Midleton won the county IHC in 1978 and, seeking to break the triopoly of Blackrock, Glen Rovers and St Finbarr’s, lost at the semi-final stage to the Barrs in each of the next four years.
When they made it to the ’83 final, the Togher outfit were again the opposition but the Magpies finally broke through the glass ceiling. Former Cork captain Ger Fitzgerald, who had just broken onto the Midleton team, recalls how much of a psychological barrier it had been. “It was a big thing really for Midleton to get over the Barrs,” he says.
“To be fair, the first year or two, it was a new experience and there was huge enthusiasm. I remember it well because Paddy Fitz, my father, was the trainer.
“Then it became a little bit frustrating because we couldn’t get over them but there was huge, huge effort put in. In a way, it was like the club was serving an apprenticeship to be winning the county.”
Midleton’s win was the first time since UCC’s win in 1970 that none of the traditional ‘big three’ had claimed the Seán Óg Murphy Cup, while Sarsfields in 1957 were the last club to triumph before the Magpies. There would be further wins for Midleton in 1986, ’87 and ’91, with the Rockies, Glen and Barrs having only won seven between them in the 32 years since ’83.
“It was an important time for Cork hurling,” Fitzgerald says, “it opened the door for clubs that would have been regarded as being of lesser standard to go on and win counties.
“In the years the Barrs were beating us, we were always lacking a forward or two, but Colm O’Neill and myself came in and we augmented what was there.
“We were both 19, just a year out of minor, and there was a bit of a changing of the guard. Stalwarts like Jim O’Brien, Paddy O’Sullivan, Dessie Hurley and Séamus O’Farrell had moved on and it was younger sort of a team in ’83.
“It was a huge occasion for us as players, for the club and for the town, the band playing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on the day of the final was even from Midleton, so that added to the carnival atmosphere.” Midleton and the Barrs continued to tussle throughout the mid-80s.
“In the ’84 quarter-final, in fairness they beat us well,” Fitzgerald says. “When you win a county, it’s tough the following year and we didn’t adapt all that well, I suppose. There were certainly incidents in that match that were dirty, the rivalry was pretty intense at that time. I’ve heard stories of lads in the Barrs who wouldn’t eat eggs that came from Midleton!
“In the ’86 quarter-final then, Frank Murphy was ref and he kept it under control, he was the best referee at the time. We had lost to Blackrock in the ’85 final and as a team we really needed to stamp our authority on the thing. We were really sharp and ready for it.
“We went on to win the county then and beat them on the way to winning in ’87 too.”
With Cork winning All-Irelands in 1984 and ’86 as the rivalry caught the imagination, Fitzgerald has no doubt that the county benefited too.
“We had four or five players on the Cork team, and so did the Barrs,” he says. “There were never any problems once we put on the red jersey, the club rivalry was always left on the pitch. The most important thing that it did was that it hothoused a bit of talent, really.”