The Double

It’s all been brilliant, really. The memories, the pictures, the podcasts, the interviews, the book, going red, the pride and the feeling.

The games themselves were on over lockdown, but they’ve never really been far away. They’re the type of entertainment that always appears on special occasions, like Christmas, Easter, a christening, a wedding, an anniversary, a funeral, or the occasional dreary Thursday evening as the nights close in.

And even when a screen isn’t close at hand, the action is never really far away. Just close your eyes and you can still see most of it; Kevin Hennessey’s class and vision, Ger Cunningham’s bloodied nose, Teddy Mac playing himself to fitness, Jim Cashman’s renaissance, Tony Sull’s sidestep, Tomás Mull’s smile, John Fitzgibbon’s leap and Seán O’Gorman’s omnipresence.

Then there’s John Kerins’ save, Larry’s belligerence, Shay Fahy’s brilliance, Danny Cullouty’s sweatbands, Mick Slocum’s grace, Colm O’Neill’s left foot, Colm O’Neill’s left hook and Stephen O’Brien’s youth.

The Canon and Billy Morgan were both men of strong beliefs, even if their methods may have differed wildly, but on the Monday after the Meath jinx was laid to rest, all differences were cast aside as an overwhelming Corinthian spirit took hold of the city and spread across the county as every school and parish got to know Liam and Sam a little bit better.

As luck would have it, my club mate and childhood hero, Seánie McCarthy was wing-back for the hurlers while club legend Martin Coleman was a selector, thus ensuring that Ballinhassig got to meet them a little bit sooner than most.

The pictures that survive at home from that night in 1990 have an awful feel of the ‘80’s about them. There are outrageously misfitting jumpers, a selection of Deirdre Barlow and Southern Health Board issue style-glasses, old army supply shirts and bomber jackets, the odd perm and an intoxicating feeling of pure joy, happiness, and contentment.

There’s very little I can say about the Double that hasn’t been said already, the games have been analysed, the stories have been told and while you never really tire of hearing about Kevin Hennessey asking John Commins for a high five, the event really just speaks for itself.

It was perfect in its timing too, marking a time in hurling, football and Irish society that was to be a bridge from the old to the new. Italia ’90 put Ireland on the world stage, the Double gave us Corkonians a chance to take centre-stage. Wasn’t it always thus?

I was eight at the time, so the men of those teams left a huge impression on me. I chose Stephen as my confirmation name, I worshipped Teddy Mac, I still know the Larry Tompkins song off-by-heart though I haven’t sung it since I was a boy.

Embarrassingly, when I saw Tomás Mull in a coffee shop on Friday, while wearing my Cork jersey for my school’s Marymount tribute, I was more aware of myself than a man of my age should be.

On Tuesday, when we were all tangled up in red, I saw this tweet from former Cork and Castletownbere player, Donagh Wiseman, and it struck me how extraordinarily fortunate I have been.

The 1990 football final was my fifth All-Ireland final. It was my ninth time in Croke Park. My first visit was in ’88 when Cork beat Monaghan in the All-Ireland semi-final. I was an incredibly privileged boy.

We went to these games as a family, the six of us stuffed into an Opel Kadett, usually with four tickets, and that wasn’t a problem. My parents must have made Jobe look impatient.

There were fights, bites, laughs and long silences. Like in 1988 when there wasn’t a word spoken until we hit Cashel, and no stop until we hit the culinary mecca of Mick Dundee’s in Fermoy, all at a time when there was no dual carriageway after you bade farewell to the Curragh. Tommy Sugrue has a lot to answer for.

That same car brought us all over the county too, Sunday dinners were never a thing out our way, there was always a game to play, or a game to see, like when Ciarán O’Sullivan won the junior county for Urhan against Midleton in Ballingeary.

It’s all still going, the madness, but just in a different way. When I think back now, it’s the memories around the game as much as the games themselves that I remember. There was the crush coming out of the lower Hogan after the drawn game against Meath in ’88 when a kind man from Skibbereen put me on his shoulders to keep me safe.

We met him again in Cahir on the way home where we found out that Mick McCarthy’s nickname was ‘small Mick’. Then there was the visceral memory of looking at the scoreboard on the Canal End after the replay.

Subsequently, we followed ‘small Mick’ and O’Donovan Rossa to Limerick to watch them win the All-Ireland club in 1993. Mick is no longer with us, nor is John Kerins, two men whose time was called even though they had so much more left to give.

There are so many other flashes from the past; jersey creams on the train to the league final in ’89, a choice encounter with a Dublin gang wearing hobnail boots the same day, upsetting a RTE camera man in the All-Ireland semi-final of the same year, watching a man try to hop the wire to get at the ref of the same game, such was Keith Barr’s thuggery, hugging my mother and sister after the hurling final in ’90 and my brother running back to the car with his crutches in the air after finally seeing off Meath two-weeks later.

Different times.

The thing about nostalgia is that it inevitably leads to sentimentality, and now more than ever, that’s not a bad thing. The Double is both modern and ancient, past, and present and it is eternal in its uniqueness.

But there’s been enough talk about what has past and is passing; there’s better to come.

John Coleman

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