Schools football still strong
Jason O’Connor reflects on successful year for Kerry schools football despite the absence of an All-Ireland title
Even though it might be the second year in-a-row that no All-Ireland Boys School football title is coming the Kingdom's way, it should not take away from what will go down as one of the most successful decades ever for Kerry Post-Primary GAA. If Colaiste na Sceilge's Hogan Cup in 2009 made up for the defeats for Tralee CBS and St Brendans Killarney in the deciders of the preceding two years, then the double back-to-back triumphs for Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne and The Sem between 2014 and 2017 put Kerry's underage revival in a bigger spotlight alongside the five Tommy Markham Cup wins for the county's Minors.
The 2013/14 season saw the merger between Secondary and Vocational level take full effect and the revamping of the 'B' grade to the Paddy Drummond Cup and a chance to play in Croke Park for the final pairing has given football below Hogan Cup level a new dimension. St Michaels Listowel and Pobalscoil Inbhear Sceine Kenmare missed out on the chance of making the decider for the Austin Stacks clubman's Cup but Scoil Phobail Sliabh Luachra Rathmore became the first Kerry school to make it there last Saturday after an interesting campaign in the county and province.
Post-Primary GAA is unique in that county and provincial competitions are separate entities allowing SPSL to play A in Kerry and B in Munster. Their campaign in Kerry saw them replicate Gaelcolaiste Ciarraí from Tralee (a Munster C grade school) the previous year in making an O'Sullivan Cup Final and nearly beating Corca Dhuibhne in much the same way Gaelcolaiste nearly toppled St Brendans the previous year. With their four All-Ireland Minor winners of Owen Fitzgerald, Dan Murphy, Darragh Rahilly and David Dineen they did go on to win Munster before surviving a fraught second-half with Ashbourne Community School of Meath where they conceded four second-half goals in eventually winning by 2-14 to 4-5.
The school that beat them last Saturday, Roscommon CBS, where an A school four years ago in losing to Corca Dhuibhne, so coming as close as they did last Saturday should be seen in that context. Where they go from here is hard to say but this group certainly honoured the old Vocational Schools tradition of All-Ireland success with their efforts this season and they are a name to be respected now. Looking ahead to next year's Corn Uí Mhuirí from a Kerry perspective, whether the PCD/Sem duopoly can be broken remains to be seen.
Intermediate School Killorglin look to be a coming prospect with their Frewen Cup win not withstanding the disgraceful treatment their subsequent Paul McGirr Cup Semi-Final defeat to Knockbeg College of Carlow was given as a fixture. Tralee CBS retaining the Russell Cup indicates there is something for the Green to feel positive about down the line as Inbhear Sceine winning the U-16½ Dunloe Cup in Kerry prior to Christmas was the first time they won an A grade honour in Kerry.
There is a Munster U-16½ B Final on Friday featuring Colaiste na Sceilge and SPSL Rathmore to be played yet but approaching a new decade the Post-Primary scene in the county appears to be as healthy as ever not just in terms of success but also competitiveness.
One advantage of being the first part in a triple header in Croke Park last Saturday (the two schools finals played with the Division Three League Final between Laois and Westmeath) was the use of the Hogan Stand dressing rooms for the sides in the Paddy Drummond Cup match.
It was little comfort to SPSL Rathmore however as their manager David McCarthy was solemn but still proud reflecting back on proceedings along the dressing room corridor.
"It was an up and down game, we missed a bit in the first-half with the breeze. We should have led by more, at least seven I would say but you have to remember there were 16-year olds out there in Croke Park for the first time so it's easy to critical on the outside looking in," he said.
McCarthy pointed to the start Roscommon CBS had to the second period as ultimately being the winning of the game for them in his view but still praised the character of the side to make the comeback they did.
"Even if our performance was that small bit off in terms of winning our character was still what we wanted it to be all year long with them. We couldn't ask for anymore on that front and they really dug deep to bring us so close near the end," the SPSL manager said.
Although there is only one trophy (Munster B) to show for the East Kerry school's efforts in nearly winning an O'Sullivan Cup in the Kingdom coupled with last Saturday's close shave, McCarthy felt that it was still a historic campaign for the school. "We didn't care what grade schools we played were this year, we focussed on ourselves and felt that if we performed to the best of our abilities, we could beat anyone. That brought us victories over the Sem and the Green and giving PCD a big battle in the O'Sullivan Cup Final. This group have created so many milestones for the school in this campaign regardless of the result today," he said.
It's unclear as to whether SPSL Rathmore must advance to Corn Uí Mhuirí level next autumn now with not winning on Saturday but despite that uncertainty McCarthy thanked the school community for their support off the pitch.
"The clubs contributing players to the team gave us great help and the community helped us with a lot of the extra stuff associated with days like today allowing us to focus on the game itself."