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Is This Really The Worst Era In Cork Hurling History? There Are Other Candidates

Is This Really The Worst Era In Cork Hurling History? There Are Other Candidates
Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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Cork were thirty (arbitrarily tacked-on) seconds away from winning an All-Ireland in 2013 and the following year won the Munster title in the final game in Pairc Ui Chaoimh amid much joy and nostalgia.

But now, Cork are increasingly regarded as the sick man of hurling.

Paul Ring wrote yesterday about what this does to Cork hurling supporters, traditionally renowned as the cockiest supporters in all of sport, a reputation in which many there seem to revel.

The events of the last few years have only deepened the mystery - what happened in the 2013 championship? The sport of hurling spent the year experimenting with some curious hallucinogenic substance, one which produced bizarre results.

Kilkenny and Tipperary both experienced inexplicable down years. Galway, meanwhile, endured one of their post-All-Ireland final loss nothing seasons (looked at in that context, 2016 was actually a rather promising year for Galway).

In the vacuum stepped a host of unlikely contenders.

Three years down the road, it's hard to believe it ever happened. At the end of 2015, Kilkenny's dominance appeared as oppressive as it ever was.


Cork's loss to Galway in 2015 was so damning in its comprehensiveness that it appears to have sparked a crisis of confidence in the county. Not something to which they were ever vulnerable before. They lost by twelve points but that didn't come close to chronicling the full awfulness of the day. One stat was especially mind-boggling. Galway hit a whopping 22 wides and still racked up 2-28.

This year was even more depressing. Jimmy Barry Murphy was faulted for being squeamish about 'defensive tactics' but Cork gave it the 'full Waterford' against Tipperary this season and went down meekly by nine points. There was relief following the victory over a Dublin team that played most of the game with fourteen men. Any danger that they might rememeber 2016 positively was averted the following week when they were beaten by Liam Dunne's Wexford, a team who were allegedly out of sorts themselves.

It felt like the end of all hope. Cork haven't won an All-Ireland for over a decade and at present it looks like it will be a decade before they can think about winning one again.


In an extremely wide-ranging interview with GAA.ie earlier this year, Ger Loughnane, never susceptible to understatement, was not inclined to talk down the extent of Cork's decline.

The big loss to my mind is Cork. The decline of Cork is absolutely alarming. And when you look at it now, it's not a temporary decline. It's something you fear might get even worse before it gets better. Or ‘will it get better?’ is the big question. Will it ever come back again? You look at the decline of hurling in the City, and it's the City clubs that were the basis of all of Cork's might in the past.

It's alright to say, 'ah, sure Cork will always be back'. But will they? When you look at the structures within Cork, will it come back? I know they're very strong now at U-14 and U-15 but that's a very young age and it will take a while to come through and will it ever come back to what it was before? It would be a massive blow to hurling if Cork don't remain a powerhouse in the game.

Is this the worst ever moment for Cork hurling? They've had down periods before.

A chart of Cork's hurling's fortunes in the 1990s would resemble a U-bend. They won two All-Irelands that decade - as much as anyone else managed in a historically egalitarian era in hurling. It was the same tally as they achieved in the 1980s.

The decade was bookended with All-Ireland wins, in 1990 and 1999. However, in the middle of the decade, the county dropped dramatically off the radar. They endured a succession of short summers, which usually ended 70 minutes after they began in the inauspicious surrounds of the Gaelic Grounds in mid-summer. Cork slept all the way through the revolution years. They were like a deposed monarch living in exile.



After losing the 1992 All-Ireland final - a game which they entered as slight favourites owing to Kilkenny's lack of success in the previous decade - they went five years without winning a single match in the championship, save for a facile win over Kerry in the first round in 1995.

Denis Walsh sketched a conversation between two Cork supporters in the Pairc Ui Chaoimh jacks the day after the Kerry game. "Would Cork get out of Munster?" asked a patron who hadn't seen the game. "Cork," came the reply, "wouldn't get out of Cork."


Here was the record in the Munster championship between 1993 and 1997 - excluding the First Round win over Kerry in 1995.

1993  Clare 2-7  Cork 0-10

1994  Limerick 4-14  Cork 4-11


1995  Clare 2-13  Cork 3-9

1996  Cork 1-8   Limerick 3-18

1997  Clare 1-19  Cork 0-18

Some of the losses were grimmer than others. In 1993, they were League champions and reigning All-Ireland finalists and supporters could have been forgiven for assuming that victory over Clare was a fait accompli. Clare had beaten Limerick and their manager Len Gaynor was offended by a newspaper article which announced that the return of John Fitzgibbon from injury heralded the beginning of the summer. Clare felt they were being brushed over.

In 1995, they appeared to have nipped the Loughnane revolution in the bud. But Seanie McMahon and his broken collar bone manufactured a sideline cut from which Ollie Baker batted home a dramatic winner.

The absolute low point was reached in 1996. The Cork hurlers record of never having lost a championship match in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was smashed in spectacular circumstances. It was Jimmy Barry Murphy's first championship match as manager.

Brian Corcoran's despair was such that he opted to focus on football during the mid-1990s.

From '93 to '98 was pretty bad for Cork hurling. It was like the annual trip to Limerick in June. Being beaten by Clare and beaten by Limerick, out of the championship.

That was the only reason I started playing football really. I didn't want to hang around doing nothing for the summer. If the hurling was going better at the time, I probably would never have played football.

But then, the current despair is being propelled as much by fear of the future as it is frustration with the present. During their wilderness years in the mid-nineties, they won an All-Ireland minor title in 1995 and an U21 championship in 1997.

As Donal Og Cusack has a pain in his face pointing out, there is nothing like that to imbue confidence now. Happy Cork Week.

Read more: Cast Your Vote For The Ultimate Cork GAA Cult Hero



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