Cork hurling still relies on two divisions to produce the bulk of the elite players

Cork hurling still relies on two divisions to produce the bulk of the elite players
Seamus Harnedy, Colm Spillane, Stephen McDonnell, Mark Ellis, Conor Lehane, Patrick Horgan, Bill Cooper and Mark Coleman stand for the National anthem last season. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The dominance of the traditional hurling bastions at inter-county level remains as significant as ever explains Eoin Keane...

WHEN Christy Ring famously expressed his strategy of promoting the game of hurling in Cork by “putting a knife through every football east of Bandon”, it is unsure whether his partitionary scheme also involved the decommissioning of every sliothar west of this proposed border.

While the current GAA president John Horan would certainly have been in favour of the segregation of these “different cohorts”, it would be unfair to attribute all of Cork’s hurling heritage solely on the men east of the River Bandon.

That being said, as we look back on the previous decade, the dominance of the traditional hurling bastions at inter-county level remains as significant as ever.

Those that reminisce about the halcyon days of Cork hurling will remember times when the brightest diamonds were often extracted from populous working-class enclaves straddling either side of the Lee.

Traditionally, the renowned triumvirate of the Glen, Rockies and Barrs provided the backbone to Cork’s most successful teams. The famed three-in-a-row team of the late 1970s were certainly a case in point, the inner-city triad producing 14 of the 21 players that lined out in the All-Ireland finals between 1976 and 1978.

When Cork defeated Offaly in the Centenary Final of 1984, the quota representing the ‘The Big Three’ stood just under half (seven out of 15).

The eastward expansion of Cork hurling was also encapsulated in Thurles that day, one third of the team hailing from the Imokilly division.

Midleton, on the cusp of unprecedented success, would provide four of the starting 15, Youghal’s Seanie O’Leary making up the East Cork quintet.

In the 35 years since, Cork have collected a further five All-Ireland titles. While Celtic Crosses now hang proudly above fireplaces from Timoleague to Ballyhea, clubs from Cork City and East Cork continue to dominate the inter-county scene.

Of the 25 players to compete in the All-Ireland Finals between 2003 and 2006, only five emerged from outside the Seandún/Imokilly districts.

CITY RIVALS: Dayne Lee, Na Piarsaigh, Stephen McDonnell, David Dooling and Graham Callanan, Glen Rovers. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
CITY RIVALS: Dayne Lee, Na Piarsaigh, Stephen McDonnell, David Dooling and Graham Callanan, Glen Rovers. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Of that five, all but Tom Kenny (Grenagh) were products of the Newtownshandrum academy, who playing the part of 1980s Midleton, had become the nouveau riche of Cork hurling.

When Kilkenny prematurely ended Cork’s summer last year, it brought the curtain down on a decade comprising of 49 championship games, during which time, 936 appearances had been accumulated by 64 players, representing 32 different GAA clubs.

When Darren Browne was introduced against Westmeath last July, he became the latest name added to the 2010-19 Roll of Honour. Fittingly, it would be a Duhallow representative who would bookend the decade, the Kanturk clubman bringing the divisional representation to 14%, a reputable proportion considering the exalted status of football in the north-west of the county.

As illustrated above, the traditional presence of Imokilly hurlers in Cork colours has continued since the 1980s.

Sarsfield’s have produced the highest number of players since 2010 with seven, while Midleton, with four, lie joint second. The East Cork contingent, however, has not been solely dependent on its more established clubs.

In total, 12 of the 24 hurling clubs within the east Cork district have supplied Cork hurlers, including junior clubs such as St Ita’s (Seamus Harnedy) and Lisgoold (John Cronin) as well as Castlemartyr who were still junior when Brian Lawton made his inter-county debut.

On the contrary, some of the proven senior clubs in the district have been less fruitful. No hurler from Killeagh represented Cork over the past decade, despite their ever-presence at senior level.

Similarly, Bride Rovers and Carrigtwohill have only supplied one player each.

While the table above shows that the Seandún influence on Cork hurling has remained relatively undiminished over the years, the influence of ‘The Big Three’ has certainly waned.

The production line on Church Road has become worryingly stagnant, the eminent Blackrock club having had no championship representative since Wayne Sherlock.

Their Southside neighbours, St Finbarr’s, have also had their troubles with Damien Cahalane their sole intercounty product since Ronan Curran’s retirement in 2011.

While Na Piarsaigh’s 18% seems healthy, this percentage is warped by the final remnants of the great Cork team of the noughties, many of whom soldiered on into the early part of the last decade. Since John Gardiner and the O’hAilpin brothers departed the scene, only Christopher Joyce has emerged from the Fairhill club.

Glen Rovers’ percentage total, as shown below, is also distorted somewhat, Patrick Horgan and Steven McDonnell accounting for 90% of their overall representation.

Outside of the traditional powerhouses within the city/east duopoly, only Kanturk and Newtownshandrum have produced more than one Cork hurler this decade.

