Sunday’s Munster club final is a novel pairing, Glen Rovers of Cork versus Ballyea of Clare, but the Glen have history at this level going back five decades, even if the game they played 50 years ago had a spicy backstory. We’ll come to that.
Denis Coughlan enjoyed a long and successful career with the Blackpool club and Cork, in football and hurling. He recalls the dawning of the provincial club championships as the beginning of a “real adventure”.
“It was a great development. You were going outside your county to play a real match, not a challenge, and you didn’t know who your opponents were a lot of the time, particularly in the early days, or how good they were.”
That went for the big ball as well as hurling: the Glen’s football wing, St Nick’s, enjoyed county senior success in the mid-60s and Coughlan recalls tough encounters with the Galway kingpins of the time, Dunmore MacHales, in an unofficial All-Ireland club final in 1967:
“They had a few players on the Galway team, who were dominating the inter-county scene at that time, and we played them in the Mardyke, where we drew, and when the replay was played up in Tuam they won: it was a great experience.”
Fair enough. What about the hurling, though? The Glen got to the Munster club final against Mount Sion of Waterford in 1965, very late in 1965, as it happens.
“We played the original game in December, up in Cashel,” says Coughlan.
“It was a horrific day. Rain, snow, the whole lot, a really dark December day. There was a big crowd went up to Cashel from Blackpool in buses, which was the way most people went to games that time.
“We had a very good team — Christy Ring, Joe Salmon, a lot of experienced players, while Mount Sion had a very good team as well. They backboned the great Waterford team of the late 50s and early 60s, a lot of them who had won All-Ireland medals in 1959 were still involved.”
The going was close until late in the proceedings…
“From my recollection, there were just a couple of points in it with about ten minutes to go and the Glen were ahead, but Mount Sion were playing with a very strong wind and looking good.”
The goalmouths were very muddy, naturally enough, and one of the Glen defenders (“I won’t name him but a neighbour of one of your own uncles,” is Coughlan’s description) stood on the ball when it landed in or near the Glen square.
“Stood on it deliberately,” adds Coughlan. “And the ball was never seen again after that.”
Pandemonium. A brawl broke out among the players hunting for the now-invisible sliotar, while contemporary news reports refer to a bout of ‘hold-me-back let-me-at-him shouting’ behind the Glen goal, but then there was a decisive intervention.
“A chap ran in from the sideline and he saved the day for the Glen, because everyone supporting the Glen followed him onto the field. There was murder on the field and the match was abandoned.”
And who was that mysterious chap?
“I can’t remember now,” says Coughlan. “I can’t remember how we got out of the ground either, but we did.
“We were at home a couple of days later waiting to hear about the replay when the news came through about the Cashel Urban District Council.”
The politicians of Cashel had their regularly scheduled meeting not long after the game, and they didn’t hold back in their views.
“It was raised very strongly at that meeting, what had happened at the match, and it was suggested that the people of Cork weren’t welcome in Cashel ever again and so on, because it was alleged that the people from Cork had brought knives and hatchets with them to Tipperary.
“You might laugh now but it was taken very, very seriously at the time in Blackpool — and in Cork in general.
“This was a time before the motorway, so Cashel was one of the towns you went through when you drove from Cork to Dublin. I worked a lot myself in Dublin that time and every journey, coming and going, I’d always stop in Davern’s on the main street of Cashel.
“Everyone in Cork stopped there for a coffee or their lunch on their way to Dublin — the food was lovely, they had a clothes shop next door, it was a well-known stop — but they lost a fortune of business because for a couple of years people wouldn’t stop in Cashel on general principles, myself included.”
The game was eventually refixed for Limerick on Easter Sunday, 1966, which suited the Glen temperament — it was the club’s 50th anniversary — and they won. Not that it was all plain sailing.
“I was centre field,” says Coughlan. “It was one of the first times the players were in their positions for the throw-in rather than all lined up in the middle of the field, so when the ball was thrown in it was just four of us there.
“I connected with the ball and it flew off to the stand side, where Patsy Harte was left-half-forward for us on Larry Guinan of Mount Sion. They went for the ball but they had a disagreement, put it that way, and they were both sent off without hitting the ball.
“Not all the spectators from Cork made it into the ground for the throw-in, so they were saying, ‘why isn’t Hartey playing, where is he,’ all of that. So controversy even then.”
Coughlan aims to be in Thurles today. No surprise about his hopes for the result.
“I think with the exception of one game the Glen have come from behind in all their championship matches this year. Against Patrickswell (in the Munster club semi-final) and in the Cork county final against Erin’s Own they didn’t play particularly well until the last ten minutes or so, when they came through.
“You’d hope, then, that they have a good game in them. Ballyea are obviously unknown to the Glen, and vice versa, but from what I gather they have a lot of footballers playing hurling, which is a reverse of the Glen’s situation, where you have a lot of hurlers who play football.
“Tony Kelly is obviously a key man for them, a very good player, and whatever plan the Glen have to deal with him, if they can keep him to four points from play I think they have a good chance.
“But you could obviously say the same about Patrick Horgan on the Glen side.”
Here’s hoping the politicians of Thurles won’t have much to say next week.
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