July 05, 1991
Cork's most important player
Thirty year old Kevin Hennessy has been a long and faithful servant to Cork hurling. He has been with them through the good times and the not so good and if ever a man's efforts deserved the ultimate reward it was when the Leesiders won their historic All-lreland title in 1984 after losing to Kilkenny on the previous two occasions.
He then saw them lose the crown to Galway in disastrous circumstances the following year, but got another break to make a fresh start in 1986 and what a year it turned out to be, as Cork once again silenced the Tribesmen with a spectacular victory against all the odds. After a very understandable drop in standard during the 1987/1989 period when Tipp regained control, Hennessy and Cork staged a real comeback last July when they pulled the wool over their blue and gold rivals in what turned out to be their greatest victory since 1952, when a team parading another Midleton giant, Gerard Murphy, also foiled Tipp's four-in-a-row bid.
All that was almost twelve months ago . . . next Sunday, however, the problem arises afresh and Kevin and his colleagues are anticipating another hard battle from 'Babs' Keating's charges in their own Pairc Ui Chaoimh. There might be some debate as to which is the better team at the moment but Kevin Hennessy and his colleagues have the ball control, speed and strength of finish to make it rather hectic for the Tipp full-back line and it will not surprise me if the game is won and lost in this vital area at either end. The sight of the blue and gold jersey brings out the best in Cork and will be likely to do so on Sunday as there has been a very keen rivalry between these counties going back many decades.
They used to say that Corkmen play hurling in the same way as they speak English - with a definite upward modulation at the end, or as Tipp folk might interpret it, with a sting in the tail. The final six or eight minutes of last year's final in Thurles was enough to confirm the authenticity of this assessment for critics as the Leesiders went on to record an historic 416 to 2-14 victory. Part of Tipp's problem might have been due to the pressure of All-lreland champions. They were too anxious to prove themselves and as those final nailbiting minutes throbbed with excitement Cork's fast moving forward line wrapped up the game. It was Kevin Hennessy's sixth Munster senior medal and a marvellous comeback considering that he had been out of the limelight since the 1988 final against the ould enemy at the Limerick Gaelic Grounds.
Kevin Hennessy is a G.A.A. "character" and over the past decade could be classed as the most important player on the Cork team. When the former Galway hurler P. J. Molloy was asked who he feared most on the Cork team before last year's All-lreland final, he unhesitatingly named Hennessy and he broke the Westerners hearts with that early goal from which they took a long time to recover from. "It was a great start alright," he told me this week. "I got my chance and took it. Other days it could go wide or be saved."
Kevin Hennessy first came to my notice as a minor centre-forward in 1979 when scoring 1-3 against Limerick in the Munster final. The Shannonsiders put up a reasonably good performance on the day but they were unable to keep pace with Hennessy, Denis Walsh and Tony Coyne and the final scoreline of 3-18 to 44 told its own story. In his opinion it was a great start to a glittering career when the All-lreland was eventually won following a five points win over Kilkenny. After a few early shakes Coyne, Martin O'Sullivan and Kevin got going up front and with young Ger Cunningham in his usual form Cork pulled away. Interestingly Cunningham and Hennessy are the only survivors with the Barrs man making his senior debut in 1981 and the East Cork player a year later.
Happiest group in Croke Park that afternoon were a number of Midleton followers including his father John, who also played for a number of years before becoming a leading administrator. "Yes, my father was a great help in those days but I was brought up in the company of great players especially Paddy Fitzgerald who was in charge at the time. I definitely learned a lot from watching the likes of Seanie O'Leary and Ray Cummins and it was just marvellous to be part of the scene." Incidentally, Fitzy is still training Midleton who are through to the quarter-final of the county senior hurling championship against Carbery.
There was no delay after '79 by the Cork under-21 selectors in deciding to bring in the brilliant teenager to the side and by 1982 he was the proud holder of another All-lreland medal when Cork pipped Galway, 0-12 to 0-11at Birr. For that game Cork opted to use Kevin Hennessy at midfield alongside Donie Curtin from Shanballymore and as things turned out it was the Midleton man who grabbed the winning point with less than a minute to go. On the day the hurling was hard but fair with Ger Cunningham, Mick Boylan, Willie Cashman, Colm O'Connor, Tony O'Sullivan and Tony Coyne also doing many excellent things throughout.
That year also Hennessy got the best possible start to his senior career when after he made his debut against Tipperary at Pairc Ui Chaoimh he hit 2-1 in the 3-19 to 2-6 victory over Clare in Thurles. At the time I wrote: "Young Kevin Hennessy was outstanding up front and linked magnificently with Tony O'Sullivan and Seanie O'Leary for some outstanding scores. Overall the trio scored 3-9 between them and will take some stopping as the months roll on."
A short while later Cork annihilated Waterford (5-31 to 3-6) in the Munster final but the first Sunday of September turned out to be a grey afternoon for them as Kilkenny recaptured the Liam McCarthy trophy with almost unbelievable ease. An overall lack of sharpness was again very evident in the Waterford team in the 1983 munster final with Hennessy and Jimmy Barry Murphy the chief architects down the centre of the Cork attack. In the end the physical power of Cork won hands down but after beating Galway by 5-14 to 1-16 in the All-lreland semi-final they flopped to the Noresiders for the second consecutive season.
It was a game that Cork might and indeed could have won and if they had made their presence felt much earlier. In the second half than they did the final scoreline of 2-14 to 2-12 could well have been reversed. In retrospect, it is hard to believe that the black and amber only scored three points during the remaining 32 minutes of the second half-and still ended up winning.
But, Cork's taste for winning All-lrelands had been well developed down the years and they finally repaired the cracks when silencing Offaly in the 1984 Centenary final in Thurles. This came after Cork had annihilated Laois in the Centenary Cup final at Croke Park with the help of five Midleton players - Denis Mulcahy, Pat Hartnett, John Fenton, John Hartnett and Kevin Hennessy. Then in the Munster final Tipperary's history of misfortune continued when after leading Cork by four points with 6 minutes left they lost in dramatic circumstances. Hennessy slipped over three points in the 4-15 to 3-14 victory and all the other players around him responded especially John Fenton and Seanie O'Leary whose winning goal was the highlight.
Cork were seven points ahead of Offaly in the second half of the All-lreland final when Kevin Hennessy finally put the lid on their coffin. It came after Damien Martin originally saved a shot from Barry Murphy but Hennessy was in to flick the rebound home in front of a stunned Offaly defence. Subsequently many were amazed how easily Offaly folded in the latter stages of a match that gave Kevin a hat-trick of All-lreland medals.
As the years passed he went on to win every honour including two Railway Cup medals, an Oireachtas souvenir and an All-Star award in 1986. His career suffered a set-back in the summer of 1987 when as captain Cork lost their Munster crown to Tipperary in Killarney but many Cork supporters felt they left it after them in Thurles when two late points brought the Premier County back from the dead. He also holds three county senior medals with Midleton and a football award with Imokilly who shocked the Barrs in the 1984 final.
In the final analysis he is the player who does a lot of off-the-ball running around which the entire efficiency of the Cork forward line is based. It is he who creates the space for his colleagues and very often has to go well out to get the ball and keep the supply going into his fellow attackers. This role has been doubly crucial to the Reds in '86 as well as last year when Cork threw down the gauntlet to Galway. In the circumstances it is not surprising that the '86 win stands out above the others because he finished the match with a personal tally of 2-1.
Taken from Hogan Stand
5th July 1991
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