A sliotar passed down the years: Cork hurling history come to life

A sliotar passed down the years: Cork hurling history come to life
Glen Rovers' Simon Kennefick breaks from St Finbarr's John Neville during the Co-Op Stores Cork PSHC at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

BEFORE Cork played Clare in the Munster football championship of 1997, journalist Sean Moran spoke to people in West Cork about the resurgence of football there.

Castlehaven, Bantry, and Clonakilty had won the previous three county titles; Beara and Bantry would continue the trend.

Anyway, one of the interviewees was Niall Cahalane, who talked about travelling down from the city to train with Castlehaven at the weekends and of bringing his son with him to knock about with the locals.

Cahalane’s words: “I’d like to think he would go back and play with Castlehaven, but that may be unrealistic.

“He’ll be going to school in Cork and his friends will be in Cork, but I’ve no doubt he’ll play for Castlehaven at some stage.

“When I go back at weekends, he comes with me and goes training with the U12s.”

Damien Cahalane was a four-year-old.

That all worked out pretty well and family continuing the traditions in GAA keeps that flame going.

We spoke about Jack last week, the latest Cahalane to slip into the blue-and-white jersey and influence big games, and he’s done it in the red jersey as well.

The GAA world might be different, and more so this year, but some things don’t change.

And then, last weekend along comes young Simon Kennefick.

It was probably enough that Glen Rovers were unveiling a jersey to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Christy Ring — a stunning tribute — on the night that they were live on RTÉ in a championship game with the Barrs (and there were the Cahalanes again, outlining their claims for Cork’s most influential GAA family by togging out for the Togher side in hurling), an old rivalry played out in very modern times, in front of an empty stadium.

Conor Cahalane, Castlehaven, and St Finbarr's star. Picture: Dan Linehan
Conor Cahalane, Castlehaven, and St Finbarr's star. Picture: Dan Linehan

It was definitely enough that Patrick Horgan stepped up again with his own tribute to the great tradition of the master hurler, getting better with age, adding to his catalogue of match-winning performances with flicked assists and scores made look simple and with stunning goals that he’s made seem ordinary. 

Seriously, though, that touch past the player on the ground, the control, and then the blasted finish to the net on the run was just the work of a master at the top of his powers.

Horgan scored 1-9 and gave the sort of performance that makes him a hurler of a generation, another great Glen Rovers forward who will become a club legend.

Horgan is a product of Glen Rovers, with the awareness of what’s come before and how high the bar is, and yet honed with the dedication to detail and skills development that sets him apart.

Patrick Horgan of Glen Rovers in action against Glen O'Connor and Billy Hennessy of St Finbarr's. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Patrick Horgan of Glen Rovers in action against Glen O'Connor and Billy Hennessy of St Finbarr's. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Where some hurlers need the hustle and noise of the crowds for energy, Horgan’s pure striking and skills look even better away from the distractions. But then there was Kennefick, grandson of Christy Ring, controlling a pass, turning his man, and heading for goal, and then blasting a lovely finish, with a mix of great technique and pure instinct.

He scored another, later, taking a touch on the turn early in the second half and finishing simply to the net.

Kennefick ended with 2-1, another example of a family legacy. There’s a great photo from the launch of the Christy Ring Cup, back in 2004, where a five-year-old Simon is colouring a picture of a Cork hurler as if marking out his destiny.

This follow-on, 16 years later, seems the sort of story from the traditions of the GAA, all the history, and links, and love for the game passed on through generations, and then mixed with the local area, and the expectations, and the years spent getting up to that level we witnessed in the Páirc.

Simon Kennefick, Glen Rovers, at the Garda Hurling Blitz in 2008. Picture: Larry Cummins
Simon Kennefick, Glen Rovers, at the Garda Hurling Blitz in 2008. Picture: Larry Cummins

There are side questions, of course. All clubs have tradition and families at their core and yet some are better at managing that than others.

Tradition isn’t any sort of guarantee for future success and can sometimes be more of a hindrance.

There’s a conversation or two to be had about how Cork GAA might gather and use some of the stories of the past, both out of pure historical interest — to have access to the background and achievements of its great players and teams — and for inspiration for the current and future generations to be aware of what’s gone before.

How would a proper Cork GAA museum or exhibition work, for instance?

Or can Páirc Uí Chaoimh tell more of the story of Cork GAA to link the present with the past?

I watched the Class of 92 documentary again recently, about Manchester United’s golden academy generation (David Beckham, Paul Scholes, the Nevilles — Gary and Phil — Ryan Giggs, and Nicky Butt) and it was obvious the players were aware of the history and of how they were continuing the story of the club, from the days of Matt Busby, by winning another European Cup, in 1999.

It’s hard to overstate the role this sort of knowledge plays in Kerry football; the watching of Kerry’s golden years by all youngsters coming through the county.

A video was doing the rounds last week (put together for Rebel Óg by Maurice Moore) of clips from Cork football over the years, from Dinny Allen goals to monster kicks from Larry Tompkins, to Donncha O’Connor points and recent goals from Blake Murphy and Conor Corbett. The caption reads, ‘History makes us believe.’

We’ve seen that in action the last few weekends, with the Cahalanes and Simon Kennefick and Patrick Horgan, all adding their names to the stories from the past.

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