IT’S a humid afternoon a few days into the new school year, and the air is alive with the sound of sliotars flying across the pitch overlooking the city and the youthful enthusiasm of the 31 hurlers involved.
This is both why Cork’s hurling fortunes have been restored this season and also a product of the buzz being back on Leeside.
The upcoming U14 team in the Gaelcholáiste Mhuire AG, made up of current U13 club players, the majority of whom have newly arrived into first year in the school, are tearing it up on the training field. The hurling culture is strong in the Gaelcholáiste branch of the North Mon, but with the bulk of their pupils drawn from Na Piarsaigh and Glen Rovers – as well as the likes of St Vincent’s and Whitechurch – that’s hardly surprising.
Three of the Cork minor hurlers this weekend cut their teeth in the AG, all Piarsaigh club members: fifth-year student Daire Connery and recently graduated Evan Sheehan and Craig Hanafin. Connery was a key figure in the All-Ireland winning U17 team too, with Blake Murphy, Luke Donovan, Inniscarra’s Liam Ryan and Watergrasshill’s Shane O’Regan.
There was a real sense of hurling adventure in the school this week, particularly as last weekend a host of players, including the highly-rated Glen Rovers’ U15 Luke Horgan, featured for the Rebel Óg Development Squads at tournaments. Cork won four of the six titles on offer, having landed four of the seven available in 2016 after pulling off a clean sweep a year earlier.
Horgan is an especially gifted prospect. Tall and skilful, he steered the Glen to this year’s U15 county, landed the Féile and county double last season, and struck two soaring points for their minors recently in a county quarter-final win over Sars.
That haul of 15 trophies, as well as last month’s U17 All-Ireland and tomorrow’s minor final appearance are exactly why the future has become so much brighter for Cork hurling. It’s down to the incredible work going in across the board, at club level especially, in the schools and Development Squads.
On this occasion, GDA Seán Crowley, a Cork U17 selector too, and Denis Murphy are on hand to conduct the session for the AG’s U14s. Joined-up thinking that ensures the best for the young hurlers of all levels of ability.
There’s no shortage of teachers with a grá for hurling to take teams in the AG. Their Harty Cup panel this autumn will be guided by former Cork hurler Tadhg Óg Murphy and ex-Rebel footballer Liam Shorten, as well as Mairtín Ó Colmáin from Ballinhassig and Jamie Ó hArrachtáin.
Courcey Rovers’ Timmy Lordan has been heavily involved in recent years along with Limerick native Damien Maloney. Carrigtwohill’s Pádraig Ó hÓgáin, Stiofáin Ó hUiginn (Piarsaigh), Valleys’ Donncha Ó Colleáin, and Pádraig Ó Laoire (Ballinhassig) are more Corkonians to the fore.
Other teachers hail from outside the county bounds, Darren Ó Súileabháin from Abbeydorney, Seamus Ó Ríagáin (Kilmeady) and Pa Ó Síocháin from Sixmilebridge, who hurled underage with the Banner.
It’s all driven of course by principal Dónal Ó Buachalla. Having hurled with the Glen and Grenagh, a grá for the greatest game of them all still burns brightly.
“Hurling has always been a massive part of the school’s identity and you often find that the students who have a passion and interest in sport, whether that’s hurling, basketball or anything other discipline, are very studious as well,” explained Ó Buachalla.
Valerie Muclahy, one of the Cork’s greatest ever forwards, is a teacher in the AG, and pictures of the likes of Tony O’Sullivan and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín adorn the walls of the corridor, so they’re well used to All-Irelands being collected.
Tomorrow though will a landmark day if the Rebels defeat Galway.
“It’s certainly a source of pride in the school to have Daire, Evan and Craig involved. Win or lose we know the effort they’ve put in this year and to get to this point,” said Ó Buachalla.