All Roads Lead to Semple
Ronan Teehan, captain, Thurles CBS, left, and Liam Blanchfield, vice-captain, St Kieran's College, Kilkenny, pictured ahead of the Masita GAA All-Ireland Post Primary Schools Croke Cup Final which will take place between Thurles CBS, Tipperary, and St. Kieran's College, Kilkenny, in Semple Stadium, Thurles, at 5pm on Saturday. Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Picture Credit Sportsfile
THREE days after they won the Harty Cup, the players of Thurles CBS were met at the entrance to the school building and led in by a lone piper.
That practice is a long-standing tradition there and both the management and squad enjoyed it. After that the players regrouped and brought the cup to the local primary schools where the young hurlers of tomorrow go to touch a piece of history.
But after they came back to their own school a line was firmly drawn under that achievement and when they came back to their first training session following that final the manager Niall Cahill and his two selectors, Martin Maher and John Devane, were thrilled to see that the hunger was just as strong as ever within the squad. Maybe even stronger.
The disappointment of 2014 still lingers for the school and some of the players who were involved back then. They lost out at the Harty quarter-final stage last year and it was a huge blow to a team that fancied its chances of winning. But most of that team are still around, a year older, studying for their Leaving Cert exams and they want to reap as much out of what is left of their school days. That means going all out on Saturday in Semple Stadium to try and take down the standard bearers of the Croke Cup competition, St Kieran's who have won a staggering 19 titles.
When you compare that trophy tally with Thurles CBS there should only be one winner on Saturday- certainly if traditional values are to play a role in the destiny of this year's final.
After all Thurles only secured the Croke Cup at the first attempt in 2009, and they have since failed to return to the winners podium. So, even though they emerged from a victorious Harty Cup campaign, and while the year is already deemed a success, the Thurles men want another piece of silverware.
In a recent interview their manager Niall Cahill, from the Nenagh Eire Og club, recalled that when they won the 2009 Harty Cup in 2009, the team subsequently never looked back and went all the way in the All-Ireland series. That, Cahill pointed out, has set the bar for future Thurles teams.
It's the right outlook.
For if you're going on tradition Thurles need not even show up in Semple Stadium.
After all, the current St Kieran's side has been doing what so many teams of the past have done - blazing a trail. This season they have been averaging about 1-16 per game, a great tally considering the poor weather conditions that games have been played in. And they have a slain a string of opponents en route to this decider having beaten Kilkenny CBS, Good Counsel, St Peters and then, in the semi-final, enjoying a thrilling win against Presentation Athenry. They deserve to be back in another final.
They have nine players starting from last year's team and their captain, Sean Morrissey, won a junior club All Ireland medal with Bennettsbridge recently so they will have huge leadership to drive them on. They also have eight of last year's Kilkenny minor winning panel to call upon with two more county minors missing with cruciate injuries.
It will take all the combined efforts of a fine young Thurles CBS team and a steely management trio of Cahill, Maher and Devane to thwart the Kilkenny school in a bid for the 'Terrific Twenty'.
From players like Niall Heffernan and Robbie Long to Ronan Heffernan, the Thurles side have plenty of quality to call upon.
Make no mistake, this is Kilkenny against Tipperary and the Thurles camp won't be one bit daunted about being underdogs. In fact they will relish fighting against the odds.
"The lads trained over Christmas, they trained mid-term, if you asked them to train in the middle of the night, they'd come in," said Niall Cahill.
"Their parents would bring them in and back them to the hilt. We couldn't thank the parents enough for the effort they've made.
"They were just so, so good all year. And they deserve it. They worked so hard. There was a huge crowd of Thurles people at the Roschestown match and they just live for it. They live for the competition."
With a united panel of over 40 players there is a feeling that they can cause a shock at the weekend. But it would be a massive coup.
The famous Croke Cup Trophy - Picture Credit Sportsfile
St Kieran's don't have many weaknesses. They never do.
Meanwhile, the Buggy Cup final promises to be every bit as thrilling as the Croke Cup finale.
Cross and Passion Ballycastle enjoyed a thrilling, narrow win against St Joseph's Tulla to reach a second final in succession. The Passion won its first Ulster Colleges Mageean title in 1978 and since then have collected seven senior colleges titles in Ulster.
Most prominent from that era was the 2009 & 2010 group who went onto win back to back all Ireland/ Colleges 'B' titles and then backboned the Antrim U-21 team that reached last years All Ireland final.
Lying deep in the heart of North Antrim The Passion has been the most successful school in the area winning numerous 'A' colleges titles at all levels in Ulster – Thompson, McNamee, Gallagher and Forresters Cup and have been a real hurling nursery to Antrim over the years supplying many greats such as All Stars Paul McKillen and Olcan McFetridge.
Their team is managed by Joe Cassidy (former Derry & Bellaghy footballer) and coached by Loughgiel star and Ulster Club hurler of Year for past two seasons Eddie McCloskey and Oran Kearney (Coleraine FC manager).
They are a fine outfit and will push very hard today. But they face a big task - on the other Buggy Cup semi-final, Mountrath CS from Laois swamped St Calasantus College, Oranmore by 3-22 to 1-9 to mark themselves down as favourites for today's decider.
The Mountrath school has already hit sporting highs in camogie and table tennis this year and with Conor Hiney, in particular, in fine scoring form, with a deadly eye for goal, they will be confident of claiming this competition.
Not that the underdog status will affect The Passion in the slightest.