As they grapple with a four-way relegation battle in the Cork Senior Hurling Championship, a group of 14-year-olds, born a side of the millennium in which St Finbarr’s have won no County titles, no All-Ireland Club Championships, are creating a buzz around the Togher club.
Their Seniors have gone 22 years without a hurling title but, at the U14 grade, such waits are beginning to crumble into the sands of time... A first U14 County prize in 30 years. A first County Féile win in 21.
The gap between U14 and Senior may seem a chasm but the gap isn’t nearly as large as their trophy drought, and bridging one will only help bridge the other.
“This year we had three minors who played Senior hurling, so these lads are, realistically, four years away from Senior,” says U14 team coach Billy O’Shea.
“Our plan is to stay with these guys, at least to U16 and Minor, and if we can get four or five lads through to Senior hurling and football our job will be done as selectors underage.”
The talent is there, the enjoyment is there and the will to win is certainly present. However development means not standing still, and their manager Paddy Hayes is plenty aware of that much.
“If you set them off in the right frame of mind at the start of the year, you’ll get the rewards at the end of the year.
“They’re getting older now and they’ll be doing weights and stuff from now on. We’ll have to introduce some sort of core work and speed work and the skill levels will be looked after on the pitch.”
The on-pitch training has been helped by Ger Cunningham and O’Shea, who was a player for the Barr’s U14s in 1985, when the club last received County hurling honours at that level. O’Shea, the only mentor without a son on the team, focuses on imbuing a style of play that creates space and chances for the current generation.
“Defence, one to eight, is very important to us. We defend well and we attack from our defence out.
We always try to hold possession, we encourage fellows to find a man in a better position and take their opportunities when they get the ball.”
On top of their hurling victories, a regional Féile football title was secured against Laune Rangers last weekend, with the hurling captains Michael Aherne and Ethan Varian both gaining more medals for the cabinet.
It’s been a rollercoaster few months for the duo, although the Féile in Thurles stands out as a highlight.
“I quite enjoyed the Féile experience,” said Aherne, with Varian adding that it was an exciting new challenge, between “travelling to a different county, playing different teams and getting lots of experience, with four games in one day.”
Their achievements on the hurling field were embellished on Monday with the honour of the Rebel Óg Monthly Award for June. And plenty more to follow too.