Saturday 18 November 2017

The day Cork turned blue

Ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final between Cork and Dublin, LiamKelly looks back on an historic clash between the counties in 1983

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

DUBLIN in the rare auld times knew how to spring a surprise or two -- and now the 2010 team are following that fashion.

If there's a Dublin supporter out there who tipped the boys in blue to be in an All-Ireland football semi-final last January, then I want their Lotto numbers!

That makes the presence of the Dubs in next Sunday's big game against Cork a pleasant surprise for those Hill 16 followers who were suffering a crisis of faith after the last few years of quarter-final losses to Tyrone and Kerry.

But now they're in the last four, Pat Gilroy's side will be primed for a mighty effort to defy the odds even further. It will work in their favour that Cork, beaten All-Ireland finalists last year, carry the mantle of favourites.

And yet ... tradition and the weight of history tends to side with the Dubs, particularly when Cork are the opposition in the All-Ireland series. Kevin Heffernan and his shock troops were the first batch of Dubliners to dismantle a fancied Leeside outfit when they dethroned the reigning champions in the 1974 All-Ireland semi-final by 2-11 to 1-9. The Jacks were back.

Cork had their problems with the great Kerry team for years but, when they came to Croke Park on August 21, 1983, the Rebels were restored to ascendancy down south and, once again, Dublin had come from nowhere to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Surprise

Reel it back a bit there, and ponder the surprise of Dublin beating Offaly, the reigning All-Ireland champions, in that provincial final?

You can judge by Offaly great Sean Lowry's remembrance of the '83 Leinster campaign. Lowry is an uncle of golfer Shane Lowry, and brother of Brendan who played with him in the Offaly team of '82 which denied Kerry their five-in-a-row. Speaking in Killarney at the Irish Open recently, it was clear that Sean still has regrets about '83.

"Complacency," he said, as he shook his head in wonder. "Before that game we just didn't see any way that the Dubs could beat us. And once the game started to go away from us, we just couldn't get a grip on it."

And so, the Dubs found themselves in the semi-final, with Cork the form team. As in 1974, the majority of pre-match predictions in '83 favoured a Rebel win, and the forecasts looked justified as they entered the dying minutes of the match leading by 2-11 to 1-11. Fatally, Cork began to concede ground and try to run down the clock. And then came the turning point.

Brian Mullins, ball in hand, advanced towards the half-way line. In the circumstances and in the midst of a fever-pitch atmosphere, 99 out of 100 players would have hoofed it high towards the opposition goal in hope. But Mullins' football brain and experience stood the test. He spotted corner-back Ray Hazley charging up the left wing. Hazley later said he was so disgusted by his display that he was desperate to try and make something happen, and that's what drew him forward.

Once Mullins got the ball to him, the St Vincent's player was unstoppable and, in full flight, Hazley right-footed the ball across goal. Barney Rock, the arch-predator, was in the right place at the right time to collect the ball and lash it into the Cork net. Goal! Equaliser!

A replay was required. Croke Park the venue? Not if Cork officialdom had anything to do it. They argued persuasively within the corridors of GAA power that Croke Park was effectively a Dublin home venue, and that Cork should be permitted to hold the replay.

Dublin didn't object. Kevin Heffernan, the wily maestro, saw how this could turn to Dublin's advantage, and the players were very happy with the decision. Over the years, and once the Heffo/Super Dubs era was in full flow, the Dublin players regretted that they didn't get to experience the travelling away to a final, especially when it came to winning the Sam Maguire Cup.

Back in '83 -- and it will probably never happen again -- the Dubs embraced a unique opportunity. Blarney was chosen as the team base as thousands of Dubs followers made their own plans to get to Cork.

In the build-up, various columnists and officials expressed concern about the threat of crowd violence because of the small unruly element which had attached itself to the Dublin phenomenon.

Appeals were made for people to come early. Security was beefed up. The Garda Siochana in Cork made contingency plans to deal with crowd trouble.

