WHILE it couldn’t be said to be the conclusion of a trilogy, today’s Dr Harty Cup (Munster PPS U19AHC) first-round tie in Midleton is the latest meeting of Cork’s current market leaders in schools hurling.
In 2019, Midleton CBS ended Cork’s 13-year wait for a provincial title at the top grade as they beat Christian Brothers College in a Páirc Uí Rinn attended by more than 7,000 people. A year later, CBC turned the tables when the sides met at the semi-final stage but, unfortunately for the Sidney Hill outfit, they were beaten finalists for the second season in a row as they fell to St Flannan’s College of Ennis (themselves bridging a 15-year gap).
Covid-19 impact more heavily on schools GAA than any other sectors, with no competitions held during the 2020-21 academic year. Thankfully, things are back on track this year, though there is a change of format for the Harty.
Rather than the usual group stage, there is instead a back-door system. With 13 schools taking part, there are six first-round games, with three winners moving forward to the quarter-finals while the other three winners, six losers and Cork city side Gaelcholáiste Mhuire contesting five second-round ties to determine the other last-eight spots.
In action on Friday are St Colman’s College of Fermoy, who travel to Lismore to take on Blackwater Community School, while Midleton and CBC
“Historically, Midleton have always been a powerhouse,” he says.
“When we came on the scene, they were really the focal point, we felt we had to get up to their level if we were going to be competitive.
“We’re going in a bit under-cooked in that we just don’t know how fellas will respond because they weren’t exposed to Harty games last year.
“We’re looking forward to the resumption of it. The schools and the colleges were the only ones that didn’t get played last year – everything else was amended but they all got played eventually whereas there was no Harty Cup or Fitzgibbon Cup.
“The new format is going to be interesting, with the home and away. It isn’t knockout on Wednesday but there’s a big carrot for both teams with the winners getting a bye to the quarter-finals.”
CBC do have some survivors from the 2019-20 campaign, with Eoin Downey (Glen Rovers), Shane Kingston (Ballinora) and Eoin Kirby (Blarney) all still available. Obviously, Wall would have liked for the opportunity to go one step further in 2020-21 but it wasn’t to be. While that was disappointing for the players in sixth year last year, there is a knock-on effect in terms of the current lack of experience.
“Last year was a lost year, we felt that we had a very strong side, but that’s the way of it,” he says.
Ideally, an O’Callaghan Cup game would have helped to bring players up to speed, but Christians’ clash with St Francis College, Rochestown has yet to be played. Still, there is at least some consolation in the fact that it’s a similar situation for everyone.
“Midleton are in the same boat as ourselves, I’d imagine,” Wall says.
“We haven’t managed to get a full team together yet because of club commitments and they’re the same.
“Both sides will be a bit under-cooked but, look, it’s what we’ve been waiting for for the last 18 months, really.”
While there is little to go on in terms of form, some insight can be derived from the Dean Ryan Cup (U16½AHC) quarter-final in October 2019, which Midleton won by 0-17 to 0-12.
“We played them in the Dean Ryan in Church Road,” Wall says.
“They beat us by five points but it was a tight game, there wasn’t a whole lot in it.
“They were just that bit better-balanced in the end, we were going well for 45 minutes but, to be fair to them, they finished very strongly.”
Impressing for Midleton that day were Jack Leahy (Dungourney) and Diarmuid Healy (Lisgoold), who scored six and four points respectively. That pair, Timmy Wilk of Cobh and goalkeeper Paudie O'Sullivan (Fr O'Neills), were key members of the Cork side which romped to the All-Ireland minor title this year while Tiernan Roche (Midleton) was on the extended panel.
Another member of the CBS side, Ciarmhac Smyth, were in action for the Magpies’ senior side in Sunday’s Co-op SuperStores Premier SHC semi-final win over Blackrock.
While Midleton made it to the semi-finals of that year’s Dean Ryan, they lost out to St Colman’s, who went on to win the competition. The Fermoy school were Harty finalists in 2017, losing to Our Lady’s Secondary School of Templemore, but have not added to their nine titles since 2003.
Dan Roche of Ballyhooly was a key figure in that Dean Ryan victory, while Ben Nodwell appeared as a substitute for Sarsfields last Sunday. Kyle Wallace (St Catherine’s), Ben Nyhan (Clyda Rovers), Brendan Lehane (Watergrasshill), Cillian Tobin and Adam Walsh (both Bride Rovers) were part of the successful Cork minor panel.
In today's other games, Thurles CBS take on St Flannan's in Littleton, St Joseph's of Tulla clash with De La Salle in Bansha and Cashel CS meet Our Lady's in Cashel.