Blackrock will be the team to beat again when club hurling returns

Powerhouse forward Alan Browne inspired Rockies to glory in 2001
Blackrock will be the team to beat again when club hurling returns

Blackrock forward Alan Browne fired them to county glory against Blackrock in 2001. Picture: Des Barry

JANUARY’S slightly lengthening evenings, with their extra minutes of light, haven’t put the spring in the step of GAA folk.

No training, no games, no definite fixtures, and no local championship draws have left us all pining for what, hopefully, will eventually transpire if normality returns.

Without pre-season and college games and with no team lineups to browse over, thoughts turn more long term: To who can win what in 2021.

Domestically, the holy grail in hurling is bringing the Sean Óg Murphy Cup back home for the winter. Last year’s competition provided plenty of excitement and some great games late on. Now, we wonder if the new kings of the county can retain their status?

Blackrock deservedly made it title number 33, in a year when the team’s undoubted potential was fulfilled after a few false dawns.

Blackrock’s Michael O'Halloran and Cathal McCormack lift the trophy last season. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Blackrock’s Michael O'Halloran and Cathal McCormack lift the trophy last season. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Here we have a side hitting its prime with a core of experience mixed with a talented group of young players and a winning mentality.

As champions usually do, the title holders are likely to start as favourites to make it two in a row. However, such a task has never been the easiest.

Having said that, divisional side Imokilly won three in a row from 2017 to 2019, while Glen Rovers were back-to-back champs in 2015 and '16.

Records show that the feat has been achieved only five times, but the good news for the Church Road club is that they have done it twice.

REPEAT:

St Finbarr’s, who had beaten Glen Rovers in a low-scoring decider in 1980, repeated the outcome against the same opposition when Donal O’Grady captained them to a 1-12-to-1-9 win a year later.

It was the second part of a memorable treble that culminated with victory over Blackrock a year on.

Blackrock, though, will hope they emulate the feats of their club predecessors from early in the last century.

The team of 1911, who retained the silverware, won title number 12, while, two decades later, a remarkable 21st success arrived in 1931.

Included in that glorious era was a run of 11 straight final appearances without defeat.

What followed, though, was a barren period of 25 years, until Mick Cashman led them to an eight-point victory over Glen Rovers in the 1956 final.

In the seven decades that have passed since, superstitious Rockies fans have taken comfort from the fact that their club were crowned champions in three of the years ending in one: 1961, 1971, and 2001.

As for the other clubs that started the decade with those two-in-a-row success stories, Glen Rovers, who were in their pomp in the 1940s, won the first two of their six deciders of that decade in 1940 and 1941.

The archives also recount that Redmonds made a major statement at the beginning of the last century, with wins in 1900 and 1901.

So what has happened to most recent teams attempting to hold on to their crown in back-to-back years at the start of each decade?

Ten years ago, Carrigtwohill came from nowhere to gatecrash the more established parties, after goalkeeper, Alan Kennedy, had captained Sarsfields to 2010 county final victory over Glen Rovers.

Champions in 2008, Sars failed to retain the cup a year on and the same fate struck them in 2011 when Newtowshandrum took their scalp in a low-scoring quarter-final that ended in a 1-13-to-0-13 reversal.

Although they bounced back to win again in 2012 and 2014, holding on to the cup proved to be an elusive feat for a very accomplished team.

At the dawn of the millennium, Newtowsnshandrum were the hot pots in Cork hurling — an inaugural title gained in 2000, courtesy of a three-point triumph over Erin’s Own, suggested more would follow — and they did, but not consecutively.

Then 2003, 2005, and 2009 were further glory years and despite Ben O’Connor being top of the scoring charts overall with 6-29, it was Blackrock who were triumphant in 2001.

The decider will be remembered as the Alan Browne final, as he plundered a remarkable 3-8 of this team’s 4-8 return. Holders Newtownshandrum’s race was run after their 12-point loss to Imokilly in the penultimate round.

Ten years earlier, in 1991, defending champions, Na Piarsaigh, exited in round two of their title defence, following their maiden triumph in 1990.

County-final day saw Midleton defeat Glen Rovers to bring the silverware to Clonmult Memorial Park for the fourth time in nine seasons. 1970 winners, College, saw Blackrock take their crown in 1971, with 1960 kingpins, Glen Rovers, being again succeeded by the Rockies. So what awaits in 2021?

Despite recent history against the title holders, there is no doubt that they have also plenty of stats stacked on their side.

Joy for Blackrock last season. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Joy for Blackrock last season. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Blackrock have appeared in more finals than any other side, recorded the biggest final-winning margin, and have defended their title successfully on 11 occasions.

All of this and last year’s top championship marksman, Alan Connolly (5-52), to lead the attack.

Threats aplenty await on the horizon, but right now — from a distance — the pocket money goes on the Blackrock side to buck the recent trend and defend their crown at the start of the decade.

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