Famed Kerry footballing nursery bidding to bridge 24-year Hogan Cup wait
Published 02/04/2016 | 02:30
For a school sitting atop the Munster colleges roll of honour with 21 titles, and widely regarded as the nursery of Kerry football, having helped to hone the craft of icons like John O'Keefe, Seamus Moynihan and Colm Cooper, it's hard to believe it's been 24 years since their last All-Ireland title.
St Brendan's Killarney are back in Croke Park today with manager Gary McGrath having a sense of "unfinished business" as they bid to atone for final heartbreak in 2008 and 2010 and claim the Hogan Cup for only a third time.
Much like their last two final defeats, Ulster opposition again stand in their way. This time in the shape of St Patrick's Maghera, who bounced back from two defeats to take the MacRory Cup.
They displayed guts in abundance when hope looked lost in the dying minutes of their semi-final against Summerhill College and only a late Francis Kearney penalty, followed by an injury-time winner by Shane McGuigan sent them through.
McGuigan hit 1-8 that day, and has tallied 4-18 in his last three games, while the availability of AFL-bound Conor Glass, who couldn't start due to illness, brings valuable experience having featured in their 2013 final win.
Having made the nine-hour round trip to Brewster Park in Enniskillen, McGrath, a PE and geography teacher in the Sem since 2000, is in no doubt about the scale of the task facing them.
"They seem to know how to grind out a result which is a sign of a team that won't throw in the towel and won't lie down easily. They were three points down with three minutes to go the last day but they didn't panic and deserved the win," McGrath said.
"Everybody's saying to us 'how will we feel if we're in a battle with ten minutes to go?' Because most of our games have been over with ten minutes to go."
Killarney haven't yet had to dig deep in a dour struggle after waltzing through Munster. Emphatically ending the three-in-a-row All-Ireland bid of Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne was "a big hurdle to overcome".
Their 21st Corn Ui Mhuiri quickly followed with a devastating display against High School Clonmel before devouring Dublin's St Benildus in the semi-final after racing into an unassailable 3-7 to nil lead.
The Sem include four of last year's victorious Kerry minors with McGrath hoping that the big-day involvement of Billy Courtney, captain Dan O'Brien, Evan Cronin and David Shaw will "rub off" on the rest of the squad.
Selector Arthur Fitzgerald brings valuable expertise, having worked under Jack O'Connor for the last two years, but McGrath notes that they placed a "big focus on recuperation and freshness".
Many Kerry championships were carried over into 2016 so management decided less was more and McGrath hopes to write another chapter in the already legendary St Brendan's history.
"No one has tried to count up all the All-Ireland medals that have come from St Brendan's and I'm not sure if you'd be able to count them all up," he said.
"None of these were born when we won in 1992, they weren't even here in 2010. We just hope they play to the potential that we know, and they know, they can. Maybe it'll be third-time lucky."