Harty Cup hurling and a changing Ireland

St Flannan’s won the Harty Cup last weekend for the 22nd time, staying atop the roll of honour.

Harty Cup hurling and a changing Ireland

St Flannan’s won the Harty Cup last weekend for the 22nd time, staying atop the roll of honour.

That victory cloaks a deeper story, however — about the GAA, demographics and a changing society, and how

factors as diverse as religious belief and government policy affect colleges hurling.

Anthony Daly touched on this in his column here last Monday, comparing the current squad with his Flannan’s team in the ‘80s; the latter “was usually made up from a broad range of guys from all over Clare, along with boarders from Limerick, Tipperary and Galway”, wrote Daly.

“It’s a totally different scene now. The boarders are long gone. Flannan’s is co-ed. Guys from south Clare go to school in Shannon or Limerick, mostly Ard Scoil Rís, which has made Flannan’s playing pool shallower.”

Later this week Daly fleshed out that picture, pointing out that the buses which looped down through south Clare collecting hurlers for Flannan’s are long gone, never mind the boarders.

“On our team we had day boys from Sixmilebridge coming up on that bus, like Davy Fitzgerald, but they don’t come to Flannan’s any more. A Newmarket lad would be a rarity.

“Flannan’s played (St Joseph’s) Tulla in the quarter-final, and looking at the programme, and the Tulla lads’ clubs — years ago they’d have gone to Flannan’s.

“Ard Scoil Rís in Limerick has had the same effect — lads from Parteen and Cratloe head in there rather than up to Ennis. Look at last Sunday’s match programme and the Flannan’s players come from near the school.”

Is it fair to say that Flannan’s is an Ennis school now?

“Exactly.”

However Flannan’s always had a local constituency as well, which differentiated it from one of its traditional rivals in the Harty Cup.

St Finbarr’s Seminary in Farranferris, Cork, was also a boarding school, but it didn’t draw nearly as many locals as Flannan’s did. Significantly, Farranferris accepted non-clerical students as boarders from the early ‘60s, pulling in promising players from the hurling pockets west of the city.

The mid- to late 1960s were fruitful for Farranferris as a result and they had their golden age in the early ‘70s.

Diarmuid O’Donovan, who hurled for Farranferris later in that decade, pointed out that while the school did very well early in that 1970s, the game had been adjusted significantly — in Farna’s favour.

“The school won four Harty Cups in a row from 1971 to 1974, and they had very good teams. But that was a period when the colleges game was played with 13 players a side.

“That obviously benefited a place like Farranferris, which didn’t have huge numbers to begin with. It meant they had to find fewer players to be competitive.

“The obvious point is that that was true for other schools as well, but Farna did particularly well when that rule was in vogue.”

The fall in vocations for the priesthood didn’t help Farranferris, and the widespread loss of interest in boarding made matters worse. The latter

coincided almost exactly with the Farranferris’s fading competitiveness in the Harty power: the school reached the final of the competition for the last time in 1999, the same school year Farranferris ceased to accept boarders, and it closed totally in 2006.

Across the fields from Farranferris, the North Monastery was one of the reasons the Cork seminary didn’t have as strong a local constituency as Flannan’s in Ennis.

The Mon’s last golden age came in the early to mid-1980s, when it was drawing in hurlers from Cork’s entire northside and beyond. For instance, one of Farranferris’s stars of the early ‘70s was Tadhg Murphy of Sarsfields; a decade later his clubmate Teddy McCarthy would star for the Mon.

However, national policy on school building outflanked the Mon. When Colaiste an Phiarsaigh in Glanmire began to expand in the early ‘80s, for instance, it became the natural destination for kids in that area; other schools opening in the Cork suburbs —Carrigaline, Dublin Hill — cut the supply to the Mon, as players from those areas didn’t need to leave their own area for secondary school.

Donal O’Grady, who played on and coached Harty Cup-winning teams, points out there was a time the Mon drew from an even wider constituency: “In the ‘40s fellas came from Innishannon to the Mon in one direction, from Killeagh in another.

“Now the former would go to Hamilton HS in Bandon, the latter to Midleton CBS.

“Also, as those community schools and so on opened around Cork in the ‘80s, the population was ageing in the city, so numbers in the Mon primary started to go down even as numbers from outside primary schools went on to other schools.”

One school’s on-field decline can lead to another’s on-field opportunity, of course.

Donal O’Mahony of CBC told this newspaper a couple of years ago that he’d noticed a pattern in the school’s intake:“I was looking at cohorts of fellas coming in from places where hurling was strong — Glounthaune, Douglas, Blackrock, Inniscarra, Blarney — and some of them weren’t playing rugby.”

CBC is synonymous with rugby, and O’Mahony wasn’t trying to overturn a century of tradition (“To this day we still work on that basis because rugby is the number one sport here”).

But he and Tony Wall of Glen Rovers, another staff member, helped to drive the school to a second Harty final in a row this year.

And just as boarding had its rise and fall, another social phenomenon now aids CBC: two working parents in many households means timetables can synchronise with Harty training, said O’Mahony: “There’s a change in dynamics as well. Alot of our fellas, their parents would be working in the city and it is easier to drop them to us and collect them in the evening.”

Some aspects of colleges hurling remain constant, mind. O’Grady takes Anthony Daly’s point about match programmes and drills into it.

“If you’re picking the best player from a dozen clubs you’re getting the cream of the crop compared to a school drawing from three or four clubs, no matter how strong they are.

“For all the changes in numbers and population, look at the clubs under the players’ names in the programme.”

Last weekend? Flannan’s and CBC were both represented by 11 different clubs.

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