'THE best thing since the sliced pan' has to be one of the most overused clichés of all time and is associated with innovations of every kind but is a sentiment which I overheard a great Gael use to describe the Féile na nGael competition.
However, it would be impossible not to agree as the festival has gone from strength to strength since its foundation with 25,000 boys and girls now taking part.
Féile na nGael was inaugurated in 1971; the idea behind the competition being to emphasise, in a fresh and significant manner, the need to revive the full glory of hurling. In addition, it was felt that there was an urgent need for the GAA to dedicate itself anew to the propagation of this most traditional distinctive and exciting of our national games.
The competition was the brainchild of a group of enthusiastic, far-seeing Gaels in Tipperary who felt something should be done which would have some effect nationally for hurling.
Fortunately, those in the higher echelons of Croke Park, who were quick to realise its potential and significance, embraced the idea.
Seamus Ó Riain (a former Uachtarain of Cumann Luthchleas Gael), Eamonn De Stafford and Tommy Barrett came up with the idea of a hurling festival.
The central idea was to invite a juvenile team from the other 31 counties to Tipperary for a weekend to compete against 32 teams from the parishes of the county.
Jimmy Smyth in Croke Park was contacted, told of the idea and he readily agreed to help. It was enthusiastically received nationally with individual counties holding their own competitions to decide who should represent them.
To the Rockies fell the honour of representing Cork in the prestigious event. On Leeside the competition was razor-keen with eight of the counties best sides qualifying for the blitz at the Barrs' headquarters in Togher.
In the opening game Rockies were too strong for courageous minnows Éire Óg and advanced to meet Glen Rovers in the semi-final.
This was a much tougher affair with two excellently prepared sides providing great entertainment for the bumper attendance. The Rockies finished the stronger and were probably a little flattered by their 5-5 to 2-2 victory. Barrs, favoured by home advantage and the bulk of the attendance, went into the final as underdogs.
Despite the fact that for both clubs it was their third game in six hours the hurling produced was of the highest quality. Blackrock earned their trip to Tipp by virtue of a hard-earned four-point victory 2-5 to 2-1.
In the home of the GAA, Blackrock endorsed their favourites tag with an easy opening-round success over Thurles. Thomastown, the pride of Kilkenny, led the Rockies at half-time in the quarter-final. Inspired by Finbarr Delaney, the Cork champions blew away the cobwebs and their forwards piled on the scores to comfortably advance to meet Cashel in the semi-final.
Cashel had the Rockies in all sorts of trouble and it was a vital goal netted by Danny Buckley seconds before the break which gave them renewed hope. Within three minutes it looked as if the Rockies goose was cooked as the Premier county boys still led by a point.
But up popped Joe O’Leary to break Cashel’s heart with a well-taken goal. The first Féile na Gael final was to be a Cork v Dublin clash with impressive Eoghan Ruadhs slightly fancied to bring the trophy back to the capital.
In his contribution to Blackrock’s Centenary Year publication, ‘The Rockies’, Declan Hassett wrote, “The final was played before a fine attendance who thrilled to the splendid goalkeeping of Tom Cashman, whose display was equal to anything ever given by his famous father, and to Danny Buckley’s electrifying runs which had the crowd buzzing with excitement.”
The teams couldn’t be separated at half time and shortly after the break, the Dubliners opened up a two-point lead.
However, it’s an old saying “that goals win matches” and so it proved. Still trailing minutes from the end, Delaney threw the Rockies a lifeline with a fine equaliser.
Then with two minutes remaining a 40 yard Buckley free went all the way to the net. Eoghan Ruadhs immediately responded with a point which left them trailing 2-4 to 0-8.
Unfortunately for them, time ran out and the Rockies added another chapter to their famous history by claiming the honour of becoming the first ever Féile na nGael All-Ireland U15 Champions.
The inaugural Féile weekend in Tipperary was a wonderful success, matching the highest expectations of its organisers and gave new life, purpose and drive to a hurling revival.
For Blackrock, it was a historic victory and treated as such by the club elders and parishioners who accorded the team a reception befitting All-Ireland champions.
The team entourage, which announced its victory with hooting horns and waving jerseys through the towns on the way back from Semple Stadium, was engulfed by rapturous supporters at scheduled stops in Ballinlough and the Fishing Village where bonfires blazed in their honour.
Féile na nGael had received the perfect send-off, born in the cradle of the Association in Thurles in the presence of its President Pat Fanning and christened in a renowned hurling stronghold in Blackrock amidst blazing bonfires.
BLACKROCK PANEL: Tom Cashman, Ger Kenny, Sean Mintern, Mick McCabe, John Garvan, Finbarr Delaney (c), Joe Kelly, Ferghie O’Neill, Pierce Power, Danny Buckley, Joe O’Leary, Pat O’Sullivan, Kieran Lyons, Tom Lyons, William Ahern, Ger Downey, Sean Horgan, Kieran Murphy.