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Saturday 24 February 2018

What a Corker as even Roy has to smile

IN the end, as 'The Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee' swirled around Croke Park, it seemed as if the Cork river had itself somehow breached the walls.

At 5pm, the emotion flooded down from all corners of an already drenched stadium, engulfing and overwhelming the delighted and tearful Cork players as they leapt about like madmen.

Victory by a solitary point, 0-16 to 0-15, but they sure didn't care. This is what 20 years felt like.

The last time Sam Maguire took up residence in Cork, the 1980s recession hadn't even ended and the Taoiseach of the day, Mr Charles Haughey, was a lover of expensive wines, not beer.

For sure, Cork supporters love winning the hurling -- the "schmall ball" as they say in Kerry -- but it does the 'Rebel' soul good to win Sam and two decades without him was just too much.

The early signs were not necessarily good ones for Cork hearts. "Going Down, going Down," sang Down fans, as they shuffled down drizzle-soaked Jones's Road at 1pm.

An RTE cameraman, perched at the top of a scarily extended crane in the grounds of Holy Father College, was definitely not laughing.

"Going Down, going Down," sang the lads again as they pointed skywards towards the RTE man, whose position soared almost 100 metres into the sky.

A few minutes later, inside Croke Park, Taoiseach Brian Cowen was also going down. In a lift.

He had just been up on Level Seven, wishing a certain 'man with the mike' the best after 60 distinguished years commentating on all matters GAA.

Conviviality and nothing stronger than a cup of tea was the order of business as Micheal O Muircheartaigh was presented with a chocolate cake and posed for a photo with Mr Cowen.

Mr O Muircheartaigh himself took to the pitch after 2.30pm ostensibly to introduce a team of "past champions", including some members of the Down team who had won here in 1961.

But in truth, though he would have blanched at the very idea, the day was also very much about him. "Today is his last All-Ireland Final ... we all love Micheal O Muircheartaigh," said Marty Morrissey as the stadium rose to acclaim the legendary Kerryman.

Sixty-four years after taking charge of his first match for RTE, and 80 after the first All-Ireland broadcast by RTE radio, the big screen said simply: "A Mhichil, go raibh mile maith agat!"

After being presented with an oil painting of Mount Brandon, the big man demonstrated a youthful agility as he leapt jubilantly in the air in the manner of an All-Ireland winning bainisteoir.

But, as he would have been eager to point out, there was a match to be played.

For Cork supporters, the build-up had been tortuous.

Larry Tompkins had been the last winning captain in 1990. Perhaps a little unwisely, he took to the airwaves on Saturday night to say Cork would be enjoying victory pints by half-time. Silly boy.

CORK'S Roy Keane, who yesterday popped over from England for the occasion, would definitely not have been impressed "at the end of the day" with that kind of crazy talk.

Come the showdown, Cork turned out in unfamiliar all-white while Down were in a garish yellow and black number.

On radio, Micheal was as usual welcoming the world to Croke Park including "William" listening in Budapest; "the Foster family" in Sydney; and "Oliver Lee" in New Zealand.

A truly inclusive, uniquely Irish occasion.

No matter their allegiance, all listeners would have wondered if Cork had turned up at all because after 30 minutes they still hadn't scored a point in open play.

After such a blistering denouement to the hurling championship which had seen Tipperary vanquish the five-in-a-row seeking Kilkenny, few thought the football final could generate the same heat.

But it eventually did. Within 10 minutes of the second half start, the game had narrowed to a nail-biting one point margin, as Cork clawed their way back.

Down were running out of legs and Cork were making inspired changes. The men in white suddenly looked stronger, faster. And so it was as Cork got on top to win by 0-16 to 0-15.

Now, for the first time in a decade, a name other than a northern side -- or Kerry -- is on the big cup and that was enough yesterday to make Corkmen -- including even Roy Keane -- smile.

Touchingly, long after the stadium had emptied, Mr O Muircheartaigh remained in his seat, enjoying a last look around the famous old ground.

Then it was time for a few pictures with his family before heading away for a well-earned bite to eat.

Irish Independent

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