Templemore will need 'special' day to dethrone kingpins Kieran's
When it comes to schools hurling, St Kieran's College are the masters and Our Lady's Templemore manager Tom Byrnes knows his team are going to have to "produce something special" to beat the Kilkenny aristocrats in the Masita All-Ireland Croke Cup final today.
There was a general consensus that standards would slip on College Road when they closed their doors to boarders just over a decade ago, but the opposite has happened and St Kieran's now stand on the brink of a famous four-in-a-row.
It's one of the few feats that the competition kingpins have yet to achieve and Byrnes acknowledges the class within the ranks of the talent-laden Cats, who amazingly have just two survivors available from last year's successful side, such is the efficiency of their production lines.
"St Kieran's are the kings of colleges hurling, their record speaks for itself with everything they've accomplished," he said.
"They have a phenomenal amount of players each year and physically they're very strong, they're all fine hurlers who are used to winning."
Byrnes name-checked Michael Carey, son of Kilkenny legend DJ, and Tommy Ronan, son of former county star Adrian, as members of "probably the best full-back line" he has ever seen at colleges level.
And they aren't too shabby in attack either. Adrian Mullen was man of the match in their semi-final demolition of St Brigid's Loughrea, hitting 2-9, with Byrnes predicting that it's "only a matter of time" before he graduates to the senior set-up.
While schools like Templemore are swimming against the tide, and the hand of history, they are on the crest of a wave themselves having ended their 39-year Harty Cup famine in glorious fashion with a comprehensive defeat of traditional powerhouses St Colman's, Fermoy.
With captain Paddy Cadell, Lyndon Fairbrother and last year's All-Ireland-winning minor captain Brian McGrath in their ranks, the Premier side are a class act and Byrnes, a metalwork teacher, hopes they can deliver when it matters most.
"The key point to all those lads is that they're great team players, they're not glory players, they want to try and win and help each other out which is a greater asset than talent.
"That's especially important in a small school like ours," he said.
"We're different in the sense that what we've achieved has been with surrounding parishes. A lot of the success that comes at 'A' level sport is huge schools with huge catchment areas whereas we're picking out of 270 boys from first year to Leaving Cert.
"After their experience with the Tipp minors the lads expect to be winning though and the experience of the big day is huge, sometimes when you get to finals the game can be over before you get into it and I'm hoping the experience will help us."
Having started back training during the last week in August, and prepared through Halloween, Christmas, mid-term and Easter, it's been a remarkable journey for Our Lady's Templemore but Byrnes, a native of Lattin-Cullen, hopes they're not finished yet.
"It's been a long year but I suppose when it's a long year it's a good year. And when you've come this far it would be great to go all the way," he said.
St Kieran's v Our Lady's SS
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