Cork football dream team 1970-2020: Old school backbone to Rebel selection

Cork football dream team 1970-2020: Old school backbone to Rebel selection
Larry Tompkins drives through the Meath defence at Croke Park on his way towards Sam Maguire. Picture: Des Barry

LIMERICK was awash with rumours in the days leading up to the announcement of the Lions squad to tour South Africa in 1980.

As with tradition, the combination team from these islands invariably included a ‘wild card’, someone plucked from seemingly nowhere to make the trip.

Talk was that dynamic Shannon flanker, the late Colm Tucker, would be the surprise choice and that’s how it turned out.

Tucker only played three times for Ireland, mainly due to the great Fergus Slattery’s presence, but the Shannon and Munster number six was equally talented.

So, what has this got to do with picking the best Cork football team in the last 50 years?

Not much, really, but it got me thinking if there was room for a bolter like Tucker, a player who didn’t tick the required boxes of All-Ireland winner and All-Star?

Unless you made up part of the 42 Corkmen who’ve won both, then there was no chance of making the 15.

As ever, though, there’s always the exception and that’s why Ballincollig’s Pa Kelly is named in the side at left half-forward.

Patrick Kelly is tackled by Tyrone's Owen Mulligan and Philip Jordan during the All-Ireland semi-final in 2009, one of his best displays as a playmaker for Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Patrick Kelly is tackled by Tyrone's Owen Mulligan and Philip Jordan during the All-Ireland semi-final in 2009, one of his best displays as a playmaker for Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A Celtic Cross winner in 2010, Kelly wasn’t picked in the All-Star team that season, but anyone who has seen him play on a consistent basis knows his value to any team. Like all greats, Kelly has that knack of making everything appear so easy and he has that precious commodity of always seeming to have more time on the ball than the others.

Athletic, skilful and with a magnificent football brain, Kelly would grace any 15.

Billy Morgan is my choice for the goalkeeping slot, just edging John Kerins, but like a lot of positions there was precious little between them. The Nemo Rangers legend’s inter-county career spanned three decades and Morgan captained Cork to the Sam Maguire Cup in 1973.

In all there were 20 Cork defenders who were honoured with All-Stars, including Ballygarvan’s Ger Spillane, left half-back in 2006.

I inadvertently omitted his name from the list of defenders earlier in the week which just added to the enormous headache of trying to whittle it down to six. Of course, it’s an impossible task and the defence is remarkable not only for those chosen, but those who weren’t included either.

I went for a full-back line of Kevin Kehilly, Colman Corrigan and Brian Murphy, a trio of tough tackling defenders who’d concede very little.

Cork defender Kevin Kehilly clearing past Kerry forward John Egan in 1976.
Cork defender Kevin Kehilly clearing past Kerry forward John Egan in 1976.

The half-back line consists of Graham Canty, Steven O’Brien and Niall Cahalane, powerful players in possession who never gave less than 100 per cent every time.

Former Cork captain Graham Canty. Picture: David Maher
Former Cork captain Graham Canty. Picture: David Maher

But, think of those who didn’t make it, two-time All-Stars Kevin Jer O’Sullivan, Conor Counihan, Anthony Lynch and Michael Shields.

Add in Frank Cogan, Jimmy Kerrigan, Tony Davis and Ciaran O’Sullivan and many, many more and you get some idea of the problems.

Cork had six players honoured with All-Stars at midfield, Dinny Long, Shea Fahy and Aidan Walsh, twice each, as well as Dave McCarthy, Teddy McCarthy and Nicholas Murphy.

I’ve gone for Fahy, such a leading figure in the back-to-back triumphs in 1989 and 90, and the great Declan Barron from Bantry Blues.

He was one of those players who could fill a variety of roles, midfield, centre-forward and full-forward and just had to be included in the team.

Kelly’s selection left five positions for 13 players and again it involved some slight tinkering to get the right balance.

Larry Tompkins’s selection at number 11 was probably the only shoo-in given that the Castlehaven great was an All-Star in that position for three successive years, even though he could also operate at midfield.

I’ve picked Teddy McCarthy at right half-forward to give an imposing trio across midfield if the need arose and provide another physical presence in the middle third.

The full-forward line is an all-city trio of Dinny Allen, Ray Cummins and Jimmy Barry-Murphy.

As with the defence, it’s another example of who was left out and didn’t make the team, like Bishopstown’s Paul McGrath, twice an All-Star.

Factor in Dave Barry, Joe Kavanagh, Philip Clifford, Pearse O’Neill, the two Colm O’Neills (Midleton and Ballyclough), John Cleary, Daniel Goulding, Ciaran Sheehan, Paul Kerrigan and plenty of others and you get a glimpse of the quality of player involved.

Yet, older readers would, I’m sure, give a nod of approval to the Allen, Cummins, Barry-Murphy axis, a combination that could create and cause havoc with any kind of a decent supply.

Jimmy Deenihan tackles Jimmy Barry Murphy.
Jimmy Deenihan tackles Jimmy Barry Murphy.

As with cigarettes, this series carries a health warning and is not to be taken too seriously. It is, after all, just a bit of fun in these crazy times.

MARK WOODS’ DREAM TEAM

B Morgan (Nemo Rangers); 

K Kehilly (Newcestown), C Corrigan (Macroom), B Murphy (Nemo Rangers); 

G Canty (Bantry Blues), S O’Brien (Nemo Rangers), N Cahalane (Castlehaven); 

S Fahy (Nemo Rangers), D Barron (Bantry Blues); 

T McCarthy (Glanmire), L Tompkins (Castlehaven), P Kelly (Ballincollig); 

D Allen (Nemo Rangers), R Cummins (St Michael’s), J Barry-Murphy (St Finbarr’s).

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