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Flashback: 1987 Munster SHC Final replay - Tipperary v Cork

By John Harrington

The 1987 Munster SHC Final replay victory over Cork will forever be inked with bold letters in the annals of Tipperary hurling.

It was a hugely cathartic day because it signalled the end of an era when the one-time princes of hurling were reduced to paupers as they went 16 years without winning a provincial title.

Michael 'Babs' Keating was Tipperary's manager in '87 and played a pivotal role in the county's re-emergence as a genuine hurling power in the late eighties and early ninties.

He reminisced with GAA.ie on a year that remains as vivid as ever in his mind's eye.

GAA.ie: The 1987 campaign was your first in charge of the team and Tipperary hadn't won a Munster title for 16 years so things were at a very low ebb. You tried to re-energise the whole thing by setting up a Tipperary Supporters Club to raise the funds needed to lift standards and get the team properly looked after...

Babs Keating: I had come from a different environment than my predecessors in so far as I worked for a major company, the biggest company in the world, and I learned an awful lot from the rules that they applied to us and that contributed to Esso being the most successful company in the world and market leaders in Ireland as well.

I learned a lot from living in Dublin and playing golf and mixing with all the other sportspeople in rugby, soccer and golf. In those years I was a member of the links and had six major outings a year and a couple of Pro-Ams so I was mixing with some of the best golfers in the world. I saw the way they operated and the vibes coming from Tipperary weren't great.

That's no disrespect to anyone in Tipperary because Tipp were after hosting the '84 All-Ireland and every club in every parish were drained. I was part of the fund-raising myself so I knew that.

When (County Board Chairman) Michael Lowry and (County Board Secretary) Tommy Barrett interviewed me for the job in '86 they said the job was mine but that they didn't have a shilling for a hurling ball.

Living in Dublin I saw the support that there was from business people in Dublin. There were some great business people in Dublin and for some reason it was an untapped source. I came with that background and that's why the Supporters Club was a real success because I brought in some great people. It was a dictatorship in one sense because we didn't have an AGM, we just put a team in place, and it was a great team from the secretary to the treasurer to the membership co-ordinator.

We had an AGM after the first year and everything worked according to plan and it's still there as strong as ever. All of that was an advantage to me.

I had Theo English and Donie Nealon with me (as selectors) and Cork were the team that everybody feared at the time. They were the kingpins. But from Theo and Donie's point of view, they had no fear of Cork because I don't believe they were ever on a beaten team by Cork. They had five All-Ireland medals and I had three. There was never a question from the players that we couldn't answer and answer correctly. On top of that, the three of us were singing off the same hymn-sheet because we had played so regularly together for so long and had travelled the world together for the few years from '64 until Theo and Donie retired in '67 or '68.

Jim Cashman, Cork, is tackled by Tipperary's Pat Fox and team-mate Donie O'Connell, right, in the 1987 Munster SHC Final replay. 
Jim Cashman, Cork, is tackled by Tipperary's Pat Fox and team-mate Donie O'Connell, right, in the 1987 Munster SHC Final replay. 

GAA.ie: What about the players on the panel that you took over? Was their confidence low after years without meaningful success?

Babs Keating: Isn't it funny, but we didn't see that. If there was a lack of confidence we certainly instilled plenty of it in the dressing-room because we still had the belief that a Tipperary team well-prepared would be competitive. Players like Bobby Ryan, Nicky English, Pat Fox, Ken Hogan, John Kennedy, Noel Sheehy, and Paul Delaney all had huge confidence in their own ability.

The League came together for us in a good fashion in so far as we came out of Division Two which was a tough enough because you had good teams there like Waterford in particular.

We played Antrim in the first League game and then we played Laois in Thurles which was a match that did us a huge favour. Jimmy Doyle was in charge of Laois and in those days the early rounds of the League were in October and November.

Laois beat us by ten points. I've always said that if you're going to get a kick up the backside then you're better off getting it early. We got it early and we got the chance to redirect. We got the chance to make the decision that some of the players who played against Laois, we were going no place with them.

If that game had happened in February or March as it could happen in the present League format, then there would have been no time to recover. Jimmy Doyle did us a huge favour that time.

I remember coming back up (to Dublin) from that match with Richie Stakelum and we went into Phil McGrath's pub and I must have had ten hot whiskies and I didn't talk to the wife for a day!

