When Christy Ring famously expressed his strategy of promoting the game of hurling in Cork by “putting a knife through every football east of Bandon”, it is unsure whether his partitionary scheme also involved the decommissioning of every sliothar west of this proposed border. While the current GAA president John Horan would certainly have been in favour of the segregation of these “different cohorts”, it would be unfair to attribute all of Cork’s hurling heritage solely on the men east of the River Bandon. That being said, as we look back on the previous decade, the dominance of the traditional hurling bastions at intercounty level remains as significant as ever.
Those that reminisce about the halcyon days of Cork hurling will remember times when the brightest diamonds were often extracted from populous working-class enclaves straddling either side of the Lee. Traditionally, the renowned triumvirate of the Glen, Rockies and ‘Barrs provided the backbone to Cork’s most successful teams. The famed ‘3-in-a-row’ team of the late 70’s were certainly a case in point, the inner-city triad producing 14 of the 21 players that lined out in the All-Ireland finals between ’76 and ’78.
When Cork defeated Offaly in the Centenary Final of ’84, the quota representing the ‘The Big Three’ stood just under half (7 out of 15). The eastward expansion of Cork hurling was also encapsulated in Thurles that day, one third of the team hailing from the Imokilly division. Midleton, on the cusp of unheralded success, would provide four of the starting fifteen, Youghal’s Seanie O’Leary making up the East Cork quintet.
In the 35 years since, Cork have collected a further five All-Ireland titles. While Celtic Crosses now hang proudly above fireplaces from Timoleague to Ballyhea, clubs from Cork City and East Cork continue to dominate the intercounty scene. Of the 25 players to compete in the All-Ireland Finals between 2003 and 2006, only 5 emerged from outside the Seandun / Imokilly districts. Of that five, all but Tom Kenny (Grenagh) were products of the Newtownshandrum academy, who playing the part of 1980’s Midleton, had become the nouveau riche of Cork hurling.
When Kilkenny prematurely ended Cork’s summer last month, it brought the curtain down on a decade comprising 49 championship games, during which time, 936 appearances have been accumulated by 64 players. When Darren Browne was introduced against Westmeath in July, he became the latest name added to the 2010-19 Roll of Honour. Fittingly, it would be a Duhallow representative who would bookend the decade, the Kanturk clubman bringing the divisional representation to 14%, a reputable proportion considering the exalted status of football in the north-west of the county.
As illustrated above, the traditional presence of Imokilly hurlers in Cork colours has continued since the 1980’s. Sarsfields have produced the highest number of players since 2010 with 7, while Midleton, with 4, lie joint second. The East Cork contingent, however, has not been solely dependent on its more established clubs. In total, 12 of the 24 hurling clubs within the East Cork district have supplied Cork hurlers, including Junior clubs such as St. Ita’s (Seamus Harnedy), Lisgoold (John Cronin) and Castlemartyr (Brian Lawton).
While the figures show that the Seandun influence on Cork hurling has remained relatively undiminished over the years, the influence of ‘The Big Three’ has certainly waned. The production line on Church Road has become worryingly stagnant, the eminent Blackrock club having had no championship representative since Wayne Sherlock. Their Southside neighbours, St. Finbarr’s have also had their troubles with Damien Cahalane their sole intercounty product since Ronan Curran’s retirement in 2011. While Na Piarsaigh’s 18% seems healthy, this percentage is distorted by the final remnants of the great Cork team of the Noughties, many of whom soldiered on into the early part of the decade. Since the O’Hailpin’s and John Gardiner departed the scene, only Christopher Joyce has emerged from the Fairhill club.
Outside of the traditional powerhouses within the City / East duopoly, only Kanturk and Newtownshandrum have produced more than one Cork hurler this decade. The Duhallow club’s rise through the divisions has been backboned by intercounty players, with Anthony Nash, Aidan Walsh and Lorcan McLoughlin amassing 80 appearances between them. In the south east of the county, despite the presence of Ballymartle, Ballinhassig and Courcey Rovers at the upper echelons of the club game, no Carrigdhoun player started a championship game for Cork; Rob O’Shea (Carrigaline), Darren McCarthy (Ballymartle) and Stephen White (Ballygarvan) accruing 13 appearances between them from the bench. Carbery and Muskerry have contributed three players each while outside of Newtonshandrum, only Darragh Fitzgibbon (Charleville) and Cormac Murphy (Mallow) have emerged from the Avondhu constituency.
Carrigdhoun and Muskerry, divisions in which the small ball enjoys relative parity with football, will hope to improve its harvest over the coming years. With players from Kildorrery and Ballyhooly recently infiltrating successful Cork minor and U20 teams, it is expected that the Avondhu cohort will also continue to grow. In the heart of the city, one must hope that the Rockies and ‘Barrs can restart the mass-production of talent that has yielded 57 county championships between them. The current dominance of the Imokilly team at club level, along with the recent resurgence of Glen Rovers has ensured that future Cork hurling teams will continue to be buttressed by it’s traditional base. Should the baronies beyond Ring’s ideological divide increase their output level, The Rebels will surely return to the apex of the national game.
Tim O’Mahony (Newtownshandrum), Darragh Fitzgibbon (Charleville), Jamie Coughlan (Newtownshandrum), Cormac Murphy (Mallow), Cathal Naughton (Newtownshandrum), Ben O’Connor (Newtownshandrum), Jerry O’Connor (Newtownshandrum)
Luke Meade (Newcestown), Michael Cahalane (Bandon), Darren Sweetnam (Dohenys)
Rob O’Shea (Carrigaline), Darren McCarthy (Ballymartle), Stephen White (Ballygarvan)
Anthony Nash (Kanturk), Mark Ellis (Millstreet), Aidan Walsh (Kanturk), Lorcan McLoughlin (Kanturk), Darren Browne (Kanturk), William Egan (Kilbrin)
Niall O’Leary (Castlelyons) Bill Cooper (Youghal), Daniel Kearney (Sarsfields), Declan Dalton (Fr. O’Neills), Seamus Harnedy (St. Ita’s), Robbie O’Flynn (Erin’s Own), Conor Lehane (Midleton), Jack O’Connor (Sarsfields), Colm Spillane (Castlelyons), Brian Lawton (Castlemartyr), Luke O’Farrell (Midleton), Conor O’Sullivan (Sarsfields), Killian Burke (Midleton), John Cronin (Lisgoold), Brian Murphy (Bride Rovers), Paudie O’Sullivan (Cloyne), Cian McCarthy (Sarsfields), Michael Cussen (Sarsfields), Killian Murphy (Erin’s Own), Niall McCarthy (Carrigtwohill), Donal Og Cusack (Cloyne), James Nagle (Midleton), Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields), Shane Murphy (Erin’s Own), Ray Ryan (Sarsfields)
Sean O’Donoghue (Inniscarra), Mark Coleman (Blarney), Tom Kenny (Grenagh)
Stephen McDonnell (Glen Rovers), Eoin Cadogan (Douglas), Christopher Joyce (Na Piarsaigh), Robert Downey (Glen Rovers) Damien Cahalane (St. Finbarr’s), Patrick Horgan (Glen Rovers), Shane Kingston (Douglas), Alan Cadogan (Douglas), Dean Brosnan (Glen Rovers), Shane O’Neill (Bishopstown), Patrick Cronin (Bishopstown), Stephen Moylan (Douglas), Sean Og O’hAilpin (Na Piarsaigh), John Gardiner (Na Piarsaigh), Ronan Curran (St. Finbarr’s), Aisake O’hAilpin (Na Piarsaigh), Graham Callanan (Glen Rovers)