Denis Coughlan: One of the great dual stars and part of the great Cork three-in-a-row side of the 1970s.
Pat Hartigan (PH): Are you retired now, Denis?
Denis Coughlan (DC): I am, I’m 67. Are you retired yourself?
PH: Not at all — I’m years younger than you, sure I was only playing minor when you were playing senior!
DC: I was playing senior when I was still a minor…
PH: Yes but I was playing minor when I was only 15!
DC: Anyway, congratulations on your award.
PH: And the same to you — it’s one award I’d safely say we’ll get only once!
DC: You know, it’s just after striking me — the last time we sat down together was nearly 40 years ago in this very same hotel, it was the Deerpark then. It was 1973, we had won the football All-Ireland, ye won the hurling, and both teams got together here for a big night out — Beamish & Crawford I think sponsored it.
PH: It was a great night. A great year too — I don’t know what it was like for ye but having won that one, we felt it was just a matter of time before we won another. It didn’t happen for us, unfortunately. You had the great advantage though of being with an outstanding Cork hurling team also that went on to win the three in a row in 1976/77/78. Someone was telling me that Ray Cummins won 11 Munster titles on the trot in that era, going from hurling to football. It started in 1969 and 70 with the hurlers, then the footballers in 71, the hurlers in 72, the footballers again in 73 and 74, then the hurlers in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979.
DC: I was on those teams as well, apart from the hurling in 1970. I actually started with the footballers in 1965. It was against Limerick down in Killarney, I was only 19, brought in from nowhere at left-corner-back on Eamon Cregan. He gave me a bit of a roasting and Limerick sensationally beat us but there was trouble in the dressing room before that game, which didn’t help our cause! We played there again in 1966 and I have better memories as we beat Kerry in the Munster final.
PH: I played minor for Limerick in Killarney against Cork that same year, 1966, and we were beaten 6-20 to 1-3. I was right-corner-back but what I remember from the game is I held my man scoreless! The poor guy didn’t play again for Cork that year, I can’t remember his name.
DO’F: Were you as big then?
PH: I probably was, though I was only 15 at the time and was starting to stretch out. I bulked up in the years afterwards.
DO’F: Did you play senior football?
PH: I did — I was actually sub on a Munster Railway Cup team one year, believe it or not, below in Cork, I think it was Connacht beat us. It was around 74 or 75, Jimmy Barry-Murphy was on the team — I was only warming the jersey, got no run. I played senior football for Limerick from about 68 to 76 or 77, but we were getting beaten regularly in the early rounds.
DC: Tipperary were about the best of the rest in those days, Babs Keating and Eddie Walsh were very good players.
PH: Mick Tynan was a very good footballer with Limerick, so was Cregan. That was a good Limerick football team in the mid 60s, backboned by the Limerick CBS team that won the Munster colleges title in 1960.
DO’F: What actually happened to the teams after 1973, why didn’t Limerick win more in hurling, why didn’t Cork go on to win more in football?
DC: There’s no doubt we should have won at least one more. That was a very good team but a particularly good forward line with several household names. You had Ray Cummins, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Declan Barron, Ned Kirby, Dinny Long in midfield, all very good players. In the 1974 Munster final we beat a very good Kerry team down in Killarney on a wet day. But a funny thing — I was going from one match to another shortly afterwards, passing through Blackpool, and the final minutes of the Leinster semi-final was on the radio, Dublin and Offaly, and Leslie Deegan kicked over the winning point for Dublin. From that moment, I knew we’d be in trouble. From the time I started playing football with Cork, we always had problems with Dublin, they were too good for us, no matter what division they were playing in at the time. I remember going up for that semi-final and thinking we were in the height of trouble. My heart sank with that point.
PH: It’s funny now you say that. In 1974 Dublin were in the second division, with us, and they only barely beat us in the league that February, in Croke Park, one score in it. I was on Bobby Doyle and I still have the scar from that. It was a wet, dirty old day and whatever way he caught me with the cog of his boot, it cut me and the cut then got infected. Every time I look at that scar now it reminds me again of the bould Bobby! That day they had 11 of the team that later won the All-Ireland. And in their next league game, they were beaten by Clare! They just got on a roll though that year, got momentum. We were all surprised though when they beat Cork.
DC: I think in the end though it was complacency. We were a good team, had beaten Kerry, were reigning All-Ireland champions. I was one of the older players and knew from my own experience, these guys wouldn’t fear us. I was on Brian Mullins in centre-field, he was only about 19, I’d never heard of him before, never saw him – he brushed me aside. He was as strong as yourself, Pat, at that time. There’s one great story from that time though. We played a National League game against them one day and before the ball was even thrown in, this guy ran up the field towards the Cork goal — just as he got to the square, Frank Cogan came across and clocked him, laid him out. Your man got up, was shaking his head, turned to Billy Morgan — ‘Fuckit Billy, I was only coming up to tell you that Keaveney said he’ll meet you for a pint after the match!’
“He was Paul McShane’s father, the man who’s playing for Ireland now!”
DO’F: Did ye see Kerry coming in 1975?
DC: No we didn’t, but thank God I was gone from the football after 1974!
PH: You could ask me the same question, did we see Cork coming in 1975? The answer is no. We won the Munster title again in 1974 but lost to Cork in 1975, when they should have won the All-Ireland. They went on then to win three All-Irelands in a row.
DC: Yeah, we were at a hurling county final recently and they honoured the three-in-a-row team again. A great turnout but a few of us remarked that it was probably the last time that team would ever be called together for anything, I can’t see us being rolled out again.
PH: It’s a bit different for fellas in Cork in that ye managed to win a few All-Ireland football titles since 1973 — we’ve never won the hurling since. And I’d have to say, it was nothing to do with how we were looked after. We always got great treatment, though I don’t know if two steaks with loads of onions and chips at ten o’clock after training at night was the best for the dietary requirements! The intention was always good though. In 1980 the last four teams standing in the championship were Galway, Offaly, Antrim and Limerick and people would have said that Limerick would almost automatically have been top of that pile — Galway won their first since 1923, only their second in all. Again in 1981 you had the same four and again people would have said Limerick would surely now come out on top but again, it didn’t happen — Offaly won their first and we were left looking on, the bridesmaids again. I think those two All-Ireland championship losses, one in the final the other in the semi-final, had a knock-on effect in Limerick, left huge scars.
DC: It does kind of percolate down and you could say the same thing happened to Cork footballers for years, they contested several finals before finally beating Mayo in 1989.
PH: Cork to us in hurling where what Kerry were to ye in football. Kerry being so dominant at football it was always going to be difficult for Cork to get out of Munster but likewise it was difficult for us to get past Cork and out of Munster in hurling. We felt during that time that if we could have got past Cork, we’d have a very good chance of winning the All-Ireland. We didn’t have the same issues with Tipperary — in all my time, 11 years, I only lost to them once, the 1971 Munster final. We beat them in 73, 75, 76, 78 – so many years. I never worried about Tipperary but Cork, different thing. I often make the comment about Limerick hurling and Cork football that we’re very alike, we both seem to have a self-destruct button.”