IT’S a little over a week out from the Harty Cup final and the buzz is evident everywhere you go in St Colman’s college.
Lunchtime has arrived and the vast lawn in front of the college is filled with students pucking sliothars around.
The ball alley is filled too with more students doing their thing, as they say a rising tide lifts all boats.
It’s been 14 long years since the famed hurling academy brought back the Harty and there is a great desire to do so again.
In that year of 2003 a platform was laid when the Dean Ryan was won and now the hope is that history can repeat itself after the younger brigade brought that trophy back earlier in the season.
But while there is optimism in the school, there is caution too before Our Lady’s of Templemore come out of the opposition corner in the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow.
Colman’s have a rich history in this old competition but, according to team manager Flannan Cleary, there is no divine right when it comes to the Harty.
“It can go in cycles, we haven’t won it for a while now, maybe the fact that we are no longer a boarding school is a factor.
“But we have always competed and we were very unlucky to lose by just a point to Ad Scoil Rís last year who went on to win it.
“We have always managed to compete at A level in the three major competitions, the White Cup, the Dean Ryan and the Harty.
“The work is always going on and being put in and there is always a focus on development and improving preparations and if you win something that is a bonus.’’ Cleary, a former player with Fenor in Waterford, is well aware of the rich hurling heritage in the college and he believes that’s important too.
“Of course, we have had great players and great teams come through this place, we have our team meetings in the Dr Croke library and that all helps of course.
“Hurling, obviously, is the main sport in the college but we have soccer, athletics and basketball too and a first-year rugby team.
“We cater for everybody and remember former Irish international rugby star Mike Ross is a past pupil."
The Harty management team is led by Cleary but includes other influential members as well, Michael Collins, Shane Roche, a member of the Waterford panel, Noel Crowley, Dr Paddy Burke, Tomas Shinnick and Bill O’Flynn.
“We have a good few involved in the preparation of the team, that way you can delegate certain things.
“The whole college is very supportive, led by Principal Veronica O’Donoghue and there is obvious excitement around the place now as the build up to the final intensifies.’’
The team boss believes that the Harty serves many purposes for the young players involved.
“The Harty is a great competition, one that is very hard to win and this year you had 19 teams in it. In fact it’s getting harder every year.
“Lads come into our college and are here for four, five or six years, they are together every day and they form a strong bond.
“They come back to us every September after being with their clubs. Some of the players would come from smaller clubs and there are players from a good spread of clubs involved.
“We have Bride Rovers lads, Castlelyons, Fermoy, St Catherine’s, Ballyhooly and from Ballyduff.
“You have to hit the ground running in the Harty, it’s an early start after they come back from the Summer holidays and some players too are still actively involved with their clubs.’’
Reflecting on the campaign to date, Cleary told the Echo that it had been a tough enough slog.
“It has been, we played some very good teams and we played a very good Midleton CBS team twice, three times if you include the O’Callaghan Cup final.
“We have been well tested a few times, the first game with Midleton CBS we finished very strongly and that got us over the line.
“We had another very serious test with one of our great rivals, St Flannan’s and that game went to extra-time before we won.
“I believe that game was a kind of turning point for us.
“We had a game too in the quarter-final with CBC, there was a strong wind that day and we built up a big lead which formed the platform for the win.’’ Midleton CBS stood before them again the semi-final and it was another searching test for the North Cork college.
“ It was, I suppose some would say that it was a dour enough struggle, the scoring was very low on both sides but I thought there were aspects of our play that were very pleasing.
“We defended very well, the work rate of our backs was phenomenal and to limit them to just seven points was pleasing from our viewpoint.
“We believe that we have a well-balanced team with some terrific on-field leaders. That day against Midleton we were more economical too and that made a big difference as well.’’ Now it’s the final frontier against a team that has been fancied from the outset, it’s a Cork, Tipperary final too which adds its own dimension to it.
“A big challenge awaits us. Templemore are in the final on merit, they have some terrific hurlers and they have beaten some top teams along the way.
“They have experienced players like Brian McGrath, Paddy Cadell and Lyndon Fairbrother, Tipp All-Ireland medal winners but there’s a lot more to them than that.
“They came through two tough tests in Tipperary against Thurles CBS and Nenagh in the semi-final so we know what awaits us.’’ But there is faith in themselves and of the young players who have answered every question put to them.
“It’s going to be a big day, a big crowd too and we must be very focused on what we are about.
“You will have two teams giving it their all, it’s going to be a battle and we will have put in the work for the full hour.
“We must try and be disciplined too, no easy frees conceded and we’ll have to get into the game very fast.’’ Cleary wants to acknowledge too that the co-operation from all sides has been forthcoming.
“ It has, we have lads on the Cork minor panel, the Cork U17s too and their management teams have been very helpful to us as we prepare for this game.
“It will be a great day for the college, there is a real enthusiasm for hurling in this place and in every game we have got great backing from our supporters.
“We have a few niggling injuries, nothing major and now we are looking forward to it and hoping to bring back the cup to the college again.’’