When rumours began circulating in late 1986 that Larry Tompkins was considering switching allegiance from his native Kildare to Cork, few anticipated the dramatic impact it would have on the Munster and All-Ireland landscape.
And when it emerged that Tompkins’ fellow-Kildare man, Shea Fahy was also Leeside-bound, antennae shot up in Kerry. Mick O’Dwyer was among the first to sense danger.
"In soccer terms, Cork signed two brilliant players in their prime without having to pay a penny. Now there was a stroke of luck for them," he said.
It was more than that. It changed everything for Cork, first releasing them from under Kerry’s giant thumb and then powering them to an All-Ireland double.
Tompkins, was the main driving force in the on-field transformation, which is why he is unquestionably Cork’s best player of the last 50 years and, quite probably, of all time.
He ticked every box in the list of requirements to make a ‘true great’ and squeezed the maximum from all of them.
Indeed, if he hadn’t sustained such bad injuries, Cork might well have landed two more All-Ireland titles. In 1991, he wasn’t fully recovered from a knee operation when Cork lost a Munster semi-final to Kerry by two points. Two years later, another knee injury ruled him out of the All-Ireland final with Derry.
One of the main beneficiaries of the double-Kildare injection was new Cork manager, Billy Morgan, whose own playing career earns him the No 2 spot on our list. Jimmy Barry-Murphy had a relatively short football career before switching exclusively to hurling, but his exceptional talents deserve a very high ranking.
The 2006-2012 (All-Ireland winners in 2010) squad may look hard done by having only two representatives (Graham Canty and Anthony Lynch), but then opposition was fierce, which meant no room for Donncha O’Connor, Michael Shields or Aidan Walsh. Colin Corkery is another high-profile omission.
1. Larry Tompkins, 2. Billy Morgan, 3. Jimmy Barry-Murphy, 4. Niall Cahalane, 5. Ray Cummins, 6. Steven O’Brien, 7. Kevin Kehily, 8. Shea Fahy, 9. Graham Canty, 10. Dinny Allen, 11. Declan Barron, 12. Jimmy Kerrigan, 13. Conor Counihan, 14. Teddy McCarthy, 15. Frank Cogan, 16. Anthony Lynch, 17. Colman Corrigan, 18. Kevin Jer O’Sullivan, 19. Brian Murphy, 20. Paul McGrath
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