Árdscoil Rís in Limerick has made a huge contribution to the development of Clare and Limerick hurling over the past decade and more and the imprint of the school will be all over this Sunday’s Munster final, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, who spoke to Ennistymon man Niall Crowe about a success story that keeps on running.
When Paul Flanagan joined the staff of Árdscoil Rís a number of years ago it wasn’t long before he came across a picture montage outside the school gym that brought back a few memories.
They were shots in celebration of Árdscoil’s first coming as a force in Munster Colleges hurling, even if it was at Paul Flanagan’s expense, and his Ballyea club mate’s Tony Kelly too.
“We were looking at them one day,” recalls fellow teacher and Clareman Niall Crowe and Paul just pointed at one picture and said, ‘that’s me there’. Straight away you could make him out because of the distinctive red helmet. It was an important day – a great day,” he adds.
It was from Dean Ryan Cup final day in 2008 in Clarecastle – December of that year when Árdscoil stepped up and with a famous 1-9 to 1-7 victory over St Flannan’s they were on their way, and have never looked back.
Declan Hannon was captain; Shane Dowling was another star man, while across the county bounds into Clare Sean O’Connor from Meelick was a man-of-the-match contender after an outstanding display at full-back, while Jamie Shanahan from Sixmilebridge also loomed large on the day.
It went on and goes on, as generations of Clare and Limerick players have come through the Árdscoil academy – of learning but also hurling that can be seen any time a team from either county takes to the field.
“In the context of the Munster final the Clare/Limerick dynamic is something that has always been there in the school,” says Crowe, an Ennistymon man who has been on the teaching staff for 26 years.
“We have always had players from Clonlara, Cratloe, Broadford, the ‘Bridge and more, while it’s the same with the Limerick clubs. They have always come into the school and guys that would play together in school would cross swords at inter county level later on.
“Look at Sunday’s great All-Ireland minor final victory,” he continues. “Eight of the Clare minor panel were from Árdscoil – Marc O’Brien, Eoin Begley, Eoin Carey and Michael Collins were on the winning Dean Ryan team this year, Jamie Moylan, Mattie O’Halloran, Danny Neville and Sean Arthur would have played Harty this year. The connection is huge.
“I was at school last week with some of the fifth year’s doing exams and asked some of the Limerick guys who would they be cheering for – straight away they said Galway and that’s alright too. That’s part of it,” he adds.
It’s the unique part of the relationship between those on both sides of the border line – they’re team-mates and spill blood for one another on the field when wearing the black and amber of Árdscoil and when they go on to college, but when they turn green and saffron and blue it’s different. Friendships, bonds as hurling brothers and kinship is compartmentalised – now they’re in enemy territories, with no love lost.
And, this competitive spirit has served both well, with the successes enjoyed by Árdscoil teams over the years being a harbinger for more and better with their respective county teams, success with Clare fingerprints all over it.
Apart from Niall Crowe, Victor Leyden from Quin, Cormac O’Donovan from Clonara, Paddy Gough from Killaloe, Cormac Fleming from Newmarket-on-Fergus have all played their part, while Corkman Fergal Lyons and Derek Larkin from Offaly are living in Quin, with Niall Moran and current Éire Óg coach Liam Cronin flying the flag for Limerick.
“We were fortunate that we made the bigger breakthrough fairly quickly after that Dean Ryan win as as we won two Hartys in ’10 and ’11,” says Crowe, “with teams backboned by the likes of Declan and Kevin Downes.
“Between 14, 15, 16 1/2 and senior since, ’08 we have contested 22 finals and won 13 – we are there and are competing every year as best we can. What we pride ourselves is that regardless of the team we put in a big effort and it is an opportunity for players to improve and be exposed to hurling at a high level.
“I would have been involved with the team that won the Harty in ’14 – Clonlara’s Ian Galvin was on it, as were Barry Fitzpatrick and Alex Morey from the ‘Bridge.
“Cian Lynch was captain, Mike Casey vice captain. Those guys are still very friendly with one another. There is a bond there and it will continue long after they leave school,” he adds.
It’s what makes any Clare v Limerick match so special for Árdscoil, because of the nurturing role that the school has played along the way – all the way to All-Ireland senior success.
“When Clare won the All-Ireland in 2013 when the full-time whistle went there were a good few Árdscoil past-pupils on the pitch. Conor Ryan, Nicky O’Connell, Cathal McInerney and Darach Honan, while Paul Kinnerk was the coach.
“When Limerick won their first All-Ireland in 2018 – seven on the pitch went to Árdscoil and had all been Harty captains from 2010 onwards. Mike Casey, Declan Hannon, William O’Donoghue, Peter Casey, Shane Dowling, Cian Lynch and Aaron Gillane.
“Those connections are very real when you are talking to younger teams in the school and pointing towards our history and what these great players from Clare and Limerick have won. It is very real when you mention those names. They are there. They are up on the wall and it is very real.”
And it’s real in other ways too, like in the school’s most recent success when Niall and Fergal Lyons coached the latest side to roll off the production line to win the Dean Ryan this season.
“The school means a lot to the past players and what they achieved there,” says Crowe, “and before the Dean Ryan final we contacted a lot of guys from both Clare and limerick and they all sent good luck messages to our lads. It a huge motivating factor for everyone invoked. That they took the time to do that.
“You are talking about exceptional people – regardless of whether they are from Clare or Limerick. They are good guys and have standards and they’re huge role models with a commitment to excellence and ambition that comes from them year in year out.
“When Limerick won in 2018 all the ex Ard Scoil students came into the school and afterwards Centra did an ‘We Are Hurling’ video that’s on YouTube. Paul Kinnerk was on it and he spoke eloquently about Árdscoil and what it had done for Limerick – and he’d know what the school did for Clare as well from his time with the county.”
And so it will be when Sunday comes – apart from the retired Shane Dowling Limerick’s Harty Cup winning captains are still there, while Clare’s man of the match against Cork in Diarmuid Ryan from Cratloe and Ian Galvin are Árdscoil alumni, while Paul Flanagan flies the school’s flag for the teaching staff.
‘When Clare won the All-Ireland in 2013 there were a good few Árdscoil past-pupils on the pitch. Conor Ryan, Nicky O’Connell, Cathal McInerney and Darach Honan, while Paul Kinnerk was the coach. When Limerick won in 2018 – seven went to Árdscoil and had all been Harty captains Mike Casey, Declan Hannon, William O’Donoghue, Peter Casey, Shane Dowling, Cian Lynch and Aaron Gillane.’
“The only pity is we are not still in school because the craic would be mighty this week if that was the case,” says Crowe.
“Brian Lohan’s young lad Cathal is in my fifth year English class – you wouldn’t get much information out of him bar the odd smile when Clare win.
“People are really licking their lips after last year’s final and there’s more anticipation about this one than for any game in a long time.
“You can see that in the way the tickets went. They’re the two best teams in Munster and everyone can’t wait,” he adds.
Of course, the only certainty is that Árdscoil Rís can’t really lose.