Sometimes, sports fans prefer to put their faith in perceived magical powers rather than rationally evaluating the qualities of the players on the pitch – essentially, hope can be more powerful than rationality and objectivity.
Superstition is given a greater billing than it deserves. Donegal and Sligo changed their kit after big wins in alternative jerseys, for instance, while Galway and Clare were both said to be under a curse of Biddy Early until they won All-Ireland hurling titles – despite the fact she died before the GAA was established – and the Mayo curse is the current one to be en vogue. You might think that it’s amazing that the more successful counties have never been subjected to supernatural hexes, but then perhaps you’re unaware of the force field that stops Kerry from claiming Sam Maguire when a number 13 is captain.
Less paranormal is the expectation that history will repeat itself if the same conditions are present as was the case previously – for instance, Cork always beating Galway in All-Ireland hurling finals or losing to Kerry in Croke Park in football.
Cork don’t really have an “always win the All-Ireland in years ending in X” but there are some digits that are more successful than others. Thirty senior hurling titles and ten years in a decade gives an average of three per digit, but of course things are never as neat as that.
Five and seven are the worst-performing – 2005 (Cork’s most recent Liam MacCarthy Cup win) and 1977 stand alone – while four and six are the best, with five wins each.
Unfortunately, while Cork reached the final last year, the victories of 1931 and 1941 were not added to. For those seeking divine intervention in terms of trying to topple Limerick, there is some solace in the fact that the Rebels have won four hurling All-Irelands in years ending in two. The bad thing is that the most recent came in 1952.
That was Cork’s 17th title, with the last digits of the 13 since looking like this: 3, 4, 6, 0, 6, 7, 8, 4, 6, 0, 9, 4, 5. It’s a pattern that needs changing, we’re you’ll agree, though of course the fact that the last 16 championships have passed without a Cork win – the longest drought ever – is the greater travesty.
After the breakthrough year of 1890, when Aghabullogue claimed All-Ireland hurling glory on behalf of Cork while Midleton came out on top in football, the next hurling title came in the 1892 championship, which was a watershed one in three respects.
First of all, teams were reduced from 21 players to 17; secondly, the value of a goal was set at five points, having previously outweighed any number of points; and, in the first step towards the inter-county game we know today, county champions were given licence to select players from other clubs for the All-Ireland series.
Redmonds were the Cork champions and they took on Kerry – represented by Kilmoyley – in the Munster final in October, with no other counties entering. A 5-3 to 2-5 win in Killarney sent them through to the All-Ireland final against the competition’s only other team, Dublin (Faughs-Davitts).
Clonturk Park in Drumcondra was the venue on March 26, 1893 for the 1892 final, refereed by Waterford’s Dan Fraher, after whom the stadium in Dungarvan is named. In fine sunshine, Cork led by 0-4 to 0-0 at half-time with captain Bill O’Callaghan excelling, and they were 1-4 to 1-1 ahead with six minutes left when a second goal arrived. Dublin dissent over the awarding of the goal led to a walk-off and the game was unfinished but Cork were awarded the title.
That was the first of three in a row and a decade later the 1902 title was won by Cork, too. This time, there was no doubting the outcome of the final as Dungourney – who had overcome Clare, Kerry, Limerick and Galway to meet London in the final – were winners by 3-13 to 0-0, though the game itself wasn’t played until September 11, 1904.
It would take four decades for the next victory in a year ending in two and the first with the final taking place in the championship year. Having ended a decade’s wait in 1941, Cork carried that momentum in 1942, squeezing past Limerick by 4-8 to 5-3 in a Munster semi-final cracker before seeing off Tipperary by 4-15 to 4-1 in the final.
After a 6-8 to 2-4 All-Ireland semi-final win over Galway, Dublin provided the opposition for the final, as they had in 1941. A year previously, Cork had won by 5-11 to 0-6 and, while this wasn’t as comprehensive, Cork were still comfortable as they won by 2-14 to 3-4, with John Quirke and Derry Beckett getting the goals.
Two more titles followed as Cork made it a four-in-a-row and they won in 1946 to make it 16 All-Irelands. Six years later, 1952 was also a successful campaign, the last to end in two. Again, Limerick, Tipp and Galway were beaten and Dublin were the opposition for the showpiece. Liam Dowling’s two goals were key to a 2-14 to 0-7 win, with Christy Ring scoring six points and captain Paddy Barry landing three.
Of the six years ending in two since then, Cork were beaten in the finals of 1972, 1982 and 1992, while 2002 was the annus horribilis that led to the first strike and 2012 brough a semi-final defeat to Galway.