Cork hurling dream team 1970-2020: Backs to the wall, the best Rebel defenders of the past 50 years

Cork hurling dream team 1970-2020: Backs to the wall, the best Rebel defenders of the past 50 years
Dermot McCurtain in action for Cork during the Centenary All-Ireland Hurling final against Offaly in 1984 was a great servant for club and county.

SELECTING a set of the best six Cork hurling backs over the past 50 years is a task that’s near impossible to complete.

The list of those who have manned the various berths down the years is as long as your arm, some of the best defenders of all time. Some are more decorated than others and all those who held positions in the three-in-a-row team of the ’70s would have to be included.

Later this week, we'll reveal our Cork hurling dream team, an All-Star 15 from 1970 to 2020. Not easy to condense down!

The triumvirate of John Gardiner, Ronan Curran and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín from the 2004-'05 winning teams are nailed on to be in the mix.

You would get even weary thinking about all those that should be considered for selection and when you are going back half a century you realise the magnitude of the task of trying to put six down on paper.

No stopping wing-back Seán Óg in the 2004 qualifier. Picture: Denis Minihane.
No stopping wing-back Seán Óg in the 2004 qualifier. Picture: Denis Minihane.

You have the two Brian Murphys, the Nemo Rangers version alongside the man from Bride Rovers, two superb man markers.

Blackrock have produced some wonderful defensive pillars since 1970, the great John Horgan, Tom Cashman, Dermot McCurtain and of more recent vintage, Fergal Ryan, Jim Cashman and Wayne Sherlock.

Imagine having their quality in your team, all of them brilliant at their trade.

Midleton gave Cork hurling some outstanding defenders too, Denis Mulcahy and Pat Hartnett heading that list, two teak-tough operators.

On to the Barrs and you had Tony Maher starring in that great ’70 victory over Wexford in Croke Park on the first Sunday in September.

Gerald McCarthy was one of those wonderful players who could operate from a number of positions, defensively and offensively and as a midfielder. Donal O’Grady was another Barrs stalwart, a great reader of the game and another one who was fearless in his duties.

You had Con Roche, one of the most stylish wing-backs of his era, a magnificent striker too into the bargain.

Seanie O’Gorman from Milford was another of what you might describe as an unsung defender, as tough as nails when he needed to be. Already there’s a choice among the aforementioned that makes the task all the greater.

Seanie O'Gorman, hurling for Cork in '95. Picture: Tom Honan/INPHO
Seanie O'Gorman, hurling for Cork in '95. Picture: Tom Honan/INPHO

On we go and you had the Glen’s Denis Coughlan, another very stylish operator who was equally as good in keeping his man at bay when a score might have been on the cards.

The big thing with a lot of these players was that they were versatile too at what they did, more than capable at slotting in in different positions, full-back to corner-back to wing-back, they were natural in any position.

We come to one of the true greats Brian Corcoran. He had little difficulty in transferring from corner-back to centre-back and it was a seamless transfer. Later on in the week when we are selecting the list of great forwards who must be considered for selection, the Erin’s Own man will be listed as well.

Back to the Glen and the great Martin O'Doherty, a man who was a commander-in-chief at number three, a resolute defender who was also a fine hurler.

Preceding him you had Inniscarra’s Pat McDonnell, often regarded as one of the game’s first hurling full-backs, one that could hurl with style as good as he could defend. He introduced a more hurling dimension to the position.

Staying with the great number threes and Cloyne’s Diarmuid O’Sullivan was aptly named, the Rock.

This is what he was, a leader in the true sense of the word, prepared to put his head where you wouldn’t you might not put your hurley.

An inspirational presence, his deliveries to the other end of the field had the Cork fans in a state of amazement. 

Shane O'Neill lined out at full- and corner-back, in learner times, and was unfortunate to miss out on a Munster medal in 2010 and an All-Star in 2013, but had some fantastic games nonetheless. 

Richie Power, Kilkenny, is blocked down by Shane O'Neill in the 2003 minor clash. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Richie Power, Kilkenny, is blocked down by Shane O'Neill in the 2003 minor clash. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Denis Walsh from St Catherine’s was another great defender, resolute in everything that he did, a terrific Cork servant.

Johnny Crowley is mobbed by supporters after Cork beat Galway in 1986.
Johnny Crowley is mobbed by supporters after Cork beat Galway in 1986.

So, to another great, Johnny Crowley from Bishopstown, as a corner-back or on the wing he had few equals as a Cork defender and was one of the big stars of the ’76, ’77 and ’78 team.

There’s a long list there and if we have left out someone it’s simply because the memory s not as good as it might once have been.

The list of defenders that will be considered for the top six is: Fergal Ryan, Tony Maher, Brian Murphy (Bride Rovers), Brian Murphy (Nemo Rangers), Denis Mulcahy, Dónal O’Grady, Pat McDonnell, Martin O'Doherty, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, John Horgan, Seán O’Gorman, Dermot McCurtain, Tom Cashman, Jim Cashman, Pat Hartnett, Brian Corcoran, Johnny Crowley, Ronan Curran, John Browne, Denis Coughlan, Con Roche, Denis Walsh, John Gardiner, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Wayne Sherlock, Shane O'Neill.

Who would you pick? Email: eamonn.murphy@theecho.ie or tweet @EamonnMurphy19 to vote.

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