Larry Tompkins: It got to the stage where I'm not sure Kerry believed they could beat Cork
Published 18/07/2015 | 02:30
Even now, nearly 30 years later, Larry Tompkins can remember the feeling.
The dressing rooms in Páirc Uí Chaoimh were cramped but Tompkins reckons a Cork team had never felt so empty.
For an entire afternoon of the Munster final in 1987 they had given the great Kerry team of O'Shea, ó Sé and Liston their fill.
Nobody knew at the time they were on the wane and when Mikey Sheehy burgled his way along the touchline to slip an unlikely goal, it was seen as just another sprinkling of star dust.
Billy Morgan collapsed to the turf on the sideline as Cork suddenly needed an equaliser. They engineered a free that Tompkins tapped over. They'd live to fight another day but it seemed like scant consolation. The replay would be in Killarney. They had missed their chance.
"We had played well, really well. But there wasn't a word in the dressing room afterwards," Tompkins recalls now. "Nothing was said. I suppose people felt we had missed our chance.
"That's why this week would be the same. People told us we had no chance going to Killarney. It was a tough week.
"But I remember training maybe the Thursday before the replay and we played backs and forwards for about 20 minutes. And Jesus it was as intense and as tough as anything.
"We got together in a huddle after that and decided there and then that we were going to bring the fight to them. And we did."
That was Tompkins' first season with Cork. While much of the squad had been under Kerry's thumb for years, for him it was a new experience and an opportunity.
"Myself and Shea (Fahy) were probably coming at it from a slightly different angle. Maybe we weren't under that umbrella and maybe we had a different mind-frame. The lads had suffered and watched Kerry go on.
"I had no hang-ups about them. It was only a step forward. They were just in the way to winning an All-Ireland and they were precisely who you wanted to play against."
Cork would win the replay in Killarney and sow the seeds for their own golden era. The Rebels would win seven of nine provincial crowns and in that period, Tompkins reckoned they had their own hex on Kerry.
"Back then it was knockout. So when you beat Kerry that was it, they were gone. And you didn't grow six inches you grew 12 inches."
Tompkins record against the Kingdom as a player is almost flawless. Kerry would strike back in 1991 and 1992 but he missed the first year with a career-threatening injury. Twelve months later he was just back playing.
"We lost those years but I think we had a good side. We showed that when we came back then and beat them in 1993, '94 and '95.
"We had serious leaders. Teddy McCarthy, Conor Counihan and those lads. We had massive confidence playing against them.
"It got to the stage where I'm not sure they really believed they could beat us. And I think we believed we'd beat them every time."
Tompkins isn't suggesting that a first win in Killarney since 1995 will signal the start of another period of Cork dominance but he does see an opportunity for them to catapult themselves into the realm of All-Ireland contenders again.
"It's massive chance. Twelve months ago you would have questioned some of the players. But now they have shown what they can do.
"Pat Flanagan seems to have brought them on a fair bit and they looked to have the run on Kerry in the second half. I'd love to see them play with that abandon and physicality that they did in the second half and go at them.
"We saw the last day that the team that runs at Kerry will give them problems. There were some gaping holes, they got three goals and they could have had five.
"And we'll get a chance to see if this Kerry team are as good as people are saying or if Cork can get back to that level or did they just catch them the last day. These lads would have played against them and beaten them in colleges and U-21 so you'd love to see them show that desire again.
"We were down this road in '87. People thought our chance was gone the first day.
"But it's amazing what you can do if you want something bad enough."