Not men, but giants

Pat McGrath of Waterford (father of current stars Ken and Eoin) and Johnny Crowley of Cork, five-times All-Ireland winner, met many times on the field of play. They were reunited again this week ahead of tomorrow’s All-Ireland semi-final between Cork and Waterford, in the company of Diarmuid O’Flynn.

PAT MCGRATH: The last time I met you, I think I broke your finger. Actually it was the last time I played with Waterford in 1986. I always played in the backs, but I was moved forward for that game after being called back onto the team with one month’s training.

Johnny Crowley: No, it wasn’t you. There are certain things I don’t forget, and that’s one of them. It was what’s-his-name, who went back to full back in the end?

PMcG: Well I got the blame for it anyway. Was it Galvin?

JC: Galvin, yeah, that was him. He came up centre forward that day but was missing the next day we played.

Diarmuid O’Flynn: Why, were you looking for him?

JC: I’d have said “hello” to him alright, but he wasn’t there! It was the wrist actually that he broke. But you weren’t the only one who finished in 1986. Jimmy Barry (Murphy) went that year as well. He came up to me in the hotel before the All-Ireland final, said to me: “You’re the first to know — I’m gone after this.” “Yerra,” I said, “Don’t be making that decision now, wait and see,” but once he made up his mind, that was it. I’ll always remember then in 1987 when Tipp beat us below in Killarney, I met him afterwards and he said to me: “I told you, you should have gone too!” Twenty six stitches I got in that game, and broke the nose. I was going out to a ball, slipped going into it, one of the Bonners was coming and caught me as he was going through. It was just one of those things. Doctor Con Murphy took me over to the line, I remember I was a bit groggy, I thought the top of me head was opened, and Con, in his own subtle way, said to me — “You’re f**ked, you’re not going back!” And that was it. To make things worse, while I was lying there, this fella — a Tipp supporter — came in through the wire and stole my hurley and took off down the line with it. I couldn’t get up, but Micky Coade from Na Piarsaigh — Lord have mercy on him — says to me: “Johnny boy, did he rob your hurley?” “He did,” I says, “Get that hurley back, I want it.” Micky took off after him, got him down by the 14-yard line, clocked him, brought the hurley back up to me. I still have it. Every time I met him up at Na Piarsaigh afterwards I bought him a pint!

DO’F: The last time I met you Pat, you gave one of the best individual displays I ever saw on a hurling pitch. It was in the league of 1981, you gave a virtuoso display, beat a succession of players, including Jimmy Barry-Murphy and myself (I know, I’m not worthy of mention in the same sentence).

Second half, though, you really put the icing on the cake. You lost your stick but held one of us off with your arm, stood over the ball, between your heels, flicked it up in the air behind your back, like a soccer player, turned, and hand-passed it directly out to the wing back, all in one fluid move.

PMcG: We used to beat Cork an odd time in the league, then it would come to championship and they were like greyhounds. We were wondering — what are they on? Are they on something? But having said that, we probably didn’t train hard enough either, probably got together five or six weeks before the championship. Those days a fella did most of his training with the club. Cork were probably doing a lot more as a group.

JC: We were. We had Kevin Kehilly and Noel Collins that time, Kehilly was a PE teacher and was very professional. People say we didn’t train hard, and we probably weren’t as intense as the fellas today, but we trained very hard for that period — old-style training, with hard runs, long sprints and the laps. Then we had the games, backs and forwards, and I can tell you, there was nothing spared. Now you see none of that, it’s drills, drills, drills.

PMcG: I always found that Cork put you away in the last 10 minutes. They always seemed to be able to step it up. We’d be up for the match, but I think it was fitness that always caught us in the end. It wasn’t until Joe McGrath came that we got a taste of professionalism.

DO’F: When was the nearest ye came to winning Munster?

PMcG: I can’t think, I can’t remember what happened 20 minutes ago, never mind 20 years! I suppose the Paddy Barry affair down in Walsh Park in 1973. Cork were after winning the league and were hot favourites to win the All-Ireland.

JC: I remember that day. I was on the minor team that won before that game. We were all sitting on the sideline after our match and Waterford got a goal. The story is that Paddy was frustrated, swung back at the upright with his hurley, but caught the umpire. Next thing the ref is in and sent him off. Rochey, Con Roche, who was wing back that day, went in goal. A few minutes later Paddy passed in front of us and was devastated. There’s a story that Jack Barrett, county chairman, said to him:

“Paddy, I know now you didn’t mean it, the ref knew you didn’t mean it, but Paddy — what in the hell did you hit him for!” It was just frustration, hitting the post, but he hit the umpire, and I suppose the poor auld devil got a fright, you wouldn’t be expecting that!

PMcG: I remember I was wing back that day, Frankie Walsh was involved as a selector at the time, and he said to me: “You’re the loose man — stay between midfield and the half-back line, and run.”

JC: You cleaned up actually the same day, picked up a load of ball.

PMcG: Not too bad, I suppose. We played Limerick then in the Munster semi-final, were beating them by 11 points at half time. Tony Forrestal, the man the U-14 tournament is named for now, he was married to my sister, Betty, and he was up in the stand — “We’re in the Munster final, I’m getting a bus ready!” he says, and he wasn’t the only one who thought we had it won. Pat Flynn was in the goals for us, Paul’s father and a ball came in that was dropping wide. He pulled on it and Eamonn O’Donoghue, the Limerick corner forward, turned his back but didn’t the ball hit him in the heel and deflected back over the line for a goal. Shortly after, Eamonn Grimes got a ball about 40 yards out; Seamie (Hannon) was on him, left him hit it. Flynner put up his hand and it went in off his fingers. They beat us by one or two points, went on to win the All-Ireland. Funny how things can turn. Even last year against Cork, a ball was going wide and Deano pulled it back for Cork, Corcoran was there and next thing it was in the back of the net.

