Glen Rovers' return to the top was a hurling high of the modern era in Cork

Glen Rovers' return to the top was a hurling high of the modern era in Cork
An emotional Glen Rovers captain Graham Callanan after defeating Sarsfields in the 2015  SHC final at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

DOWN through the corridors of time, there have been so many memorable Cork County senior hurling final victories.

It is an almost endless list.

Midleton’s win in 1983 against St. Finbarr’s, Sars victory over Bride Rovers in 2008, ending a lengthy famine in Riverstown, Carrigtwohill’s 2011 triumph against nearly impossible odds.

In the 90s you had Erin's Own in 1992 and Na Piarsaigh the year previous, 1991. You could go on and on.

The one that we have chosen, however, is just a few short years ago, Glen Rovers 2015 victory over Sars. For raw emotion that day in Páirc Uí Rinn, it would be very difficult to match.

David Cunningham celebrates his goal. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
David Cunningham celebrates his goal. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The Glen hadn’t won a county since 1989, a lifetime in the great hurling homes of Blackpool.

A year before that 2015 triumph they had been trounced in the final by the same Sars team, the extent of the loss suggesting to some to declare that they might never see the great northside club win a title again.

Fast forward, however, a year later and one of the great comeback stories had been completed, the great unexpected had become reality.

And when Graham Callanan accepted the trophy that day from Cork County Board Chairperson Ger Lane the scenes of joy that followed had no boundaries.

For a while, it appeared that Blackpool had been relocated to the Boreenmanna Road.

Team boss Richie Kelleher, a Glen man to the core stood on the sod of Páirc Uí Rinn that Sunday afternoon, his voice choking with emotion saluting all those who had made it come to pass.

A lesser man would have walked away a year earlier.

So many great Glen hurlers had ended their careers without a cherished county medal but everything changed utterly that day in 2015.

For the younger generation of Glen fans of course, this was a whole new experience, as over a quarter of a century had elapsed since the club previously produced a title-winning team, which was captained by Tomás Mulcahy in 1989.

That victory brought an end to 13-years of fruitless endeavour, with Mulcahy proclaiming during the course of his acceptance speech the Glen would never be forced to endure such a lengthy spell in the wilderness again.

Prior to 1976, the Glen hadn’t gone more than four years without a title since making the breakthrough in 1934, so it was easy to appreciate Mulcahy’s conviction - shared, no doubt, by everyone involved in the club at the time - that the hiatus of over a decade had been nothing more than an aberration.

If that famine was hard to take, however, you can imagine how painful and frustrating it was for a club with such a proud and illustrious tradition to have to wait 26 years before the promised land was reached again.

It meant that the victory over Sarsfields last Sunday out probably tasted sweeter than any of the Glen’s previous triumphs, all the more since their hopes of returning to the top table seemed as remote as ever 12 months earlier.

Indeed, it would be fair to say that to qualify for the final again was a laudable achievement in itself, testimony to the rich vein of character running through the team.

The Glen’s impressive displays in dispatching Newtownshandrum and Midleton in their previous two outings suggested they had simply underperformed massively in the 2014 final, and it was always on the cards they would give a much better account of themselves this time.

Yet, it was no surprise that they went into the match as rank outsiders against a Sars team contesting a seventh final and bidding to collect a fifth title since 2008.

Glen Rovers' Dean Brosnan bursts past Sarsfields' Eanna Martin. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Glen Rovers' Dean Brosnan bursts past Sarsfields' Eanna Martin. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

By half time, however, the odds on the Glen prevailing would have shortened considerably, as it was glaringly obvious at that stage there was going to be no repeat of their tame capitulation 12 months ago.

That the Glen led by two points, 0-10 to 0-8, at the break didn’t look particularly ominous for Sars on the face of it.

What must have been a source of considerable concern for the champions, however, was that they had been prevented from functioning with their usual fluency by the sheer agression and determination of the Glen’s play.

