Ardscoil Ris driven by hand of history
WHEN they study the considerable roll-call of their school's famous past pupils, the young hurlers of Limerick's Ardscoil Ris don't have to look too far for sporting inspiration.
They are facing Kilkenny's most famous hurling nursery today, St Kieran's, alma mater to DJ Carey et al, yet they have a few sporting gods of their own to look up to.
Local rugby legend Paul O'Connell and world champion rower and Olympian Sam Lynch walked their school corridors ahead of them, not to mention county hurling stars like Ollie Moran, Brian Geary and county footballer John Galvin.
Yet, the class of 2010 have an equally inspirational figure even closer to hand.
Niall Moran is not just a past pupil, he has been on the teaching staff for the past three years and is part of the six-man management team that has coached them to today's All-Ireland Colleges SHC final.
Moran, ironically, was one of the hurlers cast adrift by county manager Justin McCarthy last winter and while Limerick hurling has been dragged through the mud since, the school's historic success has not only provided it with some joy, but a beacon of hope.
Team manager Derek Larkin, originally from Tullamore but teaching in the school for the past 18 years, reckons that the county debacle has only served to heighten all the attention they have attracted.
Yet even if Limerick hurling was a picture of domestic bliss right now, Ardscoil Ris' breakthrough would have stolen the headlines, for it is a rollicking saga of family ties, cross-border co-operation and long-time planning, all crowned by an epic three-game battle for Munster school's blue riband, the Harty Cup.
The school was a former rugby stronghold until the past five years when a group of parents and teachers helped turn it into a hurling equivalent.
The current management also includes teacher Liam Cronin (Cappamore) and outside hurling enthusiasts Jimmy Browne and Natal O'Grady. Two of the players -- John Fitzgibbon and Mark Carmody -- are the sons of former Limerick seniors Shane Fitzgibbon and Anthony Carmody while Jamie Shanahan's dad James won an All-Ireland club title with Sixmilebridge.
Young Fitzgibbon and Declan Hannon (pictured left) were both teen stars on the Adare senior team, coached by Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin, that won their third county title in a row last summer.
Adare beat Na Piarsaigh in that county final and on the opposing team was their school team-mate Kevin Downes.
The school may be backboned by players from Na Piarsaigh, Adare and Patrickswell, but their catchment also stretches into Clare whose clubs provide a handful of players.
Best known is versatile co-captain Cathal McInerney, who was on the Cratloe team that won the Clare SHC title for the first time last season.
And apart from the interesting cast of talent, their season to date reads like a Disney script. After winning their first Dean Ryan (Munster U-16) title last year, they needed a replay to beat Midleton in the first round of the Harty Cup.
In their third Harty Cup semi-final in a row they finally reached the final by beating St Caimins, who had knocked them out a year previous.
And then they got entangled in one of the most memorable battles that Munster schools hurling has ever witnessed.
Their Harty final, against reigning champions Thurles CBS, was a three-game, 200-minute epic that yielded 12 goals and 89 points. As Larkin says: "You couldn't have written the script!"
After finally clinching their first Harty Cup they beat Leinster runners-up Kilkenny CBS to become the first Limerick side to reach the Dr Croke Cup final since 'Sexton Street' back in 1967.
So Ardscoil Ris roll into Semple Stadium today on the cusp of history.
Larkin is keen to name-check people like Kilmallock's Tom Hennessy, "the first parent to help with coaching".
But above all there is pride in the schoolboys who have given Limerick hurling such a boost in the midst of so much strife.
"Some of them were playing in their fourth Harty Cup campaign and already play senior with their clubs; they have been very mature and done everything we've asked of them," Larkin said. "They now know that they are as good as the next team," he stressed "Yes, we have some brilliant individuals, but more importantly they all work as a team and whatever the result we know they will have given their all."