Scoil Pól, Kilfinane are surfing Limerick hurling’s rising tide:

By John Harrington

Young hurlers in Limerick nowadays surely need little encouragement to pick up a hurley and sliotar and head for the nearest wall to hone their touch.

The exploits of the current five-in-a-row chasing Limerick senior hurling team have inspired a new generation of players and the effect of this rising tide can be seen at all levels, including the schools game.

Scoil Pól, Kilfinane offer compelling evidence of this. There’s always been great enthusiasm for hurling in the school, but their standard has risen appreciably in recent times culminating in a first ever Munster Senior Hurling title this year in the ‘C’ grade.

Located in the rural hinterland of South East Limerick, they draw their players from clubs like Glenroe, Bruff, Dromin-Athlacca, Blackrock, Bruree, Garryspillane, Effin, and Castletown-Ballyagran, and there’s a touch of Rebel seasoning too from the other side of the border with a couple of players from Cork club Charleville.

On Friday they’ll go for All-Ireland glory when they play Coláiste Mhuire Ballygar in the Masita GAA Post Primary Schools Michael Cusack Cup Final, and for a generation of players weaned on All-Ireland Senior Hurling titles, that surely won’t be a daunting prospect.

Team manager, Anthony Punch, is working with a panel of 30 players, and what strikes him most about them all is their pure enthusiasm for the game.

“Absolutely, and it’s based on the senior team’s success,” he says.

“You’re riding a crest of a wave and the lads are all very interested in hurling. They’re mad for action, mad for games, mad for training. So it’s about trying to capitalise on that and make the most of it.

“We’re lucky we have the perfect model to show them with the Limerick senior hurlers. You can say, look, here’s an example of what they do and why it works. And there’s no doubting how well it works, so we’re fortunate that way too.

“We’ve a couple of lads that would have inter-county experience at underage level who have been in big-game situations and know how to manage things and they can share that expertise with their team-mates.”

That experience in the Scoil Pól ranks is certainly impressive. Joint-captains Shane Fitzgibbon and Kristian O’Gorman have both played inter-county minor. Fitzgibbon for Limerick and O’Gorman for Cork.

Three more players, Cathal Dennehy, Daithi Dennehy, and Adam Frewen have been called up for this year’s Limerick minor team.

As a team they showed impressive maturity as well as quality in the Munster Final win over Glanmire Community College and the All-Ireland semi-final against Cistercian Roscrea, and Punch is hopeful they won’t be fazed by the pressure of playing in an All-Ireland Final.

“The Munster Final that would have been a big deal for us and we feel like we managed it quite well,” he says.

“You’re trying to ensure they’re focusing on the game amidst all the excitement. It can be a challenge, but it’s an enjoyable one because it’s where you want to be. That’s why they play the game and they want to try to get success.

“It can be difficult at times but it’s enjoyable to try and have success and try to make the most of the situation that we’re in.

“We’re telling the lads to just go out and enjoy themselves. If we work hard and we’re proud of the effort we put in, then you can’t ask for much more from them. And, in fairness, what we’re asking for from them at the moment they’re doing with a heart and a half so we can’t ask for more.

“And if they go out and perform that’s all you can do. The result will come afterwards.”

Scoil Pól’s recent form probably makes them favourites going into this final, but Punch is very wary of the challenge that will be posed by a Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar team that draws its players from a hurling hotspot that straddles the Galway/Roscommon border.

“They’re obviously going to be a good side,” he says. “They’ve reached an All-Ireland Final, they won Connacht.

“We know they’re close enough to Roscommon as well and have a couple of Roscommon hurlers too. A lot of them have played inter-county, I believe.

“You’re not going in blind, but you’re going in not really knowing a whole pile so you’re focusing on your own team, preparing our boys and getting them right and then just try to react on the day to what happens.”

Friday, March 15

Masita GAA All-Ireland Post Primary Schools Michael Cusack Cup Final

Colaiste Mhuire Ballygar v Scoil Pól Kilfinane, Tulla, Clare, 2.30pm

Tickets for the match can be purchased HERE.