CORK DOUBLE 1990: Larry Tompkins and Tomás Mulcahy on Cork’s glorious summer

Over umpteen cups of coffee in Larry Tompkins’ pub last month, the proprietor and fellow 1990 All-Ireland winning captain Tomás Mulcahy sat down with John Fogarty to recall that special year. The questions were few but their answers were plentiful

John Fogarty: “Can either of you see the double being done again anytime soon?”

Larry Tompkins: “It’s getting harder and harder in a sense because the backdoor has created its own province as regards more games. When you look at counties who could do it, Cork would be the first you’d think of. Galway can be a bit unpredictable although they have potential in both codes but looking at it long-term it’s going to be difficult. When Cork did it in 1990 it was the first time it was really done county-wise. You can go back 100 years before that and it was Cork again, but I think there was a bit of controversy about that because one of those games was played two years later. With the competitiveness of sport and the way things have gone, it would be a big bet to say it could happen again. Maybe if they hit on a year when both squads were strong who knows, but it will be difficult.”

Tomás Mulcahy: “Realistically, it can be achieved again. You would need a bit of luck for both squads but if you take Dublin’s scenario, the footballers will always be there saying they can win an All-Ireland every year. There are still doubts about the hurling side of things although they’ve been making great strides. You would have to put Galway into the equation somewhere even though they’re below the radar in most people’s eyes to win the football, or even a hurling one at this stage. You look at a county like Tipperary who are making great improvements in football too and doing a lot of things right at underage and they’ll always be up there with a chance in the hurling. The footballers might come along in a certain year where they might get an opportunity. There’s very few otherwise.”

Larry Tompkins and Tomás Mulcahy with their All-Ireland medals from 1990

JF: “Has the significance of your All-Ireland triumphs increased or decreased with time?”

TM: “We realised coming from a county where there was so much success and it was part of tradition that there was expectation. Larry and the footballers had won the previous year, I’d two All-Irelands at that stage, 1984 and 86. It’s probably now, 25 years on, that we’re hearing a lot more about it than we ever did. If it was another county you’d be walking tall all of the time, but in Cork you just take it as the norm and you park it, move on and try and win the next year. It is a massive achievement by any standard. They talk about Italia 90 and the celebrations around that but Cork in September that year was incredible. You can remember the scenes, you can remember the days of the matches. You remember the event on the Sunday night after the football final when they were outside in Kilmainham and coming back. They’re strong in the mind. The Cork public more and more as time goes by appreciate what an incredible year it was.

JF: “Coming from Kildare, Larry, did it give you any added perspective on what was achieved?”

LT: “Football is different to hurling in Cork and in the business here in the pub I would see it a lot. For the Munster championship, there would hardly be a car moving outside but if the football is on it’s normal procedure, particularly around the city. The heartland of football is in west Cork and I was lucky to play with a club down there and I know how much it means to them and a lot of clubs around them are the same. I had a pub across from the (Kent) train station at the time and I had the two cups in there for three weeks! I don’t know how I had the MacCarthy Cup for so long but it was there sitting beside the fire. Cork produce serious sportspeople and the cups were there and maybe people took them for granted that they were going to be there again the following year or years later. As time goes on, they realise the importance of it. When you’re playing it’s about playing and giving it everything for your county, but when it’s finished of course you have an ego and the memories and those memories for me for club and county have been great. We’ve had our lows, we’ve had our beatings in All-Ireland finals and we’ve had our wins. Those thoughts are great to look back on. It nearly happened in 1999 again, us footballers failed to add the second part of the jigsaw, but it goes to show how special 1990 was.”

JF: “Did you ever feel at any time one triumph took away from the other?”

TM: “At the start of the year, there was more expectation on the footballers having won in 1989. The hurling was something different. Cork took a pasting in both 1988 and 89. I recall working in the Cork Savings Bank in Princes Street and one April or May morning I got a call from a coach and a selector of the Cork hurling team at the time wanting to have a word with me for 10 to 15 minutes. So I brought him into an office in the bank and he said to me that they had revised the panel for ‘89 and they felt I had given enough to Cork hurling and I didn’t warrant selection on the panel anymore. They were dropping me. That was early ‘89. Was I upset? Yeah, I was very hurt, very upset so much so that I took a serious grievance to it, to be honest with you. But what it did to me was give me the greatest kick up the arse that I ever got.

