Throwback Thursday: Cork’s McGrath Cup journey turned around bad year for footballers 

The 2014 McGrath Cup victory over Kerry was the pick-up the Cork footballers needed after a disastrous 2013 campaign, writes Dylan O’Connell
Throwback Thursday: Cork’s McGrath Cup journey turned around bad year for footballers 

Alan O'Sullivan, son of Cork selector Ciaran O'Sullivan, hands the McGrath cup back to captain Michael Shields after the Cork team finished their warm down after the game. McGrath Cup Final, Cork v Kerry, Mallow GAA Grounds, Mallow, Co. Cork. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

EIGHT years ago this week, Cork made light work of UL by beating the college 6-16 to 0-7 in the semi-final of the McGrath Cup, and this set up a meeting with arch-rivals Kerry in Mallow.

While this was a routine victory, it gave them an opportunity to win some much needed silverware after a disastrous 2013 for the Rebel County’s footballers.

That year saw Cork’s quest for four National Football League titles in a row ended in the group stage as they collected just three wins. 

It was a gruelling campaign that saw defeats to Dublin at Croke Park, Kildare at Páirc Uí Rinn, and Kerry at Austin Stack Park.

Their focus then turned to defending their Munster title, something no Cork team had done since 1994/95. 

That also ended in disappointment as Kerry beat them at Fitzgerald Stadium with a goal from Colm Cooper proving crucial for the Kingdom. 

Cork’s attempt at progressing through the All-Ireland series ended with a 1-14 to 0-14 defeat to Dublin at Croke Park in the quarter finals.

It was a year that saw the senior footballers finish trophyless, something that hadn’t happened since 2005. 

This also played out with memories of the 2010 All Ireland success against Down still fresh in the memory of supporters.

Cork manager Brian Cuthbert. McGrath Cup Final, Cork v Kerry, Mallow GAA Grounds, Mallow, Co. Cork. Picture credit: Brendan Moran
Cork manager Brian Cuthbert. McGrath Cup Final, Cork v Kerry, Mallow GAA Grounds, Mallow, Co. Cork. Picture credit: Brendan Moran

The man tasked with steadying the ship was new manager Brian Cuthbert, who was appointed in October 2013 on a two year contract. 

The Bishopstown stalwart was promoted after leading the minor footballers to the 2010 Munster title and the subsequent All-Ireland final, which saw a one point defeat to Tyrone. 

Cuthbert was a natural successor to Conor Counihan and his first competitive game was against LIT in the McGrath Cup.

His Cork team enjoyed a dream start as they won 5-18 to 4-16 and this set up a semi-final meeting with UL in Mallow.

Cork started quickly with Colm O’Driscoll scoring the first goal inside the opening minute. 

That was followed by two Donncha O’Connor frees and Andrew O’Sullivan put the ball over from open play, and this made it 1-3 to 0-0 with exactly six minutes on the clock.

UL had James O’Donoghue in their forward line, who would go on to be named All-Stars Footballer of the Year at the end of 2014. 

He would kick over a total of 4-16 that year and lift Sam Maguire with Kerry that September. Cork were certainly aware of his abilities and they restricted the forward to just one score from open play, and he left the pitch with just four points.

If that wasn’t enough for Cork, they kept UL shot-less until the fourteenth minute and that effort went wide. 

The Rebels went straight down the field from the kick-out and Donncha O’Connor combined with Tomas Clancy to set up Micheal Ó Laoghaire for Cork’s second goal.

UL got three scores in a row through O’Donoghue and John O’Rourke and that reduced the gap to eight points. 

The college then missed four opportunities in a row, and Cork never allowed them back into the game after that.

Paul Kerrigan netted the third goal and Daniel Goulding knocked in the fourth just after half-time. 

This put Cork into a fourteen point lead, and that dampened any remaining fight that UL had.

The Rebels comfortably saw out the game and booked their place in the McGrath Cup final, where Kerry awaited after beating CIT 2-12 to 0-13.

Once the final whistle went in Mallow, Cuthbert was delighted to get the win and an opportunity to end Kerry’s domination in the competition.

“The aim was to get three games in this, and that’ll be three games,” Cuthbert told the Irish Examiner. 

“We’d like to win Sunday but if we don’t it won’t be the end of the world. I read somewhere that Kerry haven’t lost a McGrath Cup game in seven years, and I presume they’ll go all-out to make that eight years. 

Fintan Goold, Cork. McGrath Cup Final, Cork v Kerry, Mallow GAA Grounds, Mallow, Co. Cork. Picture credit: Brendan Moran
Fintan Goold, Cork. McGrath Cup Final, Cork v Kerry, Mallow GAA Grounds, Mallow, Co. Cork. Picture credit: Brendan Moran

"We’ll be at home, whether here (in Mallow) or elsewhere and we’ll want to win, too.” 

Mallow hosted the final on January 19th and a goal from John Hayes helped Cork to a three point victory.

The cup win gave Cork momentum going into their National Football league campaign and they topped Division 1 by winning five games. 

The Rebels were rampant during the round robin stage of the competition as they beat Dublin in Croke Park, Kerry at Austin Stack Park. Unfortunately, their campaign ended trophyless as Jim Gavin’s team won the league semi-final by seven points.

Cork’s season ended with a twelve point defeat to Kerry in the Munster final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Mayo beat them by seven points in the All Ireland quarter final.

The year finished with just one senior trophy in the cabinet, and that was the McGrath Cup.

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