Sunday 24 September 2017

Kings for a day find it hard to repeat trick

Scoring three goals in an All-Ireland final doesn't guarantee further glory, writes Dermot Crowe

Scoring a hat-trick against Kilkenny sent Lar Corbett’s profile sky high
Scoring a hat-trick against Kilkenny sent Lar Corbett’s profile sky high

Dermot Crowe

WHEN Lar Corbett struck a hat-trick in the 2010 All-Ireland senior hurling final, he ended a long wait; Eddie O'Brien's treble for Cork in the 1970 final against Wexford had stood unrivalled for 40 years. Corbett enjoyed his finest hour at 29 but what fate awaits Shane O'Donnell, the latest to enter that exclusive circle, at ten years his junior? The past points to it being an impossible act to follow.

Four years before O'Brien's magical afternoon, Cork, with a young team, claimed a surprise All-Ireland win over Kilkenny and their first success in 12 years. The win was greatly assisted by full-forward Colm Sheehan's three goals. Sheehan had not been an automatic choice but vindicated the decision with the goals, all close-range finishes. The third has been shrouded in uncertainty over whether he got clean contact to John O'Halloran's cross. But he is credited with three goals.

Sheehan never achieved anything like the same feat again in a Cork shirt. After destroying Wexford, O'Brien never again played championship for Cork in what was a chequered career, emigrating to the US after winning the League the following year. While there with the Cork league-winning team, he met his future wife, came home briefly and returned to settle down.

His story has been embellished by his own admission that he drank "eight or nine" pints the night before his hat-trick exploits. Players having a few on the eve of the big match was not unheard as a means of relaxation or helping them sleep. Consuming eight or nine though was more than customary -- even in 1970. O'Brien was a colourful figure as his friend from his Passage West club, and local GAA historian, Matt Aherne attests.

"I grew up with him; he would be known as a better footballer than a hurler. I would say the best ever in our club. Long before Maurice Fitzgerald he was kicking frees off the ground with left and right. Before the semi-final of a championship we were told he had been out all night -- I know a chap that drove him home -- and he scored 13 points that morning, seven with the right and six with the left.

"He would be very popular. John Horgan is from our club as well and he said he was the most popular player he ever played with. I am in regular contact, he rang me just over a week ago."

O'Brien came on to the Cork senior team at 20 and was on the side heavily beaten by Tipperary in the 1965 championship. He won an All-Ireland under 21 medal in 1966 but was not part of the senior success which Sheehan enjoyed. He returned for the 1969 championship, played in the final against Kilkenny and was taken off at half-time.

"He was very sore over that," says Aherne. "He vowed that if he got his chance again he would prove his worth. He got the three goals without striking any with his hurley, he scored the three with his hand."

Corbett and O'Donnell have had their goalscoring deeds examined from every conceivable angle. The enormous hype that they generated is a sign of the times. Corbett was already established as a leading forward but scoring a hat-trick against Kilkenny in the circumstances in which he did sent his profile sky high. He was chosen to meet the Queen on her Irish visit the following May as his celebrity rating soared -- but he failed to score in the All-Ireland final in 2011 and had a nightmare day in the semi-final against Kilkenny in 2012.

To be fair to Corbett, he scored six goals in the following summer's Munster championship, including four in the Munster final demolition of Waterford. He also goaled in the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin. By any standards that is a good run of form where he showed no visible signs of failing to live up to the high standards he'd set. Not scoring in the final against Kilkenny, though, tends to obscure what he had achieved earlier and leaves a more lasting impression.

The following year started in a blaze of publicity over his shock retirement and while he returned later in the year his form didn't return with him. He had limited involvement in last year's championship, as did Tipperary who went out after two matches. He managed to score a goal before going off injured against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park. Ultimately, he has not been able to relive the heights of September 2010, but that is the reality of scoring a hat-trick in an All-Ireland senior hurling final; nobody has done it twice. O'Donnell, who only found out he was starting the same afternoon as the final replay last September, is unique in many respects. His career is, theoretically, all ahead of him. He's 19 and facing only his second season as a senior player. But there are no guarantees. The level of hysteria surrounding him as a result of his impact, the pop star acclaim, is a new pressure which he will have to cope with.

In 1966 when Sheehan scored his three goals there was none of the same exposure and scope to lose the run of yourself. That year saw the minor and senior teams treated to a lunch at a Dublin hotel the next day, following a decision taken at Congress earlier in the year. Afterwards, along with some journalists, they repaired to Montrose to see the match again in full courtesy of RTé. In GAA terms, the television age was very much in its infancy.

Sheehan went to England at 18 and returned to work on the farm before making the Cork senior championship team in 1965. "Tough [Jim] Barry had us very united," he recalls now. "After 1966 I injured my shoulder and didn't play again until 1968. I hurled in the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s with my club (éire óg)."

His third goal wasn't clear-cut. "I never saw what happened after, I went in to take Ollie Walsh's attention. I wasn't worried who scored it, it could have hit anyone."

O'Brien had an advantage in 1970 as it was the first 80-minute final after earlier finals had lasted an hour. This later changed to the current 70-minute arrangement. In 1964, Donie Nealon scored a hat-trick in a huge All-Ireland final win over Kilkenny. The winning margin was 14 points. All three, put past Ollie Walsh, were in the second half. It is doubtful that Donie had to endure much boyband hysteria -- a reflection not on his looks but the times he hurled in.

Shane O'Donnell's feat was matched in some respects by Tommy O'Connell who was the same age, and just nine stone, when he bagged three for Kilkenny against Waterford in 1959. O'Connell scored the bulk of Kilkenny's 5-5 as they held Waterford (1-17) to a draw; they would have won but for a late deflected goal by Seamus Power that forced a replay. On the second day, O'Connell failed to score and Waterford won comfortably. O'Connell played in the Leinster final the following year which Kilkenny lost to Wexford. He missed the next two years, returned in 1963 and came on in the Leinster final but injury ruled him out of the All-Ireland win in September. He missed another two years, and played a brief part in the 1966 campaign before ending his senior career.

Another to have the misfortune of losing after scoring a hat-trick was Nicky Rackard who scored a goal after three minutes of the 1951 All-Ireland final against Tipperary in Wexford's first foray out of Leinster in 33 years. He had his second near the end of the quarter-hour to give his county a 2-3 to 0-4 lead. But his last was a consolation when Tipp, having scored four second-half goals, were comfortably ahead. They won 7-7 to 3-9.

Bob McConkey scored four goals in the 1921 final for Limerick against Dublin, with Tipp's Paddy O'Riordan setting the trail blazing in 1896 with a hat-trick for Tipp against Kilkenny. Leonard McGrath did the same for Galway in the 1923 final against Limerick. Michael 'Gah' Ahern shot 5-4 for Cork in 1928 against Galway. Dave Clohessy scored 4-0 in the 1934 final replay when Limerick defeated Dublin. He got 2-2 in the drawn game. In the '36 final he scored 2-0.

John Keane marked Waterford's first All-Ireland win in 1948 with 3-2. He was a survivor of the '38 final loss to Dublin, more along the lines of a Corbett than an O'Donnell or O'Connell in age profile. In 1963, a profitable decade for hat-trick exponents, Waterford's Seamus Power goaled three times to no avail as Kilkenny triumphed. Ollie Walsh let in six and still gave an exhibition of first-class stopping.

The hat-trick men were all kings for a day. Trouble is, when you reach that high, the only way is usually down.

Irish Independent

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