That this combination is newsworthy tells you a lot about hurling in Cork right now, of course.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when a variety of Cork schools routinely appeared in the critical stages of the top Munster Colleges competition, but the Colman’s-Midleton match-up is being taken as a possible green shoot of recovery after years of disappointment, rather than a verification of the natural order.
Flannan Cleary of St Colman’s says standards are rising in Cork at underage level, and can point to the evidence.
“The last couple of years we’ve seen an improvement in underage hurling in Cork, and there are a few indicators for that.
“We’ve seen how the county development squads have performed in their competitions in various grades, winning several of them in the last couple of years.
“For ourselves, at schools level, our Harty team made the semi-final of their competition last year as well as this year.
“Our Dean Ryan team won their competition and they lost the All-Ireland final narrowly enough.
“There are good signs at county minor level - the Cork minor hurlers last year were in a very good position against Tipperary in the championship but the game slipped away from them at the end.
“I think the future for hurling in Cork looks bright - the Cork underage scene is on the up, it looks positive.”
When this perspective is relayed to one of Cleary’s counterparts on today’s sideline the response is emphatic. Aylwin Kearney is on the Midleton CBS management team and says ensuring a Cork presence in the Harty final has been a theme in their preparation: “That was a big thing we’d have mentioned to the lads, guaranteeing a Cork team would make the final. Rochestown got there recently enough but from our point of view it was 11 years since we’d been in a semi-final, so obviously for ourselves making a first semi-final after all that time is great - but it’s encouraging all around, absolutely, that you have two teams from Cork which are still involved.”
Kearney agrees with Cleary on the benefits of having youngsters who have come through the development squad and tasted success at that level. Harty competition was always seen as a finishing school for future stars, and it dovetails with the development squad system, says the Midleton man.
“Without a doubt you’d notice it. Certainly in the last few years you can see the lads coming in who have been involved with Cork, the effects of that exposure are clear.
“We would have a couple of lads on the panel who have won All-Ireland titles at their age level with Cork, at U15 or U16, and you can see that in them, they’ve had the exposure at intercounty level.
“When we played Ard Scoil Ris the last day the standard of hurling was up at that level and lads need to reach that, and it’s not to be overlooked when they have that experience. It’s an important part of their development.”
Other factors are helping, too. Cleary points to one simple change: the players are keener now.
“One difference I see in the kids coming in nowadays is that that is really back, that enthusiasm.
“Maybe for a few years there that wasn’t the case - whether it was because of the (intercounty) strike or what, the enthusiasm mightn’t have been there for a few years for either the players or those involved with teams.
“I think they’re coming in very enthusiastic now, there’s a great buzz here now for hurling in the school.”
Kearney can spread that enthusiasm even further, to Midleton’s broader catchment area: “The buzz that’s been around east Cork even since we drew with Ard Scoil the first day, that’s been huge. Everywhere you go people are talking about the games, so it’s hugely positive to have people back interested and back getting behind the team. That comes with winning, obviously, but the positivity is also going to lift everything, which is great.”
Midleton will draw from their usual constituency today - the local club, Carrigtwohill, Cloyne, Killeagh, Aghada. St Colman’s will pick from their traditional hinterland as well - St Catherine’s, Castlelyons, Kilworth, Fermoy, Watergrasshill, as well as a couple of lads spinning in from Ballyduff in west Waterford.
Cleary stresses the long view.
“Even if we have a team one year that we feel may not be winning Harty Cups, a lot of work still goes into developing them and improving their skills, all the attributes to ensure these players can be the best they can be.
“We have a group now we feel can challenge for honours, and last year we did very well - having won the Dean Ryan and having a good U14 team, we’d feel that the signs are good for us for the next few years.
“But there’s always an emphasis here on the development of players and not just winning. Bill O’Flynn and Noel Crowley come in to help us training the teams, and I’m just one of the five-man management team with the Harty team along with Bill and Noel, Michael Collins and Shane Roche.
We have about 11 eleven teachers in the school who are coaching hurling after school in the evenings.”
No green shoots without hard work.
Our Lady’s SS Templemore v Nenagh CBS, Toomevara; St Colman’s College Fermoy v Midleton CBS, Mallow.