Árd Scoil hungry for national glory

NIALL MORAN recalls a November afternoon from 2008. He took an Árd Scoil Rís team to Tipperary Town that day for a Dean Ryan Cupsemi-final against Blackwater CS.

The school had been steadily developing its hurling structures but after 10 minutes, the dream looked over. Hurling into a gale, they found themselves 10 points down.

Yet somehow they turned it around. A herculean display pegged Blackwater back and engineered a 2-14 to 1-10 victory. That was the day Niall Moran knew they were going somewhere with hurling in the school.

“I think that banished any mental inhibitions the school might have had. You couldn’t have envisaged any of the success that followed without that game. But that day, the players just showed immense attitude to win.”

They went on to claim victory in the Dean Ryan Cup decider over St Flannan’s that year. The spark ignited a run and Árd Scoil Rís won a historic first Dr Harty Cup title 12 months ago and retained their crown last February.

Following provincial success, they now crave national recognition. Last April, a strong late surge enabled St Kieran’s to pull clear in the All-Ireland final. This afternoon Árd Scoil Rís seek redress in Semple Stadium.

How did this happen? This is the school which lists Paul O’Connell amongst its past pupils and is more readily associated with rugby exploits. This is the school which, in Niall Moran’s time as a student, was distinguished for the glory they enjoyed on basketball courts. This is a school which only made the jump to competing in the Dr Harty Cup in 2007.

How did they come to be an eminent force in the current schools hurling game?

There has been no magic formula. This is all the result of painstaking graft. Moran roll calls those who kick-started the movement.

Liam Kennedy and former Tipperary senior Cormac Bonnar at the start. Derek Larkin, Niall Crowe, Liam Cronin, Fergal Lyons and Pat Tobin at the coalface right now. Outside from Colm Honan (father of Clare senior Darach), Tom Hennessy, Jimmy Browne, Natal O’Grady and Joe Hannon (father of current star Declan).

Then there has been the financial assistance. If you want to challenge for Dr Harty and Croke Cups these days, there has to be a culture of excellence and professionalism fostered in the squad. The exploits of De La Salle, spearheaded by their innovative coach Derek McGrath, in 2007 and 2008 raised the bar in preparations for second-level hurling teams.

“We’ve got help from the Limerick and Clare county boards, as there are players from both counties involved. Then there’s the Dublin section of Limerick supporters club, the local GAA boards and our sponsor John Lyons of Supermacs. And above all the parents are big players in this.”

The elevation in standards of training has been immensely beneficial in nurturing the young talents that pass through the corridors on the North Circular Road. But as he surveys the colleges scene, Moran pauses to consider the bigger issues at play. “You have to put it into context. It’s still schools hurling and it’s about participation. We’ve got to be very careful as coaches that we don’t lose that element.

“A few years ago there were studies done on the amount of guys in Leinster schools rugby finals who were still playing at a reasonable level four or five years on. Of 30 guys from the two teams, there were only four or five still playing. That to me is a very worrying trend.”

Within Árd Scoil Rís, manpower is another issue to be addressed.

“There’s only seven hurling teachers in the school and we have about 14 teams over the course of the year. You have to have two teachers per team, so the volume of work done by a small core of people is outstanding. Without that commitment we wouldn’t be fortunate enough to be where we are. And we won’t continue to be a force if we don’t have that.”

Moran is well-placed to speak on the commitment required. He has been juggling this spring coaching Árd Scoil Rís with playing for the Limerick seniors.

He’s appreciates the good fortune of having an understanding manager in Donal O’Grady and continues to be lured in by the infectious enthusiasm of his players. But still he will be glad after this afternoon to park the Árd Scoil Rís crusade and turns his attentions to both Kilmallock tomorrow where Limerick face Kerry in the league.

Still there is one piece of business to finish off. His school stands on the cusp of becoming the first Limerick school to lift the Croke Cup since CBS Sexton St in 1966. Victory would be a powerful boost to the county’s hurling fortunes. As a player, Moran lost with St Flannan’s against St Kieran’s in 2000 and last year it was the Kilkenny aristocrats who downed his aspirations as a manager.

Now is the chance to address that record.

Picture: Limerick senior hurler Niall Moran watches on during the Dr. Harty Cup Quarter-Final in January: St Flannan’s College, Ennis v St Colman’s College, Fermoy. Picture: SPORTSFILE

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