'We lost that 1979 semi-final against Galway going up on the train...'

'We lost that 1979 semi-final against Galway going up on the train...'
Cork's four-in-a-row dream ended when beaten by Galway in the 1979 semi-final. Back: Tim Crowley, Ray Cummins, Martin Doherty, Jimmy Barry Murphy, Johnny Crowley, Brian Murphy, Denis Coughlan. Front: Charlie McCarthy, Tom Cashman, Martin Coleman, John Horgan, Pat Moylan, Gerald McCarthy, Dermot McCurtain, John Fenton. 

HISTORY beckoned for the Cork hurlers as 1979 began.

Unbeaten in the 10 championship games since Galway had defeated them in the 1975 All-Ireland semi-final, the Rebels had completed the three-in-a-row and were strong favourites retain their title.

However, the pressure to do four in a row was not paralysing, according to Martin Coleman.

“Once we won back-to-back titles, there was pressure to do three in a row, and we had managed that,” he said.

“We were ready for another campaign, we knew that there was an All-Ireland there to be won and we felt that we were good enough to win the All-Ireland.”

After a loss to Limerick in the league, the team went to the Channel Islands f

Cork keeper Martin Coleman.
Cork keeper Martin Coleman.

or a week, training for two hours a day. Such a trip would be regarded as commonplace, almost passé by now, but was something new back then.

“We went to Jersey just prior to the Munster championship,” the late corner-back John Horgan reminisced.

“It’s a common enough thing now, but back then it was a novelty.

“We got a good bit done and enjoyed ourselves too, I suppose it was a bit of a reward for what we had achieved.”

After that it was back home to prepare for a Munster semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh against Tipperary, with a challenge against the Rest of Ireland to warm up the week before.

In that game, Tom Cashman got injured, allowing John Fenton to come in for his championship debut.

John Fenton of Cork and Pat Creamer of Limerick. He got his first start in 1979. Picture: INPHO
John Fenton of Cork and Pat Creamer of Limerick. He got his first start in 1979. Picture: INPHO

The newcomer hit three points and put in a great performance in midfield alongside Pat Moylan, who scored three frees, with Martin O’Doherty and Denis Coughlan also impressing as Cork won by 1-14 to 2-10.

Tipp certainly wouldn’t have been short of motivation to win this, especially as Cork had derailed their four-in-row hopes in 1952, and had corner-forward Pat O’Neill been on target with a last-minute effort, then they may have snatched a draw.

Overall, Cork deserved the win, with a Jimmy Barry-Murphy goal 12 minutes into the second half crucial.

“Looking back, that we only won by a point may have been one of the signs that things weren’t going as well as they should,” Horgan said.

“It should have been a hint as Tipp were kind of in the doldrums throughout the 70s.”

There, in pursuit of a fifth provincial title in a row, they would meet Limerick in Thurles.

Having beaten Cork in the league quarter-final, the Treatymen could have been expected to at least threaten an upset.

Instead, O’Doherty was again magnificent as he nullified Joe McKenna, and the 2-14 to 0-9 scoreline didn’t flatter Cork by any means.

Corner-back Brian Murphy had one of his best ever games for Cork while all six forwards scored, the goals coming from Charlie McCarthy and Ray Cummins.

That set up a semi-final meeting with Galway, the last side to beat Cork in the championship, four years previous. 

The Tribesmen had lost by 16 points to Tipperary in the league final and had made nine changes to their side since then, but the overall consensus was that Cork would be too good and would make it back to a final against Kilkenny.

And, says Coleman, it was a consensus that maybe seeped through to the panel.

“We lost the match going up on the train on the Saturday, I sensed we were in trouble,” he said.

“There was no urgency among us. Kilkenny were saying things like they had let the final behind them in 1978 and were ready for another go at us, and maybe we were looking beyond Galway a bit.

“We were up for Kilkenny more than Galway. I suppose complacency had set in a bit. It was an attitude of, ‘If we win, we win, if we don’t so be it’, and ‘so be it’ beat us on the day.”

In a match described as the hurling shock of the decade by The Cork Examiner’s Jim O’Sullivan, Galway prevailed on a scoreline of 2-14 to 1-13, and always looked likelier winners, with Joe Connolly putting on a masterclass.

In contrast to Galway’s superb teamwork, too many key Cork players were outclassed individually, which brought the team display down as a result and Cummins’ late goal only served to put a gloss on the score.

While admitting that it was the biggest disappointment of his career, Horgan (below) was nonetheless philosophical.

“It would be a big regret,” he said, “but we had had a tough campaign in Munster, and maybe we were cutting our cloth a bit too tight.

“We weren’t getting any younger either, and Galway were starting to come, as they proved by winning the All-Ireland the following year.”

And the overall ramifications? Well, the late John Horgan told a story that put things into perspective.

“It was a few weeks after the Galway game, I was walking down Oliver Plunkett St and a man stopped me to talk. I thought I was in for a disastrous conversation, but he just said, ‘Were ye going for four or five in a row?’

“At the end of the day, everything is forgettable, the world keeps turning.”

Cork full-forward Kevin Hennessy goes past Kilkenny defender Eddie Alyward in the 1979 minor All-Ireland. He'd later go on to senior glory.
Cork full-forward Kevin Hennessy goes past Kilkenny defender Eddie Alyward in the 1979 minor All-Ireland. He'd later go on to senior glory.

Munster SHC semi-final June 2, Páirc Uí Chaoimh Cork 1-14 Tipperary 2-10:

Scorers for Cork: C McCarthy 0-5 f, J Barry-Murphy 1-0, J Fenton, P Moylan (f) 0-3 each, J Horgan 0-2 (0-1 70, 0-1 f), R Cummins 0-1.

CORK: M Coleman; B Murphy, M O’Doherty, J Horgan; D McCurtain, J Crowley, D Coughlan; J Fenton, P Moylan; T Crowley, G McCarthy, J Barry-Murphy; C McCarthy, R Cummins, S O’Leary.

Subs: E O’Donoghue for O’Leary (48), T Cashman for J Crowley (49).

Munster SHC final July 7, Thurles Cork 2-14 Limerick 0-9:

Scorers for Cork: C McCarthy 1-4 (0-3 f), R Cummins 1-2, J Fenton 0-3, T Cashman 0-2, G McCarthy, J Barry-Murphy, T Crowley 0-1 each.

CORK: M Coleman; B Murphy, M O’Doherty, J Horgan; D McCurtain, J Crowley, D Coughlan; J Fenton, P Moylan; T Crowley, G McCarthy, T Cashman; C McCarthy, R Cummins, J Barry-Murphy.

All-Ireland SHC semi-final August 4, Croke Park Galway 2-14 Cork 1-13:

Scorers for Cork: R Cummins 1-0, P Moylan (0-2f), C McCarthy (f), J Horgan (f) 0-3 each, G McCarthy, T Crowley, S O’Leary, J Fenton 0-1 each.

CORK: M Coleman; B Murphy, M O’Doherty, J Horgan; D McCurtain, J Crowley, D Coughlan; J Fenton, P Moylan; T Crowley, G McCarthy, T Cashman; C McCarthy, R Cummins, J Barry-Murphy.

Sub: S O’Leary for Fenton (45).

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