Cork’s representation in the famed colleges hurling competition is somewhat ahead of Tipperary (five colleges), Limerick (four), Waterford (two) and Clare (one), and yet it is now 10 years since the Harty Cup last resided on Leeside.
St Colman’s Fermoy went as far as the semis last spring, Rochestown reached the decider in 2015, while Charleville CBS also progressed to the concluding afternoon of action in 2011. Silverware eluded the latter two and save for a couple more semi-final appearances, that’s been the lot of Cork colleges since Paudie O’Sullivan captained Midleton CBS to Harty glory in March of 2006. That wait will move into its 11th year during the Christmas break, usurping the barren spell in between North Mon’s 1919 and 1929 final wins.
“Our team in 2006 wasn’t led by one or two superstars, it was an extremely balanced team,” recalls Seamus Murphy of Midleton CBS.
“We were drawn against Thurles CBS in the semi-final and they had been beaten by Flannan’s in the 2005 final. St Flannan’s were already in the final by the time our semi came around and so everyone was expecting a Flannan’s-Thurles decider. This was a Thurles team that had Pádraic Maher, Michael Cahill, Pa Bourke, Timmy Hammersley and James Barry.
“They hadn’t won it since 1956 and felt they had the team to get them over the line.
“It was a beautiful day in Fermoy for the semi and we gave Luke O’Farrell, who was only in transition year at the time, his first Harty Cup start. Luke finished with 3-1 and we won by a point. Paul Haughney, who was in third year, was brought on as a sub and set up Luke for the last and most important of his goals.
“We were underdogs again in the final as St Flannan’s had won the All-Ireland in 2005. We were 0-9 to 1-1 down at half-time, but came back and won it by two (2-8 to 0-12).
“From that team, Rob White, Paul Haughney, Luke O’Farrell, Paudie O’Sullivan, Ciaran Cronin, Alwyn Kearney, Pádraig O’Shea, Cian Fogarty and Brian Lawton played for Cork at some level.
“I didn’t think, 10 years on, that we’d be the last Cork college to win it.”
Hardly a surprising sentiment given Fermoy had annexed five of the previous 10 titles. Why then, in his estimation, have Cork been overtaken by Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford’s finest nurseries?
“Standards in Cork hurling have dropped across the board. They’ve dropped at club level and at schools level. You are not seeing Cork clubs in Munster and All-Ireland finals, in the same way that it is rare now that you see a Cork school in the Harty final. Limerick and Waterford schools have stepped up and that has coincided with Cork’s decline.”
Murphy added: “I think there has been a dilution of our talent. Down in Waterford, you’d have six or seven schools and that’s it. There are way more Cork schools competing than there used to be. The last few years have seen Cork schools get back up there, but none have crossed the line. Hopefully, that will change soon enough.”