The Cork and Meath football rivalry of the late 1980s was not for the faint-hearted.

The Cork and Meath football rivalry of the late 1980s was not for the faint-hearted.
One-in,all-in, one of the skirmishes in the Cork v Meath All-Ireland final in 1988

IN 1987 the Royals and the Rebels, both craving national honours, met in the All-Ireland final. 

Twenty years had elapsed since Meath met and beat Cork in the 1967 final for the first time. 

Despite a good start from Cork, Meath eventually ran out comfortable winners. 

The game was played for the most part in a decent spirit, though tempers became frayed in the Cork ranks as the match slipped from them, with Larry Tompkins lucky not to earn a dismissal for an elbow to Robbie O'Malley's back.

That game was the first in a series that would see the sides meet in four (one replay) All-Irelands between 1987 and 1990 as well as an ill-tempered National League semi-final which saw Niall Cahalane dismissed as Meath came out on top.

The bad blood between the sides arguably reached its peak in that replay of 1988, though. 

Cork, rightly, felt they had been robbed of victory first time out as Tommy Sugrue (Kerry) awarded a very contentious free to Meath right at the death from which Brian Stafford secured a replay. 

Meath ace Bernard O’Flynn said afterwards: “there was a feeling among the Meath camp that Cork had muscled them out of it in the drawn game. 

"They were determined to rectify matters in the replay.” 

The replay began with several minor bouts of “handbags”. 

In fact the game was only twenty seconds old when Micky McCarthy gave Mick Lyons a little kick. 

Shortly afterwards to quote from his autobiography Colm O’Rourke "gave Barry Coffey a harmless dig just to let him know I was still alive". 

According to the Meath man Coffey had given him, "one of the worst wallops I ever got on a football pitch", in the drawn game. 

Tempers flared and Sugrue reached for his notebook but quickly put it away again - and O’Rourke escaped without even a ticking from the ref.

There were some incidents in the drawn encounter that were referred to in the build up to the replay: Dinny Allen, Barry Coffey and Niall Cahalane were accused of dirty play in incidents involving Mick Lyons, Colm O’Rourke and Brian Stafford and there was talk of Royal retribution. 

In his book, ‘Rebel Rebel’, Cork coach Billy Morgan said he responded by telling the players, “If there’s a row the whole team should pile in, not necessarily throwing digs but backing each other up. But throw digs if you have to.” 

And this is exactly what happened when Gerry McDermott hit Cahalane with a haymaker – one in, all in - and, Billy’s instuctions were acted upon as the Rebels tore in to trade fisticuffs with the swarming Meath men. 

“No argument here”, said video refs McEnaney and Reilly –“straight red now, sending-off then”. 

As McAntee made the dreaded lonely walk there was a little posturing by several players around the incident but nothing warranting a ticking or booking under modern rules. 

Morgan then cancelled the, ‘one in, all in,’ plan. His new tactics were simply, “play football now, no retaliation, no piling in”. 

In ‘Rebel Rebel’, Billy said, “it was the biggest mistake of my footballing life. Meath roughed us up afterwards and the boys didn’t respond in kind because of my instructions. It was like giving them guns without ammunition.” 

Billy was gracious in his praise for the Royal County.

“They hit a purple patch in the second half and down to fourteen men they scored some fantastic points. 

"Trailing by four points in the closing stages we brought it back to one but time ran out for us. 

"You can’t take it away from them; whatever about the drawn game they were worthy winners this time.”

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