John Horgan selects his top 10 Cork hurlers of the past 50 years

John Horgan selects his top 10 Cork hurlers of the past 50 years
Some of the greats... Cork captain Ray Cummins prepares to make his speech after being presented with the Liam MacCarthy Cup by GAA President Con Murphy. Also pictured are, from left, Donal O'Sullivan, Pat McDonnell, John Horgan, Martin O'Doherty, Charlie McCarthy, 13, Martin Coleman, goalkeeper, Denis Coughlan, Gerald McCarthy, Brian Murphy, Eamonn O'Donoghue, Sean O'Leary, John Allen and Mick Malone.Picture: Connolly Collection/SPORTSFILE

THE gates are padlocked, the fields are empty and we don’t know when we will see a ball struck in anger again.

It’s a time of uncertainty across the sporting landscape as it is in all walks of life.

But in the industry that we work in pages still have to be filled and papers have to hit the streets.

In the world of GAA, a question that is frequently posed to this observer is, who was the best hurler you ever saw, the best hurlers?

There is an endless list but for the moment we’ll confine matters to Leeside and we’ll select the best 10, that in our opinion, justify inclusion.

In nearly 50 years of attending and reporting on games, we believe that we have learned something although there are those who would disagree.

Anyway here goes.

1. Brian Corcoran:

Last week in this newspaper there was a photograph of a 19-year old Corcoran holding aloft the NHL trophy after Cork had beaten Wexford in the second replay of an epic three-game series in Thurles.

It was the league season of ‘92 and ‘93 after Erin’s Own had won their first Cork SHC with the teenage Corcoran the star of the show alongside Timmy Kelleher.

What followed thereafter was a glittering career that cataputed him into the pantheon of great Cork hurlers.

Brian Corcoran of Cork in action against Dave Bennett of Waterford during the 1998 National Hurling League final at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Picture: Damien Eagers/SPORTSFILE
Brian Corcoran of Cork in action against Dave Bennett of Waterford during the 1998 National Hurling League final at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Picture: Damien Eagers/SPORTSFILE

He won three Celtic crosses, two of them after coming out of retirement in 2004 and 2005.

The likelihood was that if he had been available in 2003 Cork would have won three-in-a-row.

What stood him apart from all the rest was that he wore the red jersey with distinction in three very different positions, corner-back, centre-back and in latter years as full-forward where he was immense in those years of ‘04 and ‘05.

So versatile was he that he probably would have been a star keeper as well.

His game had everything, a great defensive reader whose lengthy deliveries paved the way for many scores.

When he made his comeback in a Cork SHL game for his club against Killeagh, over 2,000 attended the game in Pairc Ui Rinn.

His whole career was a spectacular success, a standout figure for club and county and from this viewpoint our number one.

2. Ray Cummins:

One of the great dual players, we remember him as a player who brought a whole new dimension to the art of full-forward play.

Probably one of the most intelligent players of all time, out of the corner of his eye he would spot a player in a more advantageous position who would deliver the score.

Almost unbeatable in the air, he lorded it over some of the game’s best full-backs, Pat Hartigan and Martin Doherty.

He was a scorer of great goals and a creator as well, an immense figure in the three-in-a row team of ‘76, ‘77 and ‘78.

3. Jimmy Barry-Murphy:

Another of the now-extinct dual stars. JBM was a player who always sought the direct route to goal.

He was a great man to sniff out a goal and had many great days in the red jersey.

Who will ever forget his display in the 1985 Munster final against Tipperary.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Jimmy Barry-Murphy. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Was able to contribute generously from any position in the attack.

At club and inter-county level, he had few equals. Might be out of the game at times for long stretches, he would then strike for match-winning scores.

4 Denis Coughlan:

A hurling artist, one of the most stylish wing-backs in the game.

His elegance on the ball, he too could play in various positions and he was rarely bettered.

A delightful striker of the ball, he was a creator of some very important scores for the Glen and Cork.

Again a massive influence in the three-in-a row team of the ‘70s.

5 Gerald McCarthy:

He too was a youngster when he captained Cork to All-Ireland glory in 1966.

And 10, 11 and 12 years later he was still a leader as Cork swept to glory in ‘76, ‘77 and ‘78.

A fearless operator with skill to match, he perfected the art of first-time hurling, delighting at times with overhead deliveries. A massive contributor to some great Cork teams.

6 Ger Cunningham:

One of the great Cork goalkeepers, a star in 1990, ‘84 and ‘86. A top shot-stopper, a great puck-out, he rarely let in what you’d term a softish goal. Just had to be included.

Ger Cunningham.
Ger Cunningham.

7 Willie Walsh:

One of the toughest players of his time. Was centre-forward in 1970 after being centre-back a year earlier. He would go through iron for you and his display in the ‘75 Munster final against Eamon Cregan was one of his greatest. An old-fashioned number 11 that is sadly lost to the game.

8. John Horgan:

Sadly now left us, he was a commanding presence at corner-back in the three-in-a-row team of the ‘70s.

One of the longest strikers of a ball, he read the game with great intelligence and his Munster final display of ‘78 against Clare was one of his finest hours when he converted some huge points from distance.

9. Diarmuid O’Sullivan:

An inspirational presence at full-back, a no-holds type of player who went through brick walls in 1999, 2004 and 2005.

Had the ability to get the crowd right behind the team when it was most needed.

10. Charlie McCarthy:

Again a hurling artist, one of the best players to score and poach a goal from a ground ball. Had a lengthy career that yielded some vital scores.

Of course in compiling a list of the best players, whatever the code, you are always going to be at the mercy of others who will not agree with your selection.

For the 10 we have chosen there are a hundred more that could justifiably have been included.

Christy Ring was not included simply because I was not qualified to speak about him. As a child I saw him once or twice but the memory is too clouded.

e was the best and I would have loved to see him when he was almost unstoppable.

The list of great Cork hurlers is endless and they have to get special mention.

Justin McCarthy has to be number one in that regard and would have been an automatic choice if injury had not blighted his stellar career. He was a huge star in 1966, Hurler of the Year that year, the first since Ring.

An accident in 1969 prevented him from having the career that would have ranked him right up there.

John Fenton (below) is another that we could have justifiably included. The Midleton man was one of the most stylish hurlers of his time, an expert too from the dead ball, he was an inspirational captain in 1984.

The two O’Connors, Ben and Jerry were wonderful hurlers too and if the list was more than 10 they would have been in serious contention.

John Gardiner too was another immense contributor to the Cork cause, an outstanding wing-back in a half-back line of himself, Ronan Curran and Seán Óg.

The latter two could have easily been included in the list as well.

And, without doubt, so too could Joe Deane, one of the best forwards of his time who delivered some very big scores.

Cork forward Joe Deane. Picture: Des Barry
Cork forward Joe Deane. Picture: Des Barry

For Ger Cunningham; you could have had Donal Óg Cusack, an outstanding custodian too with three Celtic Crosses.

Martin Doherty was a prince of full-backs who maybe should have been included. And go back to the ’60s for another Glen man, Denis Riordan who missed out on the ’66 triumph because of injury.

One player who starred on that team was Denis Murphy, another elegant defender.

Then you had Seanie Barry from Bride Rovers on that ‘66 team who delivered some great scores in that victory over Kilkenny.

Paddy Fitzgerald from Midleton too maybe should have made the top 10 as a mighty wing-back.

Of the current crop, Patrick Horgan would have to figure prominently; he is simply a forward of pure class who surely deserves to end his career with a Celtic Cross.

One could go on and on and apologies to those we have left out, simply because we forgot!

More in this section

Sponsored Content