Pres win the bragging rights and one of Cork sport’s great rivalries rolls on
“LADS, DO YOU KNOW what the Romans used to do to Christians?” asks a gentleman in a group about half an hour after Presentation Brothers College’s Munster Schools Senior Cup Finals 24-0 win over Christian Brothers College in the Musgrave Park seated at a table in Coughlans Pub on Douglas Street in Cork.
“Ah, haven’t you done enough for us today?” comes the answer.
For this group, this kind of back-and-forth began in the ’70s and continues almost literally.
One of the former Christian students at the table, introduced by the group as the only one from both schools to have won a Senior Cup medal (“It’s worn out at this stage,” he says), has a picture on his cell phone from 1972 his team’s campaign: He rattles off the names of the CBC players on either side, most of them 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 team-mate, was lifted aloft by his and Fitzgerald’s local rival, Pres, who has tied Christians with 31 titles on the Munster Schools honors list.
Another ex-CBC man at the table, who wasn’t lucky enough to win a medal during his rugby career at his own school, laughs: ‘If Christians had beaten Pres today you wouldn’t have heard of anyone. But I wasn’t here five minutes and got two text messages and a call: ‘Who won?’His circle of friends, made up of men in their sixties who attended both schools, burst out laughing.
And those are the stakes.
Understandably, school rugby is not for everyone. For one thing, rugby itself is not for everyone and that the majority of Irish players come through fee-paying ‘rugby schools’ – mainly via the school rugby powers in The Pale but also through Pres and Christians – is one of the factors fueling a general dislike of the sport in many corners of Irish society. It makes perfect sense that people would loathe this system in both an educational and a sporting context. In an ideal world, this system would not exist.
Zoom out on the rivalry between the Pres-Christians and of course it doesn’t matter. The guys around the table at Coughlan’s who played in the ’70s will tell you this: they made careers and raised families.
But zoom in and it’s hard to argue that PBC-CBC is one of the best rivalries in Cork sport, at least from the simple fact that they’re buddies who remain engaged in verbal fights for years after the full-time whistle .
That fact was best summed up – but also diluted in some ways – when Eoghan Cross missed out on Pres’ win at Musgrave Park earlier this morning.
As PBC fans swarmed the field, a handful of players in black and white dodged the cheering to comfort their friends in red.
Pres full-back Ben O’Connor – the underage GAA star from St Finbarr’s and Cork who was taunted last year for sinking Christians with a touchline conversion in the semifinals and who caused an uproar today – went straight to his opposing players who had collapsed to the turf in despair. So did Pres’ brilliant half-backs, Liam Touhy and Harry Murphy, and at least a few more.
Her instinct wasn’t to celebrate with her peers, but to bounce back from their beaten opponents, guys they really care about as friends who may never experience the same excitement.
The beauty of the Pres-Christian rivalry is that you play against some of your best buddies in a game that decides bragging rights by the age of 17 or 18. The gruesome part is that you’re playing against some of your best buddies in a game of bragging about 17 or 18.
Many of the young men involved today will continue to meet for years to come. Some play together, either at the collegiate or AIL level—or even at the provincial or international level. But there will only have been one winner of the 2023 Munster Schools Senior Cup and that will not change until they are all gathered around a table at Coughlan’s ahead of the 2074 final.
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In that regard, think of the 2020 and 2021 Pres and Christians teams, the former of which shared the trophy after the sport was canceled when Covid swept Ireland ahead of their final for the first time, and the latter didn’t even win the Chance to field a ball – just like their peers from across the province – as the country once again shut its hatches while a pandemic raged outside.
Both teams will claim their superiority over the other for decades without having the right answer. not even a Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed settler was allowed behind closed doors in ’20 or ’21.
Ger Burke’s 2023 Pres-team, led by Rory O’Shaughnessy and over-the-top by the likes of O’Connor and hat-trick hero James Wixted, will never have to have that debate.
It might make it easier that Christians can’t have “what if” questions, even considering the fact they lost skipper Éanna McCarthy and influential hooker Adam Wrona before the tie, along with five other key players – including some Irish 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’ perspective is that they had eight fourth-year students in their senior team this year, including brilliant back row Danny Rock, brave underdog Charlie O’Shea and one the player of the tournament, right winger Chris Barrett.
These guys will make at least one more try to make sure they don’t end up on the wrong side of the pub talk 50 years from now.
And with that in mind, one of Cork’s great sporting rivalries will continue.
“I hope the lions are well fed,” says the Pres man, who earlier posed the Roman question to his Christian colleagues, as he rises from the table. “See you in a few days.”