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College classics right up there with best of them

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Declan O'Sullivan and Gary Sice both
went on to forge intercounty
careers after facing
off for Colaiste na Sceilge
and St Jarlath's - a classic
2002 match which also
featured Michael Meehan
and goalkeeper
Bryan Sheehan who
shows his dejection at
Colaiste na Sceilge's defeat

Declan O'Sullivan and Gary Sice both went on to forge intercounty careers after facing off for Colaiste na Sceilge and St Jarlath's - a classic 2002 match which also featured Michael Meehan and goalkeeper Bryan Sheehan who shows his dejection at Colaiste na Sceilge's defeat

Declan O'Sullivan and Gary Sice both went on to forge intercounty careers after facing off for Colaiste na Sceilge and St Jarlath's - a classic 2002 match which also featured Michael Meehan and goalkeeper Bryan Sheehan who shows his dejection at Colaiste na Sceilge's defeat

SO what were the greatest Gaelic football and hurling games ever played?

It's a enthralling question which, for obvious reasons, will remain unanswered because even if it were possible to examine the many thousands of contenders in forensic detail, the chances of getting agreement even among a small adjudication committee are so remote as to be invisible.

Still, the great debate will always rumble on because comparing players, teams and games from different eras remains an enduring fascination. There's a tendency to think in terms of high-profile inter-county games which, given their high profile, is understandable. However, if the net is widened to compare specific grades, the likelihood is that the second-level college sector would be the most consistently productive source of classic contests. Granted, the sector hasn't always escaped cynicism, based on stopping opponents from performing rather than exploiting natural skills, but thankfully it never became an epidemic similar to what happened to a large degree on the county scene.

Vibrant

The pleasing result has been a vibrant, exciting college scene which spends most of its time producing wonderful contests on quality street.

Former Kerry manager Jack O'Connor has suggested that the best colleges football game ever played was the All-Ireland senior semi-final between Colaiste na Sceilge, Caherciveen and St Jarlath's, Tuam in 2002.

O'Connor was coaching Colaiste na Sceilge in a contest with the famous Tuam nursery which ended level after extra-time before being decided in extra-time second time out. The sides were level 17 times in the first game, where only three of the 40 points came from frees.

A crowd of more than 7,000 turned up and enjoyed a splendid game, which turned into a shooting duel between Declan O'Sullivan and Michael Meehan, both of whom would go on to become stars for their respective counties.

It took extra-time to separate the sides in the replay, where St Jarlath's squeezed home by a single point. The first game has become such a part of folklore that even people who weren't in the Limerick Gaelic Grounds that day pretend that they were.

"For all of us involved and for all who genuinely saw it, this was the greatest game ever played. Ninety minutes of football, including extra-time. Forty scores. All points, 37 of them from play. Only once all day was there more than a point between us. The football was brilliant," recalls O'Connor.

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Of course, college history shows that there were many other contenders for "best ever game" down through the years. The annual pursuit of titles has always provided exceptional games in an atmosphere enriched by that special feeling of representing your college in such a character-defining period of young lives.

Many college reputations were built on the performances of their football and hurling teams. St Jarlath's, Tuam, St Colman's, Newry, St Mel's, Longford, St Brendan's, Killarney and St Patrick's, Maghera were always noted for their football exploits while St Kieran's, Kilkenny, St Flannan's, Ennis, North Monastery, Cork and St Peter's, Wexford were synonymous with hurling success.

Contenders

The reduction in the number of boarding schools has changed the landscape rather dramatically as new contenders come to the fore, a pattern which is likely to continue in future years. That, in turn, will bring new challengers for the big prizes which will further enhance the scene.

Of course, college action is not confined to the big schools who challenge for the top flight honours. The sense of satisfaction is just as great for the smaller schools who play in lower grades because ultimately its all about achieving as much as possible within whatever band players find themselves.

The college scene -- so strongly supported by teachers -- and enthusiastically embraced by students all over the country has served the GAA well over many years and will always remain crucial to the health and development of the association. However, it can never be taken for granted in an increasingly competitive sporting environment which is why the GAA must ensure that the colleges competitions always remain under a protective wing when it comes to funding, coaching and games development.


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