SPORTS fans love to discern patterns in things that are completely unrelated and – hands up – the media often cynically feeds into that.
A few years back, there was a spell where Aaron Ramsey’s goals for Arsenal roughly coincided with celebrity deaths, to the extent that a few newspapers who should have known better actually ran features on the topic. Of course, when the ‘celebrity’ tag is applied as liberally as it is in the modern world, it would probably have been easier to find goals which didn’t tally with the departure of someone famous.
Something taken more seriously is the notion that Tottenham Hotspur “always win the cup in years ending in one”. Their first three FA Cups, in 1901, 1921 and 1961, fitted that profile and there were further wins in 1981 and 1991. While that latter victory remains their last trophy apart from the league cup, don’t be surprised if a shock win against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final tomorrow was to be greeted as another example of the phenomenon. Still, even if they don’t triumph, they went undefeated in The Super League in 2021.
Of course, there’s no cosmic thread running through the decades, dictating that one year in every 10 offers more of a chance of success than any other. As beguiling a theory as that is, it tends to come down more to the quality of the players available and the strength of the opposition.
Even so, we couldn’t resist looking at how Cork’s 30 All-Ireland senior hurling titles had been dispersed since the first triumph by Aghabullogue in 1890. All things being equal, there would have been three in years ending in each different digit, but things are never equal.
Instead, years ending in five and seven have been the most barren, with one each – the last win, 2005, and 1977 the only instances – while the Liam MacCarthy Cup was claimed in five years ending in four and five ending in six.
Twos and threes have four wins each, nines and zeros have three and years ending in one proved to be successful only twice.
Interestingly, the two wins, 1931 and 1941, were Cork’s 11th and 12th All-Irelands, book-ending a disappointing decade, though the period was still six years short of the longest wait between titles – 1903-19, one which has been equalled now.
The 1931 victory came after wins in 1926, 1928 and 1929, with Kilkenny only seen off at the third attempt in the final, the second replay played on November 1.
Three times before 1931 had Cork and Kilkenny met in a decider and the Cats had prevailed on each occasion. It looked to have happened for a fourth time as Kilkenny led by 1-6 to 1-5 in the first game only for Eudie Coughlan to conjure an unbelievable equaliser from a tight angle while on his knees.
Kilkenny again made the running in the replay, with Lory Meagher dominant, but again Cork managed to find a late leveller, this time through Paddy Delea as the game finished 2-5 each. The second replay wasn’t a guaranteed occurrence – Central Council voted on whether there should be joint-champions – but when it did take place, Kilkenny were without the injured Meagher and Cork capitalised, with Delea (two), Willie Clancy, Paddy Ahern and Michael Ahern all scoring goals in a 5-8 to 3-4 win. It remains the only All-Ireland final to need two replays.
Cork couldn’t build on victory though and Kilkenny won the next two All-Irelands. It would be 1939 before Cork won Munster again, losing to Kilkenny in that year’s final, but they made it back to the summit in 1941.
Due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, Cork’s game with Tipperary couldn’t be played and, instead, it was determined that the winners of the Cork-Limerick game would advance to the All-Ireland. Cork triumphed on an 8-10 to 3-2 scoreline and were too strong for Dublin in the final, winning by 5-11 to 0-6.
Not until Offaly in 1998 would a team claim the All-Ireland without winning their province. It would prove to be a springboard though as Cork went on to win the next three All-Irelands.
Since 1941, Cork haven’t even won Munster in a year ending in one, meaning that 1901 and 1931 stand alone in that regard. Ten years ago, a Munster championship defeat to Tipperary was followed by All-Ireland qualifier wins over Laois and Offaly before Galway eliminated Denis Walsh’s side.
The hope is that 2021 can provide something different.