WHEN Cork won the All-Ireland U20 and minor hurling finals in the space of four days in August, the opponents in each Thurles decider were Galway.
The meeting of red and maroon hasn’t always been considered a colour-clash – Cork switching to white in the 1973 All-Ireland football final was as much to do with people viewing on black-and-white television as anything else – but in recent times there has been a concession to clarity.
In the 2019 All-Ireland minor football final, Galway wore white while the two hurling deciders this year saw a common-sense approach applied – Cork changed in the U20 while Galway were in their alternative strip for the minor.
However, to look at the pictures of Pat Ryan’s side celebrating their victory, you wouldn’t know that it had been the first time Cork had won an All-Ireland hurling title in change jerseys. When Cormac O’Brien accepted the trophy, he was in the familiar red shirt and his team-mates also reverted to the usual tops for the celebrations afterwards.
O’Brien is a Newtownshandrum man and his club did something similar for the All-Ireland club final in 2004. They were up against Antrim’s Dunloy, who also wear green and gold, and so Newtown played in red jerseys but for the pre-match team picture and the joyous scenes afterwards, the players were clad in traditional garb.
This was something I had first seen in 1992, when Barcelona won their first European Cup final. Playing against Sampdoria, Barça had to play in orange at Wembley but, after Ronald Koeman’s free kick sealed victory, a set of their famous stripes was hurriedly produced for the players to wear afterwards.
Such a practice was also carried out by Barcelona’s rivals Real Madrid when they won the Champions League finals of 2000 and 2016 in black and purple respectively, but those major European giants were only trotting after John Meyler, who can lay claim to having done it in 1987.
While hurling is the sport most associated with the elder Meyler, he was at footballer too (and soccer, playing in the League of Ireland) and he was made the Barrs captain for the 1986 campaign. Though they lost the county final to Imokilly, they progressed to the Munster club championship as the East Cork divisional side could not. Meyler takes up the story.
“Over the winter of 1986 and into the spring of 1987, we got on a football run and ended in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day for the All-Ireland club final.
“We played Clann na nGael in the final and I was full-back, marking Tony McManus, one of Roscommon's stars at the time. Stella knew Tony's wife from working in Dublin hospital as well. He was a serious operator and I knew he was the scoring danger.
“It was an awful day to play football with a gale, sleet and snow blowing around Croke Park. We dug in and won 0-10 to 0-7. They were shattered after it and it was the start of four final losses in a row that they suffered.
“Both clubs had blue jerseys so we wore white for the because of the colour-clash. On the week before, I gave my Barrs blue jersey to Pat Lougheed, our coach-trainer, to bring with him.
“After we won the match, Locker pulled out the blue jersey and I went up the steps of the Hogan Stand wearing it to collect the cup.
"It's a gesture that I'm proud of.
“There was also an important symbolism in lifting the Andy Merrigan Cup. Andy had played football for Castletown and Wexford before dying tragically in a farming accident. I was well aware of who he was and the backstory. There was another layer of emotion for me in lifting that cup.”