WHEN sporting empires fall, it tends to be in dramatic circumstances, often arriving when least expected. Tipperary are 5/2 outsiders to win Sunday's All-Ireland final, but they will head for Croke Park knowing that, sooner or later, Kilkenny's remarkable run has to end.
Kilkenny are bidding to win their 22nd consecutive championship game, a remarkable yield never previously returned in hurling or football, but it's the five-in-a-row dream which motivates them more than anything else. Wexford (1919), Kerry (1982) tried it in football, while Cork hurlers made their bid in 1945 -- but all three failed. Kerry were the only ones to reach the final.
There were also various three-in-a-row empires which collapsed in the next season, proving just how difficult it is to maintain the remarkable level of consistency required to stay at the top. It makes Kilkenny's 21-game run over five successive seasons quite extraordinary, but if they needed reminding that even the best champions are only as good as their last game, it comes in the following catalogue of empires which fell unexpectedly:
Cork 1979 (Pursuing four-in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: June 1976 -- August 1979
Games: 12; Won 12.
Captains: Ray Cummins (1976); Martin O'Doherty (1977); Charlie McCarthy (1978).
Cork won five successive Munster titles (1975-79) and picked up the All-Ireland treble in 1976-77-78. However, Galway beat them in the 1975-79 semi-finals.
Cork were well fancied for the four-in-a-row in 1979 after easily beating Limerick in the Munster final, but ran into Galway on one of those irrepressible days they often deliver when least expected (they had lost the League final to Tipperary by16 points a few months earlier). They won by four points and Cork had to wait a further five years for their next All-Ireland title.
Cork 1955 (Pursuing four-in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: June 1952 -- June 1955
Games: 11; Won 11.
Captains: Paddy Barry (1952); Christy Ring (1953-54)
Christy Ring clinched his eighth All-Ireland senior medal in 1954 and looked likely to widen his lead at the top of the honours table a year later with a team which had dominated the championship for three successive seasons, during which they beat Dublin, Galway and Wexford in All-Ireland finals.
However, Cork were stunned by Clare in the 1955 Munster first-round tie in Thurles, losing by a point 3-8 to 2-10. Ring never did manage to win that elusive ninth medal.
Cork 1945 (Pursuing five-in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: September 1941 -- July 1945
Games: 14; Won13, Drew 1
Captains: Connie Buckley (1941); Jack Lynch (1942); Mick Kennefick (1943); Sean Condon (1944).
The only hurling team prior to Kilkenny to give themselves an opportunity to win the five-in-a-row after All-Ireland final wins over Dublin (1941-'42-'44) and Antrim (1943), but their dream of creating a record ended in 1945 when they lost the Munster semi-final to Tipperary by 2-13 to 3-2.
* Tipperary had to withdraw from the 1941 Munster championship during part of the summer due to a foot-and-mouth epidemic. Cork won the right to represent Munster in the All-Ireland championship which they won. They later lost the Munster final to Tipperary but that defeat is not classed as part of the All-Ireland winning run in 1941-44.
Tipperary 1952 (Pursuing four-in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: May 1949 -- July 1952
Games: 16; Won 15; Drew 1.
Captains: Pat Stakelum (1949); Sean Kenny (1950); Jimmy Finn (1951)
All-Ireland final wins over Laois, Kilkenny and Wexford in the previous three years left Tipperary in confident mood as they set out in pursuit of the four-in-a-row in 1952, but after beating Waterford by 17 points in the Munster semi-final, they were beaten by Cork by two points in the final.
Kilkenny 1914 (Pursuing four-in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: June 1911-July 1914
Games: 14; Won 14.
Captains: Sim Walton (1911-12); Dick 'Drug' Walsh (1913)
Being awarded the 1911 title in the committee room, rather than on the pitch, after Limerick refused to play in the All-Ireland final replay due to a dispute over the venue, always left Kilkenny with an uneasy feeling over the real status of their first All-Ireland treble, which was why they were so delighted to clinch it again in such style in 2008. Of course, that's old news now as they chase a brand new record.
Kerry 1982 (Pursuing five-in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: June 1978--September 1982
Games: 19; Wins 18; Draws 1.
Captains: 'Ogie' Moran (1978); Tim Kennelly (1979); Ger Power (1980); Jimmy Deenihan (1981)
The greatest football team in GAA history came within a few minutes of landing the five-in-a-row. Indeed, they seemed set to clinch it reasonably comfortably when they led by four points in the second half, but Offaly plugged on and, after paring two points off the deficit, they pounced for the winning goal, thanks to Seamus Darby's famous strike.
It was a devastating loss for Kerry who would suffer defeat through another late goal against Cork in the Munster final a year later, only to recover in 1984 to launch a three-in-a-row run. Kerry had won eight All-Ireland titles since 1975, but missing out on the record-breaking five-in-a-row still hurts to this day.
Galway 1967 (Pursuing 4-in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: June 1964 -- June 1967
Games: 11; Wins 11.
Captains: John Donnellan (1964); Enda Colleran (1965-66)
The best team ever to emerge from Connacht and one of the best in national history, Galway lost the 1963 All-Ireland final to Dublin before winning the next three finals with wins over Kerry (1964-65) and Meath (1966). Remarkably, Galway only conceded only one goal in those semi-finals and finals. It was quite a feat by the defence and their outstanding goalkeeper, Kilkerrin man Johnny Geraghty.
However, Galway's four-in-a-row pursuit crashed spectacularly in the 1967 Connacht semi-final, losing to Mayo by 3-13 to 1-8 in Pearse Stadium. It would be 31 years before Galway next won the All-Ireland title.
Kerry 1933 (Pursuing five in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: May 1929 -- Aug 1933
Games: 15: Won 15.
Captains: Joe Barrett (1929-'32); JJ Sheehy (1930); Con Brosnan (1931).
Wins over Kildare (2), Monaghan and Mayo in 1929-32 won Kerry's first four-in-a-row and they seemed to be well on their way to a fifth when they won the 1933 Munster title, but came unstuck against Cavan in the semi-final, losing by three points.
Dublin 1924 (Pursuing four-in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: May 1921-April 1925
Games: 20: Won18; Drew 2.
Captains: Eddie Carroll (1921); Paddy Carey (1922); Paddy McDonnell (1923).
It was Dublin's third attempt at the four-in-a-row, having failed in 1900 and 1909 (club teams represented counties back then). Dublin made another bid for a fourth successive win in 1925, but lost to Wexford in the first round.
Wexford 1919 (Pursuing 5-in-a-row)
Unbeaten run: June 1915-July 1919
Games: 21: Wins 20; Drew 1.
Captains: Sean O'Kennedy (1915-16-17); Jim Byrne (1918)
Wexford lost All-Ireland finals in 1913-14 before embarking on their four-in-a-row run during which they beat Kerry, Mayo, Clare and Tipperary in the finals. However, their bid for a fifth ended in the Leinster semi-final in 1919 when they lost to Dublin.