Meath 0-14 Cork 0-10
ON this day 30 years ago a league semi-final brought the All-Ireland champions of the two previous seasons on a collision course at Croke Park.
Cork were the holders of the Sam Maguire Cup following their victory over Mayo in ’89, replacing Meath, who had defeated them in back-to-back deciders.
A crowd of just over 25,000 showed up at headquarters to watch the two semi-finals with Down overwhelming Roscommon by 4-8 to 0-11 in the opening game.
Inexperienced Sligo official Fergus Finan was the surprise choice to referee a game that tested his ability right from the start with Meath adopting a no-nonsense approach.
Dave Barry was the first Cork player to feel Meath’s fury in an off-the-ball incident which resulted in a yellow card for Liam Harnan after Finan consulted with a linesman and two umpires.
Barry was treated for almost two minutes before play resumed only for Larry Tompkins to be tripped by Liam Hayes just moments later.
Then, Teddy McCarthy and Paul McGrath came in for special attention from full-back Mick Lyons, whose tackle on the latter asked more questions of the referee’s ability to keep a lid on things.
At the other end, Niall Cahalane and Colm O’Rourke got to know one another that bit more with the pair yellow-carded early in the second half before the Cork defender departed the scene during the last quarter after clashing with O’Rourke once more.
Despite all the niggle, it proved an entertaining game of football with Meath deserving of their victory despite having only a slender one-point lead at the interval, having played with the wind.
Cork struggled to keep hold of the Meath attack, falling 0-6 to 0-2 behind at the end of the opening quarter, but they got to grips and turned around just 0-8 to 0-7 adrift.
Tompkins’ free-taking and a couple of fine O’Driscoll points brought Cork right back into contention.
The early minutes of the second-half had a major bearing on the outcome as Cork missed a glorious chance of snatching a goal and the advantage.
McCarthy won a great ball from McGrath, rounded new keeper Donal Smyth and look set to plant the ball into the empty net only for the custodian to somehow get back and divert the ball over the bar.
A rare mistake from a John Kerins short kick-out led to a Brian Stafford point as Meath began to take control once again, edging 0-12 to 0-9 in front entering the closing quarter.
Cork, now with only 14 players, would add one more point to their tally as Meath closed out the game without any undue difficulty.
The likes of Colman Corrigan, Barry Coffey and John Cleary didn’t play that day and, of course, five months later the counties met again in the most important date in the football calendar.
Again, there were no goals, but the result was different.
Scorers for Cork: L Tompkins 0-5 f, J O’Driscoll 0-2, P McGrath, M Slocum and T McCarthy 0-1 each
Scorers for Meath: B Stafford 0-8 (0-4 f), B Flynn 0-2, C O’Rourke 0-2 (0-1 f), M O’Connell and PJ Gillic 0-1 each
CORK: J Kerins; N Cahalane, D Walsh, J Kerrigan; M Slocum, C Counihan, T Davis; T McCarthy, L Tompkins; J O’Driscoll, D Barry, T Nation; P McGrath, S Fahy, M McCarthy.
Subs: D Culloty for Nation and P Hayes for O’Driscoll.
MEATH: D Smyth; R O’Malley, M Lyons, T Ferguson; K Foley, L Harnan, M O’Connell; L Hayes, C Brady; D Beggy, C Coyle, PJ Gillic; C O’Rourke, B Stafford, B Flynn.
Sub: J Cassells for O’Rourke.