Favourites St Flannan's determined to bridge 'difficult' gap
SIX years is a decent stretch in anyone's book, but for St Flannan's College it has been a lifetime.
None of their team that takes the field for this afternoon's Dr Harty Cup quarter-final against St Colman's, Fermoy have ever seen the trophy pass through the hallowed doors of the Ennis school, which last won the competition in 2005.
That's not to say the students and players are not aware of the history of the school they attend. Famous faces from victorious Harty teams beam down at them from the walls all around the old building, but that 2005 team photo, which includes a number of the current Clare senior team, is beginning to gather dust.
This year's crop are favourites for the tournament, with a number of last year's Munster championship-winning county minors in tow.
And although he is not looking past this afternoon's meeting with their Cork rivals, manager John Minogue understands the impact of a long wait for a title.
"Six years is a long time in the history of St Flannan's," said the man who led Clare to the All-Ireland U-21 title in 2009.
"It means there is a whole generation of students who have come through the school without seeing the Harty Cup coming to Flannan's, which is not something you like to see because if the Harty comes to the school every three or four years it keeps young fellas interested.
"The longer it goes on, the more difficult it is to win it. But we're not looking any further than the quarter-final and hopefully we'll get over Colman's. It's important to keep going. There has been a bit of a hiatus since 2005 when you had current senior players like James McInerney and Colin Ryan on the team, and we haven't been successful since. In fact we have quite a poor record since."
There are a number of factors that have led to the decline of the 21-times winners, with the ending of boarding at the school early in the last decade coinciding with a downturn in standards at Clare minor level.
"I think it has levelled out things quite a bit, the fact the boarding school is not in operation," Minogue explains.
"We always had players from Tipperary strongholds like Toomevara. Benny Dunne was a past pupil of ours, Dermot Gleeson who hurls for Newtownshandrum now, Limerick's Niall Moran won the Harty Cup with Flannan's, all of those lads, going back over the generations.
"Definitely our catchment area has shrunk, and that has levelled out with other boarding schools like Colman's and North Monastery in the same boat.
"As well as that, if you look at the Clare minors in the last period, there has been a bit of a hiatus there and the pool of talent in Clare wasn't great, but that is changing now."
The rise in standards has seen the likes of Tony Kelly -- who impressed as Flannan's swept all before them in the group stages -- lead the way this year, and they are ready to compete again.
However, today's opponents have never given Flannan's an easy ride. St Colman's are strong themselves, with Colm Spillane hoping to shackle Kelly, and his brother Michael threatening up front.
"Of all the colleges in Munster, St Colman's have a very good record against us. We always found it hard to beat them," said Minogue.