‘There’s a baptism of fire and then there is lining out as a young lad against Tipp’

The roar of 60,000 "possessed" hurling followers rolling onto your shoulders at ground level in Semple Stadium; Johnny Crowley sipping a pint of Heineken through a straw while waiting to have his broken nose attended to following the 1987 Munster final replay and Denis Mulcahy’s "bone-crunching" tackle on Colm Bonnar in 1992.

‘There’s a baptism of fire and then there is lining out as a young lad against Tipp’

The wounds from a decade of ferocious battles may have healed, but for three former Cork hurlers — Pat Hartnett, Kevin Hennessy and Ger Fitzgerald — the memories of those jousts with Tipperary remain vivid.

Hennessy made his championship debut against the blue and gold in 1982, “there’s a baptism of fire and then there’s lining out as a young lad against Tipperary”, he laughs.

“I got the nod at corner-forward and was on Tadhg O’Connor, fearing for my life,” he recounts. “Playing Kilkenny was always special, but playing Tipperary was a Munster thing. The meetings were frequent and so the rivalry was forever developing. You would die for the cause, that’s what beating Tipperary meant. We enjoyed a comfortable win that day.”

The rivalry of the Eighties sprung to life in 1984, Cork shading the centenary Munster decider. It was the first championship encounter where Pat Hartnett stood opposite Tipperary, recalling “the manliest” of clashes.

“It was real cut and thrust hurling, every man hurling themselves to a standstill. It was a fantastic game, fantastic to win. Denis Mulcahy made a late interception at corner-back and a finer piece of defending you are not likely to see. When you look back, we had no helmets, no gumshields or shin guards. It showed the enjoyment and the manliness of it all. You left it all on the field. If your marker beat you to the first ball, he didn’t beat you to the second. It was ferocious, but manly and a privilege to be part of.”

Added Hennessy: “It was daylight robbery in ’84. I didn’t feel sorry for them, but I knew we had robbed them. They had it in their grasp, four points ahead with time near up. The crowd couldn’t sit down and were constantly roaring ‘Tipp, Tipp, Tipp’. I can still hear it. The next thing, Tony O’Sullivan got a goal and we were going back through Liberty Square with the cup.”

Tipperary eventually edged their Rebel foes in 1987, a first Munster title in 16 years.

“There was a little more salt in the wounds when you were on the wrong side of the result against Tipperary,” says Ger Fitzgerald.

Recalled Hartnett: “I was centre-back and on Donie O’Connell both days. You didn’t have time to concern yourself with either the scoreboard or the clock your hands were so full. They were end to end games. Relentless.”

Cork’s Johnny Crowley had his nose broken in the replay at Fitzgerald Stadium and Hennessy laughs at the sorry sight of the Cork defender after the game. “We lost four men such was the nature of the replay battle. You didn’t need to be a doctor to know it was broken. He was sipping a pint of Heineken through a straw waiting to be taken to the hospital.”

In 1990 the Premier hurlers were attempting the four-in-a-row in Munster, a feat they had never before achieved.

“The Cork crowd rose an awful lot to us that day in Thurles,” notes Fitzgerald. “You can never underestimate the power of the Cork supporters, it gives you a massive lift when their cheer rolled down from the stands. Playing Tipp in Thurles was massive. You could feel the tension washing onto the pitch.”

“In 1991 we let it slip both days in the final. Jim Cashman got injured the second day following a late pull by Declan Ryan. We should have taken him out of centre-back, but we didn’t.”

And finally to the 1992 semi, the final chapter of this particular era.

“I remember Denis Mulcahy hit Colm Bonnar one hell of a shoulder and I’d say he is still shaking from it.”

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