EVEN before the ball was thrown in the odds were stacked against St Francis College, Rochestown, better known as Roco, in the Corn Uí Mhuirí final at Mallow on Saturday.
The loss of Brian Hayes from Nemo was well-known in advance but then they were hit with another blow when midfielder Kevin Lyons picked up an injury in training during the week. Add in the fact that Harry Quilligan and Micheál O’Mahony were not fit to start and they were always going to be up against it, especially when you look at the calibre of the opposition.
St Brendan’s Killarney, or The Sem, were the defending champions and had a side packed full of Kerry minor and U20 stars.
Ahead of the game Roco selector Eamonn Hennessy knew the level of the task ahead when he said: “They’re formidable, putting up big scores with attacking threats all over the field and they have a lot of Kerry minors and U20s so we’re going in as underdogs.”
Sadly he was proved to be right as they simply couldn’t match the ferocity and intensity of the Kerry school.
The Killarney school were attempting to keep the trophy in the Kingdom for an 11th successive year while Rochestown were hoping to emulate Coláiste Chríost Rí’s 2011 triumph, the last time the cup was lifted by a Cork school.
This was the Kerry school’s fourth successive appearance in the decider and with seven survivors from last year’s successful campaign you can see why St Brendan’s were firm favourites and deserving winners on the day and don’t rule out them adding another title come the next campaign.
In attack they have outstanding players like Callum Cronin, Luke Crowley and Alex Hennigan who would trouble an inter-county defence, not to mind a school one.
John Kelleher, Crowley and Cian Lynch were Kerry minors for the last two years and add in keeper Shay O’Meara, corner-back Maidhci Lynch and Aodhan O’Neill from last season and it gives you some idea of what Roco took on.
Having already lost midfielder Lyons just nine minutes in and they were dealt another blow when his replacement, Barry Kelliher, had to go off injured.
Early exchanges were close, with both sides making mistakes they normally wouldn’t, but then this was a final and players were bound to be nervous.
It took The Sem just 20 seconds to take the lead as Roco were finding it hard to get out of their own half and when they did the Kerry side were on top defensively.
Physically they were dominating the Roco forwards and as quickly as the ball was going in, it was coming back out again. Roco dangerman, Sean Coakley, was being well marshalled by Cian Lynch, who didn’t put a foot wrong all through.
He kept Coakley to one point from a free, that he didn’t give away, and that’s not easy to do. This is where Roco were missing the likes of Hayes, Lyons and Quilligan as they would have been there to help him out and take some of the pressure off his young shoulders.
John Kelleher was a tower of strength for the winners at midfield and his second-half contribution was vital as he drove his side forward to glory.
But credit to Roco as well as they were hanging in there and were making it difficult for the Kerry school to create clear chances.
Having said that The Sem did miss a few scorable opportunities, including a penalty, and they could have been out of sight by the break.
They would have been happy at half time being only two points down and despite not playing to their potential were still in with a shout. Roco had to try something at half time and they sprung Quilligan from the bench in the hope he could trouble The Sem defence.
And shortly after when they went double scores down they made another switch with O’Mahony called into action.
But in truth Roco were still second best with Crowley causing all sorts of problems to their defence as The Sem started to play more direct football and with 15 minutes to go were six points up.
Roco hadn’t scored since the 20th minute and were making little or no impression on The Sem defence as the clock hit 50 minutes. They were thrown a lifeline in the 52nd minute when Coakley raised a green flag, but within a minute it was crushed when Kelleher did the same at the other end.
It’s their second loss in recent years in this final and the wait goes on to add to their only title way back in 1950.
But it won’t be for want of effort on the players, coaches and school’s behalf and their day will come, hopefully in the next few years.
For now, they can be proud of getting to the final and as a school can look forward with the optimism of raising Cork and Munster cups in the future.