Few rivalries in terms of longevity and ferocity can compete with the Cork and Kerry one. The two counties have been interlocked in a war for the tag of kingpins of Munster for generations. A particularly fierce period of meetings came in the late 20th century as every year from 1966 to 1990, they contested the Munster Final.
In 1987 Cork won in a replay. In 1988 they succeeded again with a one-point win.
Two greats of the rivalry during this period were Kerry's Maurice Fitzgerald and Cork's Paul McGrath. Four All-Irelands are shared between the pair of them, two each. The barstools of Cahersiveen and Bishopstown each hail their respective local star as one of the counties all-time greats.
Long before they Fitzgerald would break the capital's hearts with that majestic sideline score and in the midst of a historically great McGrath run that saw him win the All-Ireland Under 21 championship in 1985 and 1986 before losing the senior 1987 and 1988 finals to Meath, and then winning the '89/'90 double, the pair lined out side-by-side for the 1988 Sigerson Cup final, and won it.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner in 1989, McGrath claimed the thrill of winning that year's All-Ireland final was matched by that of his Sigerson success the year previous: "Even when you get beaten in College football, you always have a good time."
It was a long time coming for UCC, who lost in the final the two years previous. The Irish Times report from that day reports nightmarish conditions with an extremely strong wind laying siege to the field. The final score of 0-8 to 0-5 suggests this proved problematic.
They traveled to Summerhill and met a talented University College Galway team that included a soon-to-be Galway player and manager, Alan Mulholland.
I played with UCG 87', 88', 89',90'. then I went down to Limerick to do a post-grad in 1991 and 92' and I played with UL as well. I played in six Sigerson's in total, that was the only final and we came up against the boys!
'I blame our manager, Tony Regan.' Mulholland joked.
He allowed them to score those points, there was no such thing as blanket defences back then. We'd six forwards standing up the other side of the pitch while Maurice was kicking the ball over the bar on the other side!
Mulholland accepts they came up against an inspired Fitzgerald and McGrath that day, and associates that game with a host of battles he endured with Corkian teams.
Jesus, we'd John Joyce. Minor captain 1986. in 1987 he would have played senior with Galway in the All-Ireland Semi-Final, we drew with Cork and then we were beaten in the replay. He played wing forward, he'd a stormer. The best thing since sliced bread.
I was friendly with the UCC corner forward, Ivan Ahern. Galway would have played Cork in the minor final in 86 and Ivan played for Cork. John Joyce and myself played for Galway and they beat us then in the Sigerson Cup final two years later. John actually went to London soon after, he died in 1997.
Of UCC's eight points, Fitzgerald and McGrath contributed seven of them. The duo shared free-taking responsibilities and successfully drove the side to their first Sigerson Cup in sixteen years.
However, county commitments would deny Fitzgerald the opportunity to claim his medal. In an interview with the Irish Examiner in 2013, Des Cullinane, a selector at the time, explained how it unfolded.
We beat the hosts Maynooth and then UCG in the final, and Maurice was one of the main stars. He got on the combined Sigerson team, but because we presented the medals on a Tuesday night and he had to go home for Kerry training, he ended up never being presented with the medal. Maurice is such a quiet guy, he didn’t make any big issue out of it. He wouldn’t be the kind of fella to go screaming and shouting looking for it to be presented.
Fitzgerald was eventually awarded his medal 25 years later, during a team reunion.
The pair would go on to become significant rivals at inter-county level. Their similar styles and playing positions which allowed them to connect so well on the UCC team ensured they become just as crucial to their counties.
In 1989 the wing-forward nominees for All-Star were Maurice Fitzgerald, Paul McGrath and David Beggy. In 1990, the nominations the duo were up against each other again along with Joyce McMullan.
A year later they faced each other in the Munster Semi-Final. Cork were vying for a five-in-a-row against Kerry, having beaten them in the final for the past four years. A young Kerry side under the legendary Mickey "Ned" O'Sullivan who determined to put an end to a most unusual stint without success.
Fitzgerald's five points proved vital as a 1-10 to 0-11 win ended Cork's reign. The Irish Times' Paddy Downey's summary gives a stunning insight into what that result meant for the Kingdom:
The Kerry sky wept and smiled: showers and sunshine mingled in delight. The Kingdom were back (well, half back anyway) and Cork's reign as football champions of All Ireland was over. Predictions, convictions, assumptions; the lot, were blown to smithereens in Fitzgerald Stadium... the reaction of the home team's supporters in the bigger-than-expected attendance of 41, 334 was almost phlegmatic. As if they were too astonished to shake heaven's reflex with ringing cheers.
1988 was a historic year for UCC as they became one of the few teams to win the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup double.
Maurice Fitzgerald would go on to be named on the Sigerson Cup team of the century for his role in that win. Paul McGrath continued with Cork until 1996 and maintained throughout that Fitzgerald was the best player he's ever played with.
The two men went on to have prolific Inter-county careers, in direct antagonism throughout. But in 1988 they united and overcame their rivalry, as they secured a special Sigerson Cup medal.
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