And it was obvious that the lessons learned from the previous year’s disappointment were being put into practice.

The teams had been fairly even during the opening 25 minutes, but when the Glen bagged the last three points in the first half, one sensed that Sars had become the first to blink and the spirit of the Glen was prevailing again.

Sars looked vulnerable, and the Glen capitalised on it, so it didn’t take an expert to figure out which of the teams had benefited more, in terms of confidence, from the first half.

Glen Rovers' Ben Murphy and Kieran Murphy of Sarsfields. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Glen Rovers' Ben Murphy and Kieran Murphy of Sarsfields. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Within seven minutes of the second half, the Glen had stretched the gap to four points, 0-13 to 0-9, after a goal attempt by David Busteed was deflected over the bar by Sars ‘keeper Alan Kennedy.

It was clear that Sars’ were struggling to stay afloat at that stage, and their fate was effectively sealed approaching the last ten minutes when Glen ’keeper Cathal Hickey saved brilliantly from Cian McCarthy at the expense of ’65.

McCarthy pointed the resultant chance, but shortly afterwards David Cunningham goaled for the Glen to push them 1-16 to 0-11 ahead, and they had stretched the gap ten points after defender David Dooling surged forward to rattle the Sars net again in the 54th minute.

McCarthy bagged a consolation goal for Sars before the finish, but it’s a measure of their shortcomings up front that they had to rely entirely on his free-taking expertise for penetration otherwise in the second half.

All six Glen defenders covered themselves in glory on the day, especially the long-serving Graham Callanan, who certainly played a captain’s part on the right wing.

Ironically, Callanan’s immediate opponent Gavin O’Loughlin achieved most in attack for Sars in the first half, knocking over three points, but he was simply overwhelmed by Callanan’s brilliance after the interval.

David Cunningham, another seasoned Glen stalwart, played a starring role too in attack, unsettling the Sars half-back line with his forceful play and his aerial ball-winning ability.

As well as bagging 1-2, Cunningham did the spadework for a number of other scores over the hour.

All eyes on Glen Rovers'  Patrick Horgan as he hits over a point. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
All eyes on Glen Rovers'  Patrick Horgan as he hits over a point. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Dean Brosnan, Patrick Horgan and David Busteed also made noteworthy contributions up front attack, as did Dave Noonan at midfield, but it was essentially a well-balanced team display that enabled the Glen to come up trumps.

It had been suggested that part of the reason for the Glen’s poor performance in 2014 was that they were playing a third championship game in successive weeks when they squared up to Sars in the final, everything had caught up with them.

After the trophy presentation the thousands of Glen supporters started to embark on the journey back to Blackpool where thousands more awaited.

However, there was one very important stop on the way, cars being abandoned before they came to the Christy Ring bridge where team captain Graham Callanan carried the trophy across the bridge named after the greatest Glen man of all.

Glen Rovers captain Graham Callanan with the Cork County Senior Hurling Cup going over the Christy Ring Bridge in 2015. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Glen Rovers captain Graham Callanan with the Cork County Senior Hurling Cup going over the Christy Ring Bridge in 2015. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

There is no doubt if the maestro himself had been alive that day he’d have been the proudest Glen man on earth.

And there is no doubt he was looking down and guiding them from above.

A year later, the Glen retained the title with Patrick Horgan giving one of the great county final displays, marking him out as a player of sheer class and genius.

That Glen Rovers victory was saluted around the country. One of the great hurling clubs were back at the pinnacle of Cork hurling. The famine had ended in Blackpool and future generations will look back on that day as a turning point in the club’s history.

The Glen team that defeated Sars in 2015. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
The Glen team that defeated Sars in 2015. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The Glen were back in the final last season, putting up a very spirited display before going under to the reigning champions Imokilly and there was enough to suggest that if these Cork divisional teams are to be dethroned the Glen will be right up there in the chasing pack.

And a lot of their inspiration going forward will come from that 2015 victory.

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