Monday 23 April 2018

Rebel rousers: the 25 best Cork players of the past 25 years

From Brian Corcoran to Wayne Sherlock, Martin Breheny selects a band of players good enough to grace the best Cork teams down the ages

No 1: Brian Corcoran
No 1: Brian Corcoran
No 14: Jim Cashman
No 4: Donal Og Cusack
No 2: Ger Cunningham
No 15: Kevin Hennessy
No 5: Sean Og O hAilpin
No 13: Tom Kenny
No 23: John Fitzgibbon
No 24: Denis Walsh
No 19: Seanie McGrath
No 9: Jerry O'Connor
No 20: Patrick Hogan
No 17: Teddy McCarthy
No 18: Niall McCarthy
No 22: Shane O'Neill
No 10: Tomas Mulcahy
No 12: Ronan Curran
No 21: Sean O'Gorman
No 6: Tony O'Sullivan
No 3: Joe Deane
No 7: Ben O'Connor
No 25: Wayne Sherlock
No 11: John Gardiner
No 8: Diarmuid O'Sullivan

CORK have won four All-Ireland senior hurling titles in the last 25 years, three fewer than in the previous quarter-century. The more recent haul included a double in 2004-2005, a period which provides many of the top 25 players in this exercise.

Cork's other All-Ireland wins came in 1990 – when they completed a hurling/football double – and 1999.

The current squad is represented on our top 25 by Shane O'Neill, Brian Murphy, Patrick Horgan and Tom Kenny, all of whom will be hoping to add to their reputations in tomorrow's All-Ireland final replay.

Here's the top 25 since 1988. Some had built their reputations prior to that but continued into the 1990s, which makes them eligible for inclusion.

1 BRIAN CORCORAN

Despite Cork losing the 1992 All-Ireland final, he won the Hurler of the Year award for his performances at corner-back. He had to wait a further seven years for his first All-Ireland medal (centre-back) and later showed his true versatility when moving to full-forward, from where he won two All-Ireland medals in 2004-2005. He won a second Hurler of the Year award in 1999.

2 GER CUNNINGHAM

Cork have always produced top-class goalkeepers, none more so than Cunningham. A brilliant shot-stopper, he had his excellence recognised by the All Star selectors on four occasions (1984-85-86-90) while he also won the Hurler of the Year award in 1986. He was the last goalkeeper to win that award. His senior Cork career ran from 1981 to 1998.

3 JOE DEANE

Small in stature but huge in terms of presence and influence in a lengthy career that yielded three All-Ireland medals and three All Star awards. Deadly accurate from open play and frees, he was a constant menace against opponents as he had the uncanny knack of always being in the right place at the right time.

4 DONAL OG CUSACK

Took over from Ger Cunningham in late 1999 and went on to challenge the St Finbarr's man in terms of pecking order among the all-time great goalkeepers. He brought a new dimension to his game with the accuracy of his puck-outs, which became a central theme in Cork's strategies in a period when they won three All-Ireland titles in 1999-2004-2005.

5 SEAN OG O hAILPIN

His senior hurling career (he also played football for Cork) lasted from 1996 to 2012, during which he established himself as one of the truly great wing-backs. Stylish, powerful and ultra-consistent, he won three All-Ireland senior medals, three All Star awards and was Hurler of the Year in 2004.

6 TONY O'SULLIVAN

One of the best forwards of his generation, his skill level was incredibly high and he used it intelligently to make life a misery for opposition defenders. Consistently accurate from open play and frees, his excellence won him three All-Ireland medals as well as access to the exclusive club of five-time All Stars, the latter two of which came in 1990-92 which is inside the 25-year timeline for this exercise.

7 BEN O'CONNOR

He played for Cork for 13 years, during which he was one of their main attacking influences. Quick, smart and hugely skilful, he often forced his way through the tiniest of openings to either score or create an opening for a colleague. His accuracy from frees was an added bonus.

8 DIARMUID O'SULLIVAN

'The Rock' patrolled the Cork square with ultimate authority for many years. Immensely strong, he regularly inspired his colleagues with a driving run out of defence, followed by a lengthy clearance. He won four All Star awards at full-back in 1999-2000-2004-2005, testament to his solidity over an extended period.

9 JERRY O'CONNOR

Hurler of the Year in 2005 for his consistent excellence during Cork's All-Ireland winning run, he won All Star awards in 2004-2005-2006 at midfield. Energetic and enterprising he had an innate sense of how to get to the point of action, where he usually made a telling intervention.