Sometimes you get into a comfort zone, you think you’re there since ‘83, seven seasons, and you’ve a divine right to be on the team. I went back to Glen Rovers, I never trained so hard in my life. Donie O’Donovan was the coach and we happened to win the county championship later that year. I was nominated by the club to be captain of Cork and when you look back at where you were in ‘89 to where you were in September 1990 it was fairytale stuff. You get out of it what you’re prepared to put into it. I worked my socks off. We didn’t have social media back then but Cork were hammered by people in ‘88 and ‘89. We lost to Waterford, it was dire stuff. That was coming after a period when we were quite dominant. You can’t be up there every year but ‘88 and ‘89 was a real lull.

Then the management changed and with that so too did the attitude. The introduction of Canon O’Brien and Gerald McCarthy to the scene was just incredible. I can recall our first day training in January that year, meeting in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the Canon, the Archdeacon before he passed away God rest him, arriving in a Ford Scorpio car. He loved flash cars. I think the colour of it was black and it had alloyed wheels. The registration plate read 90-C-27. We’d 26 All-Ireland senior titles by that stage. He told us he had the belief in us to do it - ‘you’re going to work hard but you’re going to do it my way’. And we did and it turned out to be successful.

We did have periods in 1990 when it felt as if things were going as bad as they had been the two previous years. We had a league semi-final (replay v Wexford) in Nowlan Park on the Easter Bank Holiday Monday and we got one point from play for the entire game. Most of that team played in the Munster and All-Ireland series. Guys were hiding behind their men, there were hailstones coming down, it was freezing cold and we didn’t want to know about it. But after that, things started to take shape and the belief came into the team. From Larry’s perspective, they were on a winning trend and once you get the smell of success you want to be back there again. We didn’t have that, but we did have an unbelievable drive.”

JF: “Larry, your work ethic earned you so much respect in Cork. As a captain, did you turn that up even more?”

LT: “Billy (Morgan) and myself had words at numerous times. I’d be saying, ‘this training, I’d do it before my breakfast!’ I was travelling up from Castlehaven and I was expecting things to be an awful lot tougher than they were and that our standards would be up. We had a few talks about it.”

TM: “Can I just come in on that. We were eating Weetabix but your man (Larry) was eating dum-bells for breakfast! The stories about him are legendary. Cycling to Mitchelstown and back and all that stuff. Being in the gym in the morning, going back in the afternoon and then training with that evening. Incredible discipline and drive to do that. People always talk about his cruciate problem and leaving Alan Shearer and the like for dead over in England. That’s what Larry gave to the game.”

LT: “Being from Kildare and going to Castlehaven, it was a different scene. I fitted like a glove there because they were as mad as what I was! It was a match made in heaven! We had brilliant players like Niall Cahalane, John Cleary and Mike Maguire. For Castlehaven to turn around and nominate me and the likes of Niall and John having grown up there it was huge for me but that’s the way Castlehaven are. I captained the team when we won the county and it was a majority decision that I go forward to captain Cork. My driving force in relation to Cork was that I wanted to win and I didn’t care who I hurt along the way and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I would have grown up with a lot of our great rivals in Meath playing for Kildare at minor and U21 level. They were still there when I joined Cork and I knew their concept. If Cork were going to continue in the vein of playing great football but winning at the same time we had to get tougher, but we had the men to do it.

We had serious men. We went along from ‘89 after the All-Ireland final to the Munster final the following year missing six of that team. Dinny Allen had retired but five other guys were injured - the likes of Teddy McCarthy, Paul McGrath, Barry Coffey, Tony Davis. They were all missing for the Munster final. What team nowadays would miss that amount of players and go out and hammer Kerry by 15 points? That will tell you the strength of that group. We’d guys like John Cleary, Mick McCarthy, Lord have mercy on him, Paddy Hayes and Danny Culloty on the line. I laugh when I see some panels nowadays when I think of the calibre of players we had in ours. I always said if it was only Cork or Meath had arrived on their own at the time they could have won five or six All-Irelands. That’s how strong we were.”

