HAVING plenty time to think these days my mind wanders back to people who gave me my first love for hurling.
It all started at home with the father, as it does for many children. He was a hurler himself although I never saw him play, being the youngest of eight.
I will never forget the stories he relayed to us about the great games of hurling he had seen, especially in the Munster championship.
The great Limerick team of the 1930s with the remarkable Mick Mackey and company. Also, the Cork team of the 1940s with the mighty Christy Ring as well as Tipperary and to a lesser extent Waterford.
Of course, we were very disappointed to hear that he never enthused about Clare, as they were definitely the fifth team in Munster at that time, even though they had some very good players too.
In his opinion, the best games and the greatest atmosphere were the ones between Tipp and Cork.
Real manly games, no place for the faint-hearted! A massive rivalry, even bitter at times, not an inch given by any side. Like with Mick Mackey for Limerick, Christy Ring was nearly always the man to pull the game out of the fire for Cork with his skill and ferocious appetite for winning.
He was well able to stand up for himself, and as my father would say "never minded drawing the wrong belt at times to get his way."
And a lot of times he had to, as he was a marked man in every game. And no better boys than the Tipp boys to dish it out... All is fair in love and war.
But as the oul fella would say, there was plenty war there, but no love there.
His opinion was that Cork always brought the stylish hurling and you never had them beaten until you were half ways home. He also enthused about the Cork supporters and their great wit as well as being good spenders anywhere they went, even though people did not have too much at that time.
John Horgan of this parish has been picking some great Cork players in the last number of weeks on his Northside team and on his Southside team as well as an East Cork 15. I'm sure he found it very hard to choose, as there were so many outstanding players from all these areas, that he had seen over the years.
I'd say a lot would agree with his selections, and like everything, everyone has an opinion, and would perhaps disagree with him. After all, that's the nature of opinions, and Hoggy would say that too.
I'm now going to talk about some great Cork teams. And I'm going for teams here rather than individuals.
Being the 'young' man that I am, I only remember Cork from the '70s onwards when they won the All-Ireland, defeating Wexford in a very high scoring game, played over 80 minutes in 1970.
There were good Cork teams in the '80s and '90s and '00s with some great players. The best that I have seen was the group of the late '70s: three All-Irelands in a row.
What a consistent team, and remember there was no 'back door'. We in Clare had a great team at this time, and there is no doubt in my mind that if there was a back door that Clare and Cork would have met in All-Ireland finals as well as in Munster finals. Cork beat Clare in two Munster finals in 1977 and '78.
Although the gate receipts of £24,000 were robbed at the 1977 Munster final, a worse robbery took place in 1978 on the field of play when Cork beat Clare, after Clare were in a great position. My father's words resounded in my ears, 'you have to be half-way home before you have Cork beaten'.
Fr Bertie Troy was the Cork manager then. No great talk of tactics but unlike modern managers who think they invented the game, he was a humble man. Obviously he got the best out of that group.
He was a wise man on the line, and always seemed to make the right calls, but he had some wonderful leaders on the field and he allowed them to lead.
Martin Coleman was a great goalkeeper, and exceptionally brilliant against Wexford in '77.
He had great men in front of him. Pat McDonnell, who was full-back in '76, Brian Murphy and Martin O'Doherty.
The brilliant Johnny Crowley was at centre-back while Denis Coughlan was an outstanding footballer and athlete as well as a classy wing-back.
Gerald McCarthy who was the veteran of this team, as he had captained Cork in 1966. He led from midfield.
In the forwards, you had the real heroes of this team: Jimmy Barry-Murphy and the dapper Charlie McCarthy with the tanned legs. He could hurl on a saucer for you, his skill level was so good.
All goalkeepers were on their toes when Seanie O'Leary was around. He was the most annoying corner-forward you'd ever see. He hung around the goal and had great hands and a brain which made him a scorer of goals in big games.
He wasn't fast from A to B but he rarely started at A. He was always a step ahead. That's what good goalscorers do.
Ray Cummins brought full-forward play to a new level; a giant of a man he still relied on his skill and brain.
Other good men on that three-in-a-row team were Tom Cashman, who came in later, John Horgan RIP, and Dermot MacCurtain, and the bag of bones, Tim Crowley himself.
Pat Moylan also and Mick Malone, Brendan Cummins, Pat Barry, John Allen, Eamon O'Donoghue and more. What a panel!
These guys gave us huge entertainment during that era and achieved an awful lot for their county and to me they are my best Cork team.