St Flannan’s will be hoping to take another step on the road back to the top of Munster colleges hurling when they face fellow Clare side St Joseph’s Tulla in next Wednesday’s Harty Cup quarter-final.
The roll of honour leaders have been absent from the knockout stages since the start of the decade having accrued 21 titles since the competition began in 1918. Their last final appearance came in 2007, but the last four is now firmly on the horizon as they prepare to face down some familiar faces.
Galway native and former Clare U-21 coach Kevin O’Grady is the man leading a management team which also boasts two-time Clare All-Star Brendan Bugler with the Ennis side unbeaten so far in this year’s competition. The Beagh clubman is pleased with the progress made over the last few years.
“I am five years in the school and every year there is a lot of work being done but sometimes the results don’t show that. In the last few years we have had the likes of Brendan Bugler, Tony Kelly, Jack Browne and these guys come in on the staff and then the likes of Shane McCarthy and Jamesie O’Connor are there so we have loads of good coaches and it is great to see some fruit now from our labour. The hope would be to get back to the top but only time will tell if that can happen. It is our first time in the quarter-finals since 2011 and the hope would be to push on. You never know about these things until you look back in a few years time and see what was achieved but there is a lot work going in. There is huge support there too from the management in the school in relation to the amount of time put in and we get a lot of help from the clubs too which is important. The club championships tend to run quite late in both codes and we have lads involved in both so that help and communication with the clubs is vital” he noted.
It is a St Flannan’s team laden with players who represented Clare at minor level in particular over the last few years, with Darragh Healy and Cian Galvin, the last two Clare minor captains, lining out in defence. O’Grady admits that managing a busy schedule is something they are aware of.
He said: “It can be quite challenging for them because they seem to get no break. A lot of them are dual players and some of them were with the minors in 2018 also so there seems to be no real off-season for them where they can get that break. In fairness to them, they have not complained and are putting in a huge effort in training and I am sure the Tulla lads are the same. It is a privileged position to be in a Harty Cup quarter-final no matter where you are from and there will be no one holding back on the day. We are there as group winners but when you look at it, Tulla are in the exact same position as us so it is going to be a 50/50 game. When you get to knockout games, anything that has gone before it tends to go out the window. They won’t be looking at the fact that we have the few group games won because they are in the exact same position as us so it will be a tough one. It is all about on-field management really and our job is just to facilitate them in arranging training and games. It is down to the players no matter what team you are involved in and we will be looking towards our leaders to drive it. We have different leaders emerged on different days and while we have all those lads with county experience, there are plenty there too who have stood up throughout the year when needed. The responsibility is shared across the squad and our subs have played a major role for us too so hopefully that will continue next Wednesday”.
A huge crowd is expected for what is sure to be a memorable occasion, and O’Grady is looking forward to what the occasion will bring.
“There is plenty talk about the game and everyone you meet wants to talk about it which is great for the players on both sides really. You have to be able to deal with the pressure of it being a high profile game which is all part of high level sport no matter what you are involved in. They have to deal with that and it is all part of the pressures involved but I think they will be fine. There will be no issues in relation to that on either side because it really is something to look forward to as it will be a great occasion for all involved” he said.