Famous Games

My Greatest Ever Game of Football - The 1976 Munster Final

by Weeshie Fogarty

One of the first recorded meetings of Kerry and Cork took place in Mallow in 1889. Cork won that day 0-2 to 0-1 but later went down to Tipperary in the final. Since then the counties have met on a regular basis in the Munster final with a few exceptions especially since the open draw was introduced in 1991. Of course there has been a lot of very disappointing games down through the decades, nevertheless the Munster senior football final day has been hugely looked forward by the generations of Kerry and Cork supporters. Some of the greatest Gaelic players far too many to recall have graced the Fitzgerald Stadium and the old Athletic grounds now Pairk Ui Caoibh.

I have always noticed that as the final draws nearer followers are want to recall and remember the great players and matches, magic moments and occasions of high drama they have observed through the decades.  One such final contained all of these ingredients and much more. 

It is my personal opinion that the re-play of the 1976 Munster final in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was the greatest game of Gaelic football I have ever seen. For sheer drama, magnificent football, thrills and spills, a finish straight from fantasy world and two of the biggest talking points in football history this encounter took the biscuit. The background to the unforgettable occasion is in it-self historic. The old Cork Athletic Grounds had been re-developed to what was then a modern Pairc Ui Chaoimh. The official opening took place on 6th June 1976 and had a total capacity of 53,000 of which 20,000 were accommodated in the stands. On the 11th July the Munster final became the first major game to be played in the new grounds. It turned out to be a free ridden tense rough and ragged affair. Denis Allen tied the scores for Cork with a point three minutes from the end. That's how it finished, ten points each. However there were massive problems managing the large crowd (40,000) most of whom, (including myself) were unfamiliar with design and tunnels around the new stadium. In an endeavor to get a better view of the game hundreds of spectators climbed over the low wall in front of the seated are and sat and stood on the sidelines and around the goal areas. It was chaotic, and players had to clear a run through the spectator's when taking side-line or kick outs. Referee, the late John Moloney was forced to halt proceedings numerous times to prevent the crowd from spilling on to the pitch.

Two weeks later the re-play attracted a crowd of 45,000 and what a spectacle ensured. With Dave Mc Carthy and Denis Long on top at mid field it looked as if Cork would dethrone the All Ireland champions. Sixteen minutes into the second half the home side was three points up, and then came the first dramatic occurrence. Kerry's great goalkeeper Paudie O Mahoney literally miss hit the ball from a kick out straight into the hands of Jimmy Barry Murphy. The corner forward had no problem goaling with a ground shot. Denis Long then lofted a superb point from the side line and the rebels were suddenly seven points ahead. It looked like the Kerry goose was well and truly cooked at this stage. Paudie o Mahoney has vivid memories of that moment in time that went all so terribly wrong for him. He recalled last week. "I was wearing a new pair of rugby boots that day. I attempted to take a short kick out to Ger o Keeffe. The studs got caught in the ground and I completely miss kicked. Jimmy Barry was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth; he picked up the ball and stuck it low to the net. I was shattered".

The home supporters were in full voice as it appeared that the All Ireland champions were to be de-throned. Twelve minutes remaining. Kerry attacked. Mickey Sheehy kicked a short free to Seanie Walsh whose bullet of a shot was saved right on the line by Cork defender Brian Murphy To the consternation of the Cork players management and supporters John Moloneys umpires raised the green flag as they deemed that Brian was standing behind the goal. There was bedlam but the goal stood. I can vividly recall the incident. It appeared to me as if Seanie Walsh was not the required distance form Mickey when he received the ball from the free and while Murphy's feet may have been behind the line when he saved it is still very debatable if the whole ball had crossed the line. The Cork lead was down to four points.

Back came the men in red and white. A long high centre dropped into the Kerry square. Declan Barron rose majestically high above friend and foe to fist the leather to the net for a goal. John Moloney raced in to his umpires. The flags were crossed, goal disallowed for a square infringement. The Cork supporters were going berserk. It was a very marginal decision but nine times out of ten it could have been allowed.

Paudie o Mahoney again. "I thought Declan Barron was in the square before the ball. The umpires I believe had a lot of sympathy for me following the Jimmy Barry goal and to tell the truth all these years later I always made a point of getting umpires on my side during all matches. Talk to them. Be courteous to them. This is a tactic I deliberately used. It may have decided the issue here". Cork were now shell shocked. Kerry became inspired and urged on by their huge following who were standing up chanting, Kerry, Kerry, Kerry, they added on three points. Pat Spillane then punched the equalizer and there was still yet more drama to unfold. Mickey Sheehy appeared to have kicked the wining point and as the ball sailed over the bar John Moloney signaled that he had blown the final whistle. The score did not stand. In extra time Kerry inspired by my man of the match Pat McCarthy took over in most areas. The Cork spirit was broken following the happings of the previous thirty minutes. Kerry retained the Munster title 3-20 to 2-19 in the greatest game of football I have ever witnessed.

I became a close friend of the late John Moloney the referee that memorable day and in a later interview he explained. "They were both umpiring decisions that day and I accepted what they said in relation to the two incidents. I got a lot of abuse from many quarters following that game and I could see the Cork people's point of view. The episode greatly upset me for a long time and I even contemplated giving up referring then". Denny Long starred for Cork at mid field that day. He later took residence in Tralee and helped Austin Stacks to County and All Ireland honors. Thirty one years later the events of that day are still a huge talking point as he explained to me. "I thought the Brian Murphy decision was very harsh. No umpire could be completely certain that the ball was behind the line. Now from where I was standing for the Declan Barron goal it appeared that he followed the ball into the small square. From a Cork point of view it was heart breaking. It comes up constantly in discussion as people would say to me. "Do you remember that famous day in Cork that John Moloney robbed us" and other things that happened that day.

My memory of the game was ferocious pressure, great movements and fierce excitement. It was one of the all time great matches and terrific to be involved in. To be honest Weeshie this game sticks out in my mind. The atmosphere that day was unreal I don't ever remember playing in such an atmosphere before or after. The pace of the game, the great scores and the way they came.  The massive crowd. The whole thing was electrifying and to me there was something special about that day. The crowd was amazing. They seemed to be down on the field with us. I can never remember playing in a game that the crowd became so involved. It was unreal as if we were playing among a massive crowd of people. I just can't explain what if felt like really. You could nearly reach out and touch the atmosphere. It was magical. I got to know John Moloney really well in the following years. He was a fantastic referee and an outstanding person and he went with his umpires that day. Its all history now Weeshie, but wonderful memories". For me Denny Long summed up that whole memorable afternoon superbly. His memories together with Paudie o Mahoney confirmed for me, (not that I really needed to) that this was the greatest game of Gaelic football I had ever witnessed.

And to finish my best Cork fifteen having seen my first Munster final in 1955 is. I did not consider Shay Fahy or Larry Tompkins as they were not Cork born.
Billy Morgan, Paddy Harrington, Steven o Brien, Brian Murphy, Niall Cahillane, Paddy o Driscoll, Jimmy Kerrigan, Denny Long, Teddy McCarthy, Dave Barry, Declan Barron, Dinny Allan, Jimmy Barry Murphy, Ray Cummins, Colin Corkery.

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