St Joseph’s Secondary School Tulla will line out for the first ever Harty Cup quarter-final in the school’s history next Wednesday.
The fact that their opponents are St Flannan’s only sweetens the pot, according to coach Tomás Kelly.
St Joseph’s booked their place with a last-minute draw with Bandon, progressing by one point in scoring difference, to herald a new dawn for the school.
Kelly says that excitement has hit fever pitch in the school and in the locality.
“We’re very excited to be there. It is a big thing for the school to reach its first Harty Cup quarter-final in its history. The young lads are all buying into it and getting excited by it and it is a big thing for them, too.
“It does that extra little bit to it that we are playing St Flannan’s, with the history of Flannan’s and being another Clare school, and that we have never really been considered a Harty Cup school. It adds a real spicy extra layer to the game, aside from the fact it is huge for us to be in a Harty quarter-final.
“Our school is a big hurling and camogie school; they are the number one sports in our school. All of our players are from big hurling clubs with the likes of Tulla, Feakle, O’Callaghan’s Mills, Broadford, Crusheen, Clooney-Quin all represented. Hurling is their game, you know. It has been a long wait since we got through in November, and the buzz has picked up ever since,” Kelly confessed.
St Joseph’s Tulla played reigning Harty champions Midleton in their first round tie, losing out by five points, but knew a draw against Bandon would be enough, due to their superior scoring difference in the three-team group.
That outcome didn’t look likely with just a few minutes remaining though, as the East Clare side trailed by three. They dug extremely deep in those dying moments and it was Seán Withycombe who secured the leveller to send St Joseph’s through.
Kelly says that character-building draw will stand to Tulla.
“We were unlucky and lucky with the group in a lot of ways because we were the only three-team group. We played the reigning champions in our first game and a five-point win flattered them. We realised then that we could really compete with any team in the competition. We knew that they had beaten Bandon by six points and a draw was enough, but you are never going to say that out loud.
“When the referee blew his final whistle, a draw for us was like winning the All-Ireland Final. It was a very strange situation to be in. The game was so close that you would have said whoever got the goal would have won it. In fairness to our lads, they never panicked. The lads worked extremely hard in those last ten minutes to fight back and work the ball into the forwards, and it was Seán that put it over the bar,” the Inagh-Kilnamona man said.
While St Flannan’s have looked the stronger of the two teams and will be hot favourites to secure a semi-final spot, Kelly thinks Clare rivalry aspect levels the playing field, and that all form could go out the window for two teams that will know each other so well.
“It would just be fantastic. We know ourselves that we will be going into this game underdogs but the fact that it’s a local derby brings a different element into the mix. Both teams will respect each other greatly and who knows, we could end up in a Harty semi-final.
“A lot of the two teams would have played with each other on Clare development panels and such. For instance, the Clare minor team that went on such a good run last year, a lot of those guys are spread across both teams. Now Flannan’s are probably that bit older than us, and we also wouldn’t have the pick that they do, so we have lads that are even in transition year that will be playing. A lot of these guys will be friends and it will just boil down to who plays the best on the day,” insisted Kelly.