I was born in 1982 but I didn’t come of age until the winter of 1986 . Typically, we had a few tapes before we had anything to play them on but there was only ever one that I was interested in. It was a recording of Cork’s victory over Galway in the 1986 All-Ireland Hurling final.
Every Saturday morning I rose at the dawn, headed straight for the sitting room and put the tape in. That I knew the result and everything that was going to happen was irrelevant. I was mesmerised by it and I can still remember more about this game than I can about any other game that I ever attended or played in.
There was Tom Cashman picking up the pieces and clearing it away out of danger, Croke Park standing to salute Tony Keady, Tomás Mull mixing the sublime with the ridiculous, Kevin Hennessy’s goal for the ages, John Fenton’s ankle and Pat Hartnett splitting Brendan Lynskey in two as he charged up the sideline by the Hogan Stand.
It was here that I first met Kieran Kingston. He was the only sub that Cork used on that day and he was essential in securing the victory, clipping over two points in the closing stages. He had a distinctive strut, the classic Cooper helmet and even though the hair is greyer, he hasn’t changed much in the intervening thirty odd years.
He was also from a small club, a small club close to my own, a small club that would go senior in the years that followed. Much of the parish that Tracton draws from is nestled on the coast in between Crosshaven and Kinsale and the sprawling behemoth of Carrigaline is edging closer by the year. It’s a beautiful part of the world and players and men are bred tough down there and they’ve always seemed to get the very best out of themselves.
Even then, in 1986, Kingston embodied that Tracton spirit. In a team loaded with players from Blackrock and the Barrs, the Glen and Midleton, he looked like he belonged. He played like it too.
On those Saturday mornings in the sitting room I always looked forward to his introduction, mainly because I knew it meant Cork were about to win, but also because he wasn’t from far away. He was a symbol of what was possible once you were willing to work hard and believe in yourself, and that it didn’t matter where you were from.
And that’s what he brought to Cork in his time involved, firstly with JBM and then in his role as manager. He showed what was possible when Cork are organised properly. He surrounded himself with good men from different eras, was willing to expand his horizons by seeking the assistance of Gary Keegan and, from what I can make out, created a culture within the team where excuses were no longer tolerated.
He blooded new players while also improving the players he inherited. He used all of the early set backs as learning processes and came back stronger. He made a long term project appear shorter than we could ever have imagined or dreamed of. What else can a manager do?
It’s a desperate shame that he has departed. As ever, he oozed class when explaining his reasons. The demands of the modern game means that the job of an inter-county manager is a full-time affair. As a man who works for himself, he couldn’t continue to let his business and his family suffer for the sake of Cork hurling. Nor could Pat Hartnett afford to. Nor should anyone be expected to.
Kingston and his management team did Cork hurling unbelievable service. For that we should be eternally grateful. And sorrowful that their service is over.
But it just gets you thinking again. What could Cork achieve if it was organised in a modern way? Cork is still a sleeping giant. Considering the resources that we have, there is no other conclusion to make.
Think of the all of the multi-national organisations in the lower harbour, all of the local businesses, the amount of clubs and the love of the games that exists here. Surely there could be a way to make sure that the people who put their lives on hold for the sake of Cork are not out of pocket? I don’t mean getting paid, I just mean getting looked after, properly. Is it too much to ask?
Surely there’s space for a supporters club, like they have in Tyrone and Tipperary, to supplement and help the county board in the preparation of our inter-county teams? It would mean that time, as opposed to money, would be the main barrier to getting the right people into the right roles. It would also have the added benefit of giving ordinary supporters a sense of involvement in the cause, as opposed to the alienation that they tend to feel when it comes to the powers that be.
It’s a big few weeks for Cork, with the chance to breath life into the club scene and a chance to build on the momentum created by Kieran Kingston. As we await the appointment of the next Cork manager, let’s just hope that there are no barriers when it comes to the pursuit of excellence. And let’s hope that there are plenty of more games like 1986 to look forward to.