The Dr Harty Cup is a competition that is almost 100 years old and continues to entertain all these years later.
Mount Sion CBS was the first Waterford secondary school to win it back in 1953 with Martin Óg Morrissey, Frankie Walsh et al featuring in their line-up.
In more recent times De La Salle have annexed titles in ’07 and ‘08 with the Dungarvan CBS/St Augustine’s combo side triumphing in 2012 and 2013.
Indeed a large number of today’s Waterford senior hurling panel were part of these sides: Jake Dillon, Pauric Mahony, Philip Mahony, Colin Dunford, Tadhg de Búrca and Patrick Curran to name a few.
In my own youth with Nenagh CBS I got to play in the competition for four years. My first appearance In the Harty Cup was back in 1988 against Midleton at Fermoy.
I remember the skitting in the dugout when I was beckoned to get ready to go on. A lone journalist sitting among us innocently inquired as to my age.
As quick as a flash “twice his shoe size, 14, sir” came the reply from my fellow bench warmer Eamonn Gaynor. Some things just sick in your mind!
It was a baptism of fire as I was sent into the action at centre forward to mark a then Cork county minor, David Quirke. They guy seemed like a giant and the Cork lads went on to win their first ever Harty Cup.
Like most competitions at the time it was straight knock-out then – no problems with player welfare issues at that time.
Nenagh CBS was like a lot of country/town based teams that struggled to compete with the might of the likes of St Flannan’s with their borders and collection of county minors from Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Cork.
Two years later we made it all the way to the final where we faced a St Flannan’s team that contained the likes of Jamesie O’Connor, Stephen Sheedy, Liam Meany and Andy Whelan.
It’s strange looking back on it now but I was still playing at number 11 for our school senior team. I like a lot of my team mates was just gone 16 and we were underpowered against bigger stronger opposition.
We didn’t have any repeat Leaving Certs on the team and hence always seemed younger and smaller against the likes of Flannans. We were beaten by seven points at the Gaelic Grounds but there were positives.
Playing Harty Cup puts you in the shop window for the county minors. Somehow I managed to get a run for the Tipp minors at the tender age of 16 in a challenge match against Kilkenny a few weeks later.
I was kind of thinking were they not at the Harty final? Apparently my performance in the semi-final against Shannon CC and Sean Power, the then Clare minor, was sufficient to have me standing under puck-outs in a minor challenge against Kilkenny at Nowlan Park. That, needless to say, was the only time I was handed a Tipp minor jersey that year.
A year later and I was initially handed a midfield berth on the school team. We progressed all the way to the semi-final again where we met North Monastery. We drew with them the first day in Killmallock but I broke a finger in the game.
The team selectors got the idea that I might be able to play in the replay but they were going to play me corner back in the hope that I would be able to manage better there while carrying the injury and as they say the rest is history.
And so too last Saturday in Bansha I observed the county minor managers from Waterford, Kilkenny and Tipperary all in attendance to observe potential trialists for their respective teams.
The Harty Cup is a Under-18.5 competition so it can be difficulty to work out who is minor this year and who is not.
The Kilkenny minor manager could do worse than looking further at Ronan Ryan from Piltown and Mooncoin’s Paul Hennebry.
And I doubt I’ll watch a better save this year than Ronan Ryan’s miraculous effort to deny Tipp minor Lyndon Fairbrother from 10 yards just a minute into extra time. Hennebry too impressed for De La Salle with a battling performance from start to finish.
The Waterford minor bainisteoir will no doubt have noticed the performances of the Passage duo Gary Cullinane and Donal Power with Thomas Doughlas too sure to feature in white and blue later this year. Waterford will face Cork in the first round of the Munster Minor Hurling Championship at Walsh Park on April 6th.
I imagine Tipp minor manager Liam Cahill will be keeping a close eye on a great number of the Templemore lads.
There was a fine crowd present in Bansha and all in attendance were enthralled with the action. Sure it was January, sure the pitch was heavy but there was no doubting the endeavour of both sides and the entertainment served up.
A Harty Cup medal is a prized possession and while the De La Salle boys were trying to match the feats of the ’07 and 08’ champions the Templemore lads were trying to bridge a far greater gap; all the way back to 1978. That 1978 team included players like Bobby Ryan and Pat McGrath who were to go on to be part of All-Ireland winning sides with Tipperary.
When you lose I know it’s little consolation that you played your part in a thrilling game. I’m sure the De La Salle lads would much prefer to have a won a horrible game than to lose a classic.
That said, the resilience they showed will resurface many times over in the future for their school, their clubs and for many, their county.
Defeats like this are tough to take at the time. But sometimes in defeat you learn things about yourself you never knew. If you can perform at Harty Cup level well you known you can perform at any level. It’s only January but already I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a game that instantly reminded me of everything that is great about our national game.