Flashback: 1990 All-Ireland SHC Final - Cork v Galway
1990 All-Ireland SHC Final
CORK 5-15 GALWAY 2-21
By John Harrington
September 2, 1990 was a hot one, and the All-Ireland Hurling Final that took place that day was a sizzler too.
Cork and Galway served up seven goals in a see-saw contest that left both sets of supporters veering from joy to despair at different times, often in the space of a couple of minutes.
Galway came into the match as favourites as they were contesting their fifth All-Ireland Final in six years whereas Cork hadn’t appeared in one since 1986.
It was the year after the ‘Keady Affair’, when Galway felt they had been hard-done by the suspension of centre-back Tony Keady for the All-Ireland semi-final they lost against Tipperary.
The 1990 campaign was a chance for the Tribesmen to prove they were the greatest team of their era by winning a third All-Ireland in four years.
Instead, the Rebels would once again prove that Jim ‘Tough’ Barry’s famous declaration about Cork hurlers being like mushrooms that can appear overnight wasn’t too far off the mark.
In actual fact, Cork’s success in 1990 was due in no small part to the resurrection of a number of older hurlers.
Tomas Mulcahy and Kevin Hennessy had retired from inter-county hurling after losing to Tipperary in the 1988 Munster Final, but were coaxed back for the 1990 campaign.
John Fitzgibbon hadn’t been part of the panel either in ’89, but all three would be very influential figures in the Cork attack in 1990.
They were brought back into the fold by newly appointed manager, Canon Michael O'Brien, who was very much the right man in the right place at the right time.
Famed for his motivational powers, he knew how to get the best from a core of players who had been around the scene for the best part of a decade and was also canny enough to surround himself with a strong backroom team.
"We were after a very bad year in '89 when Waterford beat us after a replay," recalls Sean O'Gorman, who played corner-back on the 1990 All-Ireland winning team.
"Then there was a changing of the guard and a new management regime came in with The Canon at the helm. The Canon had that bit of an aura about him and a great track-record of success between minor and colleges and everything.
"Gerald McCarthy was with him as the coach and he brought in a new regime of training. We trained before Christmas which was rare enough for the times. What we were doing was the four gates would be opened in Pairc Ui Chaoimh so to do the lap you had to go all the way around outside and there was no short-cut!
"Then you had Frank Murphy, Martin Coleman, Liam O'Tuama, and Denis Hurley as selectors. It was important to have Frank in there as a selector, because if challenge matches needed to be gotten he'd be able to get them straight away.
"The Canon might decide on a Monday night that he wanted to play Kilkenny on the Friday, and it would be just sorted. Frank had that bit of power.
"You'd have to say too that Tomás (Mulcahy) was a brilliant captain too. To me, he was the main man. He was a great liason between the players and the Canon and the County Board. He led the thing from the front always.
"He thought he was finished with Cork in '89 but the Glen won the county that year so that's why he was brought back in as captain for 1990."
The recall of players like Mulcahy, Hennessy, and Fitzgibbon weren't the only shrewd calls that Canon O'Brien made.
O'Gorman himself had been in and out of the Cork team for years but really blossomed in 1990 when O'Brien put his faith in him, and the introduction of no-nonsense midfielder, Brendan O'Sullivan, proved to be another master-stroke of selection.
"I had never made the team previously, really," says O'Gorman. "I was fierce lucky just to get on. I don't know how I made it that year. I was never hurling very badly any year, but just couldn't get persuade the selectors. But I got my chance that year and it's a very easy game if the ball hops right for you.
"You always had a core of fellas who would have been there back in 1986. Then you put the likes of Brendy O'Sullivan into the mix who wouldn't have been an out and out hurler.
"He was put in midfield and you're thinking to yourself, Jesus, if you did a lap of the field with Brendy you'd beat him by about 50 yards. But when you put a jersey on him he was a different man altogether. He was a strong man and made a difference. The Canon brought in a few fellas like that and got the best out of everyone."
It was one of the prodigal sons, Kevin Hennessy, who got the 1990 All-Ireland Final off to a rip-roaring start when he scored a goal after just 48 seconds.
“I still remember it clearly,” Hennessy told this writer. “The ball came down the wing. Ger Fitz (Fitzgerald) let it on to John Fitz (Fitzgibbon) who pulled it across the goal to me and I stopped it.
“I’m predominantly right-handed but I hit it left-handed and it went in through the keeper’s legs.
“It was 48 seconds. It’s still the fastest goal ever scored in an All-Ireland Final. I watch the All-Ireland Final every year with the stop-watch to make sure no-one ever beats it!”
Galway eventually settled after a slow start to take a firm grip on the game in the first half.
They were largely inspired in this endeavour by centre-back Tony Keady who seemed keen to make up for lost time, and centre-forward Joe Cooney.
A goal from the rampant Cooney drew the Tribesmen level, and by half-time Galway led by 1-13 to 1-8.
Cork were fortunate to be only five points in arrear, because Galway had a second goal ruled out when play was brought back for a foul on Cooney moments before Eanna Ryan hit the back of the net.
