To win an All-Ireland hurling final you need a few kind breaks of the sliotar 

To win an All-Ireland hurling final you need a few kind breaks of the sliotar 
Cork players celebrate as the Liam MacCarthy is raised after their victory over Galway in 1990. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

ONE of the few positives to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown is that it has forced all sports fans to go delving frantically into the past to get their fix.

A recent great example of this was the showing of the famous 1990 All-Ireland hurling final between Cork and Galway. Usually having prior knowledge of the result can ruin the viewing experience somewhat, but in this instance being privy to the ‘spoiler alert’ actually added to the enjoyment, as you could watch stress-free, smug in the knowledge that Part I of the double was on its way, despite Galway’s apparent dominance.

And while you are fully aware that Cork would bag four second-half goals to turn a five-point half time deficit into a three-point win at the end, you can’t help noticing that a lot of the failings in the present Cork team existed in the Cork team of 30 years ago too. 

Tony O'Sullivan, Cork, in action against Martin Naughton, Galway, in the 1990 All-Ireland hurling final. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Tony O'Sullivan, Cork, in action against Martin Naughton, Galway, in the 1990 All-Ireland hurling final. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

There was far less emphasis on aerial dominance then. It was much more about breaking the ball, pulling on it first-time, and keeping it moving. Yet it was noticeable that Galway cleaned Cork out in the aerial exchanges throughout.

Cork had no real answer to the likes of Tony Keady, Sean Treacy and Michael Coleman in the skies.

The Galway spine was well on top. And it’s not like Cork were undersized. Teddy McCarthy and the ultra-industrious Brendan O’Sullivan were a quality midfield pairing, with McCarthy capable of leaping like an NBA star.

At centre-forward and full-forward you had the 6’ 5” Mark Foley and the 6’ 4” Kevin Hennessy. This was actually a big Cork team, but catching the ball in the air just never seems to have been Cork’s deal.

The Galway centre-forward Joe Cooney wasn’t a towering figure yet in the first half he was on fire, hitting 1-5 from play and running the Cork centre-back Jim Cashman ragged.

Veteran full-forward Noel Lane had the Cork rearguard in all sorts of bother too, and could easily have hit the net with a pair of raspers that flew just over Ger Cunningham’s crossbar.

Hurling was a different game then. Watching the way Cork wing-back Sean McCarthy pulled on the ball first time makes one lament for some of the lost skills. The knack of scoring goals hinged on a tendency to drop the ball into the full-forward line. Players were just lobbing hopeful balls goalwards in 1990 from positions that they would be going for points from nowadays.

John Fitzgibbon celebrates a goal against Galway. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
John Fitzgibbon celebrates a goal against Galway. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Cork captain Tomás Mulcahy was given the official man of the match award by RTÉ on the day, and there is no doubting that his second-half contribution of 1-2 from play, when the game was getting away from the Rebels, was crucial. The Glen Rovers man played a captain’s part that day, although it must be pointed out that the first half almost completely passed him by.

He himself tweeted that the best performer over the whole game was Milford’s Sean O’Gorman at corner-back.

Anyone that has read the excellent ‘The Double’ by Adrian Russell will be aware of the antics that occurred in the Cork dressing room at half time, with Cork manager Fr Michael O’Brien being accredited with drowning three particular players with buckets of water and even striking one in the stomach. 

It is unlikely Kieran Kingston would employ such tactics today, but it certainly worked wonders on the day as Cork were a different team in that second half.

Still, they had luck on their side, with Eanna Ryan’s first-half goal being pulled back for an earlier awarded free in, while the big moment in the game came from Ger Cunningham’s save with his face from Galway wing-forward Martin Naughton early in the second half. Despite blood spilling from the Barrs keeper’s face, after being struck by the sliotar, it was signalled as a wide. Clearly the blades of grass on Croker that day were a tad on the sharp side!

The Cork fans wave red and white flags on Hill 16: Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
The Cork fans wave red and white flags on Hill 16: Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

How quickly we forget the bits of luck that go our way in victory, while we are destined to always remember the few things that go against us in defeat. The drawn 2013 final springs to mind, as well as the All-Ireland semi-finals of 2017 and 2018.

Cork hurling is certainly due some of that luck that the 1990 vintage enjoyed.

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