IF those who set the odds are to be believed – and these guys speak with their wallets – there’s going to be a convincing winner of tomorrow’s Harty Cup final between Árd Scoil Rís (Limerick) and Charleville CBS.
At 1/4, Árd Scoil are the hottest of favourites, and with good reason. Backboned by more than half of the team so cruelly denied in last year’s All-Ireland final (shipped 1-5 without reply in the final minutes before losing by three to St. Kieran’s, Kilkenny) the Limerick sporting powerhouse is on a mission this season and this decider is just one more step on the road to atonement. Anchoring their defence is Declan Hannon, orchestrating their attack the brilliant Shane Dowling, with the deadly John Fitzgibbon up front — a trio of tyros on the Limerick hurling scene.
In Charleville, however, and even while accepting the reality of their Cinderella status, they believe they have a chance of slaying this Goliath according to team mentor Kevin Butler.
“These guys have played Árd Scoil Rís all the way up along. They beat them in the first-year competition in the Gaelic Grounds a few years ago and earlier this year, they only beat us by a single score.
“Árd Scoil have a serious team, they are very strong and mature. But I have confidence in our boys. David Reidy was a Limerick minor last year and is again this year, he knows Shane Dowling very well and a lot will come down to that battle. We have Mark Kavanagh at centre-forward and he has a savage task against Declan Hannon, but it’s a team effort and we have a very balanced side. We’ll have a plan and we’ll be trying to impose that.”
From Drom-and-Inch in Tipperary, Butler was nevertheless amazed by the passion in Charleville when he came to the school four years ago.
“Only for the size of the school, Charleville would be involved at this stage all the time. In a way it’s like a rural parish, you’ll see a good group coming through together every now and again, but numbers are a problem.”
Confirming that is David Garvey, in Charleville since 1978 and another of the three wise men along with Butler and Tim O’Callaghan.
Garvey said: “At one stage we were down to just over 200 students in the school but we’ve pulled back up to nearly 260 now, a big increase, especially in such a small catchment area.
“This is the most balanced team we’ve had in my time here but we’ve had lots of very good players over the years. We came very close in 1994, lost to North Mon by two points and they went on to easily win the semi-final and final. Seán Óg Ó hAilpín was playing for the Mon that day, the first time I saw him, and I knew then he was going to be a star – he was going as strong at the end as he’d been at the start.”
The CBS had the likes of Neil and Darren Ronan on that team, along with Dominic Foley (later a soccer international), but just up the road the renowned O’Connor twins were attending Mannix College, and a couple of years later inspired that school to the All-Ireland Vocational School title.
Even if their constituency is slim, however, it’s full of talent, traditional clubs of the likes of Charleville, Newtownshandrum and Ballyhea on the Cork side of the border, then Kilmallock, Effin and Dromin-Athlacca from Limerick. All fierce rivals yet, says Garvey, the players have forged a strong bond. “It’s incredible. Lads who would be playing against each other at the weekend get on so well during the week, and then you have the divided loyalties on each side of the county boundary! But there’s actually a huge camaraderie there – great slagging, but very good-natured. They hop off each other, but in a very positive way.”
The odds are against them, but the odds have been against them from day one, when they lost their opening game to Templemore.
Overcoming those odds – that’s their game.
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