"There was no doubt that Joe Cooney dominated the first half but they probably missed a lot as well, Galway," admits O'Gorman. "They had a lot of chances and Noel Lane probably should have had two goals.
"They had that goal disallowed too and there's no doubt that if it was nowadays the advantage would have been played and it would have been a goal.
"As it transpired goals did win matches that day. We probably should have been beaten. Galway had plenty of chances to put us away but didn't do it. But we finished well."
The story goes that the Cork management team discussed switching Jim Cashman off Cooney for the second-half, but couldn’t agree on who to move to centre-back in his stead.
Eventually they opted to give Cashman five more minutes at number six, and it proved to be a wise decision because he thundered into the match in the second-half.
With an increasingly dominant Cork half-back line now providing their forwards with a steadier supply of ball, the Rebels started to cut loose.
They’d banged in 13 goals in the four championship matches they’d played leading up to the final, and that instinct to go for the jugular was ultimately what saw them lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
“We got five goals that day and we needed them all,” says Hennessy. “That’s why we went for them in the first place.
“The old cliché that you should take your points and the goals will come is a stupid one. At all times you should work to create and score goals.
“You’re not going to score many when you’re shooting from 35 yards out.
“Scoring goals was why we were there. There were other lads around to take points, but whenever we got the ball we’d put the head down, take the man on, and go straight for goal.
“We had a great understanding. I’d let a shout and Ger Fitz would know whether to let the ball run or to catch it and John Fitz was the same.
“If the ball was coming in high one would run around the front and one would run around the back.
“That understanding came from playing together as well as talking it out after training and before matches.”
Tomas Mulcahy gave Cork a badly needed boost when he scored their second goal of the match nine minutes into the second-half.
Not long afterwards the game took another decisive fork in the road when Galway’s Martin Naughton raced through on goal but his fiercely struck shot hit Cork goalkeeper Ger Cunningham in the face.
Another Cork goal from Mark Foley gave them further momentum, and then the match was effectively decided in the space of 90 seconds when John Fitzgibbon struck for his fifth and sixth goals of the championship campaign.
He’d also set up Hennessy for the first goal of the day, and Hennessy returned the favour for the fifth and final one that effectively sealed Cork’s victory.
“I remember Tomas Mul slipping a ball to me and I ran in and passed it to John Fitz,” says Hennessy. “It wasn’t one of the best passes, but he still stuck it.
“He was one of the best when it came to ground strokes like that.
“He wouldn’t wear a helmet because he was into Christy Ring, big-time. He was a Glen (Rovers) man and before every match he’d play for Cork he would visit Christy’s statue or he’d visit his grave.
“And because Christy Ring never wore a helmet he wouldn’t wear one either. John got his skull fractured once, but still that didn’t persuade him to wear the helmet.
“He was a gas man altogether. I remember someone saying to him at half-time in the dressing-room once, “John, would you ever pass me that ball?”
“He says, 'I’ll tell you now, I don’t pass the ball to inferior players. So I don’t pass the ball'. He was gas!”
The 1990 All-Ireland Final triumph remains one of the satisfying in the extensive canon of great Cork hurling victories.
Not just because it was a fairly unexpected one, but because they won it with the sort of style and panache that has always been the calling card of successful Cork hurling teams.
"It was a great one to win," says O'Gorman. "Back then it was often won that way, out of the blue. The traditional counties could produce a team from nowhere and win one.
"It was a very warm day and the match was over like a flash. It was just non-stop the whole time.
"I hardly knew what the score was during the match because you were just so involved in the game you'd hardly know what was happening.
"You just kept the head down and kept going, but I'd say it was an entertaining match for the people watching."
Scorers for Cork: John Fitzgibbon 2-1, Kevin Hennessy 1-4, Tomas Mulcahy 1-2, Mark Foley 1-1 Teddy McCarthy 0-3, Tony O’Sullivan 0-2, Kieran McGuckin 0-1, Ger Fitzgerald 0-1
Scorers for Galway: Joe Cooney 1-7, Noel Lane 0-4, Brendan Lynskey 1-0, Martin Naughton 0-4, Eanna Ryan 0-2, Tony Keady 0-1, Michael McGrath 0-1, Michael Coleman 0-1, Anthony Cunningham 0-1.
CORK: Ger Cunningham; John Considine, Denis Walsh, Seán O'Gorman; Seanie McCarthy, Jim Cashman, Kieran McGuckin; Brendan O'Sullivan, Teddy McCarthy; Ger Fitzgerald, Mark Foley, Tony O'Sullivan; Tomás Mulcahy, Kevin Hennessy, John Fitzgibbon. Subs: David Quirke for McGuckin, Cathal Casey for Brendan O'Sullivan.
GALWAY: John Commins; Dermot Fahy, Seán Treacy, Ollie Kilkenny; Pete Finnerty, Tony Keady, Gerry McInerney; Michael Coleman, Pat Malone; Anthony Cunningham, Joe Cooney, Martin Naughton; Michael McGrath, Noel Lane, Eanna Ryan. Subs: Tom Monaghan for Malone; Brendan Lynskey for Cunningham.