Terence Fahy is doing his best to douse the Harty Cup fever in the hurling heartlands around Tulla, but at the same time the St Joseph’s Secondary School manager is keen to embrace the excitement as his side bids to join a select club of Clare schools that have contested the Munster Colleges showpiece.
There have been four, led, of course, by the bluebloods and 22 times champions St Flannan’s, but it’s the achievements of lesser lights like Ennis CBS and Shannon schools, St Patrick’s and St Caimin’s, in making it to the final frontier that are more of a yardstick for St Joseph’s.
They have that chance after their smash-and-grab raid against CBC Cork in the quarter-final, when they overturned a six-point deficit in the final 15 minutes for a dramatic 1-17 to 1-15 win.
“In the times we are in, it’s great,” says Fahy, “because it’s sleepy enough out in East Clare and it gives the whole place a lift. At the same time, we haven’t reinvented the wheel. We’ve two Harty Cup games won. That’s all we’ve done.”
Those wins, however, have propelled the emerging East Clare school into the rarefied atmosphere of being contenders, something Fahy says has only been possible because of “the complete buy-in” from everyone in the school.
“We’re coming from a low base but we’ve very good people involved,” says Fahy, whose backroom team includes Galway All-Ireland winner Aidan Harte and Tomás Kelly, who helped guide Inagh-Kilnamona to last year’s Clare SHC final.
“The school facilitates — we get a lot of support from our principal and board of management. The infrastructure around the team is very solid. There is no real secret, but we’re lucky to have players who are committed and driven. We’ve always had a commitment culture, but you have to have that bit of quality to operate and win matches at Harty level,” he adds.
Tulla’s promise first emerged in 2020 when they faced St Flannan’s at the quarter-final stage in Cusack Park, competing for long periods with the Ennis side managed by Fahy’s fellow Whitegate clubman, Brendan Bugler, before finally being out-gunned.
“On the scoreboard it was 3-17 to 0-16,” remembers Fahy, “but there wasn’t that much between the teams.
“We were there or thereabouts until Diarmuid Cahill got a great goal that sunk us. Flannan’s went on and won the Harty after that.
“That was our first year up, the first of a three-year cycle. Last year was lost to Covid, so this is the third year. Every seven or eight years in a school like ours you get a crop, an above-average group and if you can put another good year group with them, you can get a big surge.”
“It’s all about numbers,” says former Clare captain, Tommy Guilfoyle, who was on the first St Joseph’s side to play at Harty level 40 years ago.
“When we played, we had Henry Hehir from Sixmilebridge, who would have been a first year, playing Harty. We wouldn’t have had 100 boys in the school and some classes would only have had seven or eight hurlers, so to play Harty against Coláiste Chríost Rí down in Emly was huge for us.
“We went up after winning the 1981 All-Ireland B. The same year we won the Clare Colleges title, beating Flannans’ Harty team in the final — a star-studded team. We were always looking in the road at Flannan’s being the kingpins, so to beat them in that once-off game was massive for us.”
Fahy himself is a St Flannan’s alumnus — he played right-half-back for the hurlers and footballers in a bitter-sweet 1992-93 campaign, losing the Harty decider to Limerick CBS before bouncing back a week later to beat Tralee CBS and bring the Corn Uí Mhuirí title back to the school for the first time since 1959.
“I wouldn’t say we’d mirror St Flannan’s but certainly we’d mirror the commitment,” he says. “There’s a template there from the top schools. It’s not rocket science. It’s down to the players and we’re lucky enough to have committed players. We have about 340 boys in the school and you need those numbers to compete against bigger schools.”
Tomorrow’s opponents De La Salle are one of those schools, with the Waterford side being a reminder of Fahy’s own playing days at Harty Cup level. In 1993, a hotly fancied De La Salle, which included Paul Flynn and Derek McGrath, were decisively turned over by Flannan’s in the semi-final.
More of the same would do Fahy fine, while the opportunity to avenge this season’s opening round defeat to De La Salle in Bansha by 0-20 to 0-18 will also provide further motivation for Tulla.
“If you were at our matches in Fermoy [v St Colman’s] and Kilmallock [v CBC],” says Fahy, “it would put the hair standing on the back of your neck. A big crowd has followed this team — it’s that type of a team, people like to see them play.
“The Harty Cup has that aura; it has that prestige; it means everything. We want to be here and stay here,” he adds.