December 3, 2014 at Ballyagran; the afternoon when St Colman’s involvement in last season’s Harty Cup ended in heartbreaking fashion. Having fallen on their sword in the second of their opening three fixtures, that to Gaelcoláiste Mhuire, victory was required against Castletroy College on the final week of group games to keep alive ambitions of progressing to the knockout stages.
In a closely run contest in Ballyagran, Castletroy College scored a 2-9 to 0-13 win - St Colmans’ late search for a green flag proving fruitless.
“We had a shot on goal at the very end that just went outside the post. It was very close,” recalls St Colman’s manager Cleary.“We were very disappointed not to come out of our group. Castletroy College were beaten afterwards by one point by Thurles CBS in the semi-final and Thurles, as you know, went on to win the Harty Cup and then reach the All-Ireland final. That told us we weren’t a million miles away.”
Stephen Condon (Glanworth) and Castlelyons duo Niall and Jamie O’Leary were among those from that team to the fore again in this month’s quarter-final win over Christians and Cleary says theirs is a squad capable of ending the Fermoy College’s 13-year wait for a Harty Cup final appearance – today’s semi-final against Ardscoil Rís throws in at noon in Kilmallock.
“We felt, at the start of the year, we had a good panel, some very skilful players and a great spirit among the lads. We were disappointed to lose our first match against Thurles. We went into that game confident of a big performance. We felt we got a fairly good performance, but still came out the wrong side of the result,” says Cleary.
“We realised then we had to win our two remaining matches to make the quarter-finals and we had a good win against Nenagh CBS and then another good win against Doon to get us through. The quarter-final was a big occasion as it was an all-Cork clash. It was a big win for us over Christians. The lads remained firmly focused going into that game and I believe it will be the same again this weekend. The occasion won’t be an issue. They’re looking forward to this weekend.”
Not since 2006, have nine-time winners St Colman’s been present in the semi-final stages. It’s a far different story for their opponents, the Limerick nursery appearing in their ninth consecutive semi-final – outright success achieved in 2010, 2011 and 2014.
Ardscoil Rís, who dispensed of last year’s finalists Rochestown last time out, are led by Limerick U21 All-Ireland medal winner Peter Casey, with Paul O’Brien and Paraic O’Loughlin two more prominent figures in manager Niall Moran’s attack.
“They are a very formidable side and their recent record speaks for itself,” Cleary acknowledged. “They will be hard to beat.”