“You have to remember they all want to get up on the wall,” Tom Hogan says.
St Kieran’s College, two of us chatting in The Glasshall, a conservatory type corridor lined by photographs of alumni and hurling teams past. The main corridor is similarly bedecked.
History holds intimate in this school. And so much of history, in Kilkenny, is what happened on the soft fields of early spring.
Tomorrow afternoon, Kilkenny CBS take on St Kieran’s College, managed by Hogan, in a Leinster Final. “I started as a mentor in 1991, straight after I started teaching here,” he recalls. “I’ve been involved with some team every year since.”
A past pupil, Tom Hogan left in 1979 for UCD. His club was James Stephens, with whom he won an All-Ireland in 1982. He is involved with Graigue-Ballycallan, the parish where he settled.
Now mid-fifties, distinctly youthful, he teaches Irish and cannot resist turning hurling’s wheel: “It would be a big thing with our lads, looking at those photographs, at who was on what team in what year. There are so many who went on to win All-Irelands with Kilkenny.
“Even last weekend, you had Liam Blanchfield and Seán Morrissey playing against Clare in the league. Liam and Seán are barely out the door.”
He continues: “You need a Leinster title at least to justify a photograph. The lads themselves would be pure disgusted unless they got that, minimum.
“People say: ‘Here come ’Kieran’s again…’ But we have only two players off last year’s team, Adrian Mullen and Martin Keoghan. Nearly everyone here gets only one chance at it. We might have 21 All-Irelands and all the rest, fair enough. But they just want one for themselves.”
Matthew Ruth, who manages the CBS, offers a similar emphasis. “People would be amazed at how much it differs from year to year,” he stresses. “Each group has its own dynamics. Some want a lot of meetings, for focus.
“This year’s one is different, though. They drive themselves. We don’t have to say much.”
Son of Matt Ruth, prolific Kilkenny forward between the mid-1970s and early 1980s, this man turned 30 last week. Matthew Ruth won four Senior All-Irelands between 2011 and 2015. He retired from that arena, due to a persistent hip injury, after 2015 but continues with James Stephens.
“The lessons I took from my time with Kilkenny?” He takes his time with the question. “You’re either in or out. That’s what you learn with Brian Cody. There are no half measures.
“It’s the same with any panel. To make a school’s Senior team is a reasonable achievement. It sets you up for bigger things, if you’re willing to commit.”
A past pupil, Matthew Ruth left in 2005 for the University of Limerick. He returned in 2010 to teach Geography and PE. “I’m passionate about two things, CBS hurling and James Stephens,” he states. “So I’m happy to give the time to both.”
Ruth glosses: “My time here, we didn’t win a lot. We had some tough defeats to ’Kieran’s, to the great group that included Cha [Fitzpatrick], Tenno [John Tennyson] and Richie [Power].
Back then, we just won a Rice Cup and a league final. I’ve said to our current lads that a league medal is not much to show for your school career…
“We might have only the one All-Ireland. But we’re always stressing that the best days of the CBS are going to be made by them.”
A standout moment for Tom Hogan, 25 years turning the wheel? “I’ve been lucky.
“Lots of wins, great teams. But maybe 2003 was special.
“We made Cha Fitzpatrick captain. He was just about to lose his mother to cancer, which we didn’t know when we chose him. ’Kieran’s went all the way, beating St Colman’s in the All-Ireland Final.
“Cha lifted the cup. The whole school felt it. Sometimes hurling is the best way of expressing difficult things.”
So there we are in a sun trap, Storm Doris blowing itself out, sitting in deceptive comfort.
St Kieran’s College and the CBS, enduring forces, are coming close.
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