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John O'Sullivan of Blackrock in action against UCC in the Premier SHC semi-final last weekend. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
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John O'Sullivan of Blackrock in action against UCC in the Premier SHC semi-final last weekend. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
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This all-city county hurling final has makings of a Cork classic

EVERY hurling fan in Cork is eagerly looking forward to what, in modern times, is a novel Cork Premier Senior Hurling final pairing, when Blackrock face Glen Rovers for the first time in 42 years for the right to display the Seán Óg Murphy Cup this winter.

There have been plenty of meetings between city clubs in the final since, and even various combinations of meetings between ‘the Big Three’ — the Barrs, the Rockies and the Glen — yet strangely the last Blackrock v Glen Rovers county final occurred back in 1978 when John Horgan captained the Church Road outfit to a 4-12 to 1-7 triumph. It was revenge for the Glen’s narrow win in 1976, when clashes between the two famous clubs were a regular occurrence.

Enough of the history lesson, though. The 2020 championship has been a brilliant one, and Sunday’s clash at Páirc Uí Chaoimh is the meeting of the year’s best two sides in the competition.

Blackrock looked really strong as they waltzed past Erin’s Own, Newtownshandrum, and Bishopstown in the group stage, before dispatching a dangerous Douglas side in the quarter-final. The bookies had them as underdogs in the semi against College, but they found a way to win an absolute thriller.

It seems bizarre to think that Fergal Ryan’s side have been one of the top-two club sides in the county in these past months, yet when the Cork senior hurlers face Waterford in the Munster Championship semi-final next month, it is likely that there will not be a Blackrock man in the starting line-up.

The Rockies have an extremely strong squad, so strong that they can afford to spring Tadhg Deasy, John Cashman, Alan O’Callaghan, and Robbie Cotter from the bench in a county semi-final, yet there are no real stars.

Glen Rovers may be harshly billed as ‘Patrick Horgan and friends’ by some, but Blackrock are the quintessential ‘team’. The vast majority of the Rockies side have represented Cork at one grade or another, or have been on the fringes at some stage.

Michael O’Halloran has been the closest to the senior side in recent years, but he wouldn’t be expected to be part of Kieran Kingston’s first XV plans this year. In any other year, Niall Cashman might be talked up as an option at centre-back, or Tadhg Deasy as a bolter for a slot in the forward line, but the lack of a league campaign to try these experiments out will probably mean it is unlikely that the Rockies will have senior representation this year.

This is, in a way, ironic when you consider that Blackrock have a lot of attributes that Cork lack. The physical presence and power of the Cormack’s and the O’Keeffe’s is something Cork teams are often accused of lacking. Their direct approach against a UCC side containing loads of inter-county players worked a treat, when it looked like they were hanging on at times. It is refreshing to see a Cork side going more direct and being successful, as sometimes the approach work can be too intricate from some sides.

Ever since Glen Rovers dismantled St. Finbarr’s on the opening night of the championship back on August 1, most expected the famous northside club to be one of the last two standing, and that has indeed transpired.

In truth, they have never looked like losing any of their matches against the Barrs, Carrigtwohill, Na Piarsaigh and Erins Own. They have not come up against as strong a side as the Rockies though.

 Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Horgan is obviously the marquee name up front, but they have a really good mix of grizzled veterans such as Stephen McDonnell, Brian Moylan, Donal Cronin, Dave Noonan, David Dooling, Dean Brosnan, and Conor Dorris from the county triumphs of 2015 and 2016 and the county final losses of 2019, 2014, and even 2010 for some, along with the vibrant, youthful energy of the likes of Robert Downey, Luke Horgan, Simon Kennefick, Liam Coughlan, and Dave Tynan.

The Glen play a wonderful brand of hurling and go into the final as slight favourites, but given the Rockies have arguably a stronger squad, and are a more physical unit throughout, this one could turn into an epic.

Both Sunday’s finalists lost finals to the three-in-a-row Imokilly side in recent years, with the Rockies losing by four in 2017, and Rovers going down by the same margin last year. These defeats will be key motivators for both sides, but obviously one of them is destined to experience the bitter taste of defeat once more.