Munster giants collide

Two of the most successful schools in Corn Uí Mhuirí (Munster Colleges SAFC) history battle it out tomorrow for a place in this year’s decider.

St Brendan’s of Killarney (20 titles) face Coláiste Chríost Rí of Cork (15) in an eagerly-awaited clash at Cloughduv (2.30pm) which is certain to whet the appetite of football fans.

Neither team was considered among the favourites at the outset and – perhaps not coincidentally, given they have come this far – both have county senior-winning managers in their backroom teams.

Harry O’Neill, formerly of Dr Crokes, is involved with ‘the Sem’, and he admits that it took a while to adjust to the changed surroundings.

“There is a difference (between club and school), and it takes a little bit of getting used to,” he admitted.

“In a club, there is a philosophy already in place and you’re just trying to continue that and maybe put a bit of your own stamp on it.

“With a school side, you have fellas coming together from six or seven different clubs and each club will have a different style so you’re trying to get it all to gel together.

“It was difficult at the start, but now we have a group of 26 players who have stuck with it and we are becoming more and more like a club team.”

With last year’s two finalists, Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne and De La Salle Macroom, in the other semi, O’Neill knows that tomorrow’s winners will be underdogs regardless.

“At the start of the campaign, both teams would have been rated as being down the pecking order,” he said, “Dingle, Macroom and maybe Rochestown would have been in the top group.

“When we were looking for challenge matches, Críost Rí would have been one of the teams that we would have looked for, even though we didn’t get to play them.

“The way it has panned out, people are probably saying we’re on the weaker side of the draw, but whoever wins will be just 60 minutes away from winning, anything can happen in a final.”

Críost Rí, who beat Brendan’s in finals in 1987, ’89 and ’97, have former Nemo Rangers boss and current Cork minor boss Ephie Fitzgerald on the sideline.

He too is up front when asked if he thought at the start of the campaign that the side could go all the way.

“I suppose the honest answer is no,” he said, “as we had lost quite a few players from the past couple of years.

“One thing that a Críost Rí team will always have though is pride in itself and a desire to do well.

“Every match, the battling spirit is there, and if we do lose it’s never through a lack of effort.”

In that regard, it is heartening for the Turner’s Cross school that Fitzgerald still feels that there is more in the tank.

“There was a 20-minute period against St Flannan’s where I thought that we were excellent, but other than that I don’t think that we have played to our potential. We struggled against Coláiste na Sceilge but we managed to get through, and then the last day it was impossible to play football, getting through was the only thing. Producing it more consistently is what we have to do.”

Like O’Neill, Fitzgerald is not a teacher, but he has done as much as he can to integrate himself with the players, including off the pitch. “Aidan Moynihan is the manager, he teaches in the school,” he said, “and he asked if I’d give a hand. I bought into it and I make sure that I make as many training sessions as I can, but we insist on the players studying too and I try to supervise that as well, we’d be very much into promoting a good work ethic and developing an ethos where the students develop as a whole and behave themselves accordingly. The Leaving Cert is the most important priority after all.”

Picture: Coláiste Ghobnatan, Baile Bhúirne captain Liam Ó Laoinsigh celebrates with team-mates after their 1-10 to 1-7 victory over Coláiste Ide agus Iosef, Abbeyfeale, in last night’s Munster Vocational Schools ‘B’ football final. Picture: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus

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