Monday 23 September 2019

A winning vibe takes hold in High School CBS

A blend of hard work in the school and the assistance of Clonmel RFC has rugby on the up in South Tipp.

David O’Keeffe of High School CBS on the charge against St David’s.
David O’Keeffe of High School CBS on the charge against St David’s.

Daragh Small

From a Gaelic football hotbed in South Tipperary, Clonmel Commercials are one of the dominant local clubs, while hurling has also made a resurgence recently with St Mary's moving up to senior level in the county.

But rugby has become a huge sport in Clonmel, and at High School CBS.

High School CBS’ U-15 Cleary Cup winning team.
High School CBS’ U-15 Cleary Cup winning team.

The pedigree was always there and the youngsters don't need to look far for a local hero. Although Irish international Dave Foley swapped Munster for Pau in France, before the start of 2017-18, he is still a totemic figure for aspiring rugby players from the County Tipperary town.

Brendan Mullan is a Cork native but attended High School CBS as a student before he returned there in a professional capacity.

A role as English teacher and assistant school principal is his key focus, but it is on the sports field and in his rugby co-ordinator role that he witnessed the rise of Foley.

"From a rugby perspective, our claim to fame was definitely Dave Foley. He is a past pupil here and I coached him when he was younger fella, when he was in fifth year," said Mullan.

Eoghan Kelly.
Eoghan Kelly.

"But he progressed with Munster through their academy system and via the club more than anything else because that was around 2000. And for us we weren't as good as we are now.

"The boys wouldn't have got much of an opportunity and we were limited enough in terms of getting the lads exposure and game time because we wouldn't have been competing in as many competitions as we are now.

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"But that didn't affect him too much, and he went on to captain the Ireland U-18s, before playing with Munster and on to France. And we are in a much better place now too."

There are five secondary schools in Clonmel, while High School CBS has around 700 boys. They have been based in the town centre since they were set up by the Christian Brothers in 1899.

Eddie McIntosh battles Mauritz Hansen of a South African touring side.
Eddie McIntosh battles Mauritz Hansen of a South African touring side.

Most boys in the town have been educated by the school, and it caters for all sports with GAA, soccer and rugby all very strong now.

But in terms of rugby Mullan is joined by James Hayes, Colm O'Loughlin and former Ireland international Jean Lonergan, who help to influence the future stars looking to emulate Foley.

"All sports are well served in the area. There are a couple of soccer clubs in the town. We also have Clonmel Óg in the town too, and then there is Clonmel Commercials, and Moyle Rovers GAA are another big club just outside the town. Then we have the one rugby club in town, Clonmel RFC.

"Football would traditionally be stronger in the south of the county and hurling in the north.

Mark Sheehan in action against St David’s.
Mark Sheehan in action against St David’s.

"But hurling has come on a lot in recent years, and St Mary's in the town have been promoted to senior level.

"They have Seamus Kennedy on the Tipperary senior hurling panel this year too."

But in the school Mullan's brilliant work has helped rugby become a massive sport on the back of Munster and Ireland's successes.

The progress that the school has made in recent seasons would not have been possible without considerable buy-in from players and staff at High School CBS, but there has also been huge assistance from Clonmel RFC.

"Participation wise rugby would be fairly close to the top in the school," said Mullan.

"We would have put a lot of effort into it in the last number of years and we are competing at U-14, U-15, U-16 and this year we competed at U-18 and U-19 as well. We are fielding teams across all age groups.

"We work well with the club, we use their pitch in the town a lot. And we have our own pitch here in the school as well. But considering the numbers we have playing rugby in the school it is definitely one of the bigger sports."

Mullan was a student in High School CBS in the 1990s, and he played rugby with Clonmel RFC, before he went to college at UCC.

He eventually returned to the school in 2003 and says that rugby has made massive strides since then.


And although the playing pitches aren't up there with the big traditional rugby nurseries, High School CBS have got the balance right from his point of view.

"We have access to club pitches in Clonmel at Ard Gaoithe. Our facilities wouldn't be up there with some of the bigger schools in the province but it's good for us to be able to play our home games on our own pitch," said Mullan.

"It's nice when we play at lunch time because we would normally get a big support out and they would cheer the boys on. It all helps."

With participation levels rising and a real feel-good factor around the sport it was only a matter of time until silverware followed.

The school's U-15 side recently claimed the Cleary Cup when they got the better of Villiers School from Limerick on a 10-5 scoreline at Clanwilliam Park.

High School CBS advanced to the final with a win against Abbey CBS in the final four, and then tries from wing Lekan Oki and captain Adam Cunningham sealed the title in the decider.

But that is just the latest in a long line of trophies that have headed to the CBS.

They have been victorious in O'Brien and King Cups. Last year their U-16 team got to a Mungret Shield final, and they have consistently reached qualifying finals for the junior and senior cups in the last couple of years.

But winning the U-15 Munster Schools Cleary Cup for the sixth time is a sign that the hard work of Mullan and his colleagues will reap further rewards in the future with a new wave of talent soon moving on to senior level.

"The future is very bright here at High School CBS right now. Particularly with this group of guys who have been very good last year," said Mullan.

"The team that won the Cleary Cup had a very good season.

"Last year it was really good too though, when we played a lot of friendly games against the bigger schools, the 'A' teams. We played the likes of the Pres and Rockwell, and a few of those. This year the same team played in the McCarthy Cup, A and B. And it is reflective of the strength of the panel that we could field two U-15 teams this year.

"And they played in that before Christmas and did quite well against the perceived stronger opposition.

"Playing against the big teams like that prepared them well. And looking ahead to next season there will be a pretty good junior team.

"We are happy with that and they have progressed quite well.

"Overall it looks very good going into next year and further down the line."

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