Cork hurlers need a revolutionary return to the top

The 1990s is a cherished era for hurling because of a number of landmark victories
Cork hurlers need a revolutionary return to the top

Cork's Timmy McCarthy races clear of Kilkenny's Andy Comerford in the 1999 All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

IT was the decade that changed the face of inter-county hurling, bringing rich pickings for counties that were not frequent winners.

From 1994 to 1998, Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Cork had to look on as Offaly, Clare, and Wexford dominated the hurling landscape.

Offaly were All-Ireland winners in 1994 and 1998, Clare had a brace of titles to their credit too in those years, 1995 and 1997 and Wexford were the big winners in 1996.

Denis Walsh of The Sunday Times wrote a magnificent book about that time — Hurling: The Revolution Years.

Of those three counties, only Clare have been successful since, winning the 2013 MacCarthy Cup after beating Cork in a replay.

Offaly have fallen off the wagon completely and the county is now plying its trade in the third tier of the game.

Their fall from grace has been remarkable, and the portents suggest that it may be a long time before they grace a Leinster or All-Ireland final.

Wexford have come to the forefront again, winning a Leinster title under Davy Fitzgerald very recently, but regaining the bigger prize continues to elude them and may continue to do so.

Of course, that’s how the pendulum swings, great hurling counties spending a protracted time in the wilderness as far as lifting the MacCarthy Cup is concerned.

Here on Leeside we are now experiencing those wilderness years. It’s 16 years since the old trophy paid a visit.

When a county endures a lengthy spell without success at the highest level, there is a lot of frustration and sometimes the longer the spell without, the more difficult it is to regain lost glory.

But when it does happen, the outpouring of emotion often compensates, and being present at Headquarters from 1994 to 1998, it was an experience to cherish.

It would have been a similar story back in 1966 when Cork ended a 12-year famine and on the Monday night of the homecoming, there was close on 100,000 people present to welcome them back.

When the Rebels triumph again at headquarters, and let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later one can expect a similar type of homecoming.

One had the privilege of being present in Croker for those five years in the 90s when Clare, Offaly, and Wexford came in from the cold and all were special occasions that time does not erase.

When you look around you and watch the tears flow, you know that you are witnessing something very special.

The 90s had begun with impressive titles for the dominant trio of Liam MacCarthy Cup winners in Cork, Tipperary, and Kilkenny between 1990 and 1993. But Offaly’s sensational comeback victory over Limerick in the 1994 final ushered in a new era of drama when the Shannonsiders threw away the title in the final few minutes.

In 1995, Clare won Munster for the first time in 63 years, and then their first All-Ireland senior hurling crown in 81 years that September, winning those titles again in 1997.

Colin Lynch, Clare, in action against Tony Browne and Stephen Frampton, Waterford, in the Munster hurling final replay. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Colin Lynch, Clare, in action against Tony Browne and Stephen Frampton, Waterford, in the Munster hurling final replay. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

In between, there was a memorable All-Ireland title for Wexford in 1996 — their first crown since 1968.

Offaly would triumph over Kilkenny in a sensational final in 1998 before the old order was restored in 1999, Cork ending a nine-year wait.

Whilst Clare, Offaly, and Wexford were enjoying a hurling revolution, Limerick were enduring terrible heartbreak in 1994 and in 1996 when they lost out to Wexford.

But now it is Limerick’s turn to enjoy the spotlight after their extended period in the wilderness, winning in 2018 and last year after being without since 1973. There is no doubt that the five years in the 1990s when Clare, Offaly, and Wexford were successful, were special and very productive for the game of hurling.

The likes of Ger Loughnane and Liam Griffin played huge roles in the managerial seat during that time, making the players believe that anything is possible.

Now, as much as we want Cork to be successful again, would it not be wonderful to see Waterford ending an All-Ireland famine that dates back to 1959?

And likewise with Mayo in football.

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