The opening three rounds of the Allianz Hurling League have been positive for Cork.
Two wins and a draw have Kieran Kingston top of the Division 1 Group A table ahead of Saturday night’s trip to the LIT Gaelic Grounds to face Limerick, while the haul of 14 goals is one more than the other five counties in the section combined. It’s a trend that follows on from last year’s league, when Cork bagged 11 goals in their five games, four more than the next best county.
In recent times, one of the criticisms against Cork has been that the goals-to-points ratio has been too imbalanced in favour of white flags and Kieran Kingston has acknowledged that there has been work put in on the creation of goal opportunities.
Cork’s opening league game, at home to Waterford, saw them ‘beaten’ in terms of points put over the bar by 27 to 22, but the Rebels’ five goals to the visitors’ one ensured that they took the points. Similarly, away to Tipperary, Cork’s total of 2-16 ensured parity against the home side’s 22 points, when previously a day short on white flags might have meant defeat.
The seven-goal haul against Westmeath at Páirc Uí Chaoimh ten days ago might be written off to some extent given that the Lake County are the lowest-ranked team in Cork’s group, but the point should still be made that they didn’t allow Galway or Waterford to enjoy such success in front of goal.
“That is something we are working on,” Kingston said after Westmeath.
“We spoke about it before. At times, that'll come off and other times it won't and you just have to take your point. When they come off, they are great and it did at times today and it did at times in the other games, but other times it doesn't and you get turned over.
“With respect to Westmeath, today was really about focusing on us, see could we back a performance with a performance, with a performance and not bring any complacency into our game today. Secondly, we weren't taking anything for granted. We may have done that last year up in Westmeath and we were very, very lucky to get a result up there, really lucky. That was in the back of our minds today. We didn't want to be in a dogfight with 15/20 minutes to go.”
The idea of Cork being goal-shy would have been anathema to those who remember the All-Ireland wins of 1984, 1986 and 1990 (and 1953, when Cork’s 3-3 beat Galway’s 0-8). The 1990 decider, of course, finished 5-15 to 2-21 in Cork’s favour, but it remains the second-last championship match where Cork have won by scoring more goals and fewer points than their opponents. The last one was their very next championship encounter, against Waterford in Thurles this day 30 years ago.
The 2-10 to 0-13 Munster semi-final victory will also go down as the last time that Cork took to the field in the championship without a sponsor’s logo – the name of Barry’s Tea was present for the drawn final against Tipperary early the following month.
In the Evening Echo of the following day, Jim O’Sullivan acknowledged the importance of Cork’s second goal, scored by ace marksman John Fitzgibbon.
“History came close to being repeated in Thurles when Cork came close to losing their Munster and All-Ireland titles. It was reminiscent of their meeting with Waterford in Walsh Park in 1967, except on this occasion, Cork finished with a full team and won by a three-point margin, due mainly to the second of the two goals they scored, from John Fitzgibbon six minutes from time.
“In the face of sustained Waterford pressure throughout the second half, defiant play and great leadership from team captain Tony O’Sullivan at midfield earned the team its expected place in the final on July 7 against either Tipperary or Waterford.”
While Cork were of course Munster and All-Ireland champions, they had lost to Waterford in 1989 but still nobody gave the Déise any real hope ahead of the clash at Semple Stadium, which drew just 12,000 people.
Cork wing-backs Seánie McCarthy and Cathal Casey played key roles in ensuring that the underdogs didn’t gain more of a foothold – they led by 0-5 to 0-2 at one stage but Cork’s first point from play, scored by Casey just before half-time, ensured it was 0-5 each at half-time.
After the interval, Cork were settled thanks to a goal from Kevin Hennessy, set up Fitzgibbon, but Waterford wouldn’t yield. They stayed in contention thanks to Kieran Delahunty, Mossie O’Keeffe and Eddie Nolan. Cork moved ahead again through inspirational captain O’Sullivan – he was to finish with six points – and the second goal, Ger Fitzgerald engineering the chance for Fitzgibbon, secured the win.
Cork would lose the Munster final to Tipp after a replay and though they came back to win the provincial title the following year, the rest of the 90s, up until 1999, saw the county in the doldrums, only beating Kerry in the championship.
By the time Cork made it to the top of the tree again in 1999 under Jimmy Barry-Murphy, they did so scoring just one goal in the four matches they played, while the title wins of 2004 and 2005 saw goal tallies of ten in seven (including four against Kerry) and five in five respectively.