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The good, the bad and the ug-Lee

They write books and mythologise about Dublin-Kerry or, more correctly, Kerry-Dublin. They make DVDs with funny extras from Colm Meaney about Dublin-Meath or, more accurately, Meath-Dublin. But with Cork there is just a vacuum. In great rivalries the team named first should be the dominant, pre-eminent force, aristocrats in name and deed. Between these two counties there's no creation myth, no Genesis. There's no songs about Dublin versus Cork, no badly metered rhymes extolling Barney Rock's exploits against de Rebels or bad plays about Larry Tompkins chipping John O'Leary.


Instead there are half-remembered stories about trips on the train to Cork -- did the Hill really go on Tour? -- whispers about a ghost-goal and another dash for a train, only this time from the players. Grainy footage of a couple of dodgy penalties flickers across the brain of the casual fan, but for these sides there isn't the necessary familiarity for outright hatred to exist. This week fans of both have wondered how to approach their opposition.

Obviously this confusion is Kerry and Meath's fault. The great football sides of Cork have always been ruined by Kerry. There are wise men, oracles even, propping up bars across the country, who claim that Cork and not Dublin were the second-best team in the land as Kerry redefined Gaelic Football with Paidi O'Se, the Bomber, Spillane, Sheehy, Power, etc.

Bizarrely, Cork football folk lap it up. Cork football folk are different from their hurling people, obviously, where being defined as second best is just boot-camp for eventual world domination -- 'a spell in purgatory, like'.

From a Dublin perspective it was Meath who prevented a more recent rivalry with the great Cork side of the late '80s and early '90s. Meath kept beating Dublin when Cork were good and so it was Meath who had the titanic rivalry with Cork, splitting four All-Irelands two apiece like good little Cains and Abels.

This weekend cannot come fast enough. The country has for too long been denied a rivalry it deserves. Some budding entrepreneur should long ago have put up giant prize money for an annual two-legged tie between Cork and Dublin. The marketing chutzpah writes itself. It would pit the actual Capital against the breakaway Republic, so self-consciously brilliant at sport. If only both teams weren't so similar there'd have been no such gaping hole in football's history.

When the country drew breath after the quarter-finals this year and realised that Dublin-Cork would be an All Ireland semi-final, there was one poster on a discussion forum claiming that there was some reciprocal arrangement between the counties dating back to 1983 and that Cork would have home advantage this time around. He was quickly put right. But the notion wasn't as fanciful as it might now seem given that, if it had existed, it would have been a creation of 1983.

Back then Cork rolled into Dublin to take on Heffo's army, emboldened by finally getting out of Munster for the first time in almost a decade after Kerry's greatest-ever team had begun to look human. They managed a draw in Croker and insisted, as per the rule book, that the replay be in Cork. They were all swagger for the week in between, bragging happily to any Jackeen who'd listen for long enough what they'd do down in de park. Dublin beat them out the gate. Cork didn't get out of Munster again until 1987.

Away from the Championship both sides went down in GAA folklore -- for a bizarre reason -- with a farcical conclusion to the 1987 NFL Division 1 quarter-final. The Rebels refused to play extra-time and retired to their dressing room believing that they should have a replay on Leeside the following weekend.

However, that did not come to pass as the referee threw in the ball to start extra-time with just the Dubs in their positions on the field. Barney Rock had scored a sackful of match-winning goals for Dublin -- but none quite so unique as this one as he fielded a long delivery from Declan Bolger before taking a few steps and firing the ball into an empty net at Croke Park's Canal End.

The Rebels, it's said by Dublin wags, could hear the roar as they boarded their train at Heuston Station.

By the time they met next in the Championship -- in 1989 -- both teams had experienced significant turnover. This time around Cork were clearly the better team and were on a mission to grind out an All Ireland. There are still disputes about the two penalties awarded and scored for Cork, given you had to shoot someone in 1989 to get a free-kick, let alone two penalties. But in truth there was a sense of pre-ordination in the result. Cork were going to win that All Ireland come what may. It was written.


The 1995 version had a similar feeling about it -- Dublin were winning Sam that year, finally. It was the summer of Jayo-mania and Cork were bit part players in his drama. Neither 1989 or 1995 were landslide wins, but neither was ever going to result in a surprise winner either.

This time the lack of history allows both sides to believe they can create their own mythology. And the rest of us might finally be able to write it Cork-Dublin or Dublin-Cork.