Cork's unsung heroes... a swashbuckling alternative hurling All-Star 15  

Cork's unsung heroes... a swashbuckling alternative hurling All-Star 15  
Barry Egan was a very impressive performer for Cork in the mid-90s, earning an All-Star at corner-forward. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Thomas Murphy has come with up an alternative 15 to our Cork Hurling Dream Team 1970-2020. Some of the lesser known Rebels who fought the good fight...

Derek Barrett didn't take any prisoners.
Derek Barrett didn't take any prisoners.

THE Covid-19 lockdown might have denied the people of Cork a summer of hurling but at least the public’s interest is being captured by the classic clashes on TV.

The more academic and discerning of the Cork hurling fraternity have been actively debating the shortlist of the Cork hurling team of the last 50 years in the Echo. With the pubs closed, a squad of legends emerged, jostling for position in a virtual reality.

While all of this was going on I thought of my own childhood watching Cork and listening to the generation of men that came before nurtured and instilled an appreciation of Cork hurling.

Too young to witness the 70s, heard all about the great three-in-a-row team. Not so much about the 1970 team that lifted Liam MacCarthy nor that 1972 team that lost to Kilkenny.

I collected programmes and sought autographs in the 80s and remember being captivated entirely by the glint of the Liam MacCarthy Cup being held aloft outside the Imperial Hotel in ‘86, my earliest memory of the passionate Cork following. I recall the despair at losing to Tipperary in ‘87 and ‘88, the disbelief at losing to Waterford in ‘89 before the restoration of faith watching the historic double in 1990.

I was old enough to have a pint to celebrate in ‘99 and mature enough to appreciate the swashbuckling art of Cork hurling in the noughties.

Looking back it is easy to remember a succession of great hurlers. The story of Ger Cunningham’s handover of the hooped shirt to Donal Óg could have been lifted from a screenplay. So while we salute those who made John Horgan’s best Cork team of the last 50 years, I explored the idea of making a fringe team.

It’s a line-up of those less well remembered but whose contribution to Cork hurling must not be forgotten. I favoured players whose careers were fleeting or tortuous, there to fill a gap and do a job for us and for that we owe thanks all the same.

My virtual ‘fringe 15’ must have a jersey so I picked the ‘maroon-red’ jersey of ‘86 that was dropped for the final against Galway.

Midleton's Ger Power.
Midleton's Ger Power.

In goal is Midleton’s Ger Power, the real life butcher whose favoured shot-stopping hurl had three splices, a physical representation of the stubbornness of the man who eventually handed over the number 16 to Tracton’s Tom Kingston. He was part of the great Midleton team of the 80s captaining them to All-Ireland glory over Athenry in 1987.

At number two its John Blake. The man from Togher stood up to Kilkenny in ‘82 and ‘83 only to lose his position for the ‘84 final gaining his only Celtic Cross as an unused sub. He is the holder of five county medals with the Barrs.

Full-back is Christy Connery. In ‘88, he came in to rescue the full-back line against prime Nicky English and Pat Fox after Ritchie Brown went off injured behind the yellow goals of the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. In the earlier part of the 1990 season he was called upon to fill the gap left by the injured Denis Walsh who recovered in time to take his place for the final.

He is a Na Piarsaigh legend, with his son Daire carrying on the tradition.

Christy Connery tackles Sars' Brian McCartan. Picture: Larry Cummins
Christy Connery tackles Sars' Brian McCartan. Picture: Larry Cummins

Left corner is Denis Burns, also the Barrs. He was involved in the late ‘70s, three times togging out on All-Ireland final day, but his services were often called upon along the way. Having being a key part of the league-winning team in 1980 but he failed to break into the championship team in 1981 and subsequently retired.

A hugely successful club captain, he went into management, guiding the Cork minors to glory in 1998. His daughter Síle played at senior level for the Cork camogie team.

Next is Pat Horgan of the Glen. Again on the fringes during three in a row, but he was well established by the ‘82 and ‘83 campaigns, when Cork were beaten by the Cats in successive finals.

He was a sub again in the ‘84 team that were victorious against Offaly, but he continued hurling for his county into the late '80s. An All-Star, at number 11, after Cork won the 1980 league he played 22 times in championship. 

He had a long club career too, including counties in 1976 and 1989, as well as the 1977 club All-Ireland.

No relation to current Cork captain Patrick Horgan, he was a serious operator in his own right. Often in attack but here we're using his experience across the half-back line.

The centre-back position goes to Derek Barrett of Cobh and Imokilly. He first made a mark with the famous underage crop that graduated from minor in ‘95 to U21 titles in 1997-‘98.

Derek Barrett in the 2000 Munster final win over Tipp. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Derek Barrett in the 2000 Munster final win over Tipp. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

He also an intermediate All-Ireland champion in ‘97.

Barrett was called up to the Cork seniors in ‘96. He hurled in the half-backs but also midfield, and made 10 Championship appearances until 2003. A powerful hurler, he was a key figure for his division when they won Cork counties.

The other half-back position goes to Frank Norberg of Backrock.

In 1972 Norberg, before his debut, was appointed by his club as captain of Cork. They won the league and Munster double, blitzing Clare 6-18 to 2-8.

A groin injury ruled him out of Cork’s subsequent victory over London in the All-Ireland semi-final but he was back for the final. Unfortunately, in a 15-point swing, the Leesiders coughed up a sizeable lead to an Eddie Keher-inspired Kilkenny. He made the panel again in ‘73 but that was as good as it got.

