IN the past decade, only St Francis College of Rochestown and Ennis’s St Flannan’s College have managed to reach the semi-finals of both the Dr Harty Cup and Corn Uí Mhuirí, the top-tier Munster secondary schools’ competitions in hurling and football respectively.
A third name will join that list in Mallow this evening as Hamilton High School clash with Killarney’s St Brendan’s College (5.30pm) in the Corn Uí Mhuirí last four. Back in 2014, the Bandon institution made it to the Harty semis in just their second year competing after moving up to the A grade.
While they have since relocated to the second tier in hurling, the current year is the fourth on the trot where they have been in the Corn Uí Mhuirí and the semis represent a new horizon. Manager John O’Sullivan is delighted that the decision to participate in the highest grade has been justified.
“The hurlers had been in the Harty and we had been competitive in that so we knew it wasn’t beyond us,” he says.
“That was really the first step, getting to the semi-final in the Harty was fierce exciting and we won the O’Callaghan Cup, so they led the way in getting us up to the higher level.
“I had a group then that won the Munster U16½B so it was after that that we made the step up.
“It was logical and we knew that we had a good group coming through. They got to the quarter-finals of the Corn Uí Mhuirí then and we knew that, coming up behind them, we’d good lads, too.
“We knew at least that we’d be competitive for a few years.”
And, while their opponents St Brendan’s are the Corn Uí Mhuirí’s most successful school, racking up 22 titles, exposure to the top sides means the ‘Hammies’ won’t be overawed.
"St Brendan’s and Tralee and the like have so many Corn Uí Mhuirís but the lads have played them and they know what to expect and what their standard needs to be in order to be competitive.”
As one of a number of past pupils on the teaching staff, O’Sullivan is keenly aware of the strong sense of spirit within the school that sees it able to compete despite small numbers.
“We feel like we do it all ourselves,” he says.
“We’re one of the few schools to get to a Harty and Corn Uí Mhuirí semi-final in the last decade and that’s with zero training facilities, pretty much.
“To be fair, if it wasn’t for the local clubs, we’d never get to train. We’re certainly up against it in a lot of regards and that adds to the school spirit and the sense of togetherness.”
O’Sullivan is assisted by former Cork U20 footballer Gearóid O’Donovan (Newcestown) and Mike Murphy (Ballymartle). His involvement stretches back more than a decade and a half, having arrived as a teacher in 2002-03.
“At that stage, all of the football teams were taken up,” O’Sullivan says.
“I started off with basketball because I just wanted to be involved in a sport and then I looked after athletics. When the opportunity came up to take a football team, around 2005 or 2006, I took on the U15s.
“To be honest, I was totally green. I was learning on the job – I used to go along with the likes of Bert O’Connor and learn from them.
“I didn’t have much of a GAA background at all. I played a bit in school but I was never involved with a club, basically because dad wasn’t sporty and we moved a bit when I was younger. The vast majority of my GAA experience was Hammies.
“I learned from coaches around me, I read up on stuff and looked at YouTube. The last couple of years, I’ve been doing the Cork GAA coaching course.
“The way we work it is that you take an U15 team and work your way up to senior so I had a previous stint at senior when we were at B level. I was with the group that won the U16½B and moved up with them to the Corn Uí Mhuirí and have been involved with the senior team for the last four years.”