Two days before playing his final lacrosse game for Cornell last week, Eamon McEneaney, the game's finest attackman, described what it is like to play for Big Red Coach Richie Moran. In lacrosse circles McEneaney is known as a brash, immature wise guy with a hot temper. Despite his talent, many of Cornell's rivals have wondered how Moran has managed to put up with McEneaney for four years. "Richie and I get upset with each other," he said, "but there is a common bond between us—winning. Sure, I'm rebellious, but the one thing about me that Richie knows is, if he sends the team out on a three-mile run, I'll be the first to finish. I think he sees a lot of himself in me. I love Richie. I love him because he made me a winner, and that's what I wanted to be."
Indeed, the combination of Moran and McEneaney has been all-victorious for quite a time now, but as if to make sure that no one would ever forget what a winning pair they have been, they saved their most triumphant triumph for last Saturday's NCAA championship game. Before 11,340 fans at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, McEneaney scored three goals and had five assists to lead Cornell in a 16-8 shellacking of a good Johns Hopkins team. The victory gave the Big Red its second straight national title, making it the first school to win consecutive championships since the NCAA inaugurated its tournament in 1971. And the victory, Cornell's 29th in a row, capped a second straight undefeated season. That isn't just winning, that's rubbing it in.
Actually, the title game was not as close as the score indicates. Midway through the fourth quarter, before Moran gave everyone except himself a turn on the field, Cornell led 16-3. At that point, Mike O'Neill, Hopkins' leading scorer, sat on the bench and admitted, "They're just better than us. But I don't think they're that much better. This is embarrassing. Come on, clock," he pleaded, ignoring his team's futile rally, "run down."
Despite Cornell's overwhelming victory, there are some non-believers who challenge the Big Red's claim to be No. 1 in college lacrosse. The doubters tout Hobart College, the Division II title-holder and also a winner of two consecutive NCAA crowns. The Statesmen were 15-0 this season and outscored their opponents 352-106. They won some games by as many as 30 goals. If nothing else, the suggestion floating around Charlottesville that a Super Bowl should be played between the Division I and II champs served to point out that lacrosse is no longer the property of Maryland and Long Island. Hobart and Cornell are located within 50 miles of each other in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York.
June 5, 1977
In Moran's nine years high above Cayuga's waters, he has won three national titles—including the first NCAA tournament in 1971—eight Ivy League championships and 106 of 120 games. He is a graying, rounded Irishman who deluges anyone who will listen with a torrent of blarney. A Hopkins assistant coach recently likened Moran's personality to a "freshly opened, well-shaken bottle of pop." "He's a conniver," says McEneaney, "a fast-talking Mick. You can clown around with Richie, because he's doing that with you. It's all fun and games. Except at practice. Practice is like Parris Island."
Moran prides himself on his ability to relate to his players. "In coaching you can't have a double standard," he says, "but you can't handle all players the same." Few have tried his patience as severely as McEneaney has. "Eamon's got a fuse that would make a lot of people happy on the Fourth of July," says Moran. "What we try to do is harness his emotions to make him become the player he's capable of being." In McEneaney's first varsity game as a sophomore, Moran had to bench him for 10 minutes to calm him down after a questionable call by a referee. As recently as two weeks ago, in Cornell's crushing 22-6 NCAA semifinal win over Navy, Moran had to pull McEneaney. "He was so mad that he was yelling at the ref, at the fans, at the stadium, at the airplanes in the sky," says Moran. "He yells at me, too, but I let it go in one ear and out the other. He's the only kid I know who yells and screams with affection. Did you ever see two Irishmen try to converse when the adrenaline is flowing?"
Obviously, Moran succeeded in harnessing McEneaney just enough. He was a first-team All-America the last two seasons, and surely will be again when the 1977 squad is announced this week. As a sophomore he was voted the top attackman in the nation, an honor he should regain this year. He also played two seasons of football as a wide receiver and was named to the All-Ivy team last fall. "His weight is only 156, but his heart must weigh 154," says Moran. "At times I don't understand Eamon, but I always make believe I understand him. One thing I do know for sure is that he badly wants to be a winner. He'll drive you nuts, but he'll get the team up."
Dan Mackesey, the Cornell goalie, is the antithesis of McEneaney—cool, intellectual, articulate—but he sounds a familiar refrain when he says, "There is no question that during my four years at Cornell Moran has been the most influential person in my life. Last season my father got sick and then died. Richie was the one person whom I found I could open up to. He sensed it, and he made himself available."
Mackesey was the nation's outstanding goalie in 1976, but he had some indifferent games early this year until he went to an eye doctor and discovered that with his old contacts he could not read the second line on the chart. "My teammates said I should have been playing with a Seeing Eye dog," he says. "They promised that if a shot was heading for the upper left corner of the cage they'd bark twice." On the eve of the championship, Mackesey, whose play improved with new lenses, was still berating himself for his early-season performances. "If Dan hadn't played well this year," Moran scoffed, "I'd be up in Ithaca now cutting the lawn."
Instead he was up early the morning of the championship game, inspecting the artificial turf at Scott Stadium. However, he was not up as early as McEneaney. Unable to sleep, McEneaney rose at 7:30 and went for a three-mile run to relieve his tension. No doubt Moran made believe he understood that. What was easier for him to comprehend was that the day would be hot and the surface temperature on Virginia's fake turf would be more than 100° by game time. Twenty minutes before the opening face-off, Moran decided on a gamble. In hopes of exhausting Hopkins, he ordered his team to run all out for the first period, pressing on defense and fastbreaking on offense, rather than setting up and working the ball patiently for shots. In short, he wanted to give the Blue Jays the old Parris Island treatment.
Moran's strategy did not work instantly. More than five minutes elapsed before McEneaney got the game's first goal, beating a defenseman one-on-one and scoring from point-blank range. Cornell took the following face-off, and McEneaney immediately assisted on a second goal. With a little more than two minutes remaining in the first quarter, the score was 3-0. Then Moran's gamble really paid off. After its third goal, the Big Red controlled the ensuing two face-offs, drawing penalties by the frustrated Blue Jays on each. Against winded, mandown defenses, Cornell easily converted both opportunities for a 5-0 first quarter lead. The game, for all practical purposes, was over.
Of Cornell's first eight goals, McEneaney was involved in six, with three scores and three assists. His eight points for the game, added to the seven he got in the quarterfinals against Massachusetts and the 10 he scored against Navy, gave him a tournament-record total of 25. Mackesey saved the few shots Hopkins could muster against a stifling Big Red defense and cleared them neatly, thereby becoming an important member of Cornell's fast-moving offense. When Hopkins finally got a goal with 26:55 of the game gone and the score 9-0, a boisterous contingent of Cornell fans cheered derisively. Mackesey left to a standing ovation with the score 16-3.
After the game, there was an awards ceremony on the field. As each Cornellian stepped forward to get his championship memento from an NCAA official, Moran shook the player's hand enthusiastically. When Mackesey's turn came, he grasped his coach's hand, hesitated, then suddenly wrapped Moran in a big hug and kissed him. "Oh!" blurted the coach in surprise. And then a very strange thing happened to Moran. For just a split second he fell silent.