The discussion in the staff room at Our Lady’s, Templemore on Wednesday morning centred on the long list of household names who passed through their doors without ever pocketing a Harty Cup medal.
John McGrath and Colin O’Riordan were at midfield on the 2013 team which were beaten by Dungarvan Colleges in the decider. At least they got to sample the afternoon.
There were plenty who never came within touching distance of the final; Noel McGrath, Gearóid Ryan, Tommy Dunne, Éamonn Corcoran. The list goes on. Quite a list it is too.
For too many years, great players were part of good teams that lived in the shadow of St Flannan’s, St Colman’s and the rest of the province’s hierarchy. They contested the odd final. They never held All-Ireland ambitions. They knew better than to hold such a pipe dream.
And yet here they find themselves - sharing the stage with the famed black and white hooped shirt on the most important afternoon on the colleges’ hurling calendar.
As for that piece of provincial silverware they chased without success for almost four decades, their 19-point final winning margin over St Colman’s last month was one of the biggest in the competition’s history.
Manager Tom Byrnes knows how blessed they are that the current class arrived through their doors together five and six years ago.
Kevin Hassett, Brian McGrath and Lyndon Fairbrother were starters on the Tipperary minor team which contested the 2015 All-Ireland.
These three held down the centre-back, midfield and centre-forward positions as Templemore reached last year’s Harty Cup decider and played the school’s first competitive game against St Kieran’s in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Ok, they had no silverware in the cabinet at the end of the academic year. But they’d caught the scent. And the vast majority would be back.
Compare the teamsheet from their recent All-Ireland semi-final win over Kilkenny CBS to the side which fell at the same hurdle 12 months ago. Eoghan Ryan is still at corner-back. Paddy Cadell is gone from right half-back to centre-back.
Diarmuid Ryan has swapped the number three shirt for a slot at midfield. Neil Quinlan has travelled in the opposite direction. Brian McGrarth has been shifted from the middle to centre-forward.
Lyndon Fairbrother is back in the corner, with Ray McCormack, Jerry Kelly and David O’Shea also retaining their places in attack. Stephen Nolan (broken cheekbone) missed the last game because of injury. He was also there in 2016. That’s 10 in total.
“I would consider us lucky that all these players have come along together,” Byrnes remarked.
“We were talking earlier about the amount of players who went through this school without winning a Harty Cup medal. Lads who wore their heart on their sleeve for this school. They couldn’t get over the line.
“This group have. They are very privileged to have the medal that a lot of Tipperary stars who attended this school don’t. A very good crop have come along together. How last year went was playing on their minds all year. They wanted to redeem themselves.”
Can they add to the collection, can they emulate the all-conquering class of 1978?
“We’ve been asking them for absolute effort each time we go out and we know if we get that then we stand a chance. You couldn’t ask for any more from them. We beat some good teams to get where we are. Thurles in the Harty quarter-final were hotly fancied. Nenagh ran us very close in the semi. They had beaten us at the various age-groups up along. That was probably a banana skin for us.
“We are lucky that we have lads who have played big matches in Croke Park for Tipperary. They are bringing a lot of experience to the table in preparing for this game.”
Byrnes added: “St Kieran’s are going for their 22nd title. If that didn’t sober you up, I don’t think anything would. DJ Carey’s son is full-back and Adrian Ronan’s son is corner-back. Martin Keoghan is centre-back, his father played for Kilkenny.
“When you are coming from a school as small as ours where there are 270 boys, you have to take these opportunities when you get the chance.”
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