A day to warm Cork hearts on the double

Matters to be resolved.

A day to warm Cork hearts on the double

Does Teddy Mac get two of the suits, generously sponsored by Savilles of Oliver Plunkett Street?

And since it’s hardly worth his while trekking back from Dublin between his two upcoming visits to Croke Park, for a pair of 25th anniversary waves to the crowd, who will organise a fortnight’s accommodation in the big smoke?

It was that kind of afternoon yesterday, as the clouds parted above the Rochestown Park Hotel, and the gloom that has hung over Cork GAA this past month was bathed in fun and warmth and recall of old glories.

Just six weeks after the county’s 1990 double winners, together with the county board, made the call to stage a gala lunch to mark the milestone, and raise money for two causes dear to their hearts, 600 people dug deep to fill a room on a Friday afternoon.

As Tomás Mulcahy put it: “The GAA is alive and well and kicking in Cork big time.” From the opening strains of the Bould Thady Quill, sung lustily and played on a table-top by accordion maestro Liam O’Connor, whose appearance in the White House can’t overshadow a county senior football medal won with Duhallow, this was, in all kinds of ways, a celebration of Corkness.

We learned that Kevin Hennessy watches the opening minute of every All-Ireland final with a watch in his hand to make sure his fastest goal record remains intact.

Footballer after footballer swore they never gave the double a thought that summer. Only Meath.

On any other occasion, like so many before, men like Kevin and Dr Con and Teddy and Dave Barry would have stolen the show.

On this afternoon, it was a younger Cork dual star, Jamie Wall drew the hall to its feet alongside him when he took 10 steps into the arena, supported by the country’s only exoskeleton.

Jamie’s journey back to his feet, after tragedy on the field, will be long and painful yet. He wasn’t born for the double but still holds these men as inspirations. And thanked them profusely for their help.

Host Marty Morrissey left him in no doubt who was the most inspirational figure in the room. Corkness there too.

When tallies have moved on from 30 and 7 sometime down the line, it might well be recorded as the moment a GAA community stopped feeling sorry for itself.

Dessie Fitzgerald, another brave, brave man battling to rebuild his life after a sporting moment of the worst kind will be the other recipient of the afternoon’s proceeds, Larry Tompkins: “Two men who wake up every morning hoping something great will happen.”

There was a poignancy then, stopping in the company of men who enjoyed greatness and whose only regrets, from this distance, are the odd defeat in the ledger.

But you could still enjoy them tell how it was done.

There have been many stories told about hurling manager Archdeacon (Canon) Michael O’Brien; his number-plate, his walk-outs, his team-talks — and many of them were told again.

But hurling selector Martin Coleman, still visibly mourning the loss of his great friend — “part of my family” — recalled the Canon’s unseen contribution to what Jack Lynch once called Cork hurling’s greatest performance — that 1990 Munster final win over Tipp. In particular his work with perhaps the only Corkman ever born to lack confidence.

For three weeks before that final, the Canon told centre-back Jim Cashman to stay well out of giant Mark Foley’s way in training, then landed ball after ball on top of the neglected centre-forward and watched him make hay.

Tipp were soon bet, chiefly down to buoyant Foley’s memorable 2-7 from play.

Coleman was also good enough to confirm what most Cork hurlers tend to politely play down since. Yes, Babs’ donkeys for derbies gaffe was a big factor; yes we did plaster the article on the dressing room; and yes every fella was asked beforehand ‘are you a donkey?”

The turnout was near total. Colm O’Neill was in from Colorado, Pat Buckley from Dubai. Alas, Schillaci Fitzgibbon — who never missed — was missed here. Still Stateside. Also missed and remembered, the late John Kerins, Mick McCarthy and “Kid” Cronin.

Not that it was all about Corkness. As Larry admitted: “It took me a while to find the right county.”

And some of the vanquished were along too. Tipp’s Bobby Ryan — known throughout the evening as Tony O’Sullivan’s favourite player — and Donie O’Connell from Tipp, Cyril Farrell from Galway, John Maughan and Willie Joe Padden from Mayo, Eoin Liston and Ogie Moran from Kerry.

The Meath lads were down last year, stayed for a week, and couldn’t face it again. “Gone soft,” Tomkins’ verdict.

Liston, who nobody ever felled, wasn’t stuck when asked to recall a favorite memory against Cork: “1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985 and 1986.”

But these were Cork stories to tell. Their laughs to have.

Kevin Hennessy meeting Galway keeper John Commins — who’d shipped 5-15 — the morning after the final in the hotel with the casual greeting: “Gimme Five.”

Dr Con treating Joe Kavanagh in the first half of the 1999 football final defeat to Meath. Something in his eye “I’m seeing double, Con.” “Early days, Joe.”

The day the doc ran into Hennessy and warned him he’d need to buck up or he’d be coming off, then revisited him 15 minutes later to repeat the entreaty. “We must be going fierce bad, because we’ve already brought on three.”

It wasn’t a day for controversy, though Dave Barry did mention the hurlers tended to enjoy steak, while the footballers got chicken.

Instead, many of them wrestled with the scale of an achievement that swells with every passing year. County board senior administrator Diarmuid O’Donovan likened it to the way Joe Di Maggio’s 56-hit streak of 1941 defied probability and statistics. “Everything had to fall into place.”

And what of Teddy? The scale of his achievement; two All-Irelands in three weeks. “Does he even realise it himself?” wondered Tomkins.

Maybe he doesn’t, because Teddy made a bold pitch to slap a preservation order on his endangered species. “I think the GAA are cheating the public. The game has evolved and evolved away from the dual players. And I think it’s a pity.”

Cyril signed off with warning about any of that self-pity. “Cork will always be there. They will have tough periods. But that is life.”

On other days, they wouldn’t take that from Galway. Earlier, Kevin Hennessy hadn’t: “Galway were always very sporting. No matter how good they were, they always let you go home with the cup.”

But on this day, as we thought of two Cork men who have and will face the toughest periods, the ups and downs of victory and defeat seemed a mighty fine life to live.

As Cyril put it: “Two guys fighting now on a much bigger pitch.”

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Home Delivery
logo-ie

HOME DELIVERY SERVICE

Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.