Intermediate School, Killorglin contest the Corn Uí Mhuirí final against Coláiste Na Sceilge today in Killarney and Mike Frank will be hoping his Alma Mater can win the title for only the second time in the school’s history.
Russell has fond memories of his own playing days with ISK and in particular the magnificent season in 1996 when they won the Corn Uí Mhuirí and Hogan Cups for the first time.
“I would regard Munster colleges football as a stepping stone to greater things,” said Russell. “It’s the perfect shop window to be spotted, and I personally benefited enormously from playing in the Corn Uí Mhuirí.
“During my time in ISK we reached the semi-final in 1994 and ‘95 before eventually making it to the final the following year. Personally speaking 1996 was a wonderful year for me.
“My club (Laune Rangers) won the All-Ireland in March; ISK won the Corn Uí Mhuirí and Hogan Cups (All-Ireland colleges) in April and later that same year I was a member of the victorious Kerry U-21 All-Ireland winning team.
Russell burst on the colleges scene in 1994 when he scored four goals in a Frewen Cup final against Coláiste Chríost Rí. That day in the Mallow Town Park began a career that, 15 years on, sees him still going strong with the Kerry seniors.
“That Frewen Cup team stayed together and with most of the players repeating their leaving Cert in 1996, we felt we had a great chance in the Corn Uí Mhuirí, and it worked out well for us.
“It’s great to see Brendan Ó Tuama and Frank Walsh still involved with the school. They have been the real driving forces behind Gaelic games and it would be great for them if ISK could win another senior title.
“However, with Kerry senior coach Jack O’Connor in the opposite corner, it’s not going to be easy. The incentive is there for ISK to win as they were beaten in the 2001 final by today’s opponents and will see the game as an opportunity to atone for that defeat”.
Coláiste Na Sceilge opted out of the vocational scene for 2001, and justified that decision by winning the Corn Uí Mhuirí title for the next three years in-a-row with teams that included current county seniors Bryan Sheahan and Declan O’Sullivan.
They fell on lean times for the next couple of seasons but have been busily building another team capable of challenging for honours.
They won the Moran Cup (U-15) in 2006 and they have now come full circle by reaching the senior final again with the nucleas of that team. From very early on in the championship, the Caherciveen school were looking like potential champions.
They beat a good Críost Rí team in round one in the Legion Grounds and followed that with a comfortable win over Ballincollig, a thrilling victory over the reigning champions St Brendan’s and another dramatic late win over St Fachtna’s in the semi-final.
They play a splendid game, full of running and have a number of outstanding scoring forwards in Enna O’Connor, Ian Galvin, Barry O’Dwyer and Niall O’Shea.
Defensively they are not bad either, and the ISK forwards will earn their scores off Mark Clifford, Ian Casey and Dominic O’Sullivan, while the powerful figure of Max Thiemann should give them at least an even break at midfield.
ISK’s only success was back in 1996 when they went on to take the Hogan Cup (All-Ireland) as well, with a team that included Russell, Pa O’Sullivan, John Sheehan and Johnny Lynch.
This year’s campaign did not start well for them. They failed by seven points to pre-championship favourites Tralee CBS before recovering well to beat Abbey CBS (Tipperary), Dingle CBS and reversing that first round defeat by the Green with an impressive three point win in the semi-final.
Their team includes a number of very talented youngsters. Jack Sherwood was a county minor last year, while Jeremiah Hoare, Pat Joy, Jerome Flynn and Edward O’Sullivan are up there with the best of them.
ISK can point to a victory over Coláiste Na Sceilge this year, in the Kerry Colleges championship (O’Sullivan Cup) but is unlikely to have any bearing on the result tomorrow.
Coláiste na Sceilge have slightly the better credentials going into the final. They have won all four games played, scoring an impressive 11 goals and 37 points.
Their opponents played a similar number of games, but lost one, amassing six goals and 33 points in the process.
Based on these statistics, Coláiste na Sceilge will start slight favourites, but don’t rule out ISK bridging that 13-year gap.