STRAIGHT from the horse’s mouth. Kevin Hennessy confirms the moment at half-time in the All-Ireland hurling final of 1990 when his remark to the Cork coach, Canon Michael O’Brien might well have changed the course of history.
Cork had not enjoyed a productive first-half against Galway and were in trouble in most departments.
The portents did not look good and the canon was not a happy man, so much so that during the interval in the dressing room he did not mince his words.
“Only three of ye played in that first-half..." was one of his utterances.
Just as the players were leaving the dressing-room to return to the pitch, Hennessy turns around and asks, ‘who were the other two, Father?’
Immediately there was a burst of laughter from the players as a unit, the ice had been broken, the tension of the day eased and what transpired thereafter is now part of Cork GAA folklore.
“Yes, I did turn around and asked him that question and the lads burst out laughing and I think it sort of lifted the pressure that was on us,” he told The Echo. “It’s a long time ago now, hard to believe it’s 30 years but that’s what happened.’’
The Midleton man had a wonderful innings in the Cork jersey, winning three All-Ireland medals, ‘84, ‘86 and ‘90 and he rates the double-winning year of ‘90 as a standalone highlight.
“Any year you win with Cork is very special but I suppose what happened that year, with the footballers as well, made it extra so.
“I had been omitted from the panel in ‘89 and maybe you’d be thinking that it was over where Cork was concerned. But I played away with Midleton, doing my best and when the canon and Gerald McCarthy came in 1990 I was brought back on the panel, got my place on the team again and we won the All-Ireland.’’
One of the most popular individuals ever to don the red jersey, he believes the appointment of McCarthy and the cleric was hugely influential in returning the Rebel County to the top table.
“It was, they were great for the players and both of them worked very well. We had good selectors too in Frank Murphy, Denis Hurley and Liam O’Tuama.
“They were hurling men, you’d listen to them and you would not say afterwards he didn’t know what he was talking about.
“I knew the Canon well, I had him as a minor, U21 and senior, we didn’t always see eye to eye but you had great respect for him.
“Gerald was brilliant, he had been one of the great Cork players of all time and you would put in a huge effort for him.
“We certainly were not fancied that year because of what happened a year earlier but we knew ourselves we had the ability and you must remember we had a fair few lads who were there in ‘84 and ‘86, the base was there.’’
Cork went to Thurles for the Munster final against the reigning champions Tipperary and Hennessy recalls that day vividly.
“That was all about Mark Foley, it was his final, 2-7 from play. Anything he touched that day was a score afterwards. He was a big man, I remember I lost my hurley one time in the game but managed to get the ball to him and from a difficult position he boomed it straight over the bar.
“It was just one of those days a player can have. I loved playing in Thurles, it was like playing on a carpet.
“I remember we drew the ‘87 final there and there was a debate about the replay. The players would gladly have went back there but at the time there was Kerry chairman of the Munster Council and it went to Killarney and we lost the replay. Killarney wasn’t the reason but we’d have gone back to play them in Thurles."
The Midleton hero had 10 years in the Cork jersey and he says he was fortunate to have played alongside some great players.
“Without a doubt, I started in ‘81, played in six All-Ireland finals and you always wanted to win.
“I remember the Centenary Cup in ‘84, a one-off competition. We travelled up to play Roscommon in one game and, of course, everyone thought it was an easy hour.
“But they had beaten Wexford in the competition earlier so we had to be wary but we sorted it out early, I think Seanie O’Leary got a few early goals and we went on to win it afterwards, defeating Laois in the final.
“It was nice to win it and we won the All-Ireland afterwards that year with John Fenton captaining the side in Thurles."
Going back to 1990, he believes that on and off the field things were just right.
“They were, there was a great bond in that team, a bond that has lasted through the years to this day.
“We’d still be great friends and the footballers too. We put huge pressure on them a fortnight after our win but they came good too after having Colm (O’Neill) sent off.
“There might be a thinking that training back then was not hard, not as it is now but we trained hard under Gerald.
“And I must say that we were very well looked after by the County Board, there was no problem there at all.
“Looking back, I had a great time, won four county titles with Midleton, one All-Ireland club and three All-Ireland medals with Cork.
“When you started off you would certainly have taken that.’’