WHEN Glen Rovers decided at the outset of the year to mark the 100th anniversary of Christy Ring’s birth, putting the imprint of Ring on the Glen jersey was — especially when the pandemic put so many of those plans on hold — an ideal way to launch the celebrations.
The committee within the club were keen to bring Ring to the fore for the championship, so having his image across the players' chests was the perfect vehicle in showcasing how deeply interwoven Ring is into the fabric of the Glen jersey, and the storied history of the club.
Ring played a huge part in forging that unique history. When the club decided on an action shot, with Ring in a striking pose, they opted for probably the most famous one of Ring, the iconic picture which adorns the front cover of Val Dorgan’s biography of Ring.
On the day the Glen unveiled the jersey, they honoured it in the perfect way Ring and the club would have wanted; they put their great rivals, St Finbarr’s, to the sword.
With the exact anniversary of Ring’s birth coming up shortly, a raft of other plans the club had in place had to be shelved; a Cork-Kilkenny challenge game in the Glen in April; a hurling tournament involving some of the great clubs Ring would have encountered in his time.
Cloyne also had something similar in mind. Officials from both clubs had sat down and discussed the topic because Cloyne were anxious to mark the Christy Ring tournament by getting a match played in Cloyne. They had even looked at designing a specially commissioned medal for the competition.
The Glen had hoped to bring the President of Ireland, the GAA President, even the Taoiseach, to tour the Glen. They’d looked at setting up a museum internally for people to visit.
The pandemic put paid to all those ambitions but if the Glen wished for the perfect way to commemorate Ring in 2020, winning the senior championship would have always been top of the list.
The achievement would be even more special again with Ring on the jersey. When the Glen first unveiled the jersey in July, some of the players only saw the image of Ring for the first time when it was handed to them before the Barrs game.
“We weren’t making a big thing about it before the game, it was just a gesture,” said Tomás Mulcahy a few weeks later.
“The important thing was to win what was a championship match. But also, for 2020 we see it as our championship jersey until the end of the season.”
That won’t be the case now on Sunday because Glen Rovers will wear their all-black change strip in the county final against Blackrock. With both teams wearing similar colours, a change was required. With both sides’ alternative jerseys also broadly similar, the county board took the decision to toss a coin for choice of colours, with Blackrock choosing the right side of the coin.
Jerseys aside though, if both clubs are to win the 2020 county title, beating a city rival would be the icing on the cake of one of the greatest Cork senior championships in living memory.
Despite the grip the ‘big three’ had on the championship for so long, and the frustration that dominance engendered in all the other clubs, many traditionalists within the county will now see it fitting that two of the ‘big three’ will contest the final of such an epic campaign.
The intrigue and anticipation is all the greater considering it’s taken so long for a ‘big three’ final to come around again.
In the storied history of the Cork senior championship, the Rockies and the Glen have met in eight finals, with both sharing four wins each.
In total, there have been 31 ‘big three’ finals, with two of those three clubs squaring off. And the stats show how tight those margins are; the Glen and the Rockies have both won 10 of those ‘big three’ finals, while the Barrs edge the overall battle with 11 of their final wins coming against their great city rivals.
The fact that the Barrs and the Glen met in 12 of those finals — with both sharing six wins each — added to the sense of the Barrs and the Glen being a keener rivalry than the Glen and the Rockies. Yet, even outside of Cork, the rivalry between Glen Rovers and Blackrock would have always had a near-mythical status in the minds of the wider hurling community. Much of that probably stemmed from the dominance the ‘big three’ enjoyed when sharing seven of the first nine All-Ireland club titles.
The Glen and the Rockies haven’t met in a county final for 42 years but it’s 32 years since the last ‘big three’ final, which underlines how radical the shift in the Cork hurling culture has been in the last four decades.
Now that it’s finally happening again, this has the makings of a great final. Both are the form teams, having made it to this stage unbeaten. Both have been racking up huge scores. Some of the individual match-ups will be fascinating.
This final has more angles than a compass, but tradition and history are at every point of those angles; just as Glen Rovers have their own unique motivations to commemorate Ring, Blackrock’s quest to end an 18-year wait for a senior title would be all the more memorable again by taking down one of their great city rivals.