John Arnold: Memories of matches, a wake and planting trees - 30 years on

John Arnold recalls a September 30 years ago which brings a mixture of memories to his mind - matches, a wake, a funeral and planting trees
John Arnold: Memories of matches, a wake and planting trees - 30 years on

John Arnold made it to the Cork Football and Hurling Homecoming 1990. Pictured here are Hurling captain Tomas Mulcahy with the Liam McCarthy cup and football captain Larry Tompkins with the Sam Maguire ©INPHO.

SEPTEMBER can be a glorious month. It’s often we get an ‘Indian Summer’ that can stretch right into October.

Yes, the days are shorter but, like the past few days, we can get balmy days and sultry nights. We’ve often heard people say after a broken kind of a summer ‘Betcha now, when they’re gone back to school ‘twill be grand’ and so often it comes to pass.

From a farming point of view, September can be a crucial time of year. If it comes good and grass is plentiful it means the time that stock have to be housed for the winter is shorter, fodder is saved, and cows might milk away good enough up to Halloween. The pace of life slows just a little which is great.

Often in September — with matches mainly at weekends ‘twas a time when we might venture to the Opera House or The Everyman to see a good play or show. Such trips would be non-existent in summer- time because there’d be hurling and football games to go to every night of the week. Apart from ‘Summer Revels’ of course, which I loved — well, that couldn’t be missed. Cha and Miah come readily to mind and I’d say for nearly two decades that show was a kind of annual summer trip to the Big Smoke of Cork City for us.

September was always the month of the All Irelands — isn’t it a fright altogether that the GAA couldn’t leave well enough alone? Set in sporting stone, September was ‘Finals’ month but then they moved to August and now, God bless the mark, they’re talking about going back to July! I’m a GAA man all me life but ‘tis a good job Croke Park isn’t in charge of holidays and festivals or we’d be having Christmas Day in April — leave me alone about ’em.

I missed the football final in 1990 —thirty years ago yesterday. I was at all of Cork’s hurling games that year save the first round against Kerry below in Tralee — we were playing a game ourselves on that Sunday.

There was a ferocious build-up to the hurling final after Cork beat the All Ireland champions of 1989, Tipperary, in the Munster Final. Cork had won the All Ireland in ’86, followed by Galway for the next two years and then Tipp. Babs Keating’s famous utterance that ‘donkeys don’t win Derbies’ was amazing, it wasn’t as if Cork after 1986 had gone off the hurling radar or were languishing in Division 4 of the League or anything like that. Whatever caused the bould Babs to make such a statement we’ll never know, but it galvanised and canonised the Cork hurlers and they bate Tipp by eight points.

I remember well the semi final against Antrim when we were all a bit nervous, the Glensmen had beaten Offaly in the semi final the previous year. Cork won handy and set up a final with Galway.

With the Cork footballers motoring well also I knew of a few cute Corkonians who went to their friendly local bookmakers, casually enquiring what odds a Cork double? It was all of a century since Aghabullogue and Midleton had done the double trick so they got generous odds. Come October a few new cars were purchased thanks to Tomas and Larry and their merry men!

Dublin can be heaven with coffee at eleven on a sunny summer morning but the same can be said for the eve of an All Ireland Hurling Final. Walking down O Connell Street the night before the game was as close as I’ve ever come to witnessing Mardi Gras. Singing, laughter, banter - pure craic as the fans with hurling coursing through their veins mingled and mixed. We had De Banks and Galway Bay, aye and The West’s Awake too. Oh where would you get it?

It was a high-scoring final. Galway looked likely winners even into the second half. Well we’ve heard about Maradona’s hand of God in the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final when the Argentinean star scored against England after a very obvious ‘handball’ - but he got away with it! Well in the 1990 Hurling Final ‘The Face of Ger’ saved us! Martin Naughton of Galway soloed through the Cork defence and let go a rasper of a shot. The sliotar ricocheted off Ger Cunningham’s face, what a save, and out for a 65 but no, the umpire waved it wide. Needless to say Ger didn’t question the umpires decision! I’m firmly convinced that if Galway had got a goal at that stage or even a point from the 65 Cork’s comeback would have been stymied. As it was Ger pucked out the sliotar and Tony O Sullivan got it, turned and the white flag was waving. Cork went on to win by a goal, 5 15 to 2 21.

‘Twas the following week the tally-racket started with the world and his wife looking for tickets for the Football Final. It was pure and glorious mayhem here in Cork as clubs could have sold 100 tickets each - if we could get them! The vague possibility of a historic double was now very much on the cards. To add further spice Meath were the opposition in the football decider. Cork were the reigning champions but beating Meath would be special. The Royals and Rebels had a lover/hate relationship over the previous few seasons and the affair was now about to be consummated in do-or-die struggle in full public view in Croke Park. Nobody expected it to be pretty or a classic exhibition of the noble arts of Gaelic Football! Yet it captured the public imagination like nothing ever before.

The day after the Hurling Final I checked with a travel agent. I was looking for 12 days in a Tibetan monastery high up in the remotest mountain - far away from the baying masses of ticket-hungry Cork fans! It was a great and exciting time as Cork stood on the verge of history. Tomas Mul had emulated Dan Lane’s feat of 1890 and now Larry Tomkins was trying to replicate the deeds of Midleton’s Jim Power all those years ago.

I recall the build-up in the last week. The schools were back from holidays so it was all talk of Meath v Cork. I’d been to my first All Ireland Football Final in 1973 when Cork beat Galway. I missed ‘74 and ‘77 finals and also when Offaly stopped the Five In a Row. I was on a Macra na Feirme whistle stop holiday of Europe in 1986 after Bartlemy Macra had won the National Panel Discussion Final. That was the year Kerry came from behind to pip Tyrone, in a game refereed by Fermoy’s Jimmy Dennigan.

As it turned out I never did get to Croke Park to see Larry lift the Sam Maguire Cup on September 16, 1990. I had a Hogan Stand ticket for the game. A close neighbour of ours was in very poor health in early September 30 years ago. The week after the hurling final her condition deteriorated. Her home was always an open house for us as children and the two families were close. By midweek of the football final it looked as if the end was coming fast so I decided that I should be in Bartlemy rather than in Dublin on that weekend.

Watching the dour, physical battle on the telly was like the game itself -tough, very tough. After my fifth cousin Colm O Neill was sent off the odds seemed stacked against Cork but that team was like no other in terms of courage and stamina. An 11 point to 9 win meant Cork had made history.

I will never forget the homecoming the following night in Cork. Yes on this very night, September 17, 30 years ago, I was amongst the 50,000 fans who welcomed Sam, and Liam as well, back home to The banks of Our Own Lovely Lee. It was a night to savour and Cork people came out to show the real appreciation we had -and still have, for those very special hurlers and footballers wearing the Red and White of Cork. Teddy Mac wrote his name onto GAA records that week by winning two Senior All Ireland medals the one year. That feat hasn’t been equalled since and is unlikely to be.

My neighbour died just a week later. That was also the week we planted seven acres of ash saplings. Yes, that month of September 30 years ago brings matches, a wake and funeral and planting trees to my mind, a mixture of memories.

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