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Rebels without claws ✍🏼 Saint column

Shane Stapleton looks at Ballygunner’s hammering of Sarsfields as the appalling Munster SHC club record of Cork clubs continues

Shane Stapleton looks at Ballygunner’s hammering of Sarsfields as the appalling Munster SHC club record of Cork clubs continues.
A cursory glance at the statistics tells you that Cork club teams have been drowning in Munster waters for over a decade.

After Newtownshandrum collected provincial honours in 2009 following two wins on the road — in Thurles against the locals and at the same venue versus Ballygunner — the Rebels seem have shown progressively less fight.

Sarsfields and Midleton took De La Salle and Kilmallock to extra time in 2010 and 2014 respectively, and Glen Rovers won away to Patrickswell in 2016, but it has been a grim record otherwise.

Of the 14 Munster SHC club outings since Newtown’ reigned supreme, sacking The ‘Well seven years ago remains as the sole day that the Cork flag was not lowered.

St Finbarr’s battled valiantly away to Ballyea in 2022 when falling to a last-minute point by defender Brandon O’Connell, and losing county player Conor Cahalane early on to a harsh red card was key to the result.

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It can’t all be about misfortune, of course. In the 14 outings we’ve mentioned from 2010 to now, the average scoreline is: Cork teams 0-16 Opposition 0-22.

Because Rebel sides have averaged more than one goal per game (18 in 14), we are perhaps better served looking at their average tally as 1-13, which wins very few games against top sides these days.

In seven of these 14 games, Cork’s representative has accrued ten points or fewer. That includes a Sarsfields side that were pushing for goals late on when white flags were there for the taking, but that’s precious little succour for a team that lost by 17.

However, it would be unfair to pick at a scab, only to then point and laugh. Ballygunner have won their last three Munster openers by 17 points apiece, with the Tipperary and Clare winners also torn apart.

In fact, throw the champions of many counties outside Munster into this championship during this period and they would also have struggled.

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Yes, Cork teams have had a rotten run, it is unbecoming of a traditional powerhouse, it correlates with a barren spell for the county team, but they still are producing hurlers.

They have come up short at the elite level too, but they are far from no-hopers. Pat Ryan will rightly feel he has the raw materials to challenge for Munster and All-Ireland glory in 2024, or to at least be best of the rest behind Limerick.

The county team have also won three provincial titles and lost two finals during the period being discussed.

So why is the fall-off so great at club level? Partly because the city has come up short. Blackrock haven’t won a Munster crown since 1979, The Barrs must go back to 1980, while the Glen Rovers last did the job in 1976.

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Cork have used divisional teams such as Imokilly to unearth big talents over the years — Seamus Harnedy, Paudie O’Sullivan, Bill Cooper in recent times, with Ciaran Joyce, Jack Leahy and Diarmuid Healy part of the next generation — and from 2017 to ’19 they held the county title.

Imokilly — no more than Avondhu and Carbery in the ’90s — can’t represent the county beyond its own borders, and some would argue the pros and cons of these teams’ existence for the Rebels.

A glaring part of the issue is that Cork teams have not played a single home Munster SHC club game since 2013. Home advantage isn’t everything but every little helps when you’re gasping for air.

Might it have pulled The Barrs over the line in the narrow defeat to Ballyea last season, the Glen when they visited Semple Stadium in 2019, or a year earlier when Midleton came up two points short to the Gunners?

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Ballygunner have a huge concentration of talent among their ranks, and their production line will continue. They have dominated hugely at underage levels in Waterford, make use of a fine catchment area, and also benefit from talented bloodlines that keep on producing.

It is a perfect hurling storm that has, on the flip side, laid waste to other Deise clubs for a long time, and some would suggest is to the detriment of the county as a whole. Be that as it may, they are an incredible club, and are just two wins away from a first-ever Munster SHC club three-in-a-row.

