Tuesday 20 March 2018

'You liked playing Dublin because they bring a bit of magic'

Dublin beat Cork in '83 and '95 but their win in 1989 was vital for the Rebels, as the game's penalty hero John Cleary tells Dermot Crowe

Y OU could buy a seat in the Hogan Stand for eight pounds and at the GAA's pleasure watch Dublin play Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final 21 years ago. But, even at that relatively modest sum, you might have left your chair feeling a little short-changed.

Six years earlier, Dublin won a storied replay by the Lee in brilliant sunshine. In '89, neither the football nor the weather was obliging. Heavy rain and gusting winds ruined whatever chance existed of a good day's play. Dublin had a flying start, Cork rallied and when Keith Barr was sent off before half-time, the Rebels always looked likely winners with the elements to their backs.

So it proved. They ground out a four-point victory, reaching a third successive All-Ireland final and the following month won a Sam Maguire that had proved annoyingly elusive. Comparisons with the current Cork mission aren't inappropriate or wide of the mark. The modern assembly managed by the 1989 centre-back Conor Counihan has reached a similar moment of truth. Like 21 years ago, beating Dublin offers a bridge to possible atonement and catharsis.

Having recalled the atmosphere in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 1983 as his most memorable, the Cork forward John Cleary has greatly contrasting recollections of the '89 meeting. It seems a lost and unloved chapter, caught between the romanticised '83 encounters and the one that followed in 1995, the year of Dublin's last All-Ireland and the summer of Jayo.

In 1983, Cleary was in his maiden season as a Cork senior player. When they put out Kerry it appeared era-ending. Instead, Kerry won the next three All-Irelands and when Cork escaped their clutches again, they had Meath to contend with.

Finally, in 1989, they were poised to end their run of disappointments. Meath had been beaten by Dublin in the Leinster final and Cork denied Kerry in Killarney. "I remember the torrential downpour and an absolute hurricane," says Cleary, then a 26-year-old Castlehaven forward with nimble feet and a quick turn of pace.

"We were playing against the wind, I was standing in the full-forward line and the ball had not come beyond the half-forward line once, and they went 1-4 to 0-0 up. We had been beaten in the two previous All-Ireland finals, and you looked down the field and thought 'Jesus, is this another season gone up in smoke?'"

But the game turned on two Cork penalties within six minutes of the first half. Cleary stepped up to both and scored each time, placing the ball firmly past John O'Leary. "Dave Barry and myself were taking penalties at club level and (manager) Billy Morgan said whichever one of you is playing well, I will leave it to you to decide. By the time the first penalty came, neither of us had touched the ball and I looked at him and he looked at me, and I just went for it. I hit it hard and put it top left-hand corner, both times."

In the 1981 Munster minor final, Cleary missed a late penalty against Kerry when Cork trailed by two points. But there was enough time for a rally and he scored the final winning point to see Cork home. They went on to win the All-Ireland and he had learnt a valuable lesson. "I took it too fast, didn't concentrate and went to get it out of the way; I hit the ball wide."

The wind was so strong in '89 against Dublin that Cleary, now manager of the county under 21 team, recalls one of John Kerins' kick-outs sweeping back and finishing over the sideline around the 14-yard mark. The wind eased in the second half and the sun came out but Dublin had lost the initiative with the two penalties and the loss of Barr, then in his first season.

Barr was sent off by Sligo referee Mickey Kearins for a charging tackle with play stopped for a free, not long after his opponent, Dinny Allen, had received a booking in an off-the-ball clash that had Barr holding his jaw. "There was some over zealous marking, it was my first year, and obviously he didn't appreciate it and hit me a dig," Barr says now. "And was it a good dig? Yes, it was. Was he an experienced footballer? Yes, he was.

"If I was Dinny, would I have done the same? Bloody right I would. It was a classic case of an experienced inter-county footballer laying down the law. I haven't any bad feelings towards him, not at all. 'Cos that's my type of player -- look, get in there and get stuck in. You live by the sword and die by the sword."

As the teams re-emerged for the second half, Kearins called the two captains, Allen and Gerry Hargan, aside and gave them firm instructions to warn their players to toe the line. "Anyone who stepped out of line in any way, he told us," recalls Allen, "he would send off. He had got directions from the officials in Croke Park. I remember Tony Davis going 'what did he say? What did he say?' I told them he said we should have an enjoyable second half. I felt anything else would go in one ear and out the other. A bit late to be telling lads ten seconds before the game restarted."

Allen had just turned 37 and was in his final season, which would be rewarded with an All-Ireland medal in his last match a month later. He has played golf since with Barr and maintained good relations. "Spur of the moment, things happen. We ran into each other. Few fists were thrown. It developed in a second and that was it. I would hear a lot of people asking me what about the day I hit Keith Barr. I would like to think I would be remembered for making a goal or scoring a goal."

There was no instinctive loathing between Cork and Dublin because they met rarely. "You liked playing against Dublin," says Allen, "because they bring a bit of magic to the game, a huge crowd, colour, the clash of red and white and blue and also Dublin and Cork supporters, they are well able for one another. A real good slagging match takes place between them. I am often asked about 1983 and have become good friends with Jimmy Keaveney, and I always say, 'look ye beat the crap out of us, drank all our beer and took all our women'."

In 1989, John Cleary was marked by Mick Deegan; in '83, it was the late Mick Holden. Like the relationship between Allen and Barr, Cleary and Holden also got to know one another personally in later years.

"He (Holden) became great friends with my brother-in-law Niall Cahalane," says Cleary. "They were in Australia for a number of years. When he died, it was an awful shock to us all. He was one guy who epitomised Dublin, their toughness and spirit and attitude. Very tough and hard, but never anything off-the-ball."

Sunday Independent

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