It doesn’t always happen but, invariably, the wheel will turn full circle. At the end of the Dr Harty Cup final yesterday, I spotted my clubmate and former St Flannan’s team-mate, Pat Healy, recording footage of the trophy presentation on his phone. Thirty-three years on from when we won our Harty medals together, Pat’s son Darragh got to taste that feeling.
Another clubmate, Cian Galvin, was joint captain, the first Clarecastle man to lift the Harty since Peter Leyden in 1983. Flannan’s was always good to us in Clarecastle. There were four of us on that 1987 squad — Pat, Fergie Tuohy, Alan Neville and myself — which was kind of unusual at the time because the team was usually made up from a broad range of guys from all over Clare, along with boarders from Limerick, Tipperary and Galway.
It’s a totally different scene now. The boarders are long gone. Flannan’s is co-ed. Guys from south Clare go to school in Shannon or Limerick, mostly Ard Scoil Ris, which has made Flannan’s playing pool shallower. The entire starting team yesterday was made up of players from Ennis, clubs bordering the county town, or from parishes just a handful of miles from Ennis. This was Flannan’s 22nd title but, given the huge changes since their last crown in 2005, this was one of the sweetest ever won.
This squad was superbly managed by Kevin O’Grady, Brendan Bugler, Mike Kelly, Shane McCarthy, and Peter Casey but the school is clearly benefitting from the strong presence of big names on the teaching staff. Tony Kelly and Jack Browne were otherwise preoccupied with Clare but their Maor Uisce duties were taken up by Jamesie O’Connor.
Flannan’s were the better team. They played smart, controlled hurling in the first half, leading by four points having played into the breeze. Similar to his strike in the quarter-final against Tulla, the Flannan’s goal from Diarmuid Cahill was out of the top drawer.
Cahill’s clubmate from Corofin, Killian O’Connor, gave an exhibition, scoring four points from play and being fouled for another two scores. Cian Galvin, Conner Hegarty and Stephen Casey were also really impressive.
CBC were always chasing the match but I felt Flannan’s retreated too deep in the last quarter, and invited CBC on to them. The Cork college threw caution to the wind when they were six points down by throwing Carthach Daly up in the forwards. He was fouled two or three times before being eventually hauled down for a penalty, which the excellent Jack Cahalane buried.
In Flannan’s, we were always reared to think that the Harty was the Holy Grail, and that the All-Ireland was a bonus. These boys won’t be thinking that way but they won’t have much of a chance to allow this success sink in with St Kieran’s coming down the tracks at the weekend. Kieran’s have always thought the complete opposite — Leinster was always only a pathway to an All-Ireland for them.
Kilkenny have done so much to change the modern thinking around hurling because every team is judged by that standard now. Limerick won a league and a Munster title last year and the season was effectively considered a write-off when they lost the All-Ireland semi-final by one point.
We dismiss the league as soon as the competition is over but it generates a whole different dynamic while it’s on. I could only listen to the Tipperary-Waterford match on the way home but you knew from the commentary that there was a lot more than just two points at stake. Tipp were desperate for a win; Liam Cahill was even more desperate for his team to make a statement on his old turf. The three red cards were an obvious statement of how much both teams went at it.
Tipp were playing for their lives, and their chance to remain in the league, as were Galway in Pearse Stadium. Cork were in a great position when leading by one point but the sending-off of Robbie O’Flynn completely altered the complexion of the match.
Galway used the spare man really smartly, especially in the windy conditions, and Cork struggled to cope with that surge in the last quarter. Brian Concannon’s goal was a huge turning point but Cork looked to tire late on and consistency remains an issue. Of course Cork in the ‘long grass’ now till May 10 will be large in Limerick minds.
IT was a big win for Galway, especially when they have Joe Canning and Daithí Burke to return, while Davy Burke got game-time into him. It was the best I saw of Conor Cooney since 2017. All positives but even more so when the Galway public were looking for something after two defeats. The result always beautifully tees up next week’s game against Tipp.
Kilkenny, Wexford and Limerick did what was expected of them while Clare kept their foot to the gas with a nine-point win over Dublin. That’s a slight worry for Mattie Kenny. Like Cork, Dublin have a lot of waiting around now until the championship.
There was a lot of talk about cynical play in hurling recently and, while I’m not saying that kind of stuff isn’t in the game, I’m glad the black card was rejected at Congress on Saturday. I’d just love to know who the 18% were who voted for the sin-bin.
Of course we can always make the game better but we can also get caught up in politics, and the increasing professionalism of the game, which manifests itself in seemingly do-or-die league games, which soon become irrelevant once the smell of freshly cut grass is in the air.
Although the rising standard and demands, and the professional approach of young players, was on full show in Mallow yesterday, it was great to witness the pure form of expression and elation that time and all the other stuff has largely left untouched.
With a ladies football game played after the Harty final, the PA announced shortly before the final whistle that nobody was allowed on to the pitch. He had some chance of that happening because there was a double-pitch invasion; the Flannan’s hordes stormed the place to embrace their friends, heroes and class-mates while the CBC crew were consoling their buddies.
The klaxon horns were blaring. The old Flannan’s chants and songs were being belted out. The atmosphere was electric, just like it was in Kilmallock 33 years ago.
The wheel always turns full circle.