THE Dr Harty Cup is now in full swing and here on Leeside, there is renewed optimism that a Cork school might reign supreme again.
By the time the competition concludes in the Spring, it will be 13 years since the old trophy was last presented to a Cork captain.
For the record that captain was Paudie O’Sullivan who led Midleton CBS to glory over St Flannan’s in the final of 2006.
That was a fine Midleton CBS team that contained O’Sullivan, Luke O’Farrell, Paul Haughney, Brian Lawton and Rob White among others.
However, since that day in Cashel the plate has remained empty.
A few schools have made it to the final since. Charleville CBS, Rochestown and Midleton CBS last season but the threshold has not been crossed.
It’s a far cry from the days when Cork schools dominated this famed competition, most notably Farranferris, the North Mon and St Colman’s.
For the record, the Mon have won it 19 times, St Colman’s nine and Farna seven, the latter, of course, no longer in existence.
The rivalry between some schools used to be intense and we can recall St Colman’s and St Flannan’s sharing 10 titles between them in the years 1996 to 2005.
Both had three titles in a row to their credit in that period and those days in Emly and Feenagh generated an attendance of thousands.
But the old order has certainly changed and in the recent past, a new force has emerged with Ard Scoil Rís from Limerick winning five titles since 2010.
It’s too early yet to be making predictions on what might transpire over the coming months and might a Cork school come in from the cold.
From what we have seen and the knowledge that we have, one would have to suggest that the chances are pretty strong.
One of the most interesting results thus far was the defeat of Ard Scoil Rís last Wednesday by Nenagh CBS.
In Nenagh’s first outing they were comprehensively beaten by St Colman’s to the tune of 13 points.
That outcome would suggest that the holders are not as formidable this season as they have been in the recent past.
St Colman’s were very impressive in that defeat of Nenagh CBS and the current crop is rated very highly within the school.
Of course, it must be recalled that Ard Scoil Ris were pushed all the way by Gaelcholáiste North Mon in an earlier game.
On Thursday the Northside school will take on Colman ’s and we should learn a lot more that day.
CBC are another Cork side to keep a close eye on and they hammered Castletroy in their first outing. 6-19 to 0-10.
A lot of emphasis is being put into the game in the school with Cork senior selector Donal O’Mahony hugely instrumental in raising its profile.
They are backboned by some fine hurlers in Jack Cahalane, Shane Barrett, Niall Hartnett and Owen McCarthy.
They were beaten in the semi-final last season, might they go a step further this time?.
Where Midleton CBS are concerned, the picture is very clear. They must take something from their next assignment with St Flannan ’s to reach the knockout stages with a draw being sufficient.
They had to dig deep against De La Salle last week to secure a point and they showed character to do so.
Their management will believe that a few players can give them more and a few of this team were on the losing side in the final last season.
Cork’s lack of success at underage level can be traced back to the failure of impacting a lot more in the Harty while the success of Limerick is put down to the influence of Ard Scoil Ris in the same competition.
It may not be as simplistic as that, of course, but when the Cork schools were doing well there was a follow-on at minor and subsequently under-21.
Simply put, a good Harty hurler on a successful team will, nine times out of ten, go on to play for the county.
That is the base for success further up the line.
Despite everything, the Harty remains a great competition and to be a Harty hurler you must be able to adapt to poor conditions.
It does not contain the colour or generates the crowds of long ago and some games now might only have 40 or 50 people in attendance.
A far cry from when you had two or three thousand present with both sets of supporters trying to outdo each other regarding who could make the most noise.
Schools don’t house boarding pupils anymore either and that is a major factor as well for the lack of success.
In their pomp, the likes of St Colman’s and Flannan ’s had pupils coming into their schools from good distances away, a lot of them excellent hurlers.
In Colman’s case, one can remember one of the best, young hurlers that Limerick ever produced, Andrew O’Shaughnessy and he was a major player in a lot of the successful teams that they had.
It was similar across the province.
But hope springs eternal that the 13-year famine on Leeside might be coming to an end.
The ball is now in the court of Midleton, CBS, St Colman’s CBC and the Gaelcholáiste.
We’ll know a lot more about them in the coming couple of weeks.