THIS weekend’s championship meeting between Glen Rovers and St Finbarr’s will be televised live by RTÉ, ensuring those outside the county will be able to witness one of the most storied rivalries in the annals of Cork hurling.
Apportioning 52 county titles between them, the Glen and the Barr’s have dominated the hurling landscape on Leeside for much of its history and when the two sides cross swords on Saturday evening, it will be the 39th championship meeting between the pair at senior level.
When the Glen Rovers club were founded in 1916, St Finbarr’s already had four senior championships under their belt.
By the time the Glen first joined the senior ranks in 1926, that number had risen to seven. The first of many encounters occurred in the Cork Athletic Grounds on the 7th October 1934, the Blackpool outfit’s first county final.
The Barrs had claimed the previous two championships but a five-point victory for the Glen in front of a record crowd ensured that the cup crossed the Lee to the northside for the first time in its history.
The all-conquering duopoly that had existed between St Finbarr’s and Blackrock prior to the emergence of the Glen (13 out of 14 county titles between them since 1928) was soon dismantled as Glen Rovers won the next seven championships. In 1942 however, Ballincollig inflicted a first championship defeat on the Glen in nine years and the Barrs took full advantage, beating Ballincollig in the final to end a nine-year barren spell.
The following year, St. Finbarr’s made it back-to-back county triumphs, defeating Glen Rovers in the semi-final in what was Christy Ring’s championship debut for his adopted club.
The Glen weren’t down for long. In 1944, despite Jack Lynch’s departure for Dublin and the loss of Jim Young to UCC a new Glen Rovers team comprising nine county final debutants defeated the Barrs in the decider to return the trophy to Blackpool. The Glen copper-fastened their superiority the following year, inflicting a 29-point defeat on their southside rivals, St Finbarr’s heaviest ever championship defeat.
In 1950, the Glen once again emerged triumphant over the Barrs in the county final, a match which brought the curtain down on Jack Lynch’s illustrious sporting career.
The two hurling heavyweights, having dominated for much of the 40s, continued their pre-eminence into the next decade.
Indeed, the 1957 decider between Sarsfields and UCC was the first county final to feature neither the Glen nor the Barrs in 28 years.
The pair returned the following year, the Barrs losing their second county final in three weeks (Macroom beat them in the football decider) in what was deemed at the time to be ‘one of the greatest finals ever fought out at the Cork Athletic Grounds’.
The two old foes didn’t meet again until the 1964 final where a 44-year-old Christy Ring captained the Glen to their 20th championship success. It also proved to be Ring’s final appearance in a county final. By the time the Glen returned to the county final in ’67, again to play the Barrs, they were without their talisman who had retired unexpectedly after their first-round defeat of UCC.
Nonetheless, the Blackpool men emerged triumphant.
The pair didn’t cross paths again until the 70s, by which time the introduction of club All-Ireland had added an extra layer of importance to meetings between two of Cork’s ‘Big Three’.
However, the re-emergence of Blackrock as a dominant force meant that the Glen and the Barrs only contested a solitary county final throughout the decade. That came in ’77 when the ‘Barr’s defeated the reigning All-Ireland champions in front of a crowd estimated at 45,000 at Páirc Úi Chaoimh.
A star-studded St. Finbarr’s team, featuring Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Gerald McCarthy and Charlie McCarthy went on to claim their first All-Ireland title.
In 1978, a league format was introduced to the championship for the first time, an arrangement that pitted the top five graded teams in the county in one group.
Thus, although the Glen defeated the Barrs that April, they would have to repeat the trick four months later in the county semi-final. The experimental format was discontinued after the 1980 edition, which again saw the Barrs beat the Glen in a final, en route to their second All-Ireland title.
1988 would be the last time the two squared off in a senior county final. Again, the Barrs came out on top (their fourth final victory over the Glen in a row), thanks in no small part to the heroics of 18-year-old Brian Cunningham, who hit twelve points in his first county final.
Eight years would pass before the two powerhouses faced off again in the championship, although a mass brawl and the resultant two red cards in their ’96 quarter-final clash demonstrated that passions certainly hadn’t been diminished.
The regression of both St Finbarr’s and Glen Rovers over the past 30 years is evidenced by the fact the two have only met seven times (including two replays) since the final in ’88, none of which have occurred beyond the quarter-final stage. In recent years, however, a hurling renaissance in Blackpool has sparked hope that the Glen Rovers may be returning to the glory days of old.
Cork hurling supporters would certainly welcome a similar resurgence on the other side of the Lee.