Let me tell you what Corkness really is... from Roy to Sonia to our GAA icons

Let me tell you what Corkness really is... from Roy to Sonia to our GAA icons
Roy Keane of Ireland tackles Marc Overmars. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

A COUPLE of weeks back, the Cork County Board launched a report into Gaelic football in the county.

Equal parts investigation and recommendation, it tried to answer the age-old question about why teams in red continue to struggle in that code.

Among the observations was a statement that the footballers had lost their “Corkness”, a situation that needed to be rectified.

While most Corkonians nodded sagely when they read this, ignoramuses from the other 31 counties appeared mystified.

They even asked questions like ‘What is Corkness?’.

For their benefit, then…

Corkness is JBM with his crew cut and his gangly body waltzing through the Galway footballers in 1973 to score his second goal of that All-Ireland final victory.

JBM takes on Galway.
JBM takes on Galway.

At 19 years of age, to have the presence of thought to stop en route to solo on the spot, as if considering his options, before slotting the ball past Gay Mitchell — that marked out him immediately as one destined for true greatness. That heady mixture of calm and swagger, daring and brio in your first day on the biggest stage of all, that’s Corkness.

Corkness is Roy Keane cementing Marc Overmars in the early stages of a World Cup qualifier, the same way that he’d upended Bryan Robson in his first match against Manchester United for Nottingham Forest more than a decade earlier.

It is Keane singled-handedly turning any number of big games for club and country through that impressive amalgam of stubborn determination, physical force and no little technical skill that was his hallmark, his own type of Corkness.

Picture: INPHO/Andrew Paton
Picture: INPHO/Andrew Paton

Corkness is Christy Ring. Of course. It’s the madness in his eyes when the ball came into his orbit, it’s the spring in his step celebrating a goal.

There’s a story told about a man-marker trying to upset Ring with some trash-talk.

“I’ll open you the next time the ball comes in here,” he warned. “If you’re still here,” replied Ring.

He took it and he gave it back in a way that the best stickmen of today don’t ever have to do. Skilfull all the time, savage if required.

Christy Ring in his pomp.
Christy Ring in his pomp.

The essence of Corkness.

Corkness is Sonia O’Sullivan traversing the world for over a decade taking on the best drug cheats of her generation, continuing to persevere even though we knew she was running uphill against women on all manner of substances. 

Sonia racing for Ireland.
Sonia racing for Ireland.

Seven years after finishing fourth to a trio of Chinese ne’er do wells in the 3000m final at the World Championships, she took Olympic silver. That smile in the face of sporting injustice disguised a steely determination not to give in, not to allow the cheats to hog all the headlines.

That kind of Corkness.

Corkness is Jack Lynch being the first western head of state to invite Muhammad Ali to visit him in office.

At a time in Ali’s career when, due to his stance against the Vietnam War, quarrel with the US government and outrageous racially provocative statements, he remained radioactive, the Taoiseach saw beyond that and welcomed him with open arms. When they discussed Ali’s forthcoming fight at Croke Park, Lynch said: “I played there a few times myself.”

Jack Lynch improvising at Croker.
Jack Lynch improvising at Croker.

A different way of describing how you won six consecutive All-Irelands in football and hurling. His own, understated, version of Corkness.

Corkness is Dave Barry fixing a back boiler in a house in Ballyphehane the same day he scored a goal against the mighty Bayern Munich in the European Cup. A plumber by trade, a dual star by vocation, he struck against the German aristocrats who fielded six full internationals, had five more on the bench and were managed by the great Jupp Heynckes.

On his way back to the centre-circle, Barry asked Stefan Effenberg (who had predicted a facile six-goal victory) when Bayern were planning on scoring.

Wit, wisdom. Corkness.

Joy for Davie Barry and John Caulfield.
Joy for Davie Barry and John Caulfield.

Corkness is Billy Morgan between the posts or stalking the sidelines trying to lift Cork football.

It is the snapshot of him prostrate on the field moments after Mikey Sheehy inveigled a last-minute goal to put Kerry ahead in the 1987 Munster final.

It is the snapshot of him in the dressing room immediately after Larry Tompkins’ subsequent equaliser, rallying the troops.

Getting them ready for the replay they would win. Playing with his heart. Coaching with his head.

Billy Morgan on the sideline.
Billy Morgan on the sideline.

Corkness. Corkness is… I could go on, but there’s no need to make other counties feel bad.

More in this section

Sponsored Content