Football remains the dominant code across the region but passion for the small ball is strong out west writes Tom Lyons
We saw our first Cork hurling game at the age of ten back in 1959.
Born and reared in the Doheny stronghold of Dunmanway, football was our religion as kids, supporting a winning team that took four SW junior titles in a row, 1956-1959.
But Dohenys also won the junior hurling in 1958 and 1959 and in 1959, they met Cobh in the interdivisional in the Athletic Grounds.
The game was curtain-raiser to the Cork v Kilkenny league game and we saw Christy Ring in action for the first time. Even in Dunmanway we knew who he was.
Two years later, 1961, the aunt and her husband, a Clare man, were home on holidays from New York and he hired a hackney car and took us to the Munster final in Limerick, our first Munster final in either code.
The famous Tipp team of John Doyle and company broke our young hearts that day and the man we remembered most from it was the bald-headed Paddy Barry at corner forward for Cork.
Roll on the years as football took centre stage again and Killarney was our mecca, not Thurles or Limerick. We knew most of the Cork footballers because we saw them playing with their clubs all year round, and even played against them.
Back then hurling was seen as the game for the city boys and East Cork, not West Cork GAA people. Has much changed in fifty years?
The arrival of television to rural Ireland in the early 1960s meant we did get to see Cork win the 1966 final, but our interest lay with Billy Morgan’s victorious football team, winning Munster in 1966 and 1967, actually beating Kerry in Killarney. No hurling win could ever top that.
Cork footballers won their All-Ireland in 1973, which we watched from the upper Hogan Stand. We still hadn’t seen a live Cork hurling game since 1961.
Our real interest in Cork hurling began in the late 1970s, out of necessity really, as Micko’s Kerry marvels had arrived on the scene and the Cork footballers were on a hiding to nothing for eight long years.
We needed something to distract us from that and we turned to the hurling as Cork won three All-Irelands in a row. Of course, the fact that we had a real West Cork hero on the team, the great Tim Crowley of Newcestown, helped.
Hopefully, Luke Meade will have the same effect on the present generation of hurlers in Carbery.
In the late 1980s Billy Morgan's footballers again grabbed most of our attention and for the great double of 1990, we made our way to Croke Park, for the football win but were content to watch the hurling on television.
By now we did know all the Cork hurlers, not from seeing them in action as club senior hurling games were as rare as hen’s teeth in West Cork.
It was from reading all about them in the newspapers and watching them on television.
We never missed a Munster football final in the 1990s but were never pushed about actually attending a hurling final.
The big awakening came with the turn of the century, probably sparked off by Jimmy Barry Murphy’s young team winning the title in 1999.
The fact it was a new young side, daring and adventurous, appealed to us, just as the new team does today.
It was only then that we began to attend most of the Cork hurling games.
Names like ‘The Rock,’ Seán Óg, Ben and Jerry, Joe Deane, Brian Corcoran and company thrilled us for most of a decade.
We were spoiled that decade as the footballers were also going well and we seemed to spend most of the summer following both Cork teams around the country. The young family was now grown up and finding their own way to matches and that made it all the easier for the good wife and myself.
Since 2010 with the footballers, and 2013 with the hurlers, we have remained loyal to both despite plunging fortunes.
Bar Bandon and Newcestown, we’re still waiting for the county board to recognise that there is interest in hurling west of the Viaduct and that we would love to see senior club championship games in Carbery.
On Sunday, we would be happy to watch the game on television if the magical digital ticket doesn’t arrive, but we would be a hell of a lot happier to be sitting in Croke Park, watching it live in the company of many Cork hurling supporters from West Cork.
Up the Rebels!