The strength of Cork’s marriage with the Harty Cup has rarely, if ever, been called into question.
Even during the barren years — this latest dry spell being the longest ever endured by Cork schools — affection for the post-primary competition waned not an iota. Still, there was something about last January’s all-Cork Harty semi-final that had a feel of vows being renewed.
The clash of Midleton CBS and St Colman’s Fermoy — the two most recent Cork schools to lift the famed silverware — drew a crowd of 2,619 to Mallow. That it guaranteed a Cork finalist for just the third time in 11 years, of course, contributed to the fixture’s attractiveness within Rebel borders. Irrespective, 2,500-plus at a schools semi-final, never mind what the code is, is rather staggering.
Fermoy edged a low-scoring grind to book their place in the decider. There, they were beaten by Our Lady’s Templemore. The latter, of course, went the distance and annexed the Croke Cup by close of March.
The sights of Cork schools fall somewhat below All-Ireland glory in late spring. Bridging the 12-year gap to the last occasion a Cork nursery reigned supreme in Munster - Midleton CBS, 2006 - being the primary target of those still standing. And there are quite a few, in fact. From the eight quarter-finalists, four have a Cork address. Two in the city, Christians and Gaelcholáiste Mhuire AG, and two in the east, Midleton CBS and St Colman’s Fermoy.
This was also the case in January of 2015. On that occasion, Rochestown advanced; Hamilton High School, Pobalscoil Na Tríonóide and Gaelcholáiste Mhuire stumbled and fell. Go back two years earlier and Midleton CBS were the sole Cork side to make the last eight. Waterford had two quarter-finalists that year. They’re not represented at any venue today.
Where 2018 differs from recent campaigns is the genuine optimism that the 12-year gap to Midleton’s third Harty crown can be overcome. Feeding into this is Cork’s dominance at U17 and minor level last year, as well as the recent Dean Ryan Cup successes of St Colman’s Fermoy (2017) and Midleton CBS (2014 and ‘15). This pair look best placed to end the aforementioned famine.
St Colman’s, despite losing the O’Leary brothers from Castlelyons and Diarmuid Linehan, sailed through the group stages unscathed. Driving them is the hurt of last February. To lose a final is one matter, to lose by 19-points is hard to stomach.
On the other side of the draw sit Midleton. It is rare you see a school’s team containing four players who were county minors the summer previous. There’s full-back and 2017 Cork captain Sean O’Leary Hayes, half-back pair, Aaron Walsh Barry and Ger Millerick, and centre-forward Liam O’Shea. Joe Stack, meanwhile, was full-forward for the Cork U17s. That’s one-third of the Midleton team.
Speaking to Sean O’Leary Hayes at the press evening in advance of last September’s All-Ireland minor final, his summer holidays had a week left to run and yet he was itching to get back and begin one final push for Harty glory. They may have lost out to Ardscoil Rís by a point in their final group outing, but don’t be the least bit surprised if these two meet again on the concluding afternoon.
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