The flipside for Sars is that they have no current Cork starter, and only Jack O’Connor looks to have a ceiling high enough to one day be an All Star. We’ll hope for Sarsfields’ sake that we’re wrong on that front, but it does seem like two teams living in different worlds.

Cork clubs haven’t had that galacticos feeling that Ballygunner have had, and one Shamrocks Ballyhale always seem to have. The last All-Ireland SHC club winner not stacked with current county stars was Portumna in 2014, but they had been just that when winning three of the previous eight club titles before that.

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For Cork, maybe a similarly-stacked side is on the horizon. The Barrs have three Cahalanes, Ethan Twomey, Ben Cunningham, Brian Hayes, William Buckley, along with former county panellist Billy Hennessy, though no doubt they will miss the talents of new Munster Rugby star Ben O’Connor who was an All-Ireland Under-20 winner earlier this year.

Clearly, there is great work going on in this institution of Cork GAA, and if Midleton and Sars both got to the final ahead of St Finbarr’s in 2023, things are perhaps not quite as bad as they seem.

What will be telling is how Ballygunner perform from here. We expect a titanic struggle with Na Piarsaigh, but we cannot rule out a convincing win for the Deise men, before facing a Kildangan side with no county starters or a Clonlara outfit led by Clare duo John Conlon and Ian Galvin.

There is a chance that the Gunners will blaze a trail through Munster and beyond, and perhaps we will look more kindly on Rebel sides if that is the case.

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For the 2024 Munster SHC club campaign, their clubs most certainly need the Cork county board ensure they get a first home fixture in over a decade. Beyond that, it’s up to them.

Cork teams in Munster club SHC (2010-23 inclusive)
2023: Ballygunner (Waterford) 2-20 Sarsfields (Cork) 0-9 — away
2022: Ballyea (Clare) 1-12 St Finbarr’s (Cork) 0-14 — away
2021: Kilmallock (Limerick) 0-19 Midleton (Cork) 1-9 — away
2020: championship not played; Blackrock were champions
2019: Borris-Ileigh (Tipperary) 1-17 Glen Rovers (Cork) 3-8 — (Imokilly won Cork SHC) — away
2018: Ballygunner (Waterford) 1-18 Midleton (Cork) 2-13 — (Imokilly won Cork SHC) — away
2017: Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) 2-26 Blackrock (Cork) 0-10 — (Imokilly won Cork SHC) — away
2016: Patrickswell (Limerick) 0-14 Glen Rovers (Cork) 0-15 — away; Ballyea (Clare) 1-21 Glen Rovers (Cork) 2-10 — neutral (Thurles)
2015: Ballygunner (Waterford) 0-19 Glen Rovers (Cork) 1-9 — away
2014: Kilmallock (Limerick) 3-22 Sarsfields (Cork) 3-20 AET — away
2013: Midleton (Cork) 1-13 Sixmilebridge (Clare) 1-17 — home
2012: Thurles Sarsfields (Tipperary) 2-20 Sarsfields (Cork) 2-15 — away
2011: Carrigtwohill (Cork) 1-10 Crusheen (Clare) 0-19 — home
2010: Sarsfields (Cork) 2-15 De La Salle (Waterford) 0-22 AET — home

Games in Munster since 2009: 14
Won: 1; Lost: 13 (two after extra time, 2010 & 2014)

Venue across 14 games
Home: 3 (2010, 2011 & 2013); Neutral: 1 (2016); Away trips: 10

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Total scoreline
Cork teams 18-170 (224)
Opposition 14-266 (308)

Total average scoreline in all Munster SHC ties 2010-23 inclusive
Cork teams 16 points
Opposition 22 points

AVG SCORES vs EACH MUNSTER COUNTY (number of meetings in brackets)
Waterford teams (x4): 21.8 points v Cork teams: 15.5 points
Limerick teams (x 4): 24 points v Cork teams: 16.5 points
Clare teams (x4): 19.5 points v Cork teams: 14.8 points
Tipperary teams (x2): 23 points v Cork teams: 19 points

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