IT took a long time to break the stranglehold that the big three city clubs, the Barrs, Rockies and Glen had on the Cork County SHC but when Midleton made the big breakthrough in 1983, it led the way for other clubs from East Cork to end the monopoly of the aforementioned city trio.
And since that Midleton victory over the Barrs in the 1983 final, the pendulum has swung quite a number of times in the direction of other East Cork clubs, clubs like Erin’s Own, Sarsfields and Carrigtwohill who have all lifted the old trophy since the Magpies ended a lengthy famine in the division.
East Cork was, is and always has been a hotbed of hurling in the county and it was a rarity for a Cork team to win the McCarthy Cup without having an East Corkman on it.
Here’s just a few who won Celtic Crosses, going back to the days of the legendary Jamesy Kelleher.
The most obvious one of them all was the great man from Cloyne, while you had Mattie Fuohy and Willie John Daly from Carrigtwohill, Gerard Murphy and Paddy Fitzgerald from Midleton, Willie Abernethy and Liam Dowling from Castlemartyr, Seanie Barry from Bride Rovers among others.
Sars had Micka Brennan, Paddy Barry and Alan Lotty contributing handsomely to Cork’s cause and there were others too.
So, why did it take so long for East Cork clubs to burst forth and take on the city boys and to overcome them?
Firstly, it has to be said that those Rockies, Barrs and Glen teams were the best of any era, producing wonderful homegrown players who impacted heavily on their dominance.
But they were able to call on a lot of quality players from outside their boundaries and when a player came to the city for work purposes etc they were able to invite them to play with their clubs.
The transfer rule of the day decreed that was able to happen and as a result, those clubs were bolstered by top players from within the county and outside of it.
And it was a case of good luck to them at the time. However, when the transfer rules tightened, things began to change and the East Cork clubs, in particular, got much stronger.
The Midleton team of that 1983 year contained future Cork stars like John Fenton, Denis Mulcahy, Ger Fitzgerald, Kevin Hennessy and Pat Hartnett.
Goalkeeper Ger Power was a vital member of Cork squads while you had excellent club players like Seanie O’Brien, Tadgh McCarthy, Colm O’Neill and so on.
They won a few county titles and in 1988 went on to win an All-Ireland club championship.
They were followed on to the winner’s podium by Erin’s Own in 1992 who were superbly led by Brian Corcoran and Timmy Kelleher who gave an exhibition of their qualities in the final against Na Piarsaigh.
Again, similar to Midleton, there were a number of terrific club hurlers who just gelled together to win a great county that year.
And 14 years later the Caherlag club came good again when they won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. In 1997 and 98 under the direction of Seanie O’Leary Imokilly put in a huge effort and won two great titles in successive years.
Sars were a dominant force before all of that and in the 1950s, they recorded two terrific victories in 1951 and 1957.
But years in the wilderness followed and it wasn’t until 2008 that the trophy went back to Riverstown. And what followed was three more titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014 which catapulted the club right to the very top of the Cork hurling tree.
Again, you had a combination of players who wore the county jersey with distinction and some terrific club individuals and that was the recipe for all winning teams.
You needed those few marquee names combining with the others to complete the journey.
Carrigtwohill’s 2011 victory was very unexpected but very deserving with Cork star Niall McCarthy leading by example.
When Midleton won with a very young team in 2013, many believed that they would go on and win a few more but it has not worked out that way although they are a leading contender each year.
In the years of 2017, ’18 and ’19, Imokilly put in a huge effort on and off the field and were subsequently rewarded, being backboned by some of the best players in the county.
So, from 1983 to the present day, the Seán Óg Murphy Cup has wended its way east a total of 18 times, Midleton with five, Sars with four, Erin’s Own with three, Carrigtwohill with one and the divisional unit with five.
It has been a golden age for hurling in East Cork but is the pendulum swinging back in favour of the city sides again?
The Glen won two great titles in 2015 and 2016, have been beaten in a few more finals and are a leading contender again whenever the new season starts up.
The Rockies ended a sojourn in the wilderness last season and that win will make them believe there’s more to come and that may happen. The ‘Barrs will be lifted by their minor win and if Douglas can realise their potential who knows.
Piarsaigh will bounce again and it will all make for plenty of city and East Cork showdowns. And the sooner we have a few the better.