Cork hurling: The magic that was Brian Corcoran's 2004 comeback season

Cork hurling: The magic that was Brian Corcoran's 2004 comeback season
Cork's Brian Corcoran celebrates the last point of the game with team-mate Joe Deane in the 2004 final. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE 

THERE is something particularly satisfying when sport presents moments of perfect symmetry and never was that truer than when Cork’s successful 2004 hurling championship campaign was bookended by two magnificent moments which both ended with Cork’s talisman Brian Corcoran on his knees.

The first was the magical moment in May in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick when Corcoran announced to the hurling world that he was back, with a glorious point from play while on his knees, while the second was the moment in September that saw the Erin’s Own man lose his balance while clinching the final score as Cork defeated Kilkenny in that year’s All-Ireland final.

It was perfect script writing.

This was the year Corcoran had come out of retirement after retiring in 2001. Cork had come close to winning the All-Ireland in 2003, but they had lost their new attacking star Setanta Ó hAilpín to Aussie Rules Football that winter and were badly in need of someone to fill the departing Na Piarsaigh man’s sizeable shoes.

Enter Brian Corcoran, but even when news of his comeback started to filter through there was uncertainty as to what his role would be.

After all, he was a two times hurler of the year, from the corner and centre-back positions.

What would his role be now, especially when you consider that the Gardiner-Curran-Ó hAilpín half back partnership had already been well established?

As Corcoran himself stated in his autobiography Every single ball, when he described a phone call he had with then Cork manager Donal O’Grady:

“The call ended at that, but within seconds I was on to him again. I’d forgotten to tell him something. I had no interest in chasing rabbits again.

“Just checking one more thing with you there, Donal. If I do come back, where would be thinking of playing me?”

O’Grady was initially slow to lay his cards on the table so Corcoran had to push him on the issue.

“Well, which end of the field would it be?” I asked.

“Because to be honest, I have no interest in coming back as a back.”

“No, no, it would be as a forward we’d be considering you. Now, it could be any of the six positions.”

“I was happy enough with that.”

That was all well and good, but after being away from the game for two-and-a-half years, including club duty, Corcoran had a lot of catching up to do. Even for a two-time hurler of the year, it was a big ask to not only return, but to learn a new position at this level.

When he came on against Limerick in the Munster Championship semi-final the Cork crowd roared, giving their returning hero a rapturous welcome, and then as he again described in his book, this happens:

“I was standing just behind Ollie Moran when this high ball came in. I went out to contest it, hit Ollie a fair shoulder and caught the ball. But, just as I went to turn and shoot, I slipped and ended up on the ground. I rose to my knees. I had never taken a shot in such a position before, but instinctively I knew that if I waited to get up I’d be blocked by Ollie. So I hit it and watched as it sailed over.

“The crowd went mad with that one, and the next day so would some of the papers, but I couldn’t get too excited about it; I was still only number 22.”

Brian Corcoran just on the pitch celebrates his first score. Picture: Gerard McCarthy
Brian Corcoran just on the pitch celebrates his first score. Picture: Gerard McCarthy

For every Cork fan present it was a memory to cherish. For a legendary player to come out of retirement and do that with his first touch, it was the kind of thing that you’d hear Ring do. It was so good the photo is the subject matter of a t-shirt available online to this day.

Two weeks later Corcoran ensured that he would not be requiring the No 22 jersey ever again when he scored 3-1 off none other than the great Brian Lohan in a challenge match against Clare up in Ennis.

Cork, of course, lost that year’s Munster final in a classic to Waterford, so they had to take the scenic route back to Croke Park, including a qualifier in Killarney against Tipperary where Cork’s All-Ireland hopes were on the ropes at half-time.

Niall and Timmy McCarthy scored crucial second-half goals and Cork were back in business, and wins over Antrim and Wexford saw them back in the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny, 12 months on from that harrowing defeat.

For one reason or another Cork and Kilkenny matches never turn out to be classics, but Cork won’t care too much as they choked the life out of the star-studded Kilkenny attack that day, and the Rebels led 0-16 to 0-9 with time almost up.

It was at that stage that Corcoran showed his full value, chasing a seemingly lost cause into the right corner. This is how he described the next few glorious seconds in his book:

“I managed to flick the ball away from Ryall and into the corner. Then I picked it up, and, as Hickey came towards me, I sidestepped him. For a moment I thought about crossing it, but then I looked up and shot at the posts. I fell as I hit it and, for what seemed like an age, was there, on my knees, watching it hang in the air. And then it curled in, and then it went over, and Croke Park erupted.

“So did I. I roared, raising my arms in the air, and the next second Aodán was blowing for full-time and Joe and the rest of the forwards and subs were sprinting down towards me.

“If we all have one moment in time, then that was probably mine. The point, being on my knees, the Rebel Yell, the lads flooding towards me; it was a great, great moment, the ultimate way to finish the game, the year, the comeback.

"Perfect symmetry, in a perfect moment for Cork hurling."

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