Eoin Brennan speaks to St Joseph’s Tulla manager Terence Fahy ahead of his side’s historic clash with Cork side CBC in the Harty Cup
CARRYING the Clare torch in the knock-out stages of the Dr Harty Cup for the very first time, St Joseph’s Tulla are eager to maintain their pioneering ways when meeting new Cork superpower CBC at the last eight stage in Kilmallock on Saturday at 1pm.
The East Clare school have incrementally risen through the ranks over the past decade, with this team touted as providing their greatest hopes of a prestigious Munster Senior A Post-Primary Schools Hurling Championship title.
Lofty ambitions that are matched off the field as well according to joint-manager Terence Fahy who presides over the side with Tomás Kelly (Inagh-Kilnamona) and Aidan Harte (Gort),
“We’ve a new and very progressive school and we’d be ambitious in all aspects. The school would be very invested in the students’ academic and extra-curricular activities.
“When you’re competing in anything, you want to compete at the highest level possible so we knew that this is the best team that we’ve had in the school in a long, long time.
“They’re predominantly to the age, we’ve actually twelve Leaving Certs on the team which is unheard of in our school and they’ve been progressing all the way up the levels.
“They participated and won at First Year level, have won at Under 15, won at Under 16.5 twice so this was the next logical step to see if they could compete at the elite senior level and they have duly responded.
“It’s great for the school and in turn the school fully back them. We’ve a very supportive Board of Management, Principal and Deputy school management and there’s also huge support from all the clubs around the team as people like to see a new team coming through and breaking new ground.
“There’s a real novelty value to that, especially in Covid times. People love that bit of positivity and that feel-good vibe and these lads certainly brought that before Christmas with their performances so hopefully there’s another one in the can for this Saturday.”
On the day that defending champions St Flannan’s College bowed out in late November, St Joseph’s Tulla produced their first ever Dr Harty Cup victory after a rousing nine point extra-time turnaround against traditional powers St Colman’s Fermoy on away soil by 2-16 to 1-16 to progress to the quarter-finals.
However, while the elation and momentum has understandably waned in the intervening six weeks, Whitegate native Fahy doesn’t necessarily view that as a negative for his panel as they regroup and refocus for this crucial winner-takes-all tie,
“We actually liked the break. We had a great day down in Fermoy and we got the chance to breathe it in, enjoy it and really savour it. We got a great bounce from that and sometimes in competition, you’ve got to change your focus very quickly in order to try and jump the next fence but because of the break. We have been able to get them back down in order to build them up again, all with January 8 as a clear target on the horizon.”
“So we relished the Christmas break that we could fill with a scheduled countdown as it keeps guys ticking over and gives lads a purpose to aim for and cherish.
“We liked qualifying, we liked having the break and having the opportunity to put our preparation plan in place and it has gone fine.
“We did get a reality check against Athenry in a challenge very quickly after playing St Colman’s which brought us back down to earth fairly fast so that also helped to refocus again. Overall, we’re really happy where we are and really looking forward to the challenge on Saturday.”
The only glaring downside has been the relentless spread of the new Omicron variant of the Covid virus that has affected and infected practically every town and village of the country over the past month.
“Preparations have gone well but as we reach the final few days, we’re just trying to mind bodies and get as many players as we can to the quarter-final intact and healthy. It’s been a big challenge for all teams in the competition to mind fellas over a peaking Omicron variant.
“It’s been a difficult task but ultimately it’s a level playing field so we won’t have any excuses, we’re happy enough where we are at the moment and hopefully by the time Saturday comes, we’ll have as best a team as possible going out representing the school.”
Equally as challenging are opponents CBC Cork who, having reinvigorated their hurling structures, feel that they have more than paid their dues in their pursuit of a first ever Harty Cup crown after contesting the last two finals.
Indeed, with eight survivors from the panel that had to concede second best to St Flannan’s in the last final in 2020 including Cork’s 2021 All-Ireland Minor Championship winners Eoin O’Leary (Blarney), James Dwyer (Ballincollig), Mikey Finn (Midleton), David Cremin (Midleton) and star defender Eoin Downey who excelled for the Rebels in their All-Ireland Under 20 triumph, Christian Brothers College (CBC) are understandably installed as favourites for this year’s provincial title.
“CBC have been the top team in Cork over the past two to three years and that’s a fair achievement in itself as the standard of Harty Cup in Cork is very high. St Colman’s, Midleton and themselves would be the top three and there would be very little between any of them.”
“About ten years ago CBC went down the road of seriously targeting the void left by the traditional schools like St Finbarr’s and North Monastery within the city.
“They saw a gap in the market to become a serious hurling school and put in the infrastructure, scholarship schemes and coaching expertise around it and have reaped the benefits by getting to the cutting edge of the Harty in recent years.
“So they have serious intent, are a formidable outfit and already brushed aside a very good Midleton CBS team so we know what to expect but equally we’re looking forward to going to Kilmallock as our lads won’t in any way be daunted by what they have on paper.”
Having already taken down one Cork side, Fahy and Co. are gunning to double their Rebel scalps this Saturday as St Joseph’s Tulla look to reach a first ever semi-final.
“There’s a great opportunity for our team but I think even without us spelling it out for them, they are aware of that themselves.”
“The lads have a lot of experience and have been hurling at a high level for many years so they’re clued into this and I’d be quite sure that right now they’re relishing the prospect of using this opportunity to drive on in the competition on Saturday.
“There certainly won’t be any excuses from our end as they’re in good shape, the minds and bodies are right and we’re looking forward to a big performance.”