But that was the turning point for us. We worked hard. I did the training with the Dublin-based lads at the time in the Garda grounds in the Phoenix Park. Theo met the lads in Cashel, Donie met the lads in Nenagh, and we had a huge push on training over the winter months. We did huge work.

In the League we then came through a tough game against Waterford in Waterford and that got us into a quarter-final against Limerick who were up there at the time and we beat them after extra-time. We came out of of it with a lot of injuries and Clare beat us in the semi-final but we left the League with a good bit of confidence.

GAA.ie: You played Kerry in the first round of the Munster Championship...

Babs Keating: I'll always remember, poor auld Tommy Barrett, he nearly lost his reason when I told him I'd booked the team into the Aghadoe Heights Hotel for the night before the match. The Aghadoe Heights is a five-star hotel in Killarney.

Denis O'Connor, the secretary of the Tipperary supporters club, was the accountant for the owner of the Aghadoe Heights and in fairness to him he got us bed and breakfast for about 20 quid. You wouldn't have gotten it in any guest-house at the time.

The lift that gave the team, to stay in the Aghadoe Heights looking down on the lakes of Killarney, was huge. We went down to Fossa for Mass on the Sunday morning and had the priest welcome us. We were wearing blazers and we looked the part. We looked like a professional outfit at the time and when you look like a professional outfit it's easier to look for a professional performance.

It was a new team by then. We probably had ten changes from the previous year's championship which was huge. Can you imagine any team in 2020 arrving with 10 or 12 new names from the previous year. You'd say it couldn't happen.

It was actually a hard game against Kerry. Pat Fox gave an exceptional performance. Without his performance we might not have pulled through.

Then we played Clare in the semi-final and were lucky enough to get a draw, but Clare had some top players at the time. They were up there with the best in the eighties. Nicky finished the replay in ten minutes, he scored a couple of goals in the first ten minutes. And I'll always remember that Aidan Ryan gave a huge performance in that match as well. The game was over after ten minutes in the replay in Killarney which suited us grand it set us up for the Munster Final in Thurles against Cork.

Nicky English, Tipperary, is tackled Cork's Denis Walsh in the 1987 Munster SHC Final replay. 
Nicky English, Tipperary, is tackled Cork's Denis Walsh in the 1987 Munster SHC Final replay. 

GAA.ie. That Munster Final ended in a draw and the replay was in Killarney. Why was Killarney chosen as the venue?

Babs Keating: That drawn Munster Final in Thurles was the last match in the current home and away arrangement between Tipperary and Cork and there was no way we were going to start a new arrangment by playing the replay in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. We were down on our knees for 16 years at this stage.

I told Tommy Barrett, "It's Thurles or Killarney, one of the other". Cork didn't want to play in Thurles, so Killarney was the venue. I think that was a mistake by the Cork County Board. They could have come back to Thurles for the replay and they didn't.

I said it to Frank Murphy at the time, 'Frank, I think ye have made a mistake, Killarney suits us'. Now, we would have loved to be back in Thurles, but it didn't hurt us going to Killarney because it was going to be our fourth time playing there in that Munster Championship.

There's always been a welcome for Tipperary in Killarney. When you walked down the street in Killareny all of the people would give you a clap and lifting you on the way into the stadium.

GAA.ie: Were you feeling confident going into the replay?

Babs Keating: We felt that we had made huge progress as a team and there was real confidence in the team. We came back from the dead against Cork in Thurles and we knew we could match them now. Having said that, the first 20 minutes, I'll always remember, as selectors it was our best performance because we had people around us saying, 'for f**k sake do something'.

Cork were annihilating us on the scoreboard in the first 20 minutes. They led us by six points after 20 minutes and looked like they were going to white-wash us. And yet we were playing perfect. We were playing well. And back then you only had three subs.

I'd say it was our best performance as selectors in so far as we didn't panic. We had the experience to know that when you're playing well the tide will always turn. The inspired way that Cork played for the first 20 minutes, that never lasts. We've seen that in recent years as well when teams like Galway in particular give huge performances for the first half an hour but then are a different team in the second-half.

The tide did turn that day eventually, and it turned when we got a spectacular goal that Nicky English and Bobby Ryan engineered.

Richard Stakelum captained the Tipperary team that won the 1987 Munster SHC Final replay. 
Richard Stakelum captained the Tipperary team that won the 1987 Munster SHC Final replay. 

GAA.ie: Bobby Ryan did well to let the ball run through his legs to Nicky English for that goal...