JF: “Did any of the Meath players ever sledge you about your Kildare background?”

LT: “I always admired Meath for their will to win and I knew to get up to that level we had to match that mentality. Of course, there were stories. We played the league semi-final against Meath that year. I think it was the day before the hurlers played theirs, the game Tomás mentioned. That weekend was probably the turning point for both teams that year. I think there was over 40,000 at the game and over 30,000 from Meath there. There was real hard-hitting and a lot of aggro after the game and even coming out beforehand. I remember coming out through the crowd with Billy and Conor Counihan at the end of the game and sure Billy wanted to take on the whole crowd! After that game, Billy got down on his knees in the dressing room and prayed to God Almighty that them bloody boys in the other dressing room would reach the All-Ireland final - “because we’ll be there!” I think it was the turning of the corner. It was massive motivation for our team. We just had to win, simple as that.”

TM: “The funny thing about the Canon was that he knew it was in our team too. He was there in 1984 with Justin (McCarthy) and you had the basis of an incredible side - Ger Cunningham, Tony O’Sullivan, Kevin Hennessy, Jim Cashman, Teddy McCarthy. There were seven or eight of a hardcore group who had been there before and he knew all he had to do was get out of us what we had put in before. It wasn’t reinventing the wheel. Then build in a couple of key players in key positions.

Tipperary were our great rivals and in 1990 we were written off both during the Munster Championship and after it, but it was a great position to be in. Playing against Tipp, you always had a chance because we brought the best out of each other. They were all high-scoring games. If you were favourites in those games, it didn’t mean you were going to win the match. Yeah, you had Babs’ “donkeys don’t win derbies” line before the Munster final but the Canon made nothing of it. We didn’t need that to motivate the team; it was Canon himself who motivated the team. He was mighty to have in a dressing room before a match. I was injured for the Munster final and Kieran McGuckin from my club captained the team and did a fine job. Teddy McCarthy was also injured and we could see everything that was going on in the dressing room. We weren’t as nervous as the rest of the team were. You sensed there was something going to happen. You see Mark Foley hitting 2-7 on Munster final day. New players grew for Cork that day and they gelled in with the older generation. The whole thing took off from there. The Canon was such a man that he trusted himself so much. We’d have nights at training where we’d be pucking around the ball and all of a sudden the Canon would stop everything. He’d have a little bag over his shoulder for carrying the sliotars and he’d go on a rant and you’d hear him above in Cork city. He would then go around picking up all the balls, put them in the bag and then say, ‘Right, lads, I’m off, I’m out of here. You’ll bate no-one!” And out he did go. Left the ground. We’d all be left there standing on the pitch. Twenty minutes later, he’d be back and the next hour of training we’d bate the lard out of each other. He knew how to get the best out of us. After a while, you get used to it. The first time we were in a huddle and saying ‘what are we going to do?’

We saw him at his best at half-time in the All-Ireland final. We were in trouble, five points down to Galway and we weren’t playing well. A couple of guys, including myself, hadn’t the greatest of first halves. The Canon was giving his half-time talk, shouting and roaring that there were only three of us out there who were worth our salt and wearing the jersey with pride. Kevin Hennessy puts up his hand and says, ‘Canon, who are the other two?’ He was having a nightmare himself, but it broke the tension.

He brought three guys into the showers and told them to take off their jerseys. Buckets of ice water up on top of them - “about time you started waking up!” They call that psychology these days but the transformation in the second half was incredible. Before we went out, he had us in a huddle. He was on his hands and knees and he had the Cork jersey in his hands and he was crying. ‘Do it for Cork, do it for yourselves, do it for me’.

It was a locked dressing room, just ourselves, and we had 30 minutes to put it right. Afterwards, John Fitzgibbon came in and asked, ‘I want to know now who put the onion into the Canon’s bag to make him cry!’ He knew when to turn it on and he was a great players’ man. He adored them. He would do anything for them. We never wanted for anything. We had the best of everything. We’re told nowadays that you can’t roar at a fella. You must be cool, calm and relaxed, but the Canon and Billy knew when to have a go and kick a fella up the arse and you had to be strong enough to take it. They knew there was more to get out of fellas.”

