A few weeks ago Dublin beat Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final and the reigning All-Ireland and league champions, it was said, were on the ropes ready for the big knock out. One more big punch to put them out for the count.
Since then Tipperary got first opportunity and failed. Waterford had their chance, went to extra-time and failed. This Sunday in Thurles it’s the turn of Cork.
In 1976 another great Kilkenny team was on the crest of another great wave. Reigning All-Ireland champions, winners of the title for three of the previous four years and reigning league champions their Leinster campaign began with a huge semi-final win over Westmeath (5-22 to 1-12).
On the other side of the draw were Wexford who barely got past Kildare in their semi-final by four points. To the final then and Wexford were lambs to the slaughter, weren’t they?
It finished 2-20 to 1-6. It also finished Kilkenny, not just for that year but for that era, and the great team of Skehan, Larkin, Treacy, Henderson, Cummins, Chunky, Delaney, Keher and Purcell was no more.
Centre-back on that Wexford team was the magnificent Mick Jacob who went on to win an All Star though Wexford were pipped by Cork in the All-Ireland final. Mick’s advice on how so stop a star-studded side? “First of all you have to believe in yourself, that’s the main thing, especially against Kilkenny,” he said.
“We went into that game as underdogs but we believed we could win. We went man-for-man, didn’t give them any time, gave them no room to pass the ball which was a major part of their game. They were a great team, no doubt about that, but that day we took the game to them. Everyone played tight on their own man, won their own battle.”
It wasn’t as if Wexford were coming from nowhere. They had won Leinster titles themselves in 1968 and 1970 and in the following years, even as Kilkenny began to dominate the hurling stage at national level, Wexford were still putting it up to them in Leinster.
“We were very unlucky to have come up against that Kilkenny team,” Mick recalled. “They’d only beat us by a few points, drew with them one year, then they’d go on to win the All-Ireland. If there was a back-door that time we might have won an All-Ireland but unfortunately there wasn’t.”
The other approach Cork must have, says Mick, is to show no mercy. Wexford certainly didn’t.
“No, not that day anyway, but Wexford played fierce well. We met Galway then in the All-Ireland semi-final, down in Cork, and it went to a replay, again in Cork. If we’d won the first day it would have been easier but I think the replay might have taken the edge off us a bit.
“It’s like Kilkenny this year. They’ve been taken to a replay, then to extra-time against Waterford, so it’s been hectic for them.”
So, just like in Croke Park on July 18, 1976, the Cats are there for the taking? Not so fast!
“I’m not so sure they are. The break they’ve had for the last fortnight. They’re in a good position now again and I think they’ll come even more.
“One thing about them, they’ll always improve. They have a trump card in Michael Fennelly at centre-forward. That’s going to make a big difference. When they switched him from midfield to centre-forward against Waterford he changed the game. Colin Fennelly also improved, and Richie Hogan is playing great stuff, he’s going to be a real threat to Cork inside.”
Any hope at all then for Cork?
“A game like this suits the outsider but Cork will have to take the game to Kilkenny from the word go and never slacken off. Kilkenny looked dead and buried against Waterford but Waterford didn’t put them away. When it came to extra-time then they were the ones who pushed on. It’s going to be very hard for Cork to beat them now
“Attack, that’s what they must do, don’t be afraid of them. If you’re afraid, you surely won’t do anything.”
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