10 TOMAS MULCAHY

A triple senior All-Ireland medal winner in 1985-86-90, he could play anywhere in attack and was one of Cork's most consistent scorers for many years. He won an All Star award at right corner-forward in 1984 and at centre half-forward two years later. His career lasted until 1994.

11 JOHN GARDINER

Disappointed not to be on the panel this year, his form dipped in recent seasons but during his peak years he was a superb wing-back. Strong and forceful, he often got forward on timely runs to pick off points and was always ultra-reliable on long-range free-taking duties.

12 RONAN CURRAN

A solid performer at centre-back, he was a major figure on the Cork teams that won All-Ireland titles in 2004-2005. Excellent under a high ball, he also covered his wing men well in a career where he rarely had an off-day. He won three All Stars.

13 TOM KENNY

Still a valued member of the squad, he has played 53 championship games for Cork in a senior career which was launched a decade ago. He started out as a wing-back, before moving to midfield where he won All-Ireland medals in 2004-2005. He returned to No 5 this year.

14 JIM CASHMAN

He had a torrid time on Joe Cooney in the first half of the 1990 All-Ireland final but turned in an excellent second half as Cork fought back from a seven-point deficit to beat Galway. Cashman's ability to improvise in a difficult situation was one of his strong points in a career which yielded two All-Ireland medals and two All Star awards.

15 KEVIN HENNESSY

There was no more feared sight for defenders than the Midleton man bounding through on goal. Big, strong and forceful, he scored many excellent goals in a career which brought him All-Ireland medals in 1984-86-90 and an All Star award at left full-forward in 1986. In that year he was especially effective against Galway in the All-Ireland final.

16 BRIAN MURPHY

With Tom Kenny, he represents the older wing of the current squad, having made his debut nine years ago at the age of 22. Vigilant, reliable and ultra-competitive, his man-marking skills often result in him being dispatched in the direction of the opposition's main attacker.

17 TEDDY McCARTHY

A dual All-Ireland medal winner in 1990, his athleticism made him one of the most spectacular fielders in GAA history. He won an All Star football award in 1989, an honour that eluded him in hurling. However, that doesn't in any detract from his contribution to Cork's hurling cause for several years.

18 NIALL McCARTHY

A hard-working half-forward, he was a score-maker rather than a score-taker, although he did contribute some crucial points at various times. A strong, forceful runner, he was very difficult to dispossess once he took off on a powerful stride.

19 SEANIE McGRATH

A selector nowadays, he was a speedy, diminutive attacker in his playing days. His best year came in 1999 when he won an All-Ireland senior medal and an All Star award at right corner-forward. He scored 0-3 against Kilkenny in the low-scoring (0-13 to 0-12) final that year.

20 PATRICK HORGAN

One of the modern generation, he would have been at home in Cork teams of most eras. He is very much the leader of the attack at present and, in addition to his contributions from general play, he is also one of the most dependable free-takers in the game.

21 SEAN O'GORMAN

He was comfortable anywhere across the full-back line in a career in which he won an All-Ireland senior medal in 1990 and All Star awards (left full-back and full-back) in 1990 and 1993. There was nothing flashy about the Milford man but he was hugely efficient in a quiet, understated sort of way.

22 SHANE O'NEILL

Another of the modern crew who would be comfortable in the Cork jersey in most eras. The Kanturk man has been a regular in the full-back line since 2007, during which time he has played 30 championship games. He is having a very good season and will again be a key figure in tomorrow's replay.

23 JOHN FITZGIBBON

One of the great opportunists of his era, he had an outstanding goalscoring record. His performance in the 1990 All-Ireland final was one of his finest on a day when Cork came back from a seven-point deficit to beat Galway. He scored two goals in 60 seconds in the final 10 minutes, scores crucial to Cork's success.

24 DENIS WALSH

How did a dual player of his stature fail to win an All Star award in either code? He won All-Ireland hurling and football medals in 1990 (football as a sub). A defender in both codes, he brought an orderly dimension to his game, reading the angles well from his corner berth.

25 WAYNE SHERLOCK

One of Jimmy Barry-Murphy's young guns in the Rebel Revolution in 1999 when a new-look side won Cork's first All-Ireland title for seven years, he was a wing-back then but later switched back to No 2. He remained first choice No 2 until 2005 when injury disrupted him. He won an All Star in 2004.

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