There aren’t too many English club soccer grounds which can lay claim to having staged an All Ireland final rematch – but Brentford FC’s Griffin Park is one.
On Saturday 17 March, 1990, 4,452 spectators descended on one corner of West London to watch Cork and Mayo do battle.
The game was a repeat of the previous September’s All Ireland senior football championship final at Croke Park – a match Cork won by 0-17 to 1-11.
Regarded as one of the best All Ireland finals ever, Billy Morgan’s Rebels arrived at Croker on the back of successive defeats to Meath.
Their subsequent victory was their first since 1973. Mayo were contesting their first final since their last title win, in 1951.
Mayo’s Anthony Finnerty raised hopes that their long wait to lift Sam could be nearing its end, when he rifled the ball past John Kerins in the Cork goal.
But he could then only find the side-netting when presented with another goal chance just minutes later.
Cork accepted the lifeline and went on to win by three points.
With Cork playing in National League Division 1, and Mayo in Division 2, Griffin Park would be the unlikely setting for the sides’ first meeting since that September Dublin day.
With Brentford FC, who were in the old Third Division at the time, playing away to Bristol City that afternoon, the coast was clear for Cork and Mayo to renew their rivalry in one small corner of West London.
Neither side, however, would be at full strength.
The Rebels were short Larry Tompkins, Dave Berry, John Kerins, Teddy McCarthy and Barry Coffey from their All Ireland winning side.
But these players were “inconspicuous by their absence” according to one report (quite possibly of Cork persuasion) of the game, so “splendid were Cork on this magnificent occasion”.
From the players that either started the All Ireland final, or came off the bench, Mayo were missing Peter Forde, Liam McHale, Greg Maher, Noel Durcan, Jimmy Burke, Kevin McStay, Brian Kilkelly and their Croke Park goalscorer Finnerty.
The outcome in Brentford was a repeat of the All Ireland final with Cork again coming out on top, only this time by 1-11 to 0-8.
For the victors, Mayo-native, turned Cork footballer, Shea Fahy scored 1-1 and John Cleary 0-4.
Michael Fitzmaurice and Tommy O’Grady both scored 0-2 for Mayo. Fitzmaurice had been the All Irelands top scorer in 1989.
“I remember Shea played in the full forward line at some stage and I was delighted when he scored his goal,” Cork’s Steven O’Brien told the Irish World.
“He was brought down to earth soon after as it was pointed out the crossbar was much higher than a normal GAA crossbar!”
Cork led by 0-7 to 0-3 at the interval with Fahy’s goal at the three-quarter stage proving to be the turning point.
Cork 1-11 vs 0-8 Mayo
Challenge Match (Hennelly Group Cup)
Saturday 17 March 1990
Griffin Park, Brentford
CORK: M Maguire; N Calahane, C Corrigan, J Kerrigan; M Slocum, C Counihan, A Davis; Danny Culloty, M Burns; D Allen, M McCarthy, J O’Driscoll; P McGrath, S Fahy, J Cleary. Subs: T Nation, S Coughlan, S O’Brien, P Hayes.
MAYO: E Lavin; J Browne, D Kearney, K Beirne; P Holmes, M Collins, J Finn; TJ Kilgallon, S Maher; M Fitzmaurice, WJ Padden, T O’Grady; T O’Reilly, R Dempsey, MJ Mullin. Subs: D Flanagan, R Mee, M Carney, G Irwin.
Mayo ‘keeper Eugene Lavin brought off one “breath-taking” save to deny John O’Driscoll. At the other end, Michael Slocum and Conor Counihan were both thwarted by Cork goalkeeper Michael Maguire.
“I don’t remember any friction at game and both teams played an open brand of football, as witnessed in All Ireland final of ’89,” added O’Brien.
The report added that the Cork players had “done their county proud” on what was an “historic occasion” and that the five missing players “were not missed at all”.
Manager Billy Morgan said afterwards that after this performance no player could now “be assured of his place on a Cork senior football team”.
The Sunday Independent’s 18 March edition was a little more circumspect in its praise. It gave the game barely a nib and described the official attendance of 4,452 as “disappointing”.
Cork were presented with a cup by the game’s sponsors, the Hennelly Group. According to one source, the game yielded gate receipts of close to £50,000.
“There was a festival feeling to it as it was great to meet old friends who had been living in London. We spent a great evening in Ted Riordan’s pub in Brentford.”
The match, though, had ruffled a few feathers with the London County Board. Organised by a London public relations company, it had been done without the consent or knowledge of the board.
Pat Griffin’s book Gaelic Hearts A History of London GAA 1896 -1996 states that news only broke in March that the association’s then full-time PRO Danny Lynch had given permission to The Creative Concern to stage the game.
“The revelation caused widespread anger in London GAA ranks that such action had been taken without consulting the governing body and for the benefit of people outside the ranks of the GAA,” wrote Pat Griffin.
“London officials reacted angrily and would have forced the cancellation of the fixture and only allowed it to go ahead after the intervention of the then president, John Dowling.”
Griffin went on to note that the fixture was largely “ignored” by the GAA fraternity – a point perhaps illustrated by the relatively low attendance.
While Mayo went on to fall to Galway in the Connacht semi-final, Cork retained the Sam Maguire, beating Meath in the final by 0-11 to 0-9.