Cork junior hurling and football titles mean more than in any other county

There are 47 more clubs in Cork than in the whole of Connacht, which is why junior glory is so respected on Leeside
Cork junior hurling and football titles mean more than in any other county

Kieran Duggan, Ballygiblin fires over a point against Dromtarriffe in the Co-Op Superstores Cork JAHC final at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Larry Cummins

IN the home dressing room of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, there is a red and white mural at the back wall which lists the vast multitude of clubs within the county.

Most of the activity in the Park is linked with the inter-county game but that mural is a neat way of connecting the elite to the grassroots and the pathway which leads so many of those players from those clubs to county teams.

The scale of the list is staggering, but Cork have always dominated the numbers game; there are 47 more clubs in the county than there is in the entire province of Connacht.

There are nearly as many teams in some divisions as there are clubs in the whole of Leitrim (24).

And a natural by-product of those numbers is a multi-layered and highly competitive championship system unlike anything else in the country.

The uniqueness of the Cork junior championship is heavily bound up with the excitement, drama, and intrigue it produces every year.

The huge crowds regularly attending games generate the kind of atmosphere unseen or unheard of in most counties around the country. But the Cork junior championships are unlike anything else in the GAA.

INTENSITY

If anything highlighted the absolute competitiveness of the Cork junior hurling championships alone in 2021, the 16-team Avondhu divisional battle captured it perfectly.

In the four quarter-finals, Charleville, Clyda Rovers, and Dromina won their games by one point while Ballygiblin beat Kilshannig by a goal after extra-time.

Ballygiblin went on to beat Charleville in the semi-final by two points and, while they defeated Clyda by eight points in the final, Clyda had to play without key forwards Seamus Ronayne and Chris Buckley, along with Chris Kenny, who was also injured but came on late.

Ballygiblin edged past Passage in the semi-final and, while they had six points to spare over Dromtarriffe in the final, Ballygiblin trailed by five points heading into the last quarter, only taking the lead for the first time in the 51st minute when a late scoring blitz secured a first county junior title.

The Cork junior football championship also provided another fairytale story with Boherbue claiming a first county junior title.

Boherbue have been the dominant team in Duhallow for the last four years, but they still had to negotiate their way through a minefield to win the county, scraping past Urhan in the semi-final by one point before beating Ballinhassig in the final by a goal.

 Andrew O'Connor, Boherbue, battles Tadhg Sheehan and Aodh Twomey, Aghinagh. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Andrew O'Connor, Boherbue, battles Tadhg Sheehan and Aodh Twomey, Aghinagh. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Boherbue hammered a Covid-depleted Aghinagh in the quarter-final but Aghinagh were still one of the stories of the Cork championship season when winning a mid-Cork title for the first time in their 73-year existence.

After reaching four previous Mid-Cork finals, Aghinagh’s previous appearance was a demoralising 14-point loss to Iveleary in 2019.

The nature of the defeat left the players with a lot of soul-searching, but they gloriously wiped away that disappointment with a six-point win against Ballincollig’s second string in early November.

In most other counties, a divisional junior title would mean nothing, but historical context completely defines a different terrain in Cork.

In the vast majority of other counties, most junior championships are made up of clubs’ second, and third teams, with the top side in those clubs operating at senior or Intermediate level. In that regard, the junior championship is often only an afterthought.

Many other clubs, especially the big sides, just use their junior sides as a feeder team for their senior set-ups.

Many enter those championships with more of a developmental mindset than with any great ambition of winning the competition.

The mindset in Cork is totally different because so many clubs operate in the junior championship with their first team.

PRIDE

Moreover, the majority of those clubs in the junior championship represent their community with as much passion and professionalism as many senior clubs around the country.

The standard is often so high in the Cork junior championship that teams have often used it as a platform to go on to greater things.

With eight divisions, the county championship is like a mini Munster club championship because of the novelty of so many of the pairings.

Some clubs could be meeting teams that would be as far away from them in geographical distance as a club in north Cork could be from a club in mid-Galway.

That alone highlights how much of a juggernaught Cork GAA is — and should be at inter-county level.

It is almost a province in itself, which heightens the glory and achievement of winning a county junior title.

Getting to the final alone is an ordeal because no other championships in the country is loaded with as many booby-traps and roadblocks.

 Midfielder Darragh Flynn Ballygiblin with plenty of time to lift and strike into the forward line against Caherline. Picture: Larry Cummins. 
Midfielder Darragh Flynn Ballygiblin with plenty of time to lift and strike into the forward line against Caherline. Picture: Larry Cummins. 

Having so many tight battles in 2021 definitely hardened Ballygiblin for a Munster junior campaign, but their final against Skeheenarinky is all the more novel again considering the proximity of both clubs and the connections between the two groups; of the 30 players which started both Munster semi-finals, 28 went to school together in Mitchelstown CBS.

That part of the country is unique in how three counties — Cork, Tipp and Limerick — intersect so closely in one area.

Ballygiblin and Skeheenarinky are near those borders but the fact that Ballygiblin are so close to a club in Tipperary and so far away from the vast majority of clubs in their own county sums up the vastness of the Cork championships.

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