Hurley, the Cork captain tells of the pressure ahead of the final, how the team dealt with it during the clash with Meath and the glorious return to Leeside in triumph

Pick up a copy of Larry's book now. 
Pick up a copy of Larry's book now. 

THERE was a lot of tension before the 1990 All-Ireland final, but I think it gave us unreal focus — there was a lot of motivation there.

As a captain, you have extra things to attend to, like introducing the team to the President, but it was a case of embracing that.

It was Dr Patrick Hillery’s last All-Ireland final as President and he got to witness history.

From the word go, Danny Culloty and Shea Fahy were outstanding at midfield and the full-back line couldn’t have done better.

Tony Nation kept Bernard Flynn out of the game and Niall Cahalane got on top of Colm O’Rourke, with Steven O’Brien limiting Brian Stafford’s impact from play. It was largely a backs’ day, except for Colm O’Neill at the other end.

He was winning every ball and Mick Lyons wasn’t able to handle him.

He won a few early frees that I converted and then he came out the field, picked up possession and went on a massive run. He shot from the 21-yard line and the ball hit the underside of the crossbar, came down and was cleared.

Lyons later said, ‘The word around was that Colm O’Neill was soft… he didn’t seem soft to me!’ Unfortunately, he was to prove that shortly before half-time. Meath won a defensive free, Colm picked up the ball and Mick went to grab it, and Colm hit him; it was a spontaneous thing.

Colm was so worked up that, if Mick Lyons acted the maggot, he was going to clock him.

One thing you’d say is that Lyons didn’t lie down to win an Oscar. He could give it and take it, and he didn’t try to get Colm sent off but Paddy Russell made his decision.

The funny thing is that I think it affected Lyons for the rest of the game.

He was after getting such a roasting and he couldn’t operate as the spare man. Maybe if Seán Boylan was to have his time again, he might have done things differently. They just left Lyons behind me all the time, meaning I had him and Kevin Foley. Lyons only touched the ball once after that, though.

He was the type of fella that loved having a man to mark.

We went in at half-time a point ahead, 0-6 to 0-5, and Meath hadn’t led at all. Paul McGrath was on fire in the corner, Shea was playing great stuff, the backs were outstanding. Most of the players didn’t even sit down inside in the dressing-room; there was a rush to go out there and finish the job.

There was nobody consoling Colm O’Neill — it was hardly even mentioned. Shea and Paul got big points straight after the restart and Barry Coffey was putting in a huge shift at left half-back. Just as important was an outstanding John Kerins save to deny Brian Stafford. If Meath had gone ahead, it’s hard to say what would have happened.

With about 20 minutes to go, Mick McCarthy turned to shoot and got half-taken out of it and went down injured. Dr Con went on to take a look at him and made the call that he should be taken off, with John O’Driscoll coming on.

We were a point ahead at that stage and, straightaway, Johnno was fouled for a free that I put over. Then, Barry Coffey came out of defence with a ball and sent it high towards me but it went over my head. I chased it. Martin O’Connell was coming one way and I was coming the other; he was getting there first but I put in my foot to make it difficult for him.

Whatever way my knee collided with him, I could sense I had done something majorly wrong, but I hopped up off the ground quickly because I was afraid that Dr Con would bring me off like he had done with Mick.

With a cruciate ligament, there’s a sensation and a pain initially and then the blood gushes towards it and the pain goes. It was like a sudden shot. A few minutes later, I was thinking I’d be okay. I carried on but I felt I couldn’t move the way I normally would.

With 10 minutes left, we got a free under the Hogan Stand and I knew I wouldn’t have the distance. Shea came short, turned and never looked at the posts as he shot but it flew over the bar. He was having a great day.

The week before the final, the two Meath midfielders, Liam Hayes and Gerry McEntee had met to formulate a plan and decided that four points from midfield should be enough to secure the All-Ireland – they were right, but all four were scored by Shea!

I got a free after that to make it 0-11 to 0-7, but Meath are Meath and they came at us hard in the last 10 minutes.

Stafford got two frees to bring them to within a score but that was as close as they came. Mick Slocum and Steven O’Brien both made important late interventions and we had two to spare at the end. When the whistle was blown, it was one of those moments of sheer joy and satisfaction.

We had beaten the team that was the best around and, for us, it was important that we set down the fact that Cork were a serious side to beat. Cork and Meath were two great sides, a good bit ahead of the rest; two massive teams with massive players.

If one didn’t arrive, the other would have won four or five All-Irelands, but then in another sense, each brought the best out of the other.

I was still high on adrenaline and wasn’t worrying about my injury, especially as I had a pressing engagement in the Hogan Stand, receiving the Sam Maguire Cup from GAA president, John Dowling.

When I lifted the cup, the crowd had covered the whole field; I could not see a blade of grass. It was clear to see what winning the double meant to the people of Cork.

In my speech, I spoke from the heart. I tried to name all of the people who had meant so much to me and Cork GAA over the years.

The 80s had been tough for the city, with Ford, Dunlop and Verolme all closing, so something like this had to be celebrated and it was.

Journey home:

On the Monday, we had the lunch in Kilmainham Gaol and it was the first time that the Cork and Meath teams talked a little bit. We had experienced that lunch as a beaten team so we knew what it was like, and they were fairly gracious.

When we got on the train at Heuston, Andrew Roche of Iarnród Éireann, a Corkman, presented me with a massive cake. We stopped in Mallow on the way down and I was hardly able to get off because there was such a crowd. Similarly, when we landed back in Kent Station, my first thought was that I was delighted I wasn’t working – the pub was packed!

My brother, Tommy was there, my mother was there, as was my aunt and a cousin of mine, PJ, who had come down the year before and was a massive help to me. Tony Keogh had come down and so too had my uncle-in-law, Tom Kelly from Galway, whose involvement with the county board there had allowed me to see those great players up close.

There was heightened security at the train station and nobody was allowed in but the people at the station made an exception for my father. Just before we got on the bus, I brought the cup across the road to the pub.

I got my father on to the bus, and the wives and girlfriends were there too. Marty Morrissey was covering the homecoming and he did a lovely interview with my father on the trip. My mother and my aunt did not want to come on the bus and walked alongside the bus for a while but they had to stop as there were so many people.

Every building on MacCurtain St was packed and there were people everywhere, all the way up St Patrick’s Hill. You just can’t beat it when you get to Paddy Barry’s Corner and see the crowds, though I was looking down and fearing the bus would roll over someone.

It was a special moment, the climax of everything.

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh was the MC and he said there were close to 100,000 people present. There was a truck on St Patrick’s St, opposite the old Examiner office and that’s where we got off for the speeches before going to the reception at the Imperial Hotel.

Picture: INPHO
Picture: INPHO

The successful hurling team were there waiting for us, which we had had no idea about. It made it all the more special and a memorable moment – one shown on the 1990 edition of Reeling in the Years – was when myself and Tomás Mulcahy exchanged cups.

It happened spontaneously and the crowd erupted even more.

Back then, the double was something that people hoped would happen again — and it almost did in 1999 — but as time has gone on, there’s a growing appreciation of just how special it was.

Believe: The Larry Tompkins Autobiography’ is published by Hero Books (priced €20.00) and is available in all good local book shops and also online (print and ebook) on Amazon and Apple and all good online stores.

Picture: Dan Linehan
Picture: Dan Linehan

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