Babs Keating: He did. There's actually a great story about that. We had put Bobby full-forward and it was his first time ever playing there really. He said to Nicky and Fox before the game, "What the f**k am I supposed to do up here?"

And Nicky said to him, "Bobby, it's like this, you stay out of our f**king way!" There was that kind of camaraderie between the lads, they were a great bunch of fellas together. It's 33 years ago but they haven't changed. To meet those fellas, every one of them, they're great characters.

It was summed up how good they were when we went to Florida and the Bahamas on a team holiday together after winning the 1989 All-Ireland. The last night coming home the captain of the ship we were on invited Nancy and myself to his table for dinner.

He said, "Look, when I heard that there was an Irish team coming on board, 120 people, I was terrified. By the time we got to the Abaco Islands we had no beer left. But we didn't have a glass broken either. I just want to offer my sincere thanks and congratulations to have such a squad on board. They are exemplary. We've gotten more compliments from other guests about their behaviour than any other squad we've had on board."

That was the kind of fellas they were. They were able to enjoy themselves without being foolish about it.

GAA.ie: Pat Fox scored 11 points in that Munster Final replay and was a key player that year and for many more years to follow. He'd had his problems with a knee injury and you had persuaded him to return to the fold after he'd taken a year out. You then relocated him from corner-back to corner-forward where he flourished.

Babs Keating: Yeah, Pat Fox was a huge addition. He had drifted away and it was huge luck that I met him on the street and got him organised. From playing down through the years I always knew that the most difficult position to fill in football and hurling, but especially hurling, is that right corner-forward position.

Going back to the likes of Paddy Kenny, the best players in that position were always left-handed hurlers. They were coming in from their good side. I always saw Fox as the ideal corner-forward in that respect.

I met him on the street in late '86 and asked him how he was fixed and he said, "I'm banjaxed, my knee is finished". I said, "Did you get anybody to look at it?" "Ah, I didn't", he said.

Now, Bill Quinlan, who is from my part of the country was the orthopaedic man in St Vincent's and Cappagh. Bill is a great friend of mine. He went to my school, the CBS in Clonmel. I was leaving cert when when he was in first year and we cycled in the same road together for about four miles.

So I asked Pat would he like if I got someone to look at it and he said he would. So I rang Bill and Bill kept him going for the whole few years that he kept playing with us.

Michael 'Babs' Keating was the Tipperary manager when they won a first Munster SHC title for 16 years in 1987. 
Michael 'Babs' Keating was the Tipperary manager when they won a first Munster SHC title for 16 years in 1987. 

GAA.ie: The replay was level at the end of normal time. Were you feeling confident going into extra-time?

Babs Keating: Nealon gave a great speech and referred back to the history of Tipperary teams winning big matches in Killarney such as the 1950 Munster Final against Cork. He was a brilliant orator, in fairness to him, Nealon. And, by jesus, he had the lads lifted going out the door. There was no way we were going to lose.

GAA.ie: A substitute, Michael Doyle, was the hero in the second period of extra-time, scoring two goals. When you saw those goals go in and you knew you had Cork, how were you feeling?

Babs Keating: I happened to be down at the end where he got the goals and this Cork fella came for me with a flag. I just saw him at the right time and I put up my hand to save myself and I hit him a box and I'd say he didn't get up for half an hour! So I actually missed one of Michael Doyle's goals.

The second half of extra time was like a flood coming in over the field for us. You could see Cork had their heads down. There was a significant moment when John Fenton, who was an exceptional free-taker, missed a free from about 40 yards out in that period and that was the end of Cork.

GAA.ie: When the final whistle blew and the 16-year famine had been ended, what was the buzz like?

Babs Keating: The buzz was unbelievable. We went back to the Aghadoe Heights and I asked the manager how he was fixed for rooms because there was no way we were going to make it home because the match had gone to extra time so it was nearly eight o'clock by the time we were sitting down for our meal in Killarney. So we stayed in Killarney that night and the boys enjoyed themselves.

GAA.ie: You had a lot of success with that team subsequently, but does the '87 Munster Final replay win stand out more than any other game when you look back on that era?

Babs Keating: Ah it does, because it was the fulfillment of a lot of hard work. I had put my head on the block with the supporters club. The same rules applied then as they do now as they did 100 years ago - if you look for money from somebody they'll give it with a heart and a soul, but the one thing they want is value for that money.

And that's what we did in 1987, we gave value for money.

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