DO’F: Did you feel frustrated when you finished up, coulda, shoulda won a Munster at least, an All-Ireland?

PMcG: The two worst defeats were the two Munster finals against Cork in 1982 and 1983. They sickened me. I felt like putting the gear away after that (Cork won 5-31 to 3-6, then 3-22 to 0-12). Before that we were always able to keep up to Cork. But not those two days.

DO’F: What happened?

PMcG: My recollection of one of them is that it was a wicked warm day, up in Thurles, but we actually had a training session that morning, before 12 o’clock. We togged off, went out, trained — which I didn’t agree with — boiling hot, everyone sweating. We went in, had a shower, put our clothes back on. I remember then the Cork lads passed in their coach with a Garda escort. We were like second-class citizens, that’s how we felt. There was a sort of carnival atmosphere, “we’re glad to be here,” that sort of thing; I felt we should have been a lot more focused. Cork had a fantastic team those years, Ray Cummins and Barry-Murphy cleaned us out.

JC: I remember when I came on the team in 1975, I was still only a young fella, from a junior club (Bishopstown), and you had the likes of Barry-Murphy, Cummins, Charlie McCarthy, Gerald McCarthy, Denis Coughlan, John Horgan, and Brian Murphy. All these guys were household names. The way I looked at it, if I was in awe of these fellas, and I was playing with them, what must the fellas from the other counties feel? I think with Waterford especially, there was a sense there that they didn’t think they could beat us.

PMcG: You would have had eight or nine fellas thinking we’d win, but you must have everyone thinking the same way to achieve that.

DO’F: This Waterford team doesn’t have that fear. They keep putting it up to Cork.

PMcG: That’s right, the backbone of the minor and U-21’s of 1992, Ken and Tony Browne and Paul Flynn, are still there; they came through with a few of the other lads, won a Munster title, which brought on a lot more of the lads.

DO’F: Everyone talks about Ken, but Eoin does a huge amount of work. He is very underrated.

PMcG: He is a good worker, got a few points the last day, and he was actually injured and had to have an injection.

JC: I’d see Ken as being far more like you in his style — fast wrists, lovely control, a bit like Tom Cashman, you could hit it in a phone box, very tidy with a great touch.

DO’F: But sure you were like that as well Johnny?

JC: Go way outa that! That’s why I had Cash and McCurtin on either side of me, to take care of me!

PMcG: What about the All-Ireland final in 1986 when you were corner back and cleaned up?

JC: Yeah, every time I meet Cyril Farrell I thank him for that. It drives him spare! Galway pulled the corner forward out to midfield in the semi-final win over Kilkenny, the corner back had followed and opened up all the space inside. They thought it would work again against Cork in the final, but they were a small bit foolish if they thought Johnny Clifford (Cork manager) was going to fall for that. He told me to stay back, but sure there was never any fear I would go outfield anyway, I’d never have got back! They kept putting the ball down my wing and into my hands. I got man-of-the-match afterwards, it was nearly an embarrassment, but I’m after growing out of that now!

DO’F: While Cork were winning that three-in-a-row in 76/77/78, Munster were in three Railway Cup finals, won two, when it was still very competitive, with nearly as many Waterford players as Cork on the team.

PMcG: I played in six, won four, but there was Seamie Hannon, the current selector, Nicky Cashin was there into the 80s, Martin Hickey, Mossy Walsh; a lot of good players.

JC: I played in one and lost one. Connacht beat us with 14 Galway fellas and your man from Mayo, Henry, a handy corner-forward, I can tell you.

DO’F: What about tomorrow?

PMcG: It would mean an awful lot to Waterford if they win this one, go on to win the All-Ireland. I don’t think Cork would begrudge it to us either. But you want to win the whole time, don’t you? It’s the same for us in Mount Sion, we’re hated in Waterford, but that’s only because we’ve won so much.

JC: I won a junior city division with Bishopstown, and that was it, in 25 years. I won intermediate football alright, but I’d have given anything to have won a hurling county, so I know the other side of the coin too.

PMcG: The more you win the more you want to win, and Cork are like that, that’s why they’re good. Ye have fellas in positions who do a job for you, fellas like Niall McCarthy. He will always give you 100%.

DO’F: That’s what he’ll be doing tomorrow, keeping Ken entertained. But where would you play Ken?

PMcG: I’d have him centre forward. A lot of people in Waterford think centre back or midfield is his best position, but I wouldn’t. If we had a good centre back, centre forward is where I’d have him.

DO’F: How would you have marked him, Johnny?

JC: You’d have to get to the ball before Ken because if he got there first, he’d win it, do something, either score or part with it. The half-back line is the launch-pad for success and Waterford have a good one.

PMcG: It’s the anchor, and Cork have a good one too.

JC: You know, I was a selector in ‘98, and a lot of these fellas were starting; when you look at the number of games they have to play now, with the backdoor system in full operation, that’s a long time on the road.

PMcG: Well, hopefully the appetite is gone!

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