LT: “Billy would have been deemed a total headcase in the sense of his passion for the game. He was a great reader of a game. Kerry was like a red rag to a bull for him. Equally, his dedication and commitment to the players... he’d die for the players. If he felt any player was in any way not getting what he should he’d make it quite clear. Going back to ‘87, the first year we beat Kerry, we were staying up in the Castleross Hotel and it’s a bit of a trek from there to Fitzgerald Stadium. It was our first time to beat Kerry and it was also mine naturally enough. Not that I took it for granted, but for the Cork fellas they had been really hurt by Kerry for so many years and had been hammered by them. We had just beat them in Killarney, which is the most suffering thing that they can take, and I remember somebody asking ‘Where is the bus?’ Billy heard us anyway and shouted, ‘There is no f***er getting back on any bus! We’re going to walk through the f***ing town! Even one of us! I’ve been down here so many times and we were covering our f***ing heads coming out of here. Now we’re going to walk through the f***ing town and we’re going to make them suffer!’ That was the way Billy was - he didn’t give it 100%, he gave it f***ing everything of his being he loved Cork that much.

I would have gotten to know Billy in America - that’s where the initial contact was made- and he was in goal for Leitrim and I was playing with Donegal. They were two of the top teams there at the time. In 1990, everything that Billy wanted to happen, happened. After he got down on his knees on Easter Sunday, there was a tension even going back down on the train to Cork. Meath were in our heads so much that when it came to the All-Ireland final we were ready. Colm O’Neill was sent off just before half-time. The difference from what happened when Tony Davis got sent off in 1993!

Lord have mercy on him, The Kid Cronin was with me all day in ‘93 because I was on crutches. He died on the Monday coming back. He was a great judge. In 1990, after Colm O’Neill was sent off everybody went into the dressing room and not one person sat down on a f**cking seat. Nobody went over to Colm because they were so f**king mad to get back out there again. In ‘93, everybody was consoling Tony Davis. I was on crutches so The Kid and myself had to leave the dressing room early to get to the other side of the pitch. There was only a point in it at half-time but as we went out of the dressing room, he turned around to me and said, ‘The All-Ireland is f***ed’. Because the atmosphere was totally wrong inside in the dressing room. The consoling should have been done afterwards when we had the f**king All-Ireland!”

We had to beat Meath because they had beaten us in ‘87 and after horrendous f**king games in ‘88. We beat Mayo in ‘89 but it wasn’t good enough. What set the tone then for us was the league semi-final that Easter Sunday. I think it was a culmination of things for both the hurlers and ourselves that weekend. There are times when you have been around a team for a while and get a bit complacent. It’s the way it happens. Something needs to happen to get that kick in the backside. If you’re being beaten like both teams were that weekend if there’s anything inside you by Jesus you’ll come out fighting.”

TM: “We buried the Archdeacon this year and Babs and a couple of the Tipperary lads were down for the funeral, that was the respect they had for the Canon and Cork hurling. Babs was underneath the coffin with Pat Fox and Nicky English and a few of us and the giggles were if he only knew who was under him! There was a great bit of banter! We were the best of enemies on the field but the best of pals off it.”

JF: “Funerals like John Kerins have mended fences?”

LT: “We all have egos and it’s fantastic for fellas to tell us we were great. But your greatest memories are of the people that you hated the most at that time. Kerry were huge but Meath had been there for years. We ended up going on trips and at that time you went to the Canaries. Both teams would be there, f**king staying in the same hotels and there would be no talking and no drinking with each other. It was so intense it was unreal. The death of John Kerins, Lord have mercy on him, brought a lot of us together. But you want to beat the best, beat the fella who wants to kill you. Why? Because the All-Ireland means more to you because you know you’ve beaten the best. They become your greatest friends after being your greatest enemies as players.”