At number eight it’s the late Paul O’Connor of Na Piarsaigh. The much loved ‘Paulo’ was a UCC legend winning five Fitzgibbon Cup medals in the ‘80s before returning to manage them to Fitzgibbon glory.

He hurled for Cork between 1987 and 1990 but was deprived of an All-Ireland medal after suffering a serious knee injury just months before Cork’s famous double. Otherwise he had the talent to have become an outstanding inter-county hurler.

Who can forget those two sublime side-line cuts in quick succession that sailed over Ken Hogan’s cross bar in the Muster Hurling final in Limerick in 1988?

Paul O'Connor, Na Pairsaigh selector, celebrates after the 2004 county final win. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Paul O'Connor, Na Pairsaigh selector, celebrates after the 2004 county final win. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Alongside him it’s John Buckley, from nearby rivals Glen Rovers. In 1982 Buckley made his senior championship debut, just as Cork were about to return to the big time with a new team.

He collected his first Munster medal before a fancied Rebel outfit lost 3-18 to 1-15 to Kilkenny. In ‘83 it was tighter but the Cats won again, 2-14 to 2-12.

In 1984, Buckley was a sub, missing out in the GAA’s centenary year, though he did still get his Celtic Cross. He couldn’t nail down a starting spot again, though he was still involved in 1986.

Buckley’s last game for Cork was a National Hurling League clash with Kilkenny in late 1986. He was sent off in the game and was never selected to play for his county again.

The number 10 shirt goes to Iniscarra’s Tomás Ryan. Ryan makes the grade by virtue of being on the All-Ireland winning side that beat Wexford 50 years ago.They had also defeated New York in the league final and Tipp in the Munster final of the same year.

Ryan played his club hurling with Inniscarra and enjoyed some success during a lengthy career. In 1975 Inniscarra reached the junior championship decider against Ballymartle, winning 5-7 to 3-8. He also served as a a Fine Gael councillor for many years.

Number 11 is going to Bertie Óg Murphy, Sars.

A talented underage player, he was drafted into the Cork seniors in ‘76 and debuted against Tipp. Those was glorious times for the Rebels, but it was tough to make a mark on the starting 15.

He featured again in the early ‘80s, coming on against Kilkenny in the ‘82 loss, starting the following year, when goals from Tomás Mulcahy and Seánie O’Leary weren’t enough to reel in the Cats, and making the panel in ‘84.

Murphy was at the helm when Cork landed U21 All-Irelands in ‘97-‘98 and for a season at senior in 2002. He was hugely successful as a coach with his native Sars.

Number 12 is Eddie O’Brien, hat-trick hero and Passage native. Following on from Colm Sheehan’s treble in ‘66, he raised three green flags in the 1970 victory over Wexford.

It took 2010, and Lar Corbett, for another hurler to manage the same in an All-Ireland.

Word has it, O’Brien slipped out for a few pints in Dún Laoghaire the night before the ‘70 decider. It certainly didn’t have a negative impact, in a 6-21 to 5-10 win for Cork in an 80-minute game.

The first corner-forward jersey goes to Barry Egan, Delanys.

In 1992 Egan made his senior debut in a 0-22 to 0-8 Munster quarter-final defeat of Kerry. He later won his only Munster medal following a 1-22 to 3-11 win over Limerick.

Barry Egan in the 1997 championship. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Barry Egan in the 1997 championship. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

He didn’t feature in the final, a 3-10 to 1-12 loss from Kilkenny but he starred in the 1993 marathon three-game league final saga with Wexford.

Even though Clare beat Cork in championship, the northsider collected an All-Star. He was also on the panel in ‘98, when Cork last lifted the league crown by beating Waterford 2-14 to 0-13.

The full-forward position to Finbarr Delaney.

The Blackrock club man, father of Irish soccer international Damien, hit 1-19 in two championship games in ‘89. What was more impressive was that he was given his chance at the age of 32, on the back of a top club display to the tune of 2-7 against Midleton and Cork’s Denis Mulcahy.

Rebel manager Con Roche fast-tracked Mulcahy’s tormentor into his starting 15 but the former dual Cork minor and reliable club operator for the Rockies and St Michael’s wouldn’t feature in 1990 when the dual was secured.

The final spot goes to Eamon O’Donoghue, another Blackrock hurler who gave a huge amount to his club after his playing career concluded.

O’Donoghue was involved in the great 1970s panel and came on in the ‘76 All-Ireland defeat of Wexford. Two years later, he was introduced as a sub in Cork’s narrow win over Clare in the Munster final and again in the All-Ireland against Kilkenny.

While there was a changing of the guard after the 1979 loss to Galway, O’Donoghue collected successive league crowns in 1980 and 81.

After coming off the bench for the ‘82 defeat to the Cats, he started in 1983’s loss to the Noresiders before retiring from inter-county.

  • 1. Ger Power (Midleton).
  • 2. John Blake (St Finbarr’s).
  • 3. Christy Connery (Na Piarsaigh).
  • 4. Denis Burns (St Finbarr’s).
  • 5. Pat Horgan (Glen Rovers).
  • 6. Derek Barrett (Cobh).
  • 7. Frank Norberg (Blackrock).
  • 8. Paul O’Connor (Na Piarsaigh).
  • 9. John Buckley (Glen Rovers).
  • 10. Tomás Ryan (Inniscarra).
  • 11. Bertie Óg Murphy (Sarsfields).
  • 12. Eddie O’Brien (Passage).
  • 13. Barry Egan (Delanys).
  • 14. Finbarr Delaney (Blackrock).
  • 15. Eamonn O’Donoghue (Blackrock).
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