It’s been a tough year to be a Cork GAA fan. Despite some good performances, success has been elusive and only the Cork Intermediate hurlers collected any silverware. Cork fans, myself included, have a certain expectation of success, and the longer it eludes us, the more disillusioned we become. It is a (sad?) fact that, while we pay lip-service to the platitude that ‘winning isn’t everything’, success is very important to us.
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of that phenomenal achievement unique to Cork GAA, the All-Ireland Senior Hurling and Football Double. As a young teenager, I was caught up in the hype of it all back in 1990, just like everyone else in Cork, and the buzz around those two victories was certainly one of the spurs to my later involvement in GAA administration. On August 28th this year, those victories were remembered at a celebration lunch in Rochestown Park Hotel, and watching the two captains, Tomás Mulcahy and Larry Tompkins, walk up through a packed hall and raise the Liam MacCarthy and Sam Maguire cups high in the air, I was transported right back to 1990 and all the emotion and excitement that went with it.
The lunch was a wonderful, nostalgia-fuelled, laughter-filled afternoon during which we all enjoyed the reminiscences of the participants and their opponents, but the most remarkable feature of the day was the feel-good factor that was evident throughout. Twenty-five years later, the memories of that unique success still have the power to lift the spirits of both those who remember the events and those who have only heard about them.
The following day, August 29th, (still feeling the nostalgic after-glow!) I had the privilege of attending the Tony Forristal/Sonny Walsh U14 Hurling tournaments in Waterford, one of a number of inter-county development squad events on around Munster on the same weekend. I went down to Waterford intending to see one or two games and then head home, and I arrived in time for the second Tony Forristal group game against Offaly at St. Saviour’s. It was a tough encounter, with Offaly leading for much of the game, but Cork finally got on top and squeezed out a victory. Following a narrow win over a fancied Tipperary side in the first game, the win saw Cork top the group and reach a semi-final encounter with Kilkenny. I wasn’t going to go home without seeing that one!!
With a long gap until the semi-final, I took a trip to De la Salle, where Cork’s second team was competing in the Sonny Walsh tournament. Comfortable wins over Kerry and Limerick had set up a group decider against Waterford, with the winners through to the final. Again, there was no way I was going to miss that!
Following a more comfortable than expected win over Waterford, Cork were through to the Sonny Walsh Final, and it was back down to St. Saviour’s to watch the first team take on Kilkenny.
Again, this was a tough game, with top-quality hurling on both sides, and again Cork held on to take a narrow victory. With both teams through to their respective finals, to be played at Waterford’s Walsh Park stadium, any plans I might have had for the evening were put on hold. Success is addictive, and I wanted to see this through to the end. Reports coming in of victories in U15 and U17 tournaments only added to the feel-good factor.
Both U14 teams went on to win their finals, against Dublin in the Sonny Walsh and against a fine Galway side in the Tony Forristal – both tough games for tired players, who showed fantastic character and belief to dig out their victories. By the time the whistle blew in the Tony Forristal final, it was a clean sweep for Cork in U14, U15, U16 and U17 tournaments, and it felt fantastic. Word spread around the players and supporters, and the news of success elsewhere seemed to amplify the achievements in Walsh Park. And it wasn’t just me – everywhere I looked, there were happy faces, congratulations, good wishes, delight.
Of course, such experiences are fleeting. Just as it was in 1990, success is ephemeral and transient, but there is no doubt that it feels good and it engenders goodwill. The players and mentors involved in Dublin and Galway and all the other teams had worked just as hard and shown just as much commitment as ours, but on that particular day, it all came together for us. If the tournaments were played again the following week, results might be different. Such tournaments are not reflective of inter-county campaigns at minor, U21 and adult level, we all know that.
I am a realist, and I know that one day of success in 2015 guarantees nothing for the future. But it still feels great, and those players and their mentors who put so much in deserve to enjoy it, and if it inspires them to work harder towards more and greater success, so be it. The strength of character they develop through their involvement in sport will help them to deal with the difficult days, but like the memories of 1990, the good days should be savoured.
Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí.
*Charity beneficiaries of the 1990 Celebration Lunch were The Friends of Jamie Wall and the Dessie Fitzgerald Injury Fund