IN the main hall at Christian Brothers College last Saturday evening, the school hosted an event titled ‘The Road to Success’.
In aid of the CBC Zambia Immersion Project, the event was hosted by Paudie Palmer who interviewed a panel of inter-county managers; John Meyler, John Kiely and Derek McGrath.
McGrath spoke of one of his first experiences of meeting Kiely. He was a first year in UCC while Kiely was in his fourth year. When McGrath made the Fitzgibbon squad that season, Kiely and a couple of other seasoned veterans said that he needed to get fitted out for a suit.
They had almost McGrath convinced that it was UCC protocol. Kiely and his buddies had even given McGrath the name of a menswear shop in the city where he could get measured for the suit.
McGrath told plenty of other stories but he also spoke passionately about the Harty Cup, and how his coaching and managerial journey really began at De La Salle College.
Historically, especially as a boarding school, De La Salle’s tradition would have been more football but they radically altered their history. And they wrote a glorious new chapter in the last decade when De La Salle won a first Harty Cup title before going on to win successive All-Ireland titles in 2007 and 2008.
Both of those sides were led by McGrath. The De La Salle side which won their second Croke Cup in succession in 2008 contained six of the Waterford side which started the 2017 All-Ireland final; Stephen O’Keeffe, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Philip and Pauric Mahony and Jake Dillon.
McGrath spoke last Saturday about the huge bond he formed with those players from that time but much of Waterford’s progress this decade has been framed around successful schools sides. The Dungarvan Colleges side which won the 2013 Croke Cup was driven by Tom Devine, Tadgh de Burca, Colin Dunford and Patrick Curran.
It’s been a similar story in Limerick with the success of Ardscoil Rís. Six of the players which played in last year’s All-Ireland final - Peter and Mikey Casey, Declan Hannon, Shane Dowling, Cian Lynch and Aaron Gillane – are all former Harty Cup winners with the school.
Ardscoil have become a hurling institution, winning five of the nine Harty titles on offer this decade. Their progress is all the more impressive considering their huge rugby tradition.
Yet the most spectacular cultural shift from rugby to hurling has taken place in CBC. The school are still one of the strongest rugby schools in the province. Joint top of the Munster Schools Rugby Senior Cup with 29 titles, it would have been more unrealistic than idealistic to believe that CBC could become a serious force in the Harty.
But they have; today, they play in a first final in 101 years.
After decades in the hurling wastelands, hurling finally came back on the radar again in the school 20 years ago. As the CBC project gradually began to gather momentum under Donal O’Mahony and Tony Wall in recent years, their potential soon became obvious in the Lord Mayor’s Cup and in provincial ‘B’ competitions.
The first significant breakthrough came in 2015 when CBC won the Cork Colleges U14A title.
When CBC took the decision the following year to re-enter the Harty, their win against CBS High School Clonmel was their first in the competition in 97 years. And they have been steadily building ever since.
CBC are not popular on the colleges’ scene in Cork but nobody can deny the quality of this team, especially their main players; Iarlaith Daly, Cillian O’Donovan, Declan Hanlon, Kevin Finn, Shane Barrett, Pádraig Power, Jack Cahalane.
On paper, CBC may be stronger than Midleton but the experience of last year’s final will stand to the CBS, especially the six players who played in that game; Dylan Hogan, Kian Farmer, Daragh Moran, Arthur Nganou, Joe Stack and Olan Broderick.
Ross O’Regan was injured for that final but his class and experience will be a big factor in this match, especially after being on the Cork senior squad for part of the Munster league. Nganou and Broderick didn’t start last month’s semi-final against De La Salle but other players have been in outstanding form this season, particularly Jason Hankard.
CBC are the story but that should ideally suit Midleton. Normally a Harty final brings huge hype to the school but Midleton’s preparations have been low-key and relaxed, which is decidedly different from previous finals, especially last year.
CBC need to embrace the hype and the occasion more, especially when this is so unique for a school seeking to alter their identity. That pressure may seep into the players but CBC are still a school with a long history of playing in big finals and occasions, albeit in a different code.
CBC are physically stronger but this match still has the potential to be a shootout given the quality of both forward lines. Both defences will struggle to handle that firepower. The CBC full-back line could come under real pressure from the Midleton full-forward line.
If CBC can handle the pressure, and Middleton’s scoring threat, they are good enough to win. Yet the CBS will never be as pumped to win a game, especially against CBC, and particularly after last year’s hammering to Ardscoil.
Whatever happens, today is a special day for Cork hurling. It’s a first Harty final since 1994. A Cork school will win the title for the first time since 2006. The B final is also an all-Cork affair between Hamilton High School Bandon and St Francis College Rochestown.
CBC are the big story but a thriving underage hurling culture in Cork is the real story. Because players from Killeagh, right through the city and extending out to Bandon are on show today in Páirc Uí Rinn.
And that will surely benefit the Cork senior team in time.