It will be almost five months before this year’s Munster SHC final takes place but at least there are plans to stage one. Not only did the pandemic threaten it but the GAA’s powers-that-be also appear to be moving against the provincial structures.
On the weekend when the biggest day of early summer hurling was originally set to take place, in reverse chronological order we pick the 10 best Munster finals of the last 50 years:
The drawn game was absorbing and thrilling largely thanks to Tony Browne’s late equalising goal, and it was Browne again who made a result-defining intervention when he used his head to block Cathal Naughton in the second additional minute of the second half of extra-time. Substitute Dan Shanahan’s goal was the catalyst for a game played under lights, which like the drawn game attracted a relatively poor crowd, but then the country was in the grips of recession at the time.
Without question, the greatest Munster final in the last 50 years. That Cork were able to pull themselves together and go on to win the All-Ireland said everything about their character but on this occasion they were downed by an electric Déise team who lost a profusely apologetic John Mullane to a red card in the 38th minute and had been two points down facing into the wind. Up to Paul Flynn’s goal from a dipping free, Cork looked to be keeping their neighbours at bay but the composure was all Waterford’s in the closing stages as Ken McGrath led by example.
The replay was dreadfully one-sided and many in Clare feel the fallout from it was the beginning of the end for them that summer. But in this clash which began in rain and finished in sunshine Flynn was again in scoring form, his goal from a free in injury-time levelling the sides. He also had a low percentage chance to win the game from a free 100 yards-plus away but he couldn’t make the target. Anthony Kirwan’s goals had kept Waterford in touch against the defending Munster and All-Ireland champions, who had been the better team and proved it the following weekend but on this occasion were hampered by PJ O’Connell’s sending-off.
Jekyll and Hyde or just Houdini, this would rival if not top 1984 as one of the most dramatic turnarounds ever witnessed in a Munster final. With two-goal John Fitzgibbon leading the Tipperary attack on a merry dance, he passed the ball off to Kevin Hennessy for a goal that appeared to confirm the Rebels’ dominance. Cork were nine points up with almost a quarter of the game remaining. However, Tipp fired 3-9 after that to Cork’s 1-4, Pat Fox and Michael Cleary making up for the absence of injured star Nicky English. Aidan Ryan’s runaway goal sealed the win but Tipperary were relieved to see Tomás Mulcahy’s ground stroke come off the post.
Often forgotten because of the strength of the replay but this was an outstanding game in its own right. Again, the goalscoring prowess of Cork’s inside line was on show and when Fitzgibbon added a fourth following two from Ger Fitzgerald and one from Hennessy the home team were seven points to the good. But like the replay, it was Tipperary who finished the stronger. With 10 minutes remaining, they cut the margin to two thanks to a Fox goal. A Nicky English kicked effort at a point looked to have cancelled out a Hennessy point late on only for it to be waved wide, but there was still time for hurler of the year Fox to send over an equaliser.
If we were picking a top 15, the drawn game would be included for it had no shortage of drama and excitement — Cork reeling in Tipperary after English’s kicked goal. The roles were almost reversed a week later as Cork, with John Fenton‘s sharpshooting to the fore, were superior for large portions of normal time and they led by a point coming towards the end. But English was able to handpass a point to make it 1-17 apiece and force extra-time. The teams were level early in the second of the additional periods but the remainder belonged to the county who had been waiting 16 years for a provincial title, substitute Michael Doyle helping himself to two goals and Donie O’Connell adding another.
This was billed as the end of an era for many in both teams given that they had faced off at this stage on successive years in the late 1970s. And it followed a similar plot to those games as Cork prevailed largely thanks to Jimmy Barry-Murphy goals in the second half as the great attacker provided one of his greatest Munster final performances in what turned out to be his last. Tommy Guilfoyle also found the net twice for the Banner and with another from Gerry McInerney they were on top in the first half. As much as Cork had turned things around, Clare were still in touch until the end.
Cork’s love affair with Thurles was cemented long before this but there are fewer more treasured days for the players who lined out that afternoon, or their supporters. In centenary year in the belly of the beast, Cork completed an eight-point turnaround in the dying minutes to prolong their great rivals’ provincial famine. Tony O’Sullivan’s goal after he followed up on a Pat Harnett shot brought Cork level and Seanie O’Leary’s poaching acumen was at its sharpest when he anticipated goalkeeper John Sheedy’s error to completely turn the game on its head.
If you didn’t know already about Richie Bennis’ famous 65, you could be mistaken for thinking goals won this game looking at the scoreline. We might never know what Babs Keating said to Bennis before the Patrickswell man sent over that winning point but it was the beginning of a golden period for Limerick and the end of one for the Premier County. Bennis wasn’t even Limerick’s regular 65 taker. Ned Rea mightn’t have registered a score but was a menace at the edge of the square for Limerick that day. It was Frankie Nolan and Eamonn Cregan who each scored a brace of goals but Tipperary were stubborn enough, Francis Loughnane posting a personal tally of 2-10.
Limerick had their revenge two years later but this was the opposite as Tipperary claimed victory with the final score of the game, a John Flanagan point. In atrocious conditions, the scoreline was a testament to the players, especially Keating who delivered one of his greatest games in a blue and gold jersey, striking 3-4, all of the goals coming in the second half. One of them was infamously scored with a dry ball given to him by selector Donie Nealon. Limerick also cried foul over a decision by referee Frank Murphy to disallow a goal and award them a free.