Rebels reign despite Joe Cooney’s masterclass

Michael Moynihan on the men, and moments, that shaped the 1990 All-Ireland hurling final
Rebels reign despite Joe Cooney’s masterclass

Michael Moynihan on the men, and moments, that shaped the 1990 All-Ireland hurling final

REBEL REWARD: The Cork faithful gather around the Liam MacCarthy Cup under the Hogan Stand after the victory over Galway in the 1990 All-Ireland SHC final. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
REBEL REWARD: The Cork faithful gather around the Liam MacCarthy Cup under the Hogan Stand after the victory over Galway in the 1990 All-Ireland SHC final. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

It’d be hard to come up with a more efficient display than Joe Cooney’s in this game. Before the end of the first half commentator Ger Canning, suggests it may already be ‘the Cooney final’, and he’s not wrong.

Over the course of the first half alone Cooney has 13 clear involvements in the game and scores 1-6 himself. He also sets up a point for another player and creates two other chances for teammates which are put wide.

He also has three wides and one mishit which drops short and is collected by Cork goalkeeper Ger Cunningham.

Cooney’s goal is his first half in microcosm: Apparently bottled up close to goal, his first shot is blocked by Cork defender Denis Walsh, but Cooney regathers, steps around his opponent and kicks the ball to the net.

That score on 19 minutes kickstarts Galway’s period of dominance until the end of the half, and the westerners could have enjoyed a greater lead at half-time if the referee had paused slightly with the whistle on 25 minutes.

As Denis Walsh chases the ball back towards his own goal, Cooney closes in and wins possession: He turns and places Eanna Ryan, who finds the net — but referee John Moore has already blown for a free to Galway, which Cooney points.

Had Galway managed a goal they would have been seven up at the break: Would that have rattled Cork more than the five-point deficit they faced at half-time?

Famously — or notoriously, if you’re a Galway supporter — the wind comes into play in the second half, and Cooney can’t get involved to the same degree.

That doesn’t mean he’s ineffectual — Cooney breaks a puck-out to Michael McGrath for Galway’s opening point of the second half, after all — but he has to come further outfield to get the ball. On 40 minutes he’s deep enough to clear the ball, and Anthony Cunningham eventually points from his clearance, pushing Galway seven clear.

Cooney puts two frees wide — having won one of them himself — and lays off a puck-out he wins, but with Cork in full cry Galway need him to drive their response in the final quarter.

And Cooney responds. On 55 minutes he solos through before placing Noel Lane for a glimpse of goal which Cork throw back; a minute later he tries again but Cork stand him up and he shoots wide.

Even in the closing stages Cooney threatens, however: He begins the 66th-minute string of passes that lead to Brendan Lynskey’s goal, and he hits Galway’s last point, a free from a difficult angle. A magnificent performance.

In the popular memory Cork goalkeeper Ger Cunningham spends the entire second half golfing his puck-outs down into the Galway square, but his involvement is a good deal more complex.

When Cork face the wind in the first half Cunningham is directly involved in the game 29 times — not surprising given the stiff breeze backing Galway, but his calm handling and clearances have a huge part to play in Cork staying in touch with their opponents.

Cunningham’s very first puck-out is a Cork win at left-half-forward and leads to Kevin Hennessy’s goal; his second results in a Teddy McCarthy point.

Three times in the opening quarter Galway shots drop short and each time Cunningham advances, collects and clears without fuss.

Ditto with an 11th-minute sideline cut which drops dangerously under the Cork crossbar.

When Galway get to grips with the game in the first half the evidence is clear from the puck-outs: On 10 minutes Peter Finnerty fields a Cork puck-out and the late Tony Keady does the same a minute later.

After Joe Cooney’s goal Galway dominate the delivery zone, winning five puck-outs in a row to keep Cork pinned back in their own half.

On 23 minutes Cork finally win a puckout and Teddy McCarthy points to keep them in contention, but Galway then take over again: From that point to the break there are seven puck-outs and Galway win six. Michael McGrath has a sight of goal again but Cunningham saves calmly and clears just on half-time.

The second half begins with more tests for Cunningham: He makes a first-minute save and Galway win his first three puck-outs.

The tide turns for Cork with his fourth of the half, which lands on the Galway 20-metre line. Cork win a free: point.

On 44 minutes Cunningham advances to collect another shot that drops short, sidesteps and clears to the opposition 20-metre line: Tomás Mulcahy goal.

Three minutes later Cunningham turns the game by advancing to save a certain goal from Martin Naughton.

The referee misses the save, awarding no 65: Cunningham’s puck out gets to Tony O’Sullivan for a point. Instead of being six down, Cork are now three behind.

Credit Galway: They win the next three Cork puck-outs but then the pressure tells. From the last five puck-outs of the game Cork harvest three points directly, including Tony O’Sullivan’s second of the game, which puts four between the teams.

This game lives in the imagination as a scorefest, which is unsurprising — the following year’s final score was 1-16 to 0-15, for instance — but what’s striking is the number of goals left behind.

In the first half Noel Lane has two decent goal chances for a poacher of his calibre, and a similar (though not quite as clear-cut) opportunity in the second half.

Cork the same: Two minutes into the second half John Fitzgibbon has a sight of goal and Kevin Hennessy has a similar chance a minute later — well saved and cleared by Galway keeper John Commins.

On 52 minutes Tomás Mulcahy rattles the net — the outside of the net; Ger Fitzgerald does the same with three minutes to go.

What’s also notable in the first half is the Galway efforts dropping short. Referee Moore pulls back the play on 25 minutes when Joe Cooney plays Eanna Ryan in — for a Galway free, when a goal would have put them seven up at the break. Yet by then Galway had already dropped three efforts short into Ger Cunningham: Surprising given the strength of the wind.

By the same token Cork might argue they left some scores behind as well. In the first half, despite the breeze, Jim Cashman (two) and Sean McCarthy had the distance but not the accuracy with long-range frees.

Finally but maybe most important: The best clash of jerseys in many years? Cork’s isn’t quite at the divine level of the 1984 jersey but it’s still pretty sweet.

Galway’s trademarked three white stripes on maroon remains the county’s high watermark in jerseys, too.

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