Few GAA competitions carry the weight of tradition the Dr Harty Cup does, and St Francis College, Rochestown are newcomers to the big show.
Just to add another layer to this yarn, they’ve made it to the Corn Uí Mhuirí final as well.
How did they get there?
Diarmuid Fahy, one of the teachers on the sideline for the hurlers, admits as a kid in Limerick, Rochestown weren’t on his radar compared to the traditional powerhouses like St Colman’s or the North Monastery. He can trace the steps on the journey.
“There were a few things involved. First off, there were good people involved, like Liam O Murchú with the football side of things in the school, and Denis McDonnell, who re-started hurling in the school just over 10 years ago.
“In general there are a good few members of staff who are interested in the games and in developing the games in the school, in progressing that, which obviously helped.
“It’s all teachers who’re involved with the teams, there are no outside coaches.”
Industry and application were the keys for Rochestown. There weren’t any short cuts. Thirteen years ago they got enough players together to take part in a Cork Colleges C-grade competition.
By 2008 they’d progressed to the B grade, collecting silverware at U14 level; the following year they were in the A grade. The hinterland is fertile. Rochestown draw from strong clubs such as Passage, Carrigaline, Shamrocks, Tracton, Nemo Rangers, Ballygarvan, Douglas and Blackrock, and Fahy acknowledges their help during the school’s surge to both the Harty and the Corn Uí Mhuirí finals.
“It’s been a challenge, and in fairness the support of the lads’ clubs has to be factored in as well, they’ve been very helpful to us as we prepare for all our games.
“Just in terms of games, we’ve gone from game to game, really – football one week, then hurling. That’s just the way we’ve had to work it. Clearly having players who’ve been coached well at club level, who’ve had all that work done with them already, it’s just a case really of keeping them motivated and fresh for matches in both hurling and football.
“In a funny way it’s hectic once it’s up and running, but it’s also manageable, if that makes sense.”
Other factors have fed into Rochestown’s success, he adds.
“There’s been a growth in numbers in the school over the last few years, and the arrival of some very good players. When you add in the help of the local clubs, who’ve been excellent in supporting what we’ve been trying to do, then you can see how it’s all come together.
“The buy-in with all the teachers has been a huge help in terms of organising the teams that everyone supports each other – footballers support each other and vice versa, there are a lot of lads on both teams, obviously – and the fact that we all get on with each other, that the sports departments in the schools pull together well, that’s a huge help.
“On top of all of that the Capuchin Brothers themselves are hugely supportive of the work.”
Fahy acknowledges there are better-known schools in the Munster colleges scene, but that’s not to say Rochestown don’t have a sense of self:
“There is a strong identity in the school, but we don’t dwell too much on the tradition aspect of things. We’re focused on the identity side of it, if you like, and we feel that’s very important and we take great pride in it.
“In the Harty – and the Corn Uí Mhuirí, also – you’ve obviously coming up against teams which have a great history and tradition, and you’d certainly like to think here you’re creating a tradition here as well.
“It’s created a lot of excitement among past pupils, in particular. Two former students who played in the 1950 Corn Uí Mhuirí for the college come along after the semi-final of that competition, they were very proud of the current crop. So there is that tradition to the school, something we’re trying to restore.”
A sports tradition is forged in match situations, obviously. Fahy points out that there’s been no shortage of that lately.
“They’ve probably never played in as many big championship games in the one year, though a lot of them have obviously had success with their clubs at underage level.
“It’s certainly helped them to get used to playing big games, and we’re hoping that that’ll stand to them in their final games in the competition.
“They both have a process in place that’s benefited them all along, and it’s the players are very driven, very motivated, very focused.
“They’re the real drivers of the thing. They’re interested in the games and they want to succeed; that’s very hard to coach, players really need to have that themselves and all you can do is really put structures in place to facilitate them.”
The final test comes this afternoon in Mallow. They’ve met Thurles before and they know the size of the task ahead.
“We know what Thurles are about, we played them last year as well, we’re well aware of the quality they have, their history and so on. But we have plenty of good players too, lads who’ve been on Cork teams, and we’re hoping to get them right for the game, that their heads are right and that they’ll give a good account of themselves.”
They’ve done that and more so far.