The Croke Park comfort zone was left behind. It was all new to everyone -- players of both counties, team officials, supporters, and the Garda -- to be involved in a potentially volatile All-Ireland semi-final at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

Dublin captain Tommy Drumm and his colleagues were only focused on the game and the chance to make good after coming so close to defeat.

"We'd never stayed away before for a game, and there was so much hype around the hotel. It was all new and exciting for us," said Drumm.

New and exciting indeed, but not for one man. Goalkeeper John O'Leary wasn't having a great time of it. He suffered food poisoning the night before the match, and, as he recalled in his book 'Back to the Hill', he spent the entire night running to the toilet.

"I couldn't sleep a wink and I must have looked a sad sight the following morning. Naturally, I couldn't eat breakfast," said O'Leary.

While the Dublin squad had a team meeting, O'Leary stretched out on a sofa in the hotel lobby for some badly needed sleep.

Once they got to their dressing-room, Drumm gathered the players for a pre-match stroll on the pitch to gauge the atmosphere.

Their appearance brought a huge roar. Blue flags and blue colours were everywhere, particularly at the Blackrock end which Dublin wags christened 'Hill 17'.

"I remember it was a really beautiful day and I said to the lads 'c'mon out and have a look at the pitch' and when we came out, the atmosphere was brilliant. It was like playing a home game, there were so many Dublin supporters," said Drumm.

Cork followers were up for the challenge as well, and the air in the stadium crackled with electricity and an exceedingly good natured vibe, although it was the Dubs who were shouting first.

Penalty

The visitors jump-started their display with a goal from a penalty in the third minute by Brian Mullins after goalie Michael Creedon had taken down Rock.

Rock, for all the scores he got for Dublin, surprisingly didn't get to take many penalties for the Dubs.

"My record for the Dubs is 100pc. I took one penalty, in a championship match against Longford in 1982, and scored it. One out of one. I never got to take another penalty. When we were awarded that one in Cork, Brian had come back to the team, and he took it," said Rock.

Rock and the Dublin fans held their breath as Mullins' kick hit an upright before rebounding into the net: a sign from the gods that this was Dublin's day.

"I remember that that ball hit the post and went across the other side, but I was coming after it. We would have got the rebound," recalls Rock.

It was a goal-fest from there on. Rock, Kieran Duff and Joe McNally got three more goals for the Dubs, and while Dave Barry got two for Cork, one from a penalty, there was no stopping Kevin Heffernan's team. The only crowd problem for Rock and Duff was making their way back to the dressing-room as fans flooded on to the pitch and thronged the approach to the dressing-room.

Duff had to pound on the door before he and Rock were let in to celebrate with their team-mates. This was arguably the greatest performance of the Heffernan era.

The 1977 All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry was also a fantastic game. The outcome of that mighty contest between two great teams was in doubt up to the last few minutes, but the achievement of the '83 side stands out for the performance and conversion of momentum into scores.

This game was followed a few weeks later by the infamous final against Galway, replete with angst, anger, three Dubs sent off and the controversial 'tunnel incident'. That's another story, but for Dublin, Cork 1983 will always stand out as a landmark day.

The teams and scorers for that semi-final replay on August 28, 1983 were:

SCORERS -- Dublin: B Rock 1-4 (0-4f), K Duff, J McNally 1-3 each, B Mullins 1-0 (1-0pen), T Conroy 0-2, J Ronayne, A O'Toole, J Caffrey 0-1 each. Cork: D Barry 2-1 (1-0 pen), J Cleary 0-7 (0-6f), J Kerrigan, T Murphy 0-1 each

Dublin -- J O'Leary; M Holden, G Hargan, R Hazley; P Canavan, T Drumm, PJ Buckley; J Ronayne, B Mullins ; B Rock, T Conroy, K Duff; J Caffrey, A O'Toole, J McNally. Sub: J Kearns for Caffrey.

Cork -- M Creedon; M Healy, K Kehilly, J Evans; M Hannon, C Ryan, J Kerrigan; D Creedon, C Corrigan; T Murphy; E O'Mahony, D Barry; D Allen, J Allen, J Cleary.

REF -- PJ McGrath (Mayo).

Attendance: 43,438.

Irish Independent

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