What is Gaelic football’s greatest ever rivalry?
For many, the Dublin/Kerry saga of the late 1970s stands out as the most storied era of Gaelic football. While those of a younger persuasion may steer towards the great Armagh/Tyrone rivalry of the early 2000s.
However, one rivalry stands above even those previously mentioned based on sheer tension, toughness and hatred towards each other. The Cork/Meath rivalry that dominated the latter half of the 1980s is one of the fiercest rivalries the GAA has ever seen.
In the three seasons from 1987 to 1990, the pair clashed on four occasions in the All-Ireland final. Meath edged it in 1987 and 1988 (after a replay) before the Rebels finally overcame the Royals in 1990.
They say familiarity breeds contempt and that was most certainly the case for these proud footballing counties. Back in September, Larry Tompkins was inducted into the GAA Hall of Fame and the Cork legend regaled a story summing up just how heated the rivalry was.
“Meath and Cork became the two most dominant teams then in that era (the late 80s) and the games they were playing ferociously, with an air of discontent in some ways,” Tompkins told Pundit Arena.
“Both sets of players, there was a lot of aggro – players didn’t get on. There was a lot of tension in those games. That kind of spilt from one game to the next and the more we met them it got worse.”
In many ways, Tompkins found himself between a rock and a hard place. Having originally hailed from Kildare he knew many of the Meath team well and had been friends with them through his involvement in the Railway Cup.
“I would have known a lot of those Meath fellas playing in Kildare. I would have grown up playing against Meath, in a Leinster minor final in 1980, playing against the likes of Liam Hayes, (Gerry) McEntee and all these fellas.
“I would have known all these guys coming through playing them numerous times with Kildare at National League level. Then I played Railway Cup with Leinster for nearly five years and I played with Colm (O’Rourke), Mick Lyons, Mark O’Connell – I’d have played with every one of those Meath players so I knew them inside out.”
Tompkins spoke of an unfortunate mishap one year when both teams, fresh of an All-Ireland final appearance, were booked to go on a team holiday… at the same time… in the same location.
“We used to go on holidays and at that time you weren’t going on holidays to New Zealand or Australia, you were going to the Canaries – that’s as far as we got. And both teams happened to end up there together and no talking.
“You’d be staying in the same holiday resort area and you’d be in the same hotels. You’d be coming down the elevator and there could be Colm Coyle, PJ Gillick or Colm O’Rourke (in there) with Cork fellas and no-one talking to each other! It was just incredible. But I suppose that was the tension that was there at the matches.”
Tompkins was the only Cork player to speak to a Meath man during that holiday.
The All-Ireland winner reflects on just how much tension was in the air when the two sides came together, whether it was on the field or off it.
“I think Liam Hayes wrote a book and mentioned that they were coming and going and the only fella that was talking to them was myself. I just knew them and they were fine fellas.
“Look, they’d beaten us in ’87 and ’88 after a replay, and I suppose there was a lot of aggro on and off the field. There was a lot of words spoken and different things.
“We played them in a National League semi-final and there was a lot of aggro at that match. Every time we played them there was tension so that built into when the Cork fellas met them then, there was no give.
“So there was no talk really, but I talked to them alright!”