Bryan Keane/INPHO The Glen Rovers played before this year's game with St Finbarr's.
Rebel Rivals
'He had this aura, a huge presence in all our lives' - Christy Ring, the Glen and a Cork final tradition
Dual All-Ireland winner Denis Coughlan recalls a golden club hurling era in Cork.

CAN IT BE over four decades since the last occurrence?

Denis Coughlan finds it difficult to wrap his mind around that statistic.

He recalls his playing days, particularly the centrepiece in the ’70s for his club and county career in Cork hurling.

Six times that decade he was a member of Glen Rovers teams for deciders, Blackrock their most frequent foes with four showdowns. He lost three and savoured the solitary success of the quartet in 1976.

Two years later he manned a defensive post for a Glen Rovers team that was thoroughly dismantled by Blackrock. It has taken until tomorrow for the pair to cross paths in a Cork senior final again.

“I didn’t know that until during the week somebody said it to me. That’s remarkable. The last time we played in a county final was 1978. Jeez, that’s a remarkable statistic. The time is flying.

“Certainly in the 70s when all that was going on, the Glen, the Barrs’ and Blackrock drove the championships at that time. You wouldn’t think by the end of the 70s that it would be another 40 years or more before they’d meet in a county final again.”

It is jarring for him that so much time has passed because for so long that rivalry was the dominant theme. Coughlan’s career took flight in the 60s and he established himself in the following decade at the elite level. All-Ireland medals were collected in football and hurling as a sign of Cork’s prowess. All-Star awards and a dual player tag were proof of his individual value.

denis-coughlan Morgan Treacy / INPHO Former Cork dual star Denis Coughlan. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

After inter-county duties were dealt with, he became immersed in club action that stirred the imagination as the renowned city teams were populated by star names. The games acted as a magnet for drawing crowds, the numbers all the more striking in the current climate when only a handful of supporters are permitted through the turnstiles.

If that era in Cork hurling appears romanticised at times during recollections, then it is justified in Coughlan’s eyes given the stature of the players involved.

“All of the Blackrock players were inter-county players at some level. The Barrs’ were almost identical to that, then the Glen had eight or nine players. You had the cream I suppose, and I’m not eliminating any other senior teams because there was some very good players that came from other clubs, so the standard was genuinely very high. 

“They were amazing and the public knew that. The results of that were in the attendances which were certainly never less than about 25,000. At one stage in ’77, the Glen and the Barrs in the final, the official attendance was 34,000. I know the game was delayed because they admitted there was about 8,000 people outside waiting to get in. It was extraordinary, there was great interest.”

blackrock-team-during-the-national-anthem Bryan Keane / INPHO Blackrock last contested a senior hurling final in 2017. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

In the collisions with Blackrock, he endured difficult days. The ’73 loss was by an agonising two points, the ’75 and ’78 outcomes by more resounding by margins of 13 and 1s. When the Glen did change the record in ’76, Coughlan’s involvement was short-lived.

“I only remember about 20 minutes of it,” laughs the 75-year-old now.

“It was the first county final in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The day itself was kind of dampish, the pitch on the covered stand side was a bit soft. I just injured my eye, a purely accidental injury so I missed the second half of the game entirely.

“But it was a badly needed win for the Glen in the sense that Blackrock had beaten us convincingly the year before in the Mardyke because Páirc Uí Chaoimh wasn’t open. You just knew going out onto the field you were playing an inter-county team.”



He was detained overnight in hospital in Cork and there were initial concerns about the severity of the blow. But it cleared up and he was back hurling soon after. A Munster title was added at the expense of Limerick’s South Liberties. Paddy Downey in the Irish Times lavished praise on his contribution.

“The elegant Denis Coughlan, who was the star of the game when moved to centre-half-back before the interval, the highlight of whose play was a mighty point from 85 yards.”

The All-Ireland club was then claimed with victory over Camross of Laois. That rounded off a highly prosperous campaign which had previously yielded provincial and national triumphs with Cork, and an All-Star.

Yet that is not the year of Coughlan’s club game of choice.

“My favourite would have been 1967. We beat a very good Barrs’ team who were favourites on the day. They had Charlie McCarthy, Gerald McCarthy and Con Roche that time. It was Christy Ring’s last year even though he retired after the quarter-final against UCC. So we were determined to try and win it then without Christy Ring for the first time in over 20 years.”

Stepping away from playing did not dilute Ring’s club influence. His exact title may have felt vague at times but his presence was always felt during the Glen’s endeavours in the ’70s.

“He was certainly a selector for a few years but he was one of those exceptional people, even though he mightn’t have been officially a selector, he was still in the dressing-room and would have had a huge influence.

