Munster pecking order as persistent as ever as minnows struggle to defy the odds
It’s a much-changed scene from 20 years ago when Cork were outsiders as they travelled to face reigning champions Clare
Clare’s Noel Roche in action against Kerry during the 1992 Munster football final when they created a major shock by winning the Munster title. Photo: Inpho
What goes up must come down. Twenty years ago, as tomorrow, Cork footballers travelled to Clare for a championship fixture but circumstances could hardly have been more different.
This year Munster’s four-county peloton have been left for dead in all of the matches to date with heavy defeats for Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. Clare are all that stand between their peers and a clean sweep of chastening defeats by the ruling, Cork-Kerry duopoly.
The situation is so dismal that talk abounds of a restored seeded draw in the province, all but guaranteeing traditional finals for much of perpetuity, and sweeping away the open draw campaigned for by Clare’s Noel Walsh and which since 1991 has periodically facilitated Munster final appearances for all of the province’s counties except Waterford.
In 1993 it was however a different world. For the only time in the past 95 years Clare were defending champions in Munster.
Their seismic defeat of Kerry in the previous year’s final had catapulted John Maughan, a young army officer with an injury-curtailed Mayo career behind him, into the public consciousness as the manager who had accomplished a miracle.
His team had worked incredibly hard to make history and went on to push Dublin in the 1992 All-Ireland semi-final.
More relevantly they had performed so well in the league that they reached the last four and were, bizarre as it sounds in today’s context, favourites to see off Cork. Even at the time it was unfamiliar territory for Clare’s most experienced player Noel Roche.
“I put it in this perspective. My first championship match was in 1977 and this was 1993 but I’d never beaten Cork so of course I was apprehensive. No matter what we’d done in the past few years, we’d never beaten them.”
Cork’s perspective was naturally different. The county hadn’t lost to Clare since 1941.
One of their most experienced players was corner forward John Cleary, now the county under-21 manager and then nearing the end a successful career having played with what remains the county’s only back-to-back All-Ireland winning team in 1989 and ‘90.
“In ’93 we’d lost to Kerry in the previous two years. After 1991 we felt that we’d left it behind us and that we’d get back up on the bike in ’92 but instead we were well beaten so by ’93 there were a lot of changes and, although there was still a good few from the All-Ireland teams, players like Colin Corkery and Joe Kavanagh were coming on board. We were going there expecting to win with all of the pressure on Clare; they were the champions and playing at home. For once we weren’t the ones with something to lose.
“Billy (Morgan, Cork manager) used some of the predictions as a driving force for us because in a way we resented being outsiders even though it was a kind of incentive. Billy said that if we were properly prepared and in the right frame of mind, Clare would have to be better than us to beat us.”
The consensus was that they were but that’s not how it turned out. Roche felt that there had been slippage and identified the league semi-final defeat by then All-Ireland champions Donegal as a watershed.