Kanturk's Lorcán McLoughlin gathers the ball from Castlelyons Niall O'Leary. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kanturk's Lorcán McLoughlin gathers the ball from Castlelyons Niall O'Leary. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The Duhallow club’s rise through the divisions has been backboned by inter-county players, with Anthony Nash, Aidan Walsh, and Lorcán McLoughlin amassing 80 appearances between them.

Amazingly, for a club that at the start of the decade hadn’t won a hurling championship at any grade since 1969, Kanturk clubmen have made up almost 9% of all Cork teams in the intervening years.

In the south-east of the county, despite the presence of Ballymartle, Ballinhassig and Courcey Rovers at the upper echelons of the club game, no Carrigdhoun player started a championship game for Cork; Rob O’Shea (Carrigaline), Darren McCarthy (Ballymartle) and Stephen White (Ballygarvan) accruing 13 appearances between them from the bench.

Kilbrittain's Maurice Sexton and Ballygarvan's Stephen White. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kilbrittain's Maurice Sexton and Ballygarvan's Stephen White. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Carbery and Muskerry have contributed three players each while outside of Newtonshandrum, only Darragh Fitzgibbon (Charleville) and Cormac Murphy (Mallow) have emerged from the north-east constituency of Avondhu.

With players from Kildorrery and Ballyhooly recently infiltrating successful Cork minor and U20 teams, it is expected that the Avondhu cohort will also grow steadily.

Similarly, Muskerry’s quota should hopefully improve as Mark Coleman and Sean O’Donoghue continue their burgeoning careers into the new decade.

Carrigdhoun, a division in which the small ball enjoys relative parity with football, will also expect to improve its harvest over the coming years. Should Chris O’Leary nail down a starting berth this year, he will become the first player from the southern division to start a championship match for Cork since his Valley Rovers clubmate Kevin Canty in 2008.

In the heart of the city, one must hope that the Rockies and the Barrs can restart the mass-production of talent that has yielded 57 county championships between them. The current dominance of Imokilly teams at various club levels, along with the recent resurgence of Glen Rovers has ensured that future Cork hurling teams will continue to be buttressed by its traditional base.

Should the baronies beyond Ring’s ideological divide increase their output level, The Rebels will surely return to the apex of the national game.

Avondhu: Ben O’Connor (Newtownshandrum), Jerry O’Connor (Newtownshandrum), Cathal Naughton (Newtownshandrum), Tim O’Mahony (Newtownshandrum), Jamie Coughlan (Newtownshandrum), Darragh Fitzgibbon (Charleville), Cormac Murphy (Mallow),

Carbery: Luke Meade (Newcestown), Michael Cahalane (Bandon), Darren Sweetnam (Dohenys)

Michael Cahalane, Bandon, in action against Ballymartle. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Michael Cahalane, Bandon, in action against Ballymartle. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Carrigdhoun: Rob O’Shea (Carrigaline), Darren McCarthy (Ballymartle), Stephen White (Ballygarvan)

Duhallow: Anthony Nash (Kanturk), Aidan Walsh (Kanturk), Lorcan McLoughlin (Kanturk), Darren Browne (Kanturk), William Egan (Kilbrin), Mark Ellis (Millstreet)

Imokilly: Daniel Kearney (Sarsfields), Jack O’Connor (Sarsfields), Conor O’Sullivan (Sarsfields), Cian McCarthy (Sarsfields), Michael Cussen (Sarsfields), Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields), Ray Ryan (Sarsfields), Conor Lehane (Midleton), Luke O’Farrell (Midleton), Killian Burke (Midleton), James Nagle (Midleton), Robbie O’Flynn (Erin’s Own), Killian Murphy (Erin’s Own), Shane Murphy (Erin’s Own), Paudie O’Sullivan (Cloyne), Donal Og Cusack (Cloyne), Niall O’Leary (Castlelyons), Colm Spillane (Castlelyons), Bill Cooper (Youghal), Declan Dalton (Fr. O’Neills), Seamus Harnedy (St. Ita’s), Brian Lawton (Castlemartyr), John Cronin (Lisgoold), Brian Murphy (Bride Rovers), Niall McCarthy (Carrigtwohill),

Muskerry: Sean O’Donoghue (Inniscarra), Mark Coleman (Blarney), Tom Kenny (Grenagh)

Seandun: Patrick Horgan (Glen Rovers), Stephen McDonnell (Glen Rovers), Dean Brosnan (Glen Rovers), Graham Callanan (Glen Rovers), Robert Downey (Glen Rovers), Alan Cadogan (Douglas), Eoin Cadogan (Douglas), Shane Kingston (Douglas), Stephen Moylan (Douglas), Christopher Joyce (Na Piarsaigh), John Gardiner (Na Piarsaigh), Sean Og O’hAilpin (Na Piarsaigh), Aisake O’hAilpin (Na Piarsaigh), Damien Cahalane (St. Finbarr’s), Ronan Curran (St. Finbarr’s), Shane O’Neill (Bishopstown), Patrick Cronin (Bishopstown)

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