The Harty Cup is a step up in quality from inter-club competitions.
It is played at a time of the year when field conditions make for a tougher type of hurling.
Not every player who shines in the grade makes it at inter-county level in the summer when the sliotar is zipping around on a firm surface.
However, it is a great learning arena for many youngsters as they encounter the various styles and physicality of their counterparts in other counties. Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Cork’s All-Ireland winning captain in 2005 and a Harty Cup winner in 1994 has often spoken of the great experiences he gained in secondary schools’ hurling, all of which served him well in his intercounty career.
It is not as if the Harty is the “be all and end all” when it comes to preparation for inter-county hurling for young hurlers in Munster.
However, it is an extra layer of development. The games bring a mental pressure that will seldom be encountered at club level while they also
feature a cut and physical thrust that will be encountered later on at the elite level.
Cork hurling fans hope Saturday’s finals will add significantly to a resurgence in inter-county underage success at U17 and U20 levels in the county.
Cork need to be competitive in the various grades at the highest level so as to get back to being the force they once were.
An example: from 1969 to 1979, the Harty Cup was won on eight occasions by Cork schools. In that period, the county won six All-Ireland MHC titles.
In 1994, North Monastery defeated Midleton CBS in the final. The East Cork school won the following year and St Colman’s College, Fermoy, landed the next two in ’96 and ’97. Cork appeared in four minor finals around this period.
They lost two and won two. The last of those was in 2001 with Tomás O Leary of Erin’s Own lifting the cup as captain. Two U21 titles were also won by the Rebels in that spell, results which gave the impetus to Cork’s push for All-Ireland victory in ‘99 and the subsequent wins in ‘04 and ‘05.
Four Cork schools were in action in the A and B finals last Saturday.
Will the players involved make a positive difference to Cork at inter-county level in the coming years?
Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball for this answer. Many from both Midleton CBS and CBC were involved at U17 level last year and we will have to wait to see if they maintain their progress and carry it into the U20 arena over the next two seasons.
The Harty final on Saturday was a tight, tough contest, particularly in the first half, with most of the scores coming from placed balls.
It looked as if this battle would come down to a competition between the rival free takers, Pádraig Power of CBC and Midleton’s Ryan McCarthy.
Things opened up in the second period and Joe Stack’s splendid goal seven minutes from the finish propelled Midleton to a deserved victory.
CBC had a great chance to grab hold of the game ten minutes earlier when Power pounced on a defensive mistake and found himself one on one with the goalkeeper.
However, the impressive Jack McGann moved smartly off his line to avert the danger.
Midleton bossed the game in the final quarter and could have gone further ahead but asted some good opportunities.
Looking to the future, the performance of the young Midleton centre-half back, Ciarán Joyce, is heartening. He is available to the Cork minors this year and he made a huge contribution to their victory, particularly in the second half.
Rochestown were deserving winners of the Munster B final.
They had a little more finesse than their opponents, who tried very hard right to the end.
The performances of Blackrock’s Alan Connolly at wing forward and Cian McCarthy at centre-back were noteworthy and their progress will be watched with interest.
Goalkeeper Jack Mc Carthy was very impressive when under severe pressure in the closing stages as Hamilton Hight School went in search of a winner.
His composure, positioning and presence in the heat of battle bodes well for the future. Another possible minor this year is Alan O’Hare.
Sprung from the bench, his pace, hard running and intelligence caused the Hamilton defence all sorts of problems.
There was a notable difference between the standard of the A and B encounters.
Hamilton High School and Rochestown were “A” schools up to recently.
For development purposes, Cork needs as many schools as possible plying their trade at the highest level.