“To play Tipperary: outsiders will never understand, nor experience, the tremor in the blood that simple phrase brings on. Titles and trophies matter — and All Stars matter just a little — but where Cork stand vis-à-vis Tipperary is the only measure that really matters”.
Words to be remembered this weekend. It’s a first championship game for Cork and Tipperary in Croke Park — we’re all aware of that Oireachtas game back in 1960, thanks very much — so you can expect Jones’s Road to be transformed into Liberty Square for the duration. The meat teas may be hard to locate near Mountjoy Square, but you’ll find other sustenance. This is a fixture with a bit of backstory...
“You can say what you like but the only team you can hurl all out against are Tipperary.”
You probably expected another line from the great one — perhaps about the GAA being only half-dressed without the team in blue and gold, or his verdict on facing one of Tipp’s greatest full-backs (“You get back what you give to Tipperary, and I tell you there’s no change in Maher,” referring to Michael Maher).
It should tell you something that Ring’s ultimate compliment to Tipperary was that acknowledgement, though: “all out” suggested that nothing could be spared because Tipperary would spare nothing in return. Diamond on diamond.
“Cork are never beaten until you’re putting on your clothes in the dressing room afterwards.”
The great Tipperary goalkeeper faced down a generation of Cork forwards — with a smaller-than-average bas on his hurley, by the way — and defied them with his bravery and skill. There’s a world of meaning in his comment, though — in a rivalry so evenly matched, the potential always exists for a late, dramatic winner. Go to 1951, or 1984, if you don’t believe us.
“It is a quality of style that is intrinsically a part of the man; the rugged power, the sweeping stroke, the touch of dare-devilry, perhaps; and certainly the cold courage... Tipperary has always had someone — many times more than one — to fill the role.”
The great GAA journalist knew his Knocknagow — Matt the Thresher appears elsewhere in the same piece — and Downey was accurate in his diagnosis of the Tipperary condition. Here he was thinking of John Doyle; he might have been thinking in later years of Johnny Leahy or Padraic Maher in the last half-decade. Tipperary always bring their A game, and it’s always a Tipperary style.
“You cannot go out and try to play the game which they played last Sunday: putting fellas out of their stride by giving them a jolt here and a handle there, hitting off the ball.”
It’s not always pleasant, of course. After the 1985 Munster hurling final Cork coach Justin McCarthy was frank about what he saw as Tipperary going over the top in their tactics during the game. Tipperary didn’t take the criticism very well...
“He mustn’t have been around when Christy Ring and Joe Hartnett were playing. This season’s Munster final was only a tea party compared to the games we played against Cork. How dare he criticise our players.”
The response from Tipperary to McCarthy’s points was sharp, with John Doyle’s points a fair reflection of the unhappiness. To be fair to McCarthy, Nicky English (in his autobiography) tended to concur with him about a “return to the traditional Tipp style of fire and brimstone” in that particular game.
“The famine is over”
Two years after the Munster final which caused so much finger-pointing, Tipperary were finally back as Munster champions after a lengthy hiatus of 16 years, a lifetime for a county so used to success.
To make it all the sweeter, the long drought came to an end against Cork, in a replayed final in Killarney. Richard Stakelum was the man who took the trophy and told those in blue and gold that the good times were back.
“If I had ducks they’d drown.”
Well, almost back. Tipperary had a very good team towards the end of the ’80s but took a couple of years to get across the finishing line. After one titanic game against Cork which ended in another draw, their marquee forward lamented the number of chances he’d had and not converted. It was characteristically self-deprecating from English, a forward his own manager Babs Keating felt wasn’t appreciated fully by his own supporters, but there were plenty of good times ahead for the men in blue and gold.
“It might be seen as a great rivalry, but Cork were totally in transition from 1987 to 1992. They could rattle off their team that time, and you could do it now. You wouldn’t be able to rattle off the Cork team now. There were three Cork teams between 1987 and 1992.”
The dual star points out that the rivalry between Cork and Tipp doesn’t denote consistency. Tipp’s line-up was certainly settled in that period, and Cork’s wasn’t, but that didn’t dilute the ferocity of the competition.
“Tommy, look out the window and tell me what you see. They’re all gone to the park and in a few minutes’ time Tipperary will be out there and you’re the man who will be responsible for Ring. We must beat Ring and we think you are the man to do it.”
Manager in all but name, Paddy Leahy of Boherlahan was trying to convince Tommy Doyle to come out of retirement to mark Christy Ring in the 1949 Munster final. Leahy’s emotional appeal worked, though Doyle didn’t need much encouragement.
“It’s the way Tipp and Cork feel about each other,” he explained later. Good enough for Tommy Doyle? Good enough for us.