Ken Sutton/INPHO Pres captain Rory O'Shaughnessy celebrates the Mardyke school's 31st title.
# mardyke v sidney hill
Pres win the bragging rights and one of Cork sport's great rivalries rolls on
Schools rugby isn’t for everybody, but the PBC-CBC rivalry in Cork is special in that it sparks lifelong slagging between childhood friends.

“LADS, D’YE KNOW what the Romans used to do to Christians?” asks one gentleman in a group sitting around a table in Coughlan’s pub on Cork’s Douglas Street about half an hour after Presentation Brothers College’s 24-0 Munster Schools Senior Cup final victory over Christian Brothers College at Musgrave Park.

“Ah, sure haven’t ye done enough to us today?” comes the response.

For this group, these sorts of back-and-forths began in the ’70s and they continue practically verbatim.

One of the former Christians students at the table, introduced by the group as the only one from either school who won a Senior Cup medal (“it’s worn out at this stage,” says he) produces a picture on his phone from his team’s 1972 campaign: he rattles off the names of the CBC players to either side of him, most of which are followed by a hearty “RIP”. One of them is Munster Rugby legend Garret Fitzgerald who passed away in 2020.

Today, the trophy named after his former teammate was lifted by his and Fitzgerald’s cross-city rivals Pres who pulled level with Christians atop the Munster schools honour roll with 31 titles.

Another former CBC man at the table, who wasn’t so lucky as to win a medal during his own schools rugby career, laughs: “If Christians had beaten Pres today, you’d hear from no one. But I wasn’t in here five minutes and I got two texts and one phonecall: ‘Who won?’” His group of friends, consisting of men in their 60s who attended both schools, bursts into collective laughter.

And those are the stakes.

Schools rugby understandably isn’t for everybody. For one thing, rugby itself isn’t for everybody and that the majority of Ireland players come through fee-paying ‘rugby schools’ — predominantly via the schools-rugby powers in The Pale, but also through both Pres and Christians — is one of the factors that fuels a general dislike of the sport in plenty of corners of Irish society. It makes absolute sense that people would loathe that system both in an educational context and in a sporting one. In an ideal world, that system wouldn’t exist.

Zoom out on the Pres-Christians rivalry and, of course, it’s unimportant. The lads around the table in Coughlan’s who played in the ’70s will tell you as much: they’ve gone on to have careers and raise families.

But zoom in and it’s hard to argue against PBC-CBC being one of the best rivalries in, at the very least, Cork sport, for the simple fact that it involves friends who will remain locked in verbal battle for years after the full-time whistle.

This fact was best encapsulated — but also diluted, in a way — as Eoghan Cross blew time on Pres’ victory at Musgrave Park earlier today.

As PBC fans raced onto the field in their droves, a handful of players in black and white sidestepped the oncoming jubilation to console their friends in red.

Pres fullback Ben O’Connor — the St Finbarr’s and Cork underage GAA star who was last year jeered as he sunk Christians with a touchline conversion in the semi-final, and who ran riot today — instantly went to his opposition players who had collapsed to the turf in despair. So too did Pres’ brilliant half-backs Liam Touhy and Harry Murphy, and at least a couple more.

Their instinct was not to celebrate with their pitch-invading peers but to lift their beaten opponents back to their feet, lads who they truly care about as friends who might never experience the same elation.

The beautiful thing about the Pres-Christians rivalry is that you’re playing against some of your best buddies in a game that decides bragging rights at 17 or 18. The cruel thing about it is that you’re playing against some of your best buddies in a game that decides bragging rights at 17 or 18.

For years henceforth, many of the young men involved today will socialise together. Some will play together, either in college or at AIL level — or even provincial or international level. But there will have been only one winner of the 2023 Munster Schools Senior Cup and that won’t change between now and when they’re all gathered together around a table in Coughlan’s ahead of the 2074 final.

In that regard, spare a thought for the Pres and Christians teams of both 2020 and 2021, the former of which shared the trophy after sport was cancelled when Covid first swept Ireland ahead of their final, and the latter of which didn’t even get the chance to field a ball — same as their counterparts from around the province — as the country again battened down its hatches with a pandemic raging outside.

Both of those teams will argue their superiority over the other for decades to come with no right answer; not even a Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed behind-closed-doors settler was permitted in ’20 or ’21.

Ger Burke’s Pres team of 2023, led by Rory O’Shaughnessy and put over the top by players such as O’Connor and hat-trick hero James Wixted, will never have to entertain that debate.

It might make it easier that Christians can’t have any ‘what-ifs’, even accounting for the fact that they lost skipper Éanna McCarthy and influential hooker Adam Wrona in advance of the tie, and five more key players — including some Ireland schools internationals — to cruciate ligament injuries earlier in the season. Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen for you.

Pres are deserved kings of Munster and the silver lining from Christians’ point of view is that they had eight fourth-year students involved in their senior squad this year including brilliant back row Danny Rock, courageous out-half Charlie O’Shea, and one of the players of the tournament, right wing Chris Barrett.

Those lads will have at least one more crack at it to ensure they don’t come down on the wrong end of pub chats in 50 years’ time.

And with that in mind, one of Cork’s great sporting rivalries will roll on.

“I hope the lions are well fed,” says the Pres man who earlier asked the Roman question of his Christians peers as he gets up from the table. “See ye in a few days.”

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