“Sometimes we’d always ask him and say, ‘Why aren’t you a selector Christy?’

“He’d say, ‘Ah look I might have more to offer off the field than on it’.

“I’ve no doubt before any game that the selectors would have deferred to Christy on what his thoughts were and what his opinions would be.”

This month marks the centenary of Ring’s birth, a documentary has been commissioned by RTÉ and the Glen Rovers jersey has been remodelled as part of their contribution.

Coughlan takes satisfaction at the neat connection between the old and the new with Ring’s grandson Simon Kennefick starting in attack tomorrow, fresh from firing over a brace of points in last Saturday’s semi-final win over Erins Own.

“I often said I knew him when he wasn’t playing more than I did when he was playing. I just admired him when he was playing. But when he retired and was involved with the Glen and with Cork…yeah, he was an extremely interesting man on all subjects.

“He was a lovely man. He had this aura about him, a huge presence in all our lives. Whether you played with him or whether you were on a team he was a selector or just as an observer. He kept a great active interest in the game right through.

“He was a pleasure to know and to talk to about games. He spoke very little of himself needless to say but his advice would have been constantly sought now by players. We always tried to do what he said we should do.

“He was very concise in what he’d say. Nowadays the game has changed remarkably. You’re nearly overloaded with information going out onto the field. But Christy’s view at the time was all you needed to know was two or three things to concentrate on related to the position you were playing. They were always very sensible suggestions. Ah he was very good, I have to say.”

The recollections of an illustrious hurling figure flow freely. Coughlan has become accustomed to trawling back through the years. His own autobiography ‘Everything’, chronicling a stellar career of achievements, was released this week.

“It never occurred to me that I would write a book or be consulted in writing a book. Once I committed to it, the memories started flowing back. I had a lovely person to talk to during that in Tadgh Coakley who co-wrote the book with me. He asked very insightful questions which generated memories that I thought were long gone and forgotten about. So overall I’m glad I did it now, it was very interesting to do. Just a bit nervous now with it coming out.”


Tomorrow he will tune in to follow the exchanges on TG4 instead of taking a seat in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. It has been a seismic year but amidst the shift it has reinforced Coughlan’s GAA belief system. An executive member of the CPA, he has long been an avowed advocate for the club player and is thrilled to see that sportsperson in the spotlight.

“It is long overdue. I’ve very strong views on it. I always felt that the month of April for club games and then nothing until September, that was destroying the club scene. It affected all the teams within all the clubs and it also affected the activity that was not going on in clubs in the summer.

“People used to go watch teams training or challenge matches or league matches but there was none of that happening. The CPA have been very strong on trying to bring the club to the fore. Certainly Covid has been a big help in focusing minds to where the club can sit into all of this in a very important way as the county can.”

The movement in Cork to install a group structure has created a better formula for him.

“They’re seeing them at their best at a time when the fields are at their best and the skill factor then has risen. What also I think has been brought to the fore is the competitiveness. I can only speak for Cork on this, I think the championships were lacking in competitiveness there for the last number of years and that was manifesting itself on the county team. The competition wasn’t as strong at club level to enable players when they stepped up to playing with Cork.”

For a man so central to some great Glen Rovers hurling moments, the present crop’s feats have been heartened to witness. The barren spells were too commonplace for his liking, 13 years waiting after the ’76 win and then 26 years wondering where the fault lay after ’89.

graham-callanan-and-david-cunningham-celebrate Cathal Noonan / INPHO Graham Callanan and David Cunningham after Glen Rovers win in 2015. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s great to be around for it. I’d know most of them now just to say hello and things like that. They’re very dedicated, they’re wonderful hurlers and they’ve great skill. You can see that filtering down through, we’ve an intermediate team, we’ve a junior team and we have lots of underage teams. The senior team are really driving all of that.”

As they chase a third title in six seasons, the current flagship name stands out for Coughlan as much as anyone.

patrick-hogan Bryan Keane / INPHO Patrick Horgan in action for Glen Rovers. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“I think in fairness Patrick has been the difference for the Glen in the county championships in the last five or six years, between winning and losing to that extent. He has produced it when the time is right. He’s a pleasure to watch hurling. I think he deserves every ounce of credit because of his dedication to training and to the game itself. He just gets on with the game. He’s very understated in his own demeanour, a nice person.

“It’s all bringing life back to the Blackpool side of Cork city and there’s great interest. But I have followed Blackrock’s progress and I think they have a good team. It’ll be very close on Sunday I’d imagine. They’ve good hurlers and there’s plenty space in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.”

Cork hurling silverware on the line. Blackrock in the opposition corner. An old tradition revived.

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