Tuesday 20 February 2018

When Munster final was last chance saloon

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

MODERN-day Cork and Kerry players have no concept of the frustration left in the pre All-Ireland qualifier era when, depending on which county was in control, the championship invariably ended in July for the other side.

Kerry felt the force of Cork's powerful hand between 1987 and 1994 when the Munster title went to the Kingdom only once, but then it didn't come close in terms of pain to the reverse which applied between 1975 and 1986.

It was a particularly frustrating period for Cork, who had looked poised to enjoy a long period of ascendancy when they won the 1973 All-Ireland title with an impressive flourish. However, the arrival of Mick O'Dwyer and his powerful young Kerry team in 1975 dramatically altered the landscape, as they established a national dominance which applied for eight of 11 seasons.

Cork felt the hurt more than most, as they reckoned they were the second best team in the country over a few seasons, but didn't get the chance to expand their horizons.

Sean Murphy, a regular in the Cork attack from 1976-81, recalls the frustration of being the so-called second best team in the country.

"Kerry, Dublin and ourselves would have been regarded as the top three, but we never got a chance to get to Croke Park in those years.

"It would be so different now, because whatever happened in Munster, we'd still be back in the race. We should have beaten Kerry in 1976 (Cork led by seven points in the second half of the replay, then lost in extra-time), but we didn't and it started a trend which went on for a long time. Kerry developed hugely as a squad; from there on, we didn't because we'd lose to them in Munster and be gone for the year.

"Micko would come into our dressing-room after Kerry beating us and start talking about how we were the second best team in the country and you'd feel like throwing a boot at him. He was probably right, but that was no consolation to us.

"Who knows what would have happened if we had qualifiers back then? You'd have to think that we would have developed as a squad if we got extra games rather than being idle from July on," said Murphy.

It's difficult to argue with that assessment. After all, Murphy played in an attack that included Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Declan Barron, Ray Cummins and Dinny Allen for a few years, while further back Cork had outstanding performers in, among others, Billy Morgan, Brian Murphy, Tom Creedon, Kevin Kehilly, John Coleman and Denis Long.

Cork's experiences in those years make former players envious of the modern generation who can rebuild their season, irrespective of what happens in Munster.

"I'm all for the new system, because I saw just how crippling the old one was. It stands to reason that the more big games you get, the more you will improve, but, with respect to the others in Munster, the only big game we got every year was against Kerry, who had an unbelievable team in my playing days," said Murphy.

"If it were now, we'd regroup in the qualifiers, get more big games under our belts which would have made a big difference. Look at how Kildare have developed through the qualifiers in recent years.

"That probably wouldn't have happened if they were gone after losing in Leinster."

He expects Cork to win tomorrow ("Kerry look vulnerable from one to nine") and has a hunch that Dublin could emerge as the biggest threat to the Rebels' two-in-a-row ambitions.

First, though, there's the private battle to be sorted out in Killarney.

"There's a school of thought in Kerry that Cork aren't real All-Ireland champions because we didn't beat them last year. That adds to the edge that's always there anyway.

"The good thing is that whoever loses will still probably have a major say in the All-Ireland. I wish it was like that back in my day," said Murphy.

Irish Independent

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