As plaudits for St Brendan’s mount, so does the pressure

No surprise to find St Brendan’s manager Gary McGrath playing down their favourite tag for today’s Corn Ui Mhuiri (Munster PP Colleges SFC) final in Tralee. 

That’s simply what managers do ahead of afternoons like this. How they got to the final is no indication of how they will do in the final, he reasons. The scorelines, though, don’t lie.

The Sem’s path to the final is listed elsewhere on this page, but such is its comprehensiveness that it deserves a second run through. The students from Killarney hammered IS Killorglin by 19 points in the opening game of their title defence. They had seven to spare over De La Salle Macroom – the closest any team has got - and they rounded off the group phase with a 22-point annihilation of Bandon’s Hamilton HS. Ominous.

Their quarter and semi-final winning margins were similarly impressive, Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne and St Flannan’s held at arm’s length by 15 and nine points respectively.

This time last year, St Brendan’s entered the decider with a 12-point average winning margin. It is 14 on this occasion.

The Tralee CBS manager is Marc Ó Sé. His job is to play up their underdog status. In this instance, that’s a relatively easy task.

“The Sem are very strong and they will fancy themselves big time because they beat us already, comprehensively so, in the O’Sullivan Cup semi-final,” the recently retired Kerry legend remarks.

“The one thing that stands out about our team is the fact that we have no real stars, no standout players. Our fellows have bought into the team ethic and we are hoping this will stand to us again Saturday. We are under no illusions about this Sem team. They are a massive team. They have Billy Courtney, David Shaw and Dara Moynihan, who is on the Kerry U-21 panel. They are Hogan Cup champions. They’ve a lot of experienced players with a lot of them having played in All-Ireland minor finals.”

Having done his duty in building the opposition, Ó Sé moves focus closer to home. It’s been 10 years since Tralee CBS last contested a Corn Uí Mhuirí final. It wasn’t so much that they were due a final appearance as they desperately craved one. That was none more so evident than in Ballyvourney last weekend.

“It is great when you meet the people around Tralee asking when the next game is. I think we were off the boil for a while but the Green is back and we are very much fighting for honours in the underage levels, as well as reaching the Corn Uí Mhuirí final. It’s great for the school with the extension and our own astro turf pitch, which is all going to add to it. We have a facility now that we are proud of and the atmosphere in the build-up to Saturday’s final has Tralee buzzing.

“The lads have been outstanding in the way they battled in all their games. They are a credit to themselves and to their families. The three games against Chríost Rí were epic battles. You have to give credit to Críost Rí - and I know there was a lot of controversy about the second game - but there was very little between the teams. There was some great football and that is the thing about colleges football, it’s a great standard, full of positivity and lovely to watch.

“The three games will stand to us and will definitely bring us on. But whether it will be good enough to lower the colours of the Sem, we will just have to wait and see.”

You can expect St Brendan’s captain Dara Moynihan to have a fairly significant say in whether or not their title defence comes unstuck. The wing-forward enjoyed a silverware-laden 2016 and would very much like if 2017 played out in similar fashion.

“Last year was the best year of my life so far. To win a Hogan Cup, an All-Ireland minor and a county minor title, and to play alongside some of the players I did in all three.”

Team-mate David Shaw describes him as a “great leader”. Shaw, mind you, did most of the leading in the semi-final win over St Flannan’s. Having missed the quarter-final due to an AFL camp in Florida, the Dr Crokes midfielder kicked six points from play upon his return.

“I was up early the morning of the quarter-final given the time difference and was stuck to the phone looking for updates on Twitter. My dad was texting me as well so I had plenty of information on what was happening in the match. I’ll have to wait and see if there is an [AFL] offer and I will think about it from there. In the meantime, I’m only focused on what I have in front of me here at home.

“We all know about the rivalry that is there between the schools and it’s one we would like to keep the school on top of.”

Match preview: St Brendan’s, Killarney v Tralee CBS, Austin Stack Park, Tralee, 4.30pm.

Cian Callaghan is the sole injury concern for the reigning champions. The 2016 Kerry minor panelist missed their semi-final win over St Flannan’s with knee ligament trouble and management will leave it until the 11th hour before making a call on his inclusion.

Michael Potts and Jack Griffin also sat out the semi-final, but have since returned to full fitness. Cian Gammell, having been forced off in the closing stages of the St Flannan’s fixture with a groin strain, has also been cleared to play. For Tralee CBS, Sean Mortimer is unlikely to feature.

The Tralee outfit is facing into a fourth game in as many weeks and while there is no questioning the momentum behind them, fatigue is bound to be an issue at some point today.

For their sake, better it crops up nearer to the end that the start. St Brendan’s have a tendency to kill off games early and if they’re four or five clear at half-time, they’ll hardly be caught. Nobody has thus far managed to live with them into the final quarter.

Tralee CBS are bidding for a first Corn Uí Mhuirí title since 2007, and, in the process, put pay to St Brendans’ quest for first back-to-back titles since 1973.

To stop the reigning champions they’ll have to stop the likes of Cian Gammell, Niall Donoghue, Billy Courtney, David Shaw, Dara Moynihan and Donnchadh O’Sullivan. That’s a big ask.

Verdict:

St Brendan’s



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