Championship Preview: Decades of the damned

Captain Seán ÓgÓ hAilpín lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after Cork's win over Galway in the 2005 All-Irelandfinal. Picture: David Maher / Sportfile

When the year ends in ‘5’, fate’s hand guides Cork fortunes in strange ways

THE phrase “their name was on the cup” is often heard when a team is successful, as though a championship can be won by fate rather than superior teamwork or skill.

It’s simply “their year to win”. We’ve all heard it said.

The champions may not even be the best team in the competition but everything goes right for them: the hop of a ball, a refereeing decision, an injury to a star opponent — it all works to their advantage. When looking forward for prospective champions in a tight competition — such as the 2015 Hurling Championship — historical patterns of past victories are scrutinised for omens, just as the entrails of sacrificed animals were examined for good portents in ancient Rome.

This year’s championship is the tightest for years with very little between the top teams. Cork’s last victory was in 2005 and impatient supporters on Leeside might be hoping to unearth some historical pattern or good omen that will point to a Cork victory in 2015. A good starting point is the last digit of the date: looking back every 10 years, some information on fate or favourable omens might be gleaned as to Cork’s chances this year.

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For instance, 10 years ago Cork defeated Galway in the All-Ireland final. They had defeated Clare in the quarter-final and one knew their name was on the Cup when Clare’s midfielder Colin Lynch hit a string of wides from good positions, scores he’d normally have taken with ease. Fate decreed otherwise and as a result we were treated to the greatest victory speech heard in Croke Park, from Cork’s Seán Og Ó hAilpín.

Travelling back through history in 10-year intervals from 2005, however, the omens for the current season don’t look good.

Twenty years ago Cork lost to Clare in the Munster semi-final in Limerick. Clare had a vastly superior team to the Rebels and should have won comfortably. Right half-back Liam Doyle had the proverbial blinder and Clare were superior all over the field, but they struggled to trouble the scoreboard keeper and Cork were leading as the game drew to a close. Clare then won a sideline when Seanie McMahon, playing virtually with one hand and moved consequently up to the forwards, contested a Cork clearance.

Championship Preview: Decades of the damned

HEAT OF THE BATTLE: Jimmy Barry Murphy battles for the ball during the 1985 Munster SHC final between Cork and Tipperary at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Irish Examiner Reference no 311/159

Then fate intervened.

Fergie Tuohy cut a beautiful ball that landed at the fringe of the square and big midfielder Ollie Baker got up to knock it to the net. Tuohy was a fine forward but sideline cuts were hardly his forte. Normally he might have been discouraged from taking them by his teammates, but with time running out, it was crisis time and he was the nearest player. Cork got a goal chance in the final seconds but Frank Lohan made a terrific flick tackle on Kevin Murray. If Murray had taken a step he would have eluded Lohan to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Clare went on to win what felt like their first All-Ireland. After the twists and turns against Cork we should have known Clare’s name was on the cup. It was confirmed on final day when the crossbar intervened and Eamonn Taafe, in his last action, goaled giving Clare the title. Fate.

In 1985 the hay was saved and Tipp were ‘bate’ and a young Galway side were the opponents in the semi-final. Cork looked odds-on to make it two in a row. But fate intervened.

Cork’s top forward, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, picked up a shoulder injury the week before in a club football game against Castlehaven and couldn’t start. Mother Nature also intervened, militating further against Cork’s chances. Torrential morning rain lodged on the pitch in pools, and the game should never have been played. Of course, Galway won but were then beaten by Offaly in the final.

Ten years earlier Galway also won, with a fine side; captained by the excellent John Connolly, they’d already won the league and went unbeaten that year up to the final. They gave a great display that August against the Rebels who were just pipped 4-15 to 2-19. Con Roche top scored for Cork that day with 1-5, while Dinny Allen, more noted for his prowess at football, scored a point.

No dark forces conspired against Cork this time: Galway gave one of their famous semi-final displays with Cork coming up a little short. Cork, coached by Justin McCarthy, were impressive in Munster, defeating Waterford, Clare and Limerick emphatically. McCarthy wasn’t retained as coach for the following year.

Ten years previously, in 1965, Cork were in the fallow years between 1954 and 1966. Through the ’60s Tipp held sway over Cork and ’65 was a particularly bruising day for the Cork supporters; their team was overwhelmed by the blue and gold, 4-11 to 0-5, the darkest hour before the dawn.

Extraordinary then that Cork were champions in ’66. But fate intervened that year. Tipp were drawn against Limerick in round one and lost. No back doors or second chances then. Cork dispatched Limerick on a very wet Sunday in Killarney — Charlie McCarthy, marked by Ned Rea, nipping in for the vital goal that won the Munster final.

One has to go back to 1905 for a Cork All-Ireland win in a year with five being the fourth digit in the date. They won Munster in 1915 but were beaten in the All-Ireland final by Laois. No Munster Final was won by Cork in the fifth year of any decade from 1915 to 1975.

Will the sporting gods be kind to Cork this year or is that stat, two wins in over a hundred years, likely to survive? Cork have lost Christopher Joyce for the year. Another blow to the Rebels was Lorcan McLoughlin’s shoulder injury last weekend, while Seamus Harnedy’s hamstring makes him very doubtful for the opening game on June 7 against Waterford.

Fate has already intervened, it seems. Or can planning, passion and indomitable spirit overcome it?

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