TM: “We never had any bickering in-house or anything like that. That Canon brought in Gerald Mac as our hurling trainer was fantastic. He had five All-Ireland medals and was a hugely respected figure in Cork GAA circles. They bounced off each other incredibly well. You’d the selection committee of Frank Murphy, Liam Ó Tuama, Martin Coleman and Denis Hurley. Huge experience. Frank Murphy was involved in the three-in-a-row. It was one big happy family for the year. I remember on the bus going to Croke Park from the hotel in 1990 and The Kid was the masseur but he was what made everything tick because he got on with everybody. He was made to stand up at the top of the bus by the Canon and start to sing songs. He was belting out “We’re On The One Road” as we were coming up O’Connell Street. Would it happen now? Does it happen now? Probably not. But it worked for us.”

LT: “People would say I was a fecker to train but there were a lot of lads who trained harder in our squad. But we always used to enjoy a few pints after a game. We’d have the craic. We were slagging (Jimmy) Kerrigan after he missed a goal against Kerry in ‘87 but he fired back, ‘Jesus, I had to shoot: I’d Teddy McCarthy on one side of me and Christy Ryan on the other!’ Even after a league game, we’d do it. It just builds the morale and the spirits. We trained hard but we all enjoyed ourselves.”

TM: “I’d hate to think what level of training this man (Larry) would be doing today considering what he was doing 25 years ago! Back then, we might train twice a week but we trained hard. You earned your keep against the likes of Denis Mulcahy, Pat Hartnett and Johnny Crowley. You came off the field knowing you were ready. We trained the way we hoped to play.”

JF: “How do you remember Italia ‘90 through the prism of your success that year?”

LT: “Ireland played Italy the night before we played Kerry in the Munster final. Back then, the west Cork fellas were brought up the night before and they stayed in Jury’s Hotel, which is now the River Lee. I’d the pub beside the train station and I said to Billy that I couldn’t go down to that madhouse. I booked into Jury’s, a few of us watched the game up in the room and we took a walk down the street to see what the scenes were like. They were incredible. There was this poor old man driving a tractor with a trailer through the town. I don’t know where he ended up but there was so many on the back of his trailer! I’m sure even Billy mentioned Ireland and the direction we were going. It took our mind off the Munster final the night before.”

TM: “Cork is fanatical about sport; people would watch two flies going up a wall. I remember the Romania match, neighbours running out onto the street. Everybody was having a good time, but you just couldn’t be around the city. There was a feelgood factor all over the county but the county too. It probably did rub off on us.”

JF: “Was there any moment when you thought it was your team’s destiny to win the All-Ireland that year?”

LT: “If we didn’t win in ‘89 who knows where we would have gone. Even though we played some great football that day, we were so nervous. Winning that gave us great confidence. When you had a backroom team with a wealth of experience it gave you a sense of assuredness. We had Frank Cogan who was there in ‘73, John “Kid” Cronin who unfortunately both Tomás and myself failed to mention in City Hall. He was a great influence. Then there was Sean Murphy, Christy Collins and Bob Honohan who had helped six U21 teams win All-Irelands. Dave Loughman from Youghal was the character that always broke the ice. The mixture was bang on. We wanted to do it so much for them and they likewise. I don’t think we had any kind of a row. We had heavy training sessions. Paul McGrath didn’t play in the Munster final in 1990 because Conor Counihan broke his collarbone on the Thursday night before it. Now they’d wrap them up in cotton wool. We didn’t play for anything more than 10 or 12 minutes on a Thursday before a game but it revved you up.”

TM: “To come away from winning the Munster final, it gave us the belief that we could win the All-Ireland. The morning of the All-Ireland final in 1990, it was tradition that we stayed in the Burlington Hotel, but we didn’t go for any pre-game puckaround or anything like that. We did our puckaround on the field at 3.10pm and that was it. There were five or six of us and Dr Con Murphy was in the middle of us. John Fitzgibbon, who I would think is one of Cork’s greatest goalscorers or even countrywide, was there. He was our Schillachi. He’d been there since ‘86 but missed out on the final that year because he hadn’t produced the goods in the semi-final. Dr Con asked him, ‘John, if you score a goal today how are you going to celebrate?’ He said: ‘I’m gonna celebrate like Ring’. And he put his two hands up in the air like Ring used to do. Ring was his idol and he was very friendly with Christy Ring junior. I used to take John for training, he lived in St Luke’s. We’d come back and we’d go to a little pub on the quay, Isaac Bell’s, and have our two pints. I’d get up to John’s house and he’d pull the keys out and say, ‘Come on in now and we’ll have a chat’. And there inside would be Christy Ring junior, his brother Kieran, his father. The journalist Kevin Cashman might be there. And balls used to be flying. They could go back, give you the records of the Glen, Ring and Cork.

John produced the goods in 1990. He was a great guy and character. He loved the game. Then the football final came around and I knew how tough the footballers were going to have it. I came on as a sub in the Munster football semi-final in 1985 but prior to that we played Meath in a challenge match and I was up against Liam Harnan. By Jesus Christ, I said I would never play football again! I was watching from the upper Hogan seeing Colm O’Neill squaring up to Mick Lyons and when he got sent off I thought we were in trouble but from somewhere they found the resolve. After that, we had an unbelievable time. There was a guy in Cork whose wife had triplets and he named them Tomás, Larry and Denis after Dinny Allen from the year before. He was a barman inside in Canty’s and we had to go out to St Finbarr’s hospital to get our photos taken with the babies.”

LT: “He must have thought we had something to do with it!”

TM: “Speak for yourself there, Larry!”

LT: “In 1990, Sports Stadium was live and John Fitz had got goal of the year in hurling and I had got goal of the year in football, which came against Kildare. I think it was Mick Dunne, Lord have mercy on him, who presented the awards and Mick asked John what was the highlight of 1990 for him. John paused, so much that Mick wondered if he was going to answer, then he replied, ‘Seeing Elvis’ house in Memphis!’”

JF: “We’re being nostalgic here but rather than ask you what has changed about hurling and football what do you think is missing?”

TM: “You’ve no ground hurling anymore. The modern coach will tell you that pulling on the ball is giving it to the opposition. I beg to differ. I would like to see the art of ground hurling revived. If you’re an inside forward and you see the ball moving as quickly as that you’re delighted. They give out about the amount of hand-passing in football but if you look at hurling the numbers could well be up with it. The tool of your trade is your hurley. It might be said to me ‘you’re living in the past’ but I’m very much open to new ideas, game-plans and styles but the goalposts have never moved and it’s still the same sized field.

If I was critical of Cork now, they don’t get enough goals or take that extra step to take on their markers. That was the hallmark of success for Kilkenny. They worked the extra man inside, not just happy to tap it over the bar. The beauty of our team was it didn’t matter who scored because we had players who could get them. Kevin Hennessy was under-rated in that aspect. He got great goals in ‘86 and ‘90. Ger Fitzgerald, Mark Foley. The one lad we used to slag was Tony O’Sullivan. He could put a ball through a needle for you and the one goal he got was against Tipp in Killarney in ‘87 and it was ruled out for a square ball.

LT: “You can’t blame the players or managers because I would do exactly the same thing. The problem is the rules are wrong. Football is about kicking and catching and the skills of the game. What’s the greatest thrill a child can get playing football? It’s fielding a ball. We see it briefly in games. Goalkeepers must be told to kick the ball past the 45-metre line. First of all, it would cause confrontation and create a bit of a battle there.

No passing back to the goalkeeper like in soccer. It’s criminal. A goalkeeper’s job is to kick the ball out and stop it coming in and I wouldn’t have any keeper coming up to kick frees. Dublin, fair play to them, won an All-Ireland four years ago but it took Cluxton so much time to kick that free and there was no added time for it. Scoreable frees should be kicked from the ground. Goalkeepers are the only ones kicking it on the ground now. It’s a terrible shame that the art of free-taking from the ground has gone. If you brought back a few of these rules it would change so much. You still might have to look at limiting hand-passes but these things would help the game.

Why do people go to see games? One of the best games last year was Kerry-Mayo in Limerick last year. The ref made mistakes but you couldn’t leave the screen with the intensity and the physicality. You don’t want to see a situation with a fella getting sent off for nothing. It’s a physical game and there should be confrontation. I don’t think black cards should be there.”

TM: “What does excite me is the one-versus-one penalties. Come Munster final or All-Ireland final day in the last few minutes and you have a team two points down being awarded one, it’s going to bring unbelievable drama. I’ve no issue with that or the movement players are making but you still need a fella who’s at the edge of the square.”


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