Learning the St Colman’s way

WHERE DO you start with St Colman’s? Back to the 40s and the team an tAthair Peadar de Barra — PDB — steered to Harty success, with Fr Bertie Troy and footballer Mick Gould?

With Seanie O’Leary taking on Farranferris in the 60s, or the 1973 clash with the North Mon that came with an accompanying riot in Midleton?

With Paul Flynn burying goals for De La Salle against Colman’s in 1992 — only for Fergal McCormack of the Cork school marking Flynn out of it in the replay?

With Timmy McCarthy’s team in 1996 or the irresistible 1997 vintage, or the three-in-a-row heroes of 2001-3?

Starting places aplenty. Tomorrow a St Colman’s All-Star team take on a Cork selection as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations, though outside factors have overshadowed the build-up.

“It was always a huge thing in the school,” says principal Dermot Coakley, “Even when we weren’t winning Harty matches, not to mind cups, when Gus (Kelleher) and I were at school here.

“We looked at different ways of celebrating the school anniversary — academic excellence, arts and so on, and this was part of it. We wanted to provide a venue for elite players to perform in, where everyone could get together and chat and swap stories.

“Any young fella who came to the school, whether he played Harty or not, he lived it. You couldn’t escape it, and there wasn’t much else to do if you were a boarder. The matches against the Mon, Farranferris and St Flannan’s — great occasions.”

Teacher Gus Kelleher offers a glimpse of Colman’s history from the 1948 Harty Cup winners onwards.

“In the 50s we had good individuals, like Denis Murphy of the Barr’s, John White of Castlemartyr, but they lacked support, and in the 60s it was much the same — Seanie O’Leary won no Harty medal, though he was one of our greatest players.”

The 1977 side took Harty honours with the likes of Sean O’Brien and John Hartnett of Midleton; in the 80s Colman’s had teams with Pat Hartnett, Christy Clancy, Cathal Casey and Mark Landers but they went out to the eventual Harty winners five years in a row.

The 1992 team won the Harty again, and then came two outstanding teams, in 1996 and 1997.

“In 1996, Timmy McCarthy James Murray, Eoin Murphy, Will Twomey and Luke Mannix came through, but we lost the All-Ireland title just after the semi-final. Timmy gave his best performance for Colman’s against Cyril Farrell’s St Raphael’s Loughrea, in the All-Ireland semi-final, and Cyril told us in the dressing room afterwards that St Kieran’s had nothing — and that was the rock we perished on: we lost the final.

“The 1997 team reminded me of the great Farna team of 1969 — no-one came within 12 points of us that year. Neil Ronan was just sensational.”

Coakley pays tribute to the “blossoming in west Waterford hurling” and arrivals such as Andrew O’Shaughnessy, but also notes the contribution of Cork clubs: “Local clubs make up the bedrock for us — Bride Rovers, St Catherine’s, Castelyons, Watergrasshill, Kilworth, Castletownroche — and Fermoy, of course. We couldn’t do what we do without the work their coaches put in. They’re reared to it.”

And they’re helped along the way in the college. The in-house game of moppers helps.

“It’s handball with hurleys,” says Kelleher. “They use sliotars but we used tennis balls. That’s what Cork hurling should be all about, young lads with hurleys in their hands. That’s what you’d hear about Kilkenny but in here, that’s still strong.”

Tomorrow’s game was easy to organise, in one sense.

“We didn’t have to ask 50 players to get 30,” says Kelleher. “We asked 30 and they said yes, which means it was important to them. When I was getting pen pictures and lads’ honours with Colman’s, Timmy McCarthy reminded me he was a sub on the senior B football team and said, ‘I still think I should have been on’ — this is a guy with a bucket of All-Ireland medals!”

“We’re focusing on the celebrations,” says Coakley. “We’re asking past pupils to come along whether they played Harty or not, to meet old classmates they haven’t seen in years. That’s the focus for us — celebrating what we have had and what we have.

“The game has generated huge interest due to the numbers of people who’ve played Harty, not just in Colman’s,” says Garvan Queeney, the Cahir native who trains the school hurlers. “They’re unbelievably skilful games played in atrocious conditions.”

“It’s winter hurling,” says Coakley. “But sometimes people mistakenly think you’ll win Harty games on pure strength — if anything you need to be more skilful in those conditions.”

For Colman’s the Harty is special, generating its own tradition and momentum. Players may not be clapped into the refectory after games as in the old days, but Queeney points out that a new tradition — students lining up by the school gates for the Harty team to return — has taken its place.

School founder TW Croke probably wasn’t considering that when he welcomed James Joyce’s father and an tAthair Peadar O Laoghaire as students into the school 150 years ago.

Then again, the All-Ireland senior colleges hurling trophy bears Croke’s name. But that’s where you start with St Colman’s.

lSt Colman’s All-Stars v Cork, Pairc Mhic Gearailt Fermoy, 2.30pm.

ST COLMAN’S ALL STARS: D. Fitzgerald (Bride Rovers), B. Murphy (Bride Rovers), J Murray (Tallow), E. Murphy (Shamrocks), M. O’ Brien (Garryspillane), C. McGann (Castlelyons), A. Kearney (Tallow), M. Landers (Killegh), F. McCormack (Mallow), S. Molumphy (Ballyduff Upper), J. O’ Driscoll (Bride Rovers), T. McCarthy (Castlelyons, captain), A. O’ Shaughnessy (Kilmallock), N. Ronan (Ballyhea), B. Murphy (Scarriff).

CORK: A. Kennedy (Sars), C. O’Sullivan (Sars), C. Murphy (Blackrock), A. Kearney (Midleton), J. Moran (Carrigaline), S. White (Ballygarvan), G. O’Driscoll (Newcestown), B. Johnson (Bride Rovers), G. O’Connor (St. Finbarrs), D. Crowley (Bandon), C. O’Leary (Blackrock), C. McCarthy (Sarsfields), C. Dorris (Glen Rovers), M. Collins (Bride Rovers), T. Óg Murphy (Sarsfields).


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