ALL FAIRNESS - The Harty is a special competition

As someone who went to school in Offaly, I never understood the significance of the Harty Cup competition until I came to work in Nenagh.

When you think about schools hurling, St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny and St Flannan’s in Ennis come to mind straight away due to their tradition and the players that have gone through their hallowed halls and went onto become hurling greats. Then you had the St Finbarr’s Farranferris and North Mon in Cork, now gone by the wayside, but were huge in the development of Cork hurling, along with St Colman’s of Fermoy.

With the reduction in the number of boarding schools and the merger of the college and vocational schools competitions over the last decade, the schools hurling landscape has changed significantly and has become a lot more even.

Now, you will still get players deciding to go to a certain school for hurling reasons more than education, Nenagh CBS’ Ciaran Foley being a case in point after moving from Borrisokane Community College two years ago, but they are few and far between.

Certainly, a school that is in the Harty Cup is a draw for a hurler with ambition of playing inter-county, and for the likes of Borrisokane and Colaiste Phobal Roscrea, who were previously giants of the vocational schools competition, they have found the going tough since the merger, but the evidence over the last three years in particular is that if you get a structure in place and committed people over a team, and a strong connection with the feeder clubs, you can not only compete, but also win.

The last three winners of the Harty Cup have been first time winners in St Joseph’s Tulla, Cashel Community School, and now Nenagh CBS, so any school can start out a year with the ambition to win if they have the right structures and the will to succeed.

Tipperary was well served this year with five of the 22 teams in the Harty. That is the guts of one hundred players exposed to high level competition each year, which can only be a good thing, and there is certainly the scope for more schools to get involved, such as Clonmel High School, who were beaten in the ‘B’ final last weekend but have the large pupil numbers to be competitive.

There is something special about the Harty Cup that it is a competition more and more schools want to get into. In the club game, a lot of clubs fight hard to drop out of ‘A’ and into more winnable grades where at schools level, testing yourself against the best and saying, I played in the Harty is a badge of honour.

The Harty is a unique competition in a way that winning it is bigger than winning the All-Ireland (Croke Cup). Nenagh’s All-Ireland win in 2012 felt a little hollow as it was achieved without winning the Harty. To many, that doesn’t make sense but that is the lure of the Harty in Munster where it is the holy grail, and the All-Ireland is a bonus, and maybe that is why St Kieran’s College have tended to dominate there as maybe the Munster teams have lost their edge.

Hopefully that won’t be the case for Nenagh CBS when they face into the All-Ireland series and a quarter final on the weekend after next. They will go into with massive confidence which should allow them to play with more freedom and hopefully to a higher level, and if they do, another Croke Cup is certainly not beyond them.

Another interesting aspect of the Harty Cup is that it is as close as it comes in Ireland for sport to bring past pupils together, long after they have left a school or college. Second and third level sport in the United States is huge, and no matter what educational institution you attend, that link will remain strong for the rest of their lives.

Much like the schools rugby competitions in this country, people that might have left a school thirty, forty, fifty years later, will still feel connected and invested when a team starts to do well, and that certainly was the case for Nenagh CBS on Saturday with many past pupils, with no connection to the current team, felt compelled to be there to cheer on their alma mater.

It is certainly an aspect that Nenagh CBS can certainly benefit from, as this success will bond this team of players for life as no matter what each player does when they finish school, and no matter where in the world they go, they will be connected through their school days and now even more by this historic success.