On the 21st of August 1983, Ireland experienced its largest ever earth tremor. Felt as far south as Lee-side, the epicentre was Croke Park, just behind the goalmouth on Hill 16. Dean Rock's old man, Barney, had equalised in the dying seconds of the All Ireland Semi Final against Cork and The Hill went absolutely BERSERK!!
I was only 10 years old at the time but I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was sitting on my Da’s lap in the Cusack Stand, having jumped over the turnstiles like all the other chislers – it was bit different back in those days. The noise! The colour! The emotion!! The ROAR!! Flags waved, people danced. Strangers embraced. Air horns blew. Croke Park shook, rocked and rolled.
You could have launched a rocket to Mars.
It was a nail-biting finish to a difficult match for Dublin. Heffo’s young team just couldn’t seem to gel the way they had in the Leinster Final, when they had beaten 1982 All Ireland Champions, Offaly, spearheaded by the great Matt Connor. It had been an unexpected but resounding victory with Brian Mullins, Jim Ronayne and John Caffrey playing a three man spread at midfield, a revolutionary innovation at the time from team manager, Kevin Heffernan.
For their part, Cork had beaten Mick O’ Dwyer’s 4-in-a-row winning Kerry team in the Munster Final for the first time in 9 years of heartbroken trying. They were hot favourites to make it to the All Ireland final.
On a day when an inexperienced Dublin defence just couldn’t quite get to the pitch of the game, everything seemed to be going right for Cork.
A mix up in the back line between John O’Leary and Ray Hazley let Cork’s Denis Allen in for an early goal, a mistake that Hazley would later make up for in spades at the climax of the game.
Tooler fielded a ball high over his head and danced past two red shirted defenders to score an absolute cracker, but more sloppy defending in the back line gifted Allen his second goal of the first half.
It was turning out to be a bad day for the Liffey-siders.
Scores from a 19 year old Joe McNally and a tireless Ciaran Duff kept Dublin in contention while the elder statesmen of the team, the lion-hearted Brian Mullins and Blue Panther, Anton O’Toole, battled to bring Dublin back into the game. The second half was nip and tuck but Dublin just couldn’t seem to bridge the three point gap from Cork’s early goal.
When The Rebels' centre back, Christy Ryan, launched a huge kick from the half-way line into the Dublin square, nobody went to intercept it. The ball bounced happily over the bar.
Hill 16 groaned collectively. John Cleary and Dave Barry were killing us up front. This was going to be Cork’s day.
And then it happened.
As we entered the final wheezing, gasping seconds of the game, Mullins, the Trojan, never beaten, probing for an equaliser, sent a smart diagonal cross-field pass to the in-rushing Ray Hazely. Determined to make up for his earlier mistake, Hazley had sprinted the length of the field in a last ditch effort only to collect the ball on the left flank. He picked his mark and passed brilliantly to Barney Rock on the edge of the square.
Barney made no mistake and drove it home like a limo.
Size 8 on the Richter scale caused by Barney’s size 10 boot.
Hill 16 erupted as delirium took hold. Waves of euphoria crashed over Croke Park. Oh, Look at the Hill! exclaimed a breathless Micheal O’Heir in the commentary box.
Ray Hazely stated later that he had made his run to just make something happen, so poorly did he feel he had played. He had more than made up for it. This was redemption writ large across the field of Croke Park.
Dublin would live to fight another day. And THAT day – the semi-final replay against Cork in ’83 - would turn out to